Opinion

Partnering for emergency preparedness

Judy Clibborn

Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 terror attacks, and the possibility of a bird flu pandemic on the horizon have compelled lawmakers to analyze our state's own emergency preparedness. I recently attended the briefing in Spokane where we heard from those on the front line of our defense; doctors, nurses, firefighters, and the Director of our state's National Guard were all on-hand to answer our questions and advise on what preparations must be taken.

No matter what the next emergency will likely be, we must prepare for them all, not just the one freshest in our memories. After 9/11 we focused on terrorism. After Katrina, we focused on infrastructure and communication.

Pandemics are another matter; previous outbreaks in 1912, 1958, and 1967 teach us that securing borders and our levees is not enough. Dealing with those emergencies calls for a strategy of ``Shelter in Place'' - minimizing exposure to potential infection by staying home and avoiding common areas like the theatre, the grocery store, or work. This will also take coordination with our employers - it may mean we work from home if at all possible.

To prepare and protect us, our highest priorities must be:

Communication. We saw a breakdown in communication during the 9/11 hurricane disasters. That led to lost time, which meant lost lives. The same could happen with an earthquake or flu outbreak. Investing in our ability to talk to each other during a catastrophic emergency is one of the highest priorities.

Leadership. Who is in control or has the authority to trigger responses, must be established in advance. We cannot tolerate indecisiveness when lives are at stake.

Investment in our infrastructure. It is always cheaper than paying for the failure and its aftermath. We must continue to retrofit and secure our roads and infrastructure -- without them, the first-responders are severely limited in their response times.

So how are we doing as a state? Experts tell us we are among the best prepared states in the nation. We have done much to coordinate with local levels and other states to make sure our citizens will have the best in response if needed. The Governor can also ask for help from surrounding states for mutual aid and she can also ask for help from the Federal Government. Knowing when is important - she does not need to wait.

We also have a chain of authority in place to trigger responses when needed. The State Department of Health will coordinate the county public health departments to ensure the needed help is given in the wake of any emergency.

We will continue to partner with the private sector, community organizations and citizens to expand our outreach and education about these issues. But it's also up to each individual and family to plan ahead: Food and water for 72 hours (including for all pets), cash, meds for chronic needs, and personal identification. Come up with a plan to communicate with your loved ones.

If I can impart to you one idea from this briefing it was the phrase, ``Don't be scared, be prepared.'' When it comes to the threat from natural disasters, being prepared is the best defense for a citizen, a government, and a nation.

State Representative Judy Clibborn represents the 41st Legislative District and is a resident of Mercer Island. She is a member of the House committees on Health Care; Economic Development, Agriculture & Trade; Rules; and is Vice-Chair of the Local Government Committee.

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