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A culture of preparedness is key in times of crisis

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At its peak, the coronavirus pandemic forced over 40 million Americans into unemployment. As if financial struggles combined with health concerns weren’t enough to deal with, there’s another threat on the horizon. 

Hurricane season has officially begun and already we’ve named three storms. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts we’ll name up to 19 storms this year, with about half expected to become full-fledged hurricanes — some even catastrophic. 

That’s a busy year as far as hurricane season goes.

A string of natural disasters could make economic recovery efforts all that more challenging. While we can’t pick and choose which hurricanes make landfall, we can control how prepared we are to face them. 

Given that the current pandemic is already wreaking havoc on supply chains, it’s even more crucial to prepare ahead of time for a potential storm. That means stocking up on non-perishable and high protein foods, flashlights (and batteries), first aid kits and bottled water. 

Staying connected to weather updates and alerts — especially in this time of greater disconnection — is also of the utmost importance. You can even receive alerts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) right to your phone. These include safety tips, as well as the locations of emergency shelters. You can also get alerts for multiple locations, something that’s even more key as many of us find ourselves separated from our loved ones.  

This advice may sound like common sense, but the coronavirus pandemic revealed just how unprepared individuals and governments were to take on a crisis. This poor state of readiness sparked periods of intense food and supply hoarding that left grocery store shelves barren. Shortages of other necessary items — notably toilet paper — were highlighted by almost every newspaper and television station in the country. A recent national poll showed that over 70 percent of Americans were caught without enough food or water when the pandemic struck. While we didn’t end up needing the water, it was obvious most people hadn’t banked a three-day supply. 

Not only were we negligent in our preparation, but several states and localities had advocated to ban one of the most key items in a disaster — bottled water. Just last year, San Francisco banned plastic bottles at its airport. More recently in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio banned single-use plastic bottles on any city-owned properties. But now, faced with a health crisis, we are being forced to reassess the value plastic water bottles can have when it comes to health and safety. 

Our efforts to be more environmentally conscious by limiting plastic use are commendable and necessary — but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Attempts to ban or tax bottled water send a message that it isn’t a necessary item; when in fact, it is probably the most essential thing to have on hand during a natural disaster. Until we find a better solution, bottled water is the easiest way to store and distribute safe drinking water during a crisis.

From a family or federal perspective, disaster preparedness must be a priority. That starts with ensuring everyone can access key items. As we continue to battle the coronavirus, and head into hurricane season, we never know what’s on the horizon. As the old, but accurate, adage goes: “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” 

R. David Paulison is a former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tags Bill de Blasio coastal cities disaster management disaster mitigation FEMA hurricane season hurricanes Natural disasters resources stockpile tropical storms

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