“The Prudence of Planning: National Preparedness Month”

The power of prudent, painstaking planning cannot be underestimated.  For me, the most profound advice about the constant need for critical planning and preparation comes from the saying: "It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark."

And indeed, in the daily course of most people’s lives, it isn’t raining. We relish our productive daily routines, our predictable chores, our familiar connections. We enjoy our safety and freedoms, and we anticipate that the day will unfold as expected. But we should also keep a watchful eye on encroaching gray clouds or a gathering storm.

We all know that things can, and will, change in an instant if there is a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. And we know we have to be prepared for such challenges whenever they occur.

We know this today much more acutely than we did prior to September 11, 2001. In fact, the horrific attack that took place that day on American soil marked a crucial turning point in our nation’s grassroots awareness for rigorous preparedness, readiness, vigilance and ever-evolving planning.

Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina reinforced many of the lessons of preparedness and led to legislation I coauthored to strengthen our nation’s capacity to respond to natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks. 

This September we reach a new milestone with the seventh annual National Preparedness Month, which is drawing together more than 2,800 national, regional, state and local organizations as coalition members. The goal is to remind Americans of the importance of being prepared, staying informed, having a communications plan, getting involved and doing basic due diligence when it comes to family and personal safety.

            Such guiding principles will help our country through myriad emergencies, whether from natural disasters, disease pandemics, catastrophic accidents or vicious acts of terrorism. We need all Americans to learn how best to respond to an emergency, whatever form it may take.

            As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I have been a strong advocate for emergency preparedness, and I am serving as an Honorary Congressional Co-Chair of National Preparedness Month.  I am joined in this effort by Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman. 

National Preparedness Month allows us to evaluate our personal emergency response plans. Throughout September, there will be events across the country and in Maine to drive home this theme. We all are encouraged to do four things: Get a kit; Make a Plan; Be Informed; Get Involved.

A kit for your home and business should include basic items: Water, one gallon per person per day for at least three days; a three-day supply of non-perishable food; a battery operated or hand-crank radio; flashlight and extra batteries; first aid supplies; a whistle to signal for help; a dust mask to help filter contaminated air; plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in-place; moist towelettes, garbage bags and ties; wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; a can opener; local maps; cell phone with charger. Don’t forget your medications and glasses. If you have an infant, make sure all the proper supplies are in place. If you have a pet, make sure those supplies are included as well.

In making a plan, work with family members and co-workers to develop strategies for different kinds of emergencies, and to determine roles and responsibilities. How will you contact one another?  Where will you meet?  Your local chapter of the American Red Cross can help.

To stay informed, use your good citizenship skills. Knowledge is power so keep abreast of the news and learn about area-specific emergencies that could happen where you live – natural events such as floods, tornadoes, landslides, etc.  Contact your state and local governments, which have established emergency plans for natural disasters.

Finally, get involved. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and neither is a community emergency.  So create the blueprint to care for your loved ones but also reach out to neighbors, colleagues, friends and strangers. Every hand will be a helping hand in a crisis.

Many events are happening in Maine during this month, and we are fortunate to have a talented team of emergency management experts working to keep our communities safe and prepared.  For example, Pamela L’Heureux, Director of Emergency Management in Waterboro, has been active in emergency management since 1991.  She currently serves as a member of the United Nation’s Advisory Board on International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.  As a member of the Local, State, Tribal and Federal Preparedness Task Force, she helps promote self preparedness in Maine communities and nationwide.

At the local level, more than 70 Maine schools will participate in the STEP (Student Tools for Emergency Planning) Program throughout September as the new academic year begins. This program will instruct fourth- and fifth-graders how to respond to emergency situations and how to prepare kits and communication plans for their homes. County Emergency Management Directors will deliver materials and instructional support for teachers with the goal of training nearly 3,000 students by the end of the school year.

On September 18 and 19, County Emergency Management Agencies and the Maine Emergency Management Agency will coordinate a Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) Jamboree Weekend at Camp Laurel in Readfield. This two-day annual event provides planned training and exercises such as wilderness first-aid classes and a joint American Red Cross/CART shelter operation for community emergency teams. In addition to Maine’s 24 CERT teams, the state has 14 County Animal Response Teams (CART) that assist in animal rescue and sheltering during emergencies.

Finally, on September 18, MEMA is sponsoring an informative newspaper guide that will give Maine people vital data on emergency preparedness. This guide will be distributed to some 530,000 readers throughout the state.

If you need additional information, visit http://www.citizencorps.gov or www.ready.gov.   You also can call these toll-free numbers: 1-800-BE-READY, TTY 1-800-462-7585, and 1-888-SE-LISTO.

In an emergency, everyone becomes a first-responder. In a clutch, every person becomes a team player. Learn how to be prepared so that when it does rain, we can deploy our collective umbrellas to help protect our families, our communities and our country.