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Letters to the Editor
Best Way to Conquer Fear: Be Prepared
Thank you for giving front-page attention to the NERT program and the heightened anxiety felt by our residents ["Got the Jitters? Try Calming Your Nerves with NERT Training," by Sharon Gillenwater, March 2003 Voice].
As a longtime Noe Valley resident and as an emergency responder, I am twice grateful. Two items caught my attention, and I want to offer clarification to your readers.
The emergency checklist you offered says, "Give kids instructions on what to do if disaster strikes while they are at school." Please--for the safety of our children--parents should find out the emergency plan and procedures at the school, daycare, or activity program, and then reinforce this specific information with their children.
Many parents, with the best of intentions, tell their children things like "No matter what anyone tells you, if something happens, wait for Mommy or Daddy by the tree (or wherever) and we will come get you."
If that child sneaks away to get to that tree, what do you think will happen at the school when they discover a child is missing? What if that tree is in the middle of the danger zone, or what if Mommy or Daddy simply can't get there? This is a nightmare for all concerned.
I have trained hundreds of children, parents, and caregivers in emergency preparedness and disaster response. It is a real danger for children to get conflicting messages. One consistent message--reinforced from multiple sources--saves lives.
The article also listed "our nation's color-coded warning system" as one of the sources of anxiety. I serve on various terrorism preparedness committees and several emergency management forums in California, representing community-based organizations and people with special needs. I also teach a course called "Community Preparedness for Terrorist Incidents," for the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI). Most of the upset and confusion about the color-coding system comes from taking a system that reflects monitored "chatter" (conversations, e-mails, and movement of suspected terrorists) and seeing it as an accurate predictor of imminent terrorist attack.
We do not yet have an accurate predictor of terrorist attacks. We also do not have an accurate predictor for earthquakes. But we monitor daily seismic activity across California. However, we do not "drop, cover, and hold" every time we learn there is seismic activity somewhere in the state. That would quickly shatter nerves and budgets, leaving everyone much more vulnerable.
Instead, we accept the reality of living in quake country. We take basic precautions, such as preparing an earthquake kit, bolting and bracing heavy furniture to the wall studs, and learning how and when to turn off gas and other utilities.
If you want to do your part to break the victim cycle, take back the economy, and walk the world feeling safe again, the answer is simple: prepare now. When you are unprepared, fears and opportunists are running the show, just as they did for Y2K. No matter the color of the alert, the most helpful, sensible, and sustainable response will always be to listen to your local news and take actions based on what you hear.
If there is a credible threat to your community, and your local emergency responders are mobilizing, this is your cue to:
1. Do everything possible to avoid the area and not be a victim.
2. Do everything possible to stop your associates and loved ones from being victims.
Having preprinted maps with alternate routes to and from the places you frequent, and having emergency communication plans and reunification plans will be a huge help.
Dealing with the threat of terrorism, the realities of war, and our troubled economy--all at the same time--may be the largest, most distasteful elephant we've ever been served. We still need to eat it one bite at a time.
President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security are in control of many things. But whether our children go to bed feeling safe and secure is totally in our control. Whether we are prepared to respond as a strong, united, and resilient community, working as full partners with our local emergency responders, is also in our control. I urge you to embrace bumper-sticker wisdom -- "Think Globally; Act Locally." And what better place to do this than in our own beautiful neighborhood?
For free emergency preparedness and disaster response support for community organizations serving seniors, children, people with disabilities, and others with special needs, please go to www.Prepare Now.org.
Ana-Marie Jones, Executive Director
CARD (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters) of Alameda County
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