National Preparedness Month Is a Call to Action to Protect Legacies
September marks the beginning of a new season. Children are back to school. Adults are back to work after summer vacations. The summer vibe gives way to shorter days and planning for fall. It’s a great time to reset.
September is also the month that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to remind everyone about the value of preparedness. National Preparedness Month happens at the height of the hurricane season and is marked by a series of public service announcements to educate communities, businesses, and families about how and why they need to get ready for seasonal disasters.
This August became the first time in 25 years that we did not have a named storm, but we still know that hurricanes are becoming more frequent, stronger, and more devastating.
This year’s theme, “A Lasting Legacy,” focuses on protecting lives and livelihoods in our communities to preserve them for future generations. In the face of a changing disaster landscape, this year’s messages are designed to resonate with African American communities. Many African American legacy communities across our great nation contribute to our country’s success. Preserving their rich heritage encompasses the aim of this preparedness campaign.
One such community is Princeville, North Carolina, the oldest African American incorporated town in America. Through FEMA grant money, Princeville is taking long-term steps to resolve its perpetual flooding issues. A coalition of leaders in this small community came together to apply for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) money to move over 50 homes to higher ground and essentially ‘save’ the town and its place in history. Princeville demonstrates resilience by preparing not just for the next event but for disasters well into the future.
Our African American households, communities, and small businesses need to prepare for the worsening impacts of climate change. A single storm, fire, tornado, flood, or earthquake can wipe out a family home or destroy a business. The precious legacy of what these communities have spent a lifetime building will be lost. Small and minority-owned businesses are woven into the fabric of our diverse communities, and yet, only 40-60% of small businesses reopen after a flood or hurricane event. Homeownership remains the best vehicle for building wealth, including intergenerational wealth. In 2019, the median Black household held one-eighth the wealth of the median white household. Wealth can help start small businesses, send kids to college, and weather the storm of a pandemic. To create legacies, Black homeowners must protect their homes through preparedness actions.
Other staggering indirect costs of recovery from weather events, such as business interruptions, lost personal income, outsized debt, homelessness, and long-term health consequences, can further exacerbate historic inequities in communities.
Our diverse communities perceive risks and benefits in different ways. It is incumbent upon emergency management practitioners to address the differences between urban, rural, and even tribal communities and to enlist trusted messengers, like faith-based organizations and non-profits to allow communities to be seen and heard.
At Guidehouse, we support FEMA by building partnerships in communities and identifying these trusted sources. Through regional Town Halls, we assist FEMA in establishing equity communications, understanding there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building these crucial relationships.
The lesson is that it is critical to listen first and not presume to have all the answers on how to get a community prepared. Engaging once is not enough. Engagement builds over time and is rooted in trust and an intrinsic understanding of our communities.
There’s no doubt communities respond better to help from those who look more like them and understand their unique needs. That’s why we are helping the non-profit, the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM), bring more professionals of color into the field.
Some messages transcend differences. If there is one takeaway from National Preparedness Month, it is that no matter who you are or which community you live in, it doesn’t cost a lot to prepare.
Making an emergency plan, assembling a go kit, and signing up for apps to keep abreast of the latest severe weather alerts are the first steps families and individuals can take. Securing homes and businesses should be a community priority with no group left behind. With neighbors helping neighbors, communities can prepare all year long. At Guidehouse, we’ve started a movement to encourage preparedness by making it fun. We ask our colleagues to take a preparedness action: make a plan, buy a disaster kit, stay informed, purchase insurance, follow guidance from officials, and post a picture on social media so that others are motivated to take concrete steps to weather a storm.
This national call to action around preparedness is issued with urgency. Fewer than 50% of families and individuals have an emergency plan.
I met hundreds of survivors from Hurricane Katrina who relocated to Texas and were displaced for months. One only needs to look into the eyes of a survivor who lost a home or loved one during a disaster to understand the importance of planning ahead. Preparing also empowers individuals and communities to adopt measures to build a lifeline of resiliency for future generations.
Becoming and staying prepared is a great leveler for all communities—even marginalized ones. It instills equity into a process that often leaves people out in practice.
As families and communities begin to take concrete steps to get ready for the storms ahead and protect their legacies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has some great preparedness resources to inform action. In addition, Ready.gov has more information on the “A Lasting Legacy” campaign and a preparedness checklist.
Simple steps and easy actions completed today can safeguard legacies built and nurtured over the years and can be a catalyst for generational change. Take action today. Create a plan and encourage two friends or family members to do the same!