Cumberland Times-News

May 2, 2013

Preparedness, mitigation both necessary

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— I commend the Times-News for your April 28 front-page articles on disaster preparedness (“What is worth the cost for disaster prep?” and “Post-storms, area officials mull tactics for disasters.”)

Without constant education and reminders about disaster preparedness and mitigation, both the public and politicians grow complacent ... until something happens that affects them.

As the article points out, it is roughly four times more expensive (four times more pain) to wait until emergencies and disasters happen, to start thinking about what “should have been done.”

However, the two articles confuse preparedness and mitigation.

Mitigation is those actions we take to minimize the amount of harm that will take place when an event occurs. This might include such things as land use zoning that prohibits building in known flood zones, or perhaps installing a tornado shelter or “safe room” in our homes.

Preparedness is those things we do so that we can respond effectively when something does happen, such as having well-organized, trained and equipped fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel, a well-designed jurisdictional disaster response plan, and regular training and drilling for disaster response skills and coordination.

On the household level, preparedness might be having a family evacuation and relocation plan, placing smoke alarms and fire extinguishers on every floor (with training on how to use an extinguisher), or having an emergency “go-kit” that has copies of all the family’s valuable papers, prescriptions, as well as some money and personal toiletries. (By the way, the American Red Cross has some excellent free smart phone apps for individual and household preparedness and response).

Both mitigation and preparedness are designed to help individuals and communities have a better outcome in emergencies and disasters, but the difference between the two is important, because both the federal and state governments fund mitigation and preparedness differently.

Preparedness funds are made available prior to a disaster occurring, and, strangely enough, the mitigation funds from the feds have traditionally been made available only after an event has happened in a given locality, with the mitigation project being intended to lessen the impact of a future event in the same place.

The current administration is changing this odd way of funding mitigation, hopefully for the better.

As a former professional first responder and current professor of emergency health and emergency management, I have seen hundreds of examples of people and communities significantly decreasing their exposure to grief and suffering by participating in some simple mitigation and preparedness measures, and hope our readers take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

Rick Bissell, PhD

Professor and graduate program director

UMBC Department of Emergency Health Services