'Asleep at the Switch'

According to a Red Cross-commissioned study, 60 percent of Americans are unprepared for a disaster.

HERE'S a safety message with attitude: Most Americans are clueless about their own safety, American Red Cross President and CEO Marsha J. Evans says. (And who knows more about community preparedness than the Red Cross? When we're in trouble--burned out by fire, flattened by an earthquake or tornado--ARC responds, at a pace of about 70,000 disasters per year.)

"I'm asking each of you in this room to help the American Red Cross wake up America. Because there are 175 million people out there who are basically asleep at the switch when it comes to their own, and their family's, safety and security," Evans said Jan. 28 in a National Press Club speech.

"With over half the U.S. population living in coastal communities . . . and nearly a third in the top nine metropolitan areas, the risk of catastrophic and mass casualty disasters increases annually. And that's without adding in the threat of terrorism," she said. "Thankfully, we are a nation of resilient, optimistic individuals. We have not let the increased threat of danger deter us from living our lives. I applaud and share that spirit. But, what concerns me is the lack of reasonable preparedness on the part of the general public.

"According to a study the Red Cross commissioned last year, close to 60 percent of Americans are wholly unprepared for a disaster of any description. They don't have a family emergency plan, nor are they aware of school, workplace, and community procedures. They have not stocked emergency supplies, nor have they sought even basic first aid and CPR training. They're not giving blood, nor are they donating their time or money to emergency support services like the American Red Cross."

Evans discussed what ARC is doing: partnering, restructuring, taking measures to safeguard the nation's blood supply, and organizing a national symposium on disaster preparedness. Then she listed five steps every American should take to be better prepared. "Truth is, about 80 percent of the prep work is the same," she said. "Whether it's an act of terrorism or an act of God, there are five easy steps you can take today to prepare for it. You can make a plan, build a kit, get trained, volunteer, and give blood . . . the five basic building blocks of the Red Cross Together We Prepare program."

That's five easy steps to preparedness. My family has done all five. Has yours?

This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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