NFPA Today - September 08, 2022

Gambling on natural disasters is a losing strategy

As all of us in the world of fire and life safety know, being well prepared for fire and other emergencies plays a key role in reducing associated risks and losses. But when it comes to actually putting preparedness policies and systems into place, doing what’s needed doesn’t always happen.

There are many reasons why: A lack of buy-in from the necessary groups and individuals to create plans and procedures; limited staffing and resources; and inadequate budgeting are just a few of the many shortfalls that contribute to inaction.

Unfortunately, gambling on the likelihood of a disaster in the hopes that it might not occur is a bet most communities will eventually lose. And the outcomes that result from not preparing adequately can be devastating. Some of the unprecedented storms, hurricanes, flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires we’ve witnessed in recent years and the tragic losses they’ve incurred underscore this reality. These past incidents also highlight the fact that much work remains to truly ensure a full ecosystem of safety, incorporating all the elements needed to keep citizens safe and protected.

Of course, no one individual can take on and implement this system of safety on their own. It requires robust coordination among a diverse team of safety advocates, fire and life safety officials, local business owners, organizations, and policymakers, among others, who come together to support these efforts and put them into motion. In fact, I firmly believe that fully utilizing the interdependencies of others helps strengthen the work and impact each of us delivers.

National Preparedness Month, the annual campaign sponsored by FEMA each September, represents a timely opportunity for everyone who plays a safety role in their community to work collaboratively with appropriate partners to secure preparedness plans before incidents happen, so that the proper systems and procedures are in place to effectively mitigate and recover from them. While Preparedness Month focuses on natural disasters that most likely occur in the months ahead, any event that can cause catastrophe within a community year-round should be included in these plans as well.

And while disasters impact all of us when they do occur, underserved regions tend to bear the brunt more than others. With the focus of this year’s Preparedness Month campaign on vulnerable populations, making sure those areas have the support and resources needed to remain protected and safe is critical.

Community risk reduction (CRR), which works to identify the leading risks with a given community, can play a significant role in meeting these preparedness objectives. Access to data helps safety officials pinpoint where the greatest risks lie and among which neighborhoods, ensuring that the proper resources and guidance are directed at the groups and individuals who need the most assistance.

In addition, there are countless tools and resources that can guide community and safety officials’ efforts, making preparedness planning more manageable and less daunting. Our CRR digital tool CRAIG 1300® serves as a powerful platform for identifying leading risks within a given area. NFPA also offers a wealth of natural disaster preparedness resources and information, including safety tips and checklists that can help reduce the risk of electrical fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other threats posed during thunderstorms, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other emergencies, which can be distributed directly to the public.

At the end of the day, natural disasters are an inevitability in all our worlds. It’s not if they’re going to happen but when and we need to prepare in lock step with one another to be as ready for them as reasonably possible. The time to do this is now. Yes, the process can feel overwhelming, particularly with so many immediate day-to-day demands and priorities to tackle, but alternatively pushing aside natural disasters and other crises in the hope that they don’t happen is a losing strategy and risk none of us can afford to take. 

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Jim Pauley
President & CEO of NFPA