Do The Math – The Need for Preparedness is in the Numbers
An Exclusive Guest Post by: James Panek
It’s 2 a.m. and a massive earthquake has just hit a major city in the USA. Folks are screaming, gas lines are exploding, buildings are collapsing, and roads are buckling. A lone Mom screams that her baby is trapped in the rubble. Out of the corner of her eye she catches a strapping young firefighter sprinting towards her, helmet on crooked, jacket blowing in the wind. “I’ll save your baby, ma’am,” he screams, and without hesitation dives right into the rubble pile. After rooting around for a dramatic minute, he triumphantly thrusts the baby, still alive and crying, up over his head as if to show the world that the baby is still alive. The mom weeps and thanks the firefighter over and over, and the young firefighter simply tips his cap and says “it was nothing ma’am, just a typical day.” The firefighter walks slowly away, and the mom cradles the baby in her arms, and watches the young firefighter make his exit. The director yells “CUT,” the “mom” tosses the mechanical baby on the chair, and the “firefighter” grabs some water.
I have also seen that movie, and it was great. Full of suspense, laughs, trying times, and in the end a happy and successful outcome. Unfortunately, here in the real world that situation does not always play itself out. With increased population growth, and shrinking revenue streams, cities have had to cut back on the number of folks that they employ, and first responders were not immune from these cuts. Where fire engines used to have four folks on them, now they are doing the same job with three. Where cities used to have an abundance of cash, and were able to hire and keep more Paramedics employed, now they have fewer and fewer. With fewer first responders and fewer ambulances, an incident that only a few short years ago could have been handled locally, now requires resources from other jurisdictions to come assist. Folks are calling 911 for emergencies that they could handle themselves, such as twisted ankles, or upset stomachs, and they are taking resources away from the folks that truly require emergency medicine, like those having a heart attack. There seems to be an almost over reliance on first responders, and an under reliance on one’s self. This was seen first hand during Hurricane Katrina, where folks simply could not get out, and there were not enough resources to handle the sheer volume of folks that needed help.
Self-reliance is a scary topic to some, and when you mention that they should be ready, they immediately think of the “survivalist” type, who has a years supply of old military MREs and stashes away gold and silver for the impending apocalypse, where paper money will be useless. Certainly there are these types out there, and there is certainly nothing wrong with stashing up on your official zombie killing devices, and shortbread. But there is another side to self-reliance that tends to get lost in the narrative of those who take an extreme view of it, and that is the side of simply having a small kit that can sustain your family for at least 72 hours. In a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake, major wildfire, or terrorist attack, it may take 72 hours (or more…or less) for responders to get to you. The question becomes, how can we convey that message to the masses without sounding like old man Jones who lives up in the mountains waiting for the world to end.
If you were to ask an average citizen what to do if they were on fire, they would say “stop, drop, and roll.” If you were to ask them what the slogan for personal preparedness is, most would not have a clue. Make a Kit. Be Ready. Be Prepared. Have a Plan, all slogans that have been thrown out by various agencies to stress the importance of being self-reliant after an emergency. The average person is inundated with these messages every day, and it is hard for them to focus on one, as none of them really paint the true picture. So, to add to the confusion (and hopefully one day eliminate it), I am suggesting that we add one more: Do The Math.
It is simple, effective and direct, scaleable, and honest. If you take the city of Seattle, as an example: They have a live-in population of 608,660 (census.gov), and a migrant daily working “population” that totals 1.5 million folks. Seattle F.D. has 208 firefighters on duty every day. If you subtract the Chiefs and other management personnel, you may have only 180 actual line firefighters. Out of those, only 74 are paramedics (seattle.gov). If you divide even the live-in population by the base number of on duty personal you come out with a ratio of 2926 citizens per one firefighter. If you take the working population in to account, then you are looking at a staggering 7211 citizens per one firefighter. (Note: I fully understand that this does not take into account LE or EMS, but the FD tends to handle these types of emergencies) Simply doing the math shows us that we cannot always count on public safety agencies to immediately swoop in and save us. If you live in a small town where a majority of the firefighters are volunteers, this number will be much lower.
While the “Do The Math” slogan isn’t meant to scare people, it hopefully will open their eyes a bit to the dangers that they could potentially face in an extreme disaster scenario. Folks must become at least semi self-reliant for a minimum of 72 hours, have a plan, and know how to contact loved ones, should the occasion ever arise. The slogan is simple, direct, and more importantly, it is an honest assessment of your cities, counties, etc., response force. It is only when folks begin to realize just how vulnerable they may be, that we in the first responder community will see the paradigm shift that agencies such as FEMA have been pushing for so long; neighbors helping neighbors. (An added bonus to the “Do The Math” slogan, is that the next time your mayor, city council, etc., has to float a bond, or raise taxes, to hire more first responders, they will be reminded of just how few first responders there truly are)
Do The Math. Simple, Effective. Honest. In the end, isn’t that all folks want these days?
A 2 Bee Ready Exclusive Guest Post By:
James Panek… an aspiring Emergency Manager who hopes that his “Do The Math” slogan will catch fire and advance the idea of preparedness and self-reliance. He lives on the outskirts of Seattle, likes his coffee dark, and has a soft spot for a good banjo tune. He has over 12 years of combined military and federal service, with 8 in the fire service. He is currently working toward an Emergency Management degree, and would welcome any and all speaking engagements, or job opportunities. You can find him re-tweeting others’ insightful tweets @firefighterjp and participating in the #SMEM (Social Media in Emergency Management) hashtag on twitter.