The Weekend Edition of the Sun Prairie Star (March 13, 2020) featured the article “Ready, Set, Prep” as a how to guide to the Corona Virus Pandemic.
As a former firefighter, a Certified Emergency Manager and a FEMA Emergency Management instructor, I’d like to paint a slightly less apocalyptic and inclusive approach to equipping our amazing community for the days and weeks ahead.
First off, Emergency Management (EM) is a 24/7/365-day Public Safety discipline just like Fire and Law Enforcement. Though relatively new (FEMA was established in 1979), Emergency Management was established to support communities in their efforts to prepare, prevent, respond to and recover from local disasters. While professional EMs in government, hospitals and businesses do their best, disasters the scale of the one we are currently facing are not our focus.
Imagine asking your boss to set aside money and equipment for something that may never occur in our lifetimes. But here’s the rub – things that never happened before, happen all the time. And here we are – experiencing not just a local, not merely a regional, but a National disaster, affecting every hometown in America!
In a nutshell, the purpose of EM is to collaborate with the entire community to address hazards that are most likely to occur and that are above and beyond what Fire, Law, Hospitals, Public Works and others manage on a daily basis.
EM Planning determines a community’s resource capabilities, roles and responsibilities BEFORE disasters occur, so that the response is effective in reducing losses and the recovery from disaster is quick and less costly.
Sun Prairie and Dane County, just like every jurisdiction in the country, is required to have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). FEMA has a motto, “All Disasters are Local”. That means the main responsibility for preparedness is ours, not the Federal Governments.
After all, who knows our needs better than us? An EOP is most often a collaborative venture including all a jurisdiction’s stakeholders including departments, non-profit agencies, hospitals, schools, community organizations and private sector partners. The plan should be general enough to provide guidance for incidents like the recent Gas Main Explosion and may even include annexes specific for the most likely hazards in our region such as Flooding, Tornados, Rail Accidents, Air Disasters and…yes, Pandemic.
Whether or not Sun Prairie has an EOP with a Pandemic Annex, there are certain Emergency Management maxims that apply to all disasters, and certainly what we are experiencing qualifies as both a local and national disaster.
Emergency Management concepts encourage personal/family disaster preparedness to provide for immediate physical and psychological peace of mind – but discourages the “prepper” mentality of every man for himself and survival of the fittest that leads to fear, panic, and toilet paper shortages.
I chose to live in Sun Prairie because it is a deeply committed community. We are more than capable to survive and thrive this shared disaster, but we must take the “whole community approach”.
• Support Pandemic control by following the social distancing recommendations. These measures taken NOW will prevent exponentially the number of COVID19 cases in the coming weeks. Whether or not you are sick or have been exposed . . . don’t add fuel to the fire.
• Avoid ER, Hospital, or Medical Clinic visits except when absolutely necessary. COVID-19 is only one illness among many that contribute to finite hospital facilities, equipment and staff being overwhelmed (commonly called medical “surge”). Nurse cold, flu and other maladies at home when possible. Consult your doctor before unnecessarily joining the “walking wounded” that fill ER chairs.
• Let 911 dispatchers, EMS and Fire Department personnel know if they are responding to a potential COVID-19 call. They and the receiving hospital will take extra precautions that will enable them to stay safe and to continue to answer the call to service in our community.
• Reach out to others by utilizing established and trusted communication methods (Nextdoor, Facebook, Community Organizations and Faith-Based email distribution groups) to connect unmet needs with available resources. Don’t get a “foxhole mentality.” We are in this together.
• Business owners, Agencies and Organizational Leadership – contact our City Manager to find out how you might contribute to community efforts to respond and recover in the next weeks. Register interest in forming a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).
• Rely only on OFFICIAL sources of information (see recommended websites listed at the end of this column) to reduce rumors and panic inducing hyperbole – and get updated guidance for events and gatherings.
• Post – Disaster, remember that it is always a good practice to have extra food, meds and miscellaneous supplies on hand.
Two weeks is adequate and can be accumulated slowly over time. Buy what you eat and eat what you buy in order to maintain a fresh supply.
• Finally – a phrase for my Sun Prairie neighbors to consider while you enjoy watching “Outbreak” and other Zombie themed movies with your family at home on Netflix: Now is the time to choose facts over fear, preparedness over panic, wisdom over worry and service over selfishness.