Preparing for the Worst Is the Best
Senator Lisa Baker
The high winds and rising floodwaters of recent storms underscore a
fundamental need: Pennsylvanians must be prepared for anything.
Because disaster can strike at any time and place, emergency planning and
practicing are as essential as food, water and shelter. Last year was one of the
most disaster-filled in recent history, spawning more than 1,000 weather-related
fatalities and more than 8,000 injuries across the country. These tragedies
should compel us to get ready for the worst now.
Coupled with the fact that Pennsylvania is the second most flood-prone state
in the nation, we should know that prolonged power outages, boil-water
advisories, closed roads, and evacuation orders are always a grim possibility.
Despite Doppler radar and other technological advances in forecasting and flood
mapping, a small emergency can still escalate into a major disaster.
It is not only Mother Nature's assaults, but man-made attacks, that can leave
Americans in need of help, as 9-11 and the nation's recent mass shootings
demonstrate in heart-wrenching detail.
The need to plan for any hazard—be it the next flood, fire, snowstorm, toxic
spill, earthquake, criminal act, or terrorist attack—is the message behind
Emergency Preparedness Month, commemorated every September.
September also is the time we mark First Responders Appreciation Day (Sept.
27), Gold Star Mothers Day (Sept. 30), POW-MIA Recognition Day (Sept. 21), the
anniversary of 9-11, and, this year, the first anniversary of Tropical Storm
This convergence of crises and commemorations highlights the ongoing efforts
of individuals, communities, the Commonwealth and this country to plan for,
prevent, minimize, respond to, and recover from tragedy. When a natural or
manmade disaster launches an unexpected punch, a trained, coordinated network
must be at the ready at all levels, from families, townships and counties, all
the way up to the federal Office of Homeland Security.
As the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness
Committee, I am honored to be able to work with members of our military,
firefighters, police officers and EMS workers who have the love of country,
community, freedom and family to fight a house fire in the dead of night or
leave behind their family to stare down danger in a faraway land. Whether
responding to a cardiac arrest call, embarking on a high-speed chase or rescuing
lost campers, our emergency responders know that work is never 9 to 5. They
have a higher calling that transcends salary or ceremony.
History has shown that in a large-scale emergency such as Hurricane Katrina
or Irene, first responders may not be able to reach everyone immediately.
Therefore, government officials urge all citizens to prepare to survive on their
own for at least three days.
The Commonwealth outlines many ways to prepare on its
www.ReadyPA.org website. Suggestions include stocking an emergency kit
complete with batteries, bottled water and extra medication; teaching children
when to dial 911; and formulating and practicing a family evacuation and
Local governments and the state play a front-line role in emergency
preparedness, response and recovery. Our Senate committee is now working to
revise the complicated system of laws that govern our emergency response
structure. Known as Title 35, the law has not been updated since 1996, long
before 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina taught us valuable lessons about cell phone
coverage, rooftop rescues and evacuation centers.
Next month, the Senate will hold a hearing on ways to fund 911 call centers
in the future. In many counties, the $1 or $1.50 monthly charge on a
homeowner's landline or cell phone is woefully inadequate to fund the latest
technology, which will allow victims to send text messages, videos and
photographs to 911 call centers.
Counties need the resources to bring our 911 call centers into the Internet
age. We must also consolidate call centers and share resources. With the
technology available to do so, now is the time to incentivize cooperation.
It is easy to take for granted that a 911 call will be answered within
seconds by trained call takers, and that police, fire, and ambulance crews will
arrive at the scene of a crime or accident within minutes. We must make sure
every link in the chain works quickly and capably—every time—to immediately
provide help to the hurting. Every citizen can aid this system even more by
supporting our local heroes at home and abroad and by preparing for emergencies
in our communities.
Take the time now to prepare your family's emergency kit. It is also a good
time to support your local police officers, firefighters, ambulance workers, 911
call-takers and veterans past, present and future in some meaningful way. As
true local heroes, they know all too well that each call can lead them into
harm's way, but they serve still, with unselfish courage and patriotism.
While we wish that bad things never happened to good people, recent tragedies
compel us to be prepared. It is in times of greatest trouble that Americans
have always displayed the heart-warming spirit, resilience and unity that have
made America the greatest nation on earth, and always will.