THE ISSUE: Public apathy toward danger; OUR OPINION: Heeding warnings, doing some things NOW, can be critical in emergencies
Despite a record-breaking year of federally declared disasters in 2011 — including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires — Americans still remain complacent in times of disaster.
A new study released by Federal Signal Corp., a global designer and manufacturer of public safety communications equipment and systems, the 2012 Public Safety Survey hones in on emotional reactions of the public to disaster and emergency situations, and their level of apathy toward public safety, notifications and alerts.
Some of the national findings from the survey include:
* 71 percent of Americans are unsure if they have a personal alerting and notification system in their area.
* More than one in four Americans do not know whether their community has a warning siren system or not.
* Less than half (47 percent) would take action based on a potential severe weather warning.
* 33 percent would require actual property damage or injury in order to care strongly about public safety awareness.
The results reflect the reality that too many people believe disaster will strike somewhere else. They don’t have a personal reason to care until something happens to them, though by then it may be too late to act.
“With all of the options available to keep the public informed of nearby disasters or emergencies, we were alarmed to see how many people aren’t aware of the existing notification systems in their communities,” said Joe Wilson, president of the Industrial Systems Division, Safety and Security Group at Federal Signal. “In times of crisis, people need to act fast — or risk waiting until it’s too late.”
Even severe weather conditions do not motivate Americans to take action. One in four respondents would require confirmation of severe weather, such as an actual tornado sighting, flood waters or a visible fire in order to take immediate action. A shocking one in 12 people said nothing would cause them to care.
“Preparedness starts with awareness,” Wilson said. “As emergency managers strive to support their community with effective programming and planning, it’s imperative that the public stay informed of what communications systems local officials and emergency managers currently have in place — and more importantly, that communities are prepared to respond efficiently and effectively.”
It is equally important that individuals be prepared as individuals for emergencies. That was one of the messages presented in a program, “Preparing for Tomorrow: Important Information that Everyone Needs to Know,” for the Fort Motte Garden Club on Sept. 25 by Anna Laura Hutto, patient advocate and personal health record manager, and Tana Shuler, LPN, admissions coordinator from Calhoun Convalescent Center.
Getting health records organized so you can be prepared in an emergency is vital, Hutto said. During an emergency, access to critical health information about allergies, diagnoses, medications, tests and emergency contacts can be life saving. She stressed the importance of having living wills and health care powers of attorney and where to keep these documents.
Hutto emphasized the value of having medical information available in a binder or notebook, or on portable USB flash drives, when a patient needs immediate assistance.
In addition, Shuler discussed issues about skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, finances and insurance benefits and coverage, and Medicare and Medicaid. (A photograph from the meeting is with this editorial at TheTandD.com).
Preparedness is not just an issue for older generations either.
Parents are advised by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles to talk with their teens and college-age children about entering emergency contact information in their DMV records using the agency’s website at scdmvonline.com.
The Emergency Contact online transaction allows those with a driver’s license, beginner’s permit or identification card to enter emergency contact information in their DMV record. If necessary, law enforcement can access the information and provide it to emergency medical personnel.
To enter emergency contact information, customers should visit scdmvonline.com and select Public Services from the Online Services menu. Participants may designate two individuals as emergency contacts by entering their name, address and telephone numbers.
“The process only takes a few minutes and just knowing the information is there can provide peace of mind to the parents,” SCDMV Executive Director Kevin Shwedo said.
The minutes and even hours spent in considering what to do in emergencies and doing everything possible to be prepared can prove very valuable. Heeding formal warnings is as sensible as being individually prepared, as the Calhoun Convalescent Center officials advise.
As Shwedo says about emergency contact information: “While you hope you’ll never have to use it, the contact information would be a valuable resource for first responders. If your child is hurt, you want to know as soon as possible.”