September is National Preparedness Month, and Divakar Saini, a Gunn High School junior, is working to spread the word. Earthquake drills at school sparked his original interest in emergency preparedness, and now he has been active in the topic for two years. He currently serves as his Block Preparedness Coordinator through the City of Palo Alto and helps host an emergency preparation table at the annual Midtown neighborhood social.
"At any given time, there are not enough responders on duty if a major disaster struck, so we would need to help ourselves and our neighbors," he said.
He also created a emergency preparedness course, called "Masters of Disasters," for elementary and middle school students and their parents. The course is offered in collaboration with the City of Palo Alto's Office of Emergency Services, and is already filled for October.
At Gunn, he started an emergency preparedness club two years ago that now has about 20 active member, Saini said. He also won a Gun @ Your Service microgrant that he plans to use toward a preparedness seminar for children in the community.
He also serves as one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) 15 Youth Preparedness Council members. In June, he attended a summit in Washington, D.C., to represent FEMA Region 6 and collaborate with other district members.
If residents feel like they don't have time to prepare for an emergency, Saini offers advice and four steps even busy people can do to be prepared.
Four-step emergency preparedness for busy people by Divakar Saini
People often ignore or procrastinate on making the necessary preparations for emergency and disaster preparedness. Reasons range from, "It's a low probability," to "There will always be help available," to "I just don't have the time," to "It's just not worth the time."
Well, living in the Bay Area, we cannot ignore the possibilities of earthquakes, especially since scientists affirm that the "big one" is not a matter of if, but when. If such an event were to happen the few active firemen and police officers our city has will not nearly be enough to immediately respond to potentially thousands of effected residents. That should provide the sufficient motivation to doubters that proactive disaster preparedness may not only be worth our time, but it is absolutely essential and may perhaps even be life saving.
The reality though is the people are busy, and for most, taking major chunks of time out for this activity is simply not a priority. If time was the only reason, listed below are some small steps that are substantive and meaningful yet can be accomplished in very short order.
Step 1: Make a kit
An emergency kit provides basic survival items, which provisions for you and your family to survive for 72 hours without external assistance. Items include 1 gallon of water per person per day, food, first-aid supplies, flashlights, a whistle, wrench for turning utilities off, soap, a can opener, batteries and hand-powered radios among others. These items can be easily assembled or purchased from local stores like Costco or online at Amazon. Put a kit at an accessible place like your garage and one set in each of your cars. This activity may take no more than 15 minutes of your time.
Step 2: Make a plan
What will you do if at the time of emergency all your family members are spread out to different locations such as work, shopping and school. There must be a plan to help reunite everyone at an agreed-upon location in case the home is not accessible. Every member must also have emergency out-of-town contact information of one or more family members or friends. Make sure each member knows the plan and a copy of the plan is included in each of your emergency kits. You may get help from CaliforniaVolunteers or the Ready campaign. This activity may take no more than 20 minutes of your time.
Step 3: Be informed
Palo Alto is fortunate to have a very active Office of Emergency Services (OES) run by the City of Palo Alto. Residents should at the very least browse through the OES website, where you will learn many things, including information about free, hands-on skill training on topics such as Community Emergency Response Team, Radio Communications and others.
You also can easily sign up for receiving alerts and notifications on your phone and through email. The alerts will cover local hazards and emergencies. In the Santa Clara County, consider signing up for AlertSCC, a free alert service. A worthwhile download is a smartphone app from FEMA. This activity will take five minutes to sign up.
Step 4: Connect with your neighbors
In case of a large scale emergency, it stands to reason that the first responders are more than likely going to be neighbors. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world that during peace time, we take the time to meet our neighbors. Set up block parties or just invite your neighbor over to share a cup of coffee and make sure to exchange phone numbers and emails with one another. Many good things can come about from that simple gesture.
The City of Palo Alto is once again very fortunate to have an active volunteer-run program know as the Block Preparedness Coordinator (BPC) Program. BPCs act as liaisons with the emergency services and will work in your neighborhood to facilitate the response and recovery efforts in the event of a disaster. Make an effort to find out who your BPC is here.
As you can see, time cannot be an excuse any more. If you choose to make the small investment, you will earn back a huge comfort and peace of mind from knowing you are prepared. And in case an event does strike, this preparation will help mitigate its effects and help speed up the process of recovery. This is an important issue, which also now happens to be a national priority. That is why we have a whole month dedicated to mobilize our nation to take action. The month is September and the time is now!