Disaster preparedness spreads to students
“We are addressing you as students, but we are recognizing you as teachers,” explained Col. Robert M. Coupe of the Delaware State Police to an auditorium filled with high school students at Sussex Central High School last week, as the Disaster Preparedness Coalition introduced their 2010 Disaster Preparedness DVD – one subtitled in Spanish and one subtitled in English.
Coupe joined Gov. Jack Markell and guests from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Delaware Department of Homeland Security and the school and school district. A sign-language interpreter was present as well, as the coalition has the goal of expanding the campaign to reach all students, including the Spanish-speaking population and those who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have developmental disabilities.
“You taught us how to use the remote, our cell phone, and our iPods,” joked Coup, as he explained that it was fitting to address students, as they are really the ones with the power to teach. “And we thank you in advance for teaching us preparedness. You’re the audience that becomes the teacher and takes it out there.”
Markell added that, with all of the recent snow, it was a timely conversation to have, to make sure all facets of Delaware population – including those in the Spanish-speaking population and those who are hard of hearing – know what to do in a disaster.
“We are trying to send a signal to you,” explained the governor, “that this is a big deal. “It’s easy to think disasters don’t really strike all that much. Who really knows about it? Who really cares? But looking at the two recent earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile – many, many fewer people died [in Chile] because of better disaster planning, better building codes. You don’t know when it is going to hit.”
The theme of the day was that the federal government and the state and local government can do their best, but it really comes down to the people being prepared. Sussex Central High School was a fitting backdrop, as the school was a shelter during the recent blizzards. According to Sarah Gilmour of the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula, the Red Cross assisted in sheltering 300 people in five shelters in Delaware and one in Maryland.
In speaking about disasters such as Sept. 11, 2001, James E. Turner III, the director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said it was really all about “failure of imagination.”
“When you look at preparedness, that’s really what it amounts to. We failed to imagine an attack like that,” he said. “In the recent events, with the electricity, we failed to imagine we would need an emergency kit. We can survive, if we are prepared.” He then quoted Ben Franklin in conclusion, saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Angela L. H. Mano of FEMA Region III summed up the premise of the day with statistics about everyday emergencies. She said, “95 percent of the time, bystanders and victims are the first on the scene. There is a misconception that there will be rescuers knocking on the door, providing assistance. At the end of the day, the government can do everything we can do and should be doing, but it is not enough. If the citizens are not part of the equation, we are not going to be prepared.”
The goal of the partnership between FEMA and members of the Disaster Preparedness Coalition is to educate Delawareans on preparedness for whatever might come their way. Members of the coalition are DEMA, Delaware Citizens Corps. The Delaware State Police, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the American Red Cross and the Division of Public Health.