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Posted at 12:04 PM ET, 08/24/2011

Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and rethinking disaster preparedness


Renee Knight with evacuees gathered in Farragut Square following an earthquake on Aug. 23, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Amanda Voisard - THE WASHINGTON POST)

Updated: 3:03 p.m.:

The earthquake that rocked the East Coast produced no casualties, thankfully, but it showcased how poorly prepared many of us are for a disaster rarely experienced in this region of the country. For example, did you know that your first instinct during an earthquake should be to dive under your desk or the sturdiest surface available?

You probably know that now, but looking around the streets of Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, it was readily apparent that this wasn’t common knowledge. Thousands of people gathered in the streets moments after the quake in locations where they might have been crushed if buildings had started to collapse.

The East Coast’s lack of preparedness for the earthquake highlights a critical weakness in disaster preparedness as Earth undergoes gradual, but significant changes. For example, how prepared are Washington, D.C. residents for a tornado, and how prepared are New York City residents for a catastrophic flood?

These types of disasters have occurred in both cities — but they are not common, and the steps to take in order to protect one’s self are not instinctual. As Earth’s topography and climate gradually change, so must our mentality. For example, many D.C. residents thought the earthquake was the sign of another terrorist attack.

The Internet has allowed us to share information as never before. For example, nearly every major city has a web page dedicated to disaster preparedness, but if the Internet goes down and people are looking for information (which is exactly what happened in D.C. Tuesday) — how many of us are 100 percent sure of where to look?

While organizations like the Red Cross, World Health Organization (WHO) and Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Association (DERA), among other agencies, are in a perpetual state of preparedness, what about the rest of us? Is it time to change the way children are prepared for disasters in school, or the way disaster preparedness is taught in the workplace?

Christina Crue, the Exercise Director at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, said in a statement to the Post: “This event is an opportunity not only for public officials to educate the community, but for individuals to take a proactive stance for earthquakes and all hazards.” Crue also emphasized the need to have a household disaster plan, knowing how to be self-sufficient in the first 72 hours, having a radio handy and stockpiling supplies like food and water.

The Washington Post’s On Parenting blog has a guide for creating a disaster preparedness plan for your family. But it may be time for a more profound change in the way we think when it comes to instilling the proper instincts during a disaster. And we may want to do it sooner rather than later, because, if you haven’t heard, a storm is coming.

Read more on Innovations:

The Buzz | What happened when you got home?

Washington area assesses quake damage

What caused the Va. earthquake?

Graphic: Quakes in Va. since 1964

Assessing impact of the quake

By  |  12:04 PM ET, 08/24/2011

Categories:  Health

 
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