The Master of Disaster
Emergencies occur every day in our community. The people and organizations that handle the emergency –police, fire, medical or utilities personnel – respond and resolve it. A disaster is not just a big emergency – a disaster overwhelms the normal response resources. They cannot handle it. They need outside assistance to help resolve the situation and that outside help takes hours, days, maybe weeks to arrive. New York City has more resources – police, fire, emergency medical, heavy equipment – than most states. After September 11, 2001 they needed outside help with their disaster.
Even the federal government can be overwhelmed. Some would cite response to Hurricane Katrina. But remember: all disasters are local. Outside entities respond to assist with your disaster. The real failures in the Hurricane Katrina response were by New Orleans and Louisiana. Federal response may have been slow – but they can only provide what is requested by the local governments.
What lesson should disasters teach us? Simply this: government cannot help everyone all the time; we need to be prepared to help ourselves. How do you do that? Know the types of disasters that can occur in your community. Pay attention to weather watches and warnings. Prepare a 72-hour disaster supply kit for each member of your family. Develop a family emergency plan and practice it. Get some training. The fact is these actions cost you nothing. It is simply a matter of organizing things you already have so they are readily available to use when disaster strikes.
What can happen here? How about fire, flood, drought, heat wave, winter storm, earthquake, H1N1 flu, wind storm, thunderstorm, volcanic eruption, hazardous materials spill, terrorism. All right, they haven't all happened recently but, the point is, they can happen here.
You know we live in a semiarid area; yet flooding is our most common disaster. Flash flooding, that is. We have had five State and two Presidential disaster declarations for flooding just in the past 20 years in Rio Rancho. This occurs because our thunderstorms drop a lot of rain quickly and that leads to flash floods. Such floods usually impact a relatively small area, but the effects can be devastating in that area. Never try to cross a flooded street or low water crossing whether on foot or in a vehicle. That water is moving fast: 10" deep can knock you off your feet, 16" deep can float your car. Most people who die in flash floods die trying to wade or drive through a flooded area and get swept away.
Preparedness information to help you be aware of hazards, prepare a 72-hour kit and develop a family plan is readily available. Look for New Mexico Family Emergency Preparedness Guides (and other preparedness materials) on bookracks at our libraries, Rio Rancho DMV and the Municipal Court/Police Headquarters Building. A wealth of information is on line at: www.fema.gov and at www.ready.gov.
Go to the City web site at www.ci.rio-rancho.nm.us. Click on "Departments", then "Fire and Rescue", then "Emergency Management and CERT" to get to my Division page. Check our City Disaster History. Attend some of the training offered.
The best individual training program available exists here in Rio Rancho: Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. We offer four classes a year. It's free! Even better, when you graduate, we give you $80 worth of supplies and equipment to help you, your family and your neighbors when disaster strikes.
So be prepared, not scared. Be part of the real solution to effective disaster response: be personally prepared so you don't have to wait for others to help you.