I am honored and humbled to be named as a Champion of Change. The title “Champion of Change” belongs to the entire public education team currently in place and those that have gone before me at the Washington Military Department: Emergency Management Division. These are the folks that work tirelessly every day to develop our innovative disaster public education and outreach programs. I personally value the designation as a “change agent” in the field of disaster preparedness as I passionately believe in the necessity to innovate in order to keep pace with the increasing frequency and severity of disasters.
One of the guiding principles of our program is centered around the idea that in all communities there exists an untapped pool of talent, energy, and knowledge that can be put to great use in preparing, responding and recovering from disasters. Programs like our Map Your Neighborhood program seek to identify and organize the capabilities and capacities needed to rebound from disasters on a neighbor helping neighbor basis. We are challenged every day as disaster educators to ensure that we develop programs and products that both appeal to and empower every member of a community to become involved in disaster preparedness. This requires that a variety of disaster preparedness products is made available including hazard specific videos and interactive, audience specific content like our Kidz and Business specific web content – www.emd.wa.gov
Building and maintaining partnerships is the key to success of any emergency management program. Helen Keller said it best, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” The need to seek out non-traditional emergency management partners is greater than ever. Partnerships between government and the private sector allow us to leverage resources and to transfer knowledge and innovation in a way that directly contributes to creating disaster resilient communities. In Washington State one of our key priorities is to assist businesses in reopening quickly and we strive to ensure that Washington residents are the first to be offered jobs in helping rebuild their communities. Our private sector partners in turn recognize that investing in employee disaster preparedness and their family members offers a major return on investment.
Finally it is important to note that disaster preparedness and resiliency as a concept needs to become more “mainstreet” by being integrated into indexes and systems that measure community quality of life and sustainability. We know that disasters are survivable for those communities that invest federal mitigation dollars and educate their community members on preparedness before disaster strikes—those that minimize their investment suffer. There are to date only a handful of quality of life or community sustainability rating systems that include any type of disaster statistics or mention natural hazards in their ratings. I know of many examples of business executives that moved to Washington state with no understanding that the risk of a large earthquake occurring is one of the highest in the country.
Let’s move disaster preparedness into the mainstream of citizen consciousness. How we exponentially increase the preparedness levels and make disaster preparedness a priority in the busy lives of Americans is something that many of us debate every day. I am profoundly thankful to the Obama administration officials that chose this week to honor Champion of Change community disaster preparedness leaders --- each of us play an important role in charting the path to a more disaster resilient future.
Wendy Freitag is the External Affairs Manager for the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division.