When I give presentations to classes or community groups about emergency management and how individuals can prepare for emergencies and disasters, I always feel like a bit of a Debbie Downer. I am, after all, cautioning them to prepare for something that may be a fairly frightening event that could cause harm to them, their family members, their pets, and their property. I try and balance my doom and gloom with small spots of levity, but when you are talking about ways to protect oneself from critical injury or death it is sometimes difficult to gather anything but nervous laughter. And yet, I try and never turn down a request to speak to a group because I know that the information I put into their heads may make a difference in the choices they make before, during, and after an emergency or disaster.
Let’s face it, the old adage – information is power – is true. I want folks to have the information they need to appropriately manage their own risk. I want folks to be their own first line of defense instead of hoping or assuming that some government agency will rush in to save the day. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should all run out and buy the DVD of last season’s episodes of Doomsday Preppers. What it means is that we must be realistic about the limits of government’s ability to respond, particularly in a large event.
The bombings in Boston today should remind us all once again that in addition to all the other potential natural and technological hazards we face, intentional violence and terrorism-related activities are always a potential threat no matter where we are or what we are doing. There is no place where you are 100% safe from all hazards. We must all learn how to best live within the risk society we inhabit, and I am here to tell you that burying your head in the sand is not the way to proceed.
I would urge all of my readers to focus on one fundamental shift in their own risk management – a shift that I know requires some practice, but that is well worth the effort. The shift I suggest is practicing situational awareness at all times. Situational awareness in the context I am using here is basically being aware of your surroundings – knowing where the exits or safe havens are should an event occur, keeping your eyes open and your mind attuned to potential risk, and being ready to act in a way that protects your life and the lives of others. It is a risk lens that my students are trained to have for both their own safety and for the effective performance of their job. Thinking like this all the time – whether in church, in a meeting, on a soccer field, or any of the thousands of other locations where folks conduct their lives – may seem foreign at first, but it gets easier with practice.
A well-developed risk lens will serve you well in every situation – from a garden variety fire to an active shooter situation in a crowded theater. The awareness level that becomes your norm shaves precious seconds off the time it takes your brain to respond and those seconds can quite literally be the difference between life and death. Think about where you are right now – how many exits are there and what would you do if you had to get out in a hurry? Now think about being in the grocery store, at a major sporting event, at a theme park, at a school event in the gymnasium…think about where you go and what you would do if the unthinkable happened. Because here is what we know folks – those who think about the unthinkable and what they would do in the event it occurs are more likely to survive.
Today, as you follow the news of the explosions in Boston, think about what you would have done if you were there in the moment. Start fine tuning that lens of yours and use it daily. Before you know it, it will become second nature and you will do it without even thinking about it; but, note that when you use your risk lens your brain is taking precious notes…notes that could save your life.
Day one thousand three hundred and seventy-seven of the new forty – obla di obla da