Op-Eds

Creating a Culture of Preparedness

September Marks National Preparedness Month

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Washington, September 21, 2009 | Ashley Patterson ((202) 225-1640) | comments
Congressman Cuellar discusses how the country can create a culture of preparedness in a post 9/11 world.
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September marks the sixth annual National Preparedness Month.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared this month a time for the nation to focus “on becoming better prepared for, and more resilient in the face of, emergencies of all kinds.”

Just eight years ago, the nation’s sense of normalcy was shattered by the attacks of September 11th.  Four years later, the country witnessed the colossal failure of planning and responding to Hurricane Katrina.  Yet experts warn that Americans remain complacent about planning for catastrophes. 

A Red Cross survey taken this summer revealed that 80 percent of Americans had taken at least one key preparedness step, but only 12 percent of Americans are reasonably prepared for a disaster as recommended by the Red Cross.

Individual and shared responsibility are the essential ingredients for a well-informed and prepared citizenry.

When the Midwest faced unprecedented floods this spring, the public and private sectors prepared and partnered to evacuate residents, reinforce levees and distribute generators. When the West and Southwest faced wildfires, neighbors were prepared and organized to hose down each others’ properties and leave together ahead of the flames.  These and other instances show us how preparations make us far less prone to fear, and how we’re able to respond because we are adequately prepared.

President Kennedy once reminded us how in the Chinese written language the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters: one representing danger and the other opportunity.

Looking at the H1N1 flu pandemic, Americans can use this opportunity to apply common-sense approaches to managing this crisis. H1N1 has already claimed the lives of more than 550 Americans and recently infected more than 2,000 college students in Washington State. 

To establish and maintain resilience in the face of this flu, Americans should consider getting the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 vaccination. They should wash their hands more frequently, minimize contact with those infected, and adopt plans that encourage the sick to stay home. 

During the last Congress, I introduced H.R. 5890, a bill to establish a Community Preparedness Division at the Department of Homeland Security to assist in preparing citizens for emergencies, and I support the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) program, where local citizens are trained to respond to disasters. 

Preparedness starts in our communities and inside our homes. Online, you can find preparedness tips at www.ready.gov and learn how you can put together an emergency kit and make an emergency plan that includes identifying an out-of-town contact and a central meeting place.  You can learn about resources to complete first aid and CPR training.

Personal preparedness will enhance our national response. So in the spirit of National Preparedness Month, let’s consider what we can do in our homes and within our communities to better prepare.

With this, our response can be on “stand-by” and our recovery will be that more resilient.

Henry Cuellar
U.S. Congressman
District 28, Texas
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