Preparedness priorities: Protect life, then property, then the environment

Preparedness priorities: Protect life, then property, then the environment
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Ahead of the storm, those preparing for Florence called her a “behemoth,” a “beast,” the “storm of the century,”

Many citizens live and work in and around our coastal areas on both coasts. As such there is an inherent risk associated with our nature vs. citizen arrangement. Tropical Cyclones are one of them and we occasionally rationalize away the fickle characteristics of Mother Nature. We couldn’t do that, not this time, not this storm.

Currently tracked via the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, she remains a dangerous and catastrophic storm with impacts that could only be described as “life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic flooding, rainfall.”


While the devastation of her impact is yet to be determined and her path continues to be actively monitored, one thing is for sure — everyone seems to be embracing preparedness.

It may be ironic that September has routinely been considered National Preparedness Month. It is also the month of increased activity of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. Why not engage in real world practice if you are in Florence’s way? This week many of our leaders were urging us to do just that. With or without a behemoth storm bearing down on you, one only has to look at the many resources and preparedness tips found on Ready.Gov for ideas to keep the family safe and in the groove of year round preparedness.

Whether citizens in her path chose to stay or evacuate as officials recommend, preparing for Florence followed a “Whole Community” approach. What does that mean? Simply put Whole Community encourages all of us as citizens, to create and maintain a foundation of individual preparedness in collaboration within our own community inventory of critical resources that may be called upon in an hour of need. Better to have a resource than to be looking for it! Think of a resource as a community approach, what do we have that may be helpful to us as Florence arrives and departs the community? What will we need? Any community in the storms path is the first base of resource and support. All disasters begin and end locally.

Many additional resources have been already been requested before Florence’s approaches. There is comfort when you hear prepared unified voices at press conferences from every level of government address not only the immediate life safety priorities but resource requests such as; reversing all lanes of a highway to facilitate quick evacuations, providing clear cut off time for safe evacuation and what shelters will be open in what areas, where to go to get the up to date information or explaining the process of how to volunteer and overall strong public messaging. Private sector company Anheuser- Busch paused beer production and to fill cans with water. It will donate 300,000 water cans to the effort.

When we build a culture of preparedness we provide the foundation that enhances security and resiliency of our immediate area and thus our nation.


The news is full of examples of the Whole Community demonstrating to Florence that we are individually prepared and our leaders are collaboratively working alongside communities to provide disaster resources.

Turn on any media outlet or listen to a radio discussing Florence and you can hear individual or family preparedness echoed by our leaders. Strong leadership at all levels has been and needs to be continually provided to ensure accurate and timely information, guidance, and parameters for success as Florence pays her visit. We have heard that from every level of officials in the impacted states, the governors of those states and FEMA Director Brock Long.


Building a culture of preparedness is one of the pillars of FEMA leadership as is preparing the nation for disasters and reducing the complexity of FEMA. This mission can’t be accomplished without first; citizens being engaged, aware, informed or ready.

How do you plan priorities in a culture of preparedness? Life and safety of citizens is always the priority, second is preservation of property, and lastly protection of the environment. These three items are often woven into, cascade into each other as we look at preparedness in totality. Our leaders are very clear on the immediate priority as Florence makes landfall those in her path.

In addition to listening to your local, state, federal officials/leaders who are working hard to provide updates so citizens are informed and prepared, you may check Florence’s latest situation from the National Hurricane Center.

Bottom line, Florence is a dangerous storm and she highlights the need for a culture of preparedness.

Richard Serino is a distinguished senior fellow at Harvard University’s National Preparedness leadership Initiative. Serino served as FEMA deputy administrator from 2009 to 2014 and as chief of Boston EMS.

Mary McElman is a registered nurse and has a MS in Safety-Security and Emergency Management with concentrations in Homeland Security and Emergency Management from Eastern Kentucky University