EDITORIAL: Are you prepared?

YOU WILL SEE MUCH of what follows repeated in a news brief elsewhere in this issue. This is just a reminder, in case you missed it, of a local opportunity to learn how to save your life in an emergency. If you’ve already made plans for coping with the unexpected, you’re way ahead of me.

This Saturday, May 4, the New York State Citizen Preparedness Corps (CPC) will conduct a disaster preparedness training session from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Chatham Synagogue/Netivot Torah. It’s free, but you have to register in advance at www.prepare.ny.gov.

It seems sometimes like every day brings with it a new emergency; no matter what you do to avert trouble, it finds you. But in the absence of personal tragedy, that pessimism sounds more like a failure of imagination. People who’ve survived disasters tell us that if you can’t imagine how bad it could get, you won’t be prepared when it happens, and that can make a bad situation worse.

So this training covers topics like how to develop a family emergency plan, what supplies to stock up on, and local resources for information and help. Think of just some of the possibilities: severe weather, fire, groundwater contamination. Railroads pass through Chatham, Kinderhook, Hudson, Canaan and all the riverside towns. Our firefighters have emergency response plans and equipment. But what should the rest of us be doing? A Tri-Village Fire Company representative will be part of the program.

There are also situations we cannot help but witness, if only in replay: the active shooter threat. What does it take to save lives? Kids learn survival techniques in school. Their elders need to develop survival tactics too.

The second most recent hate-crime shooting as this is written–the attack on the synagogue in Poway, CA, by a 19-year-old terrorist–provides an example. It was recounted by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein in Tuesday’s New York Times. Though seriously wounded and determined to comfort a mortally wounded member of his congregation, Rabbi Goldstein wrote he’d taken community training. “Now that training kicked in,” he wrote. He ran to a nearby room where children were playing, “screaming ‘Get out! Get out!’ I grabbed as many of them as I could with my bloody hands and pushed them out of the building.”

We can hope there will never be another attack like Powey. There already has been. I hope I will never be in a situation like the one that faced Rabbi Goldstein. But I don’t want to be the person who wished I had known what to do.

This outreach is a determined effort to educate the public. It includes input from the state National Guard and the federal Department of Homeland Security. The release quotes Capt. Brett White of state CPC and the National Guard saying, “We want to teach people to become self-sufficient in a disaster. There’s just not enough help to arrive immediately at everyone’s doorstep.” I wonder whether I’ll remember that when my turn to need help comes around.

The release goes on to say that CPC training “provides participants with the knowledge and tools not only to prepare for and respond to emergencies, but to recover as quickly as possible.”

What the release doesn’t say is that we all need to plan for a world unlike the one we know and the one humans aren’t likely see again anytime soon, if at all. Planning for the unknown is a tough task and probably too abstract to trigger widespread public participation. If that wasn’t true, this country would be leading the way toward a carbon neutral world economy in concert with most other nations.

But fixing the whole problem isn’t the only or the best place to start. The solution to this problem is to break it into its constituent parts.

If we know what we’ll do if the lights go out or the water level rises or the chemicals spill, we’ll be that much better off when problems we never imagined arrive on our doorstep. The biggest hurdle is to dispel the notion that if the problem of climate change or terrorists threats are so large that there’s nothing an individual can do.

Get prepared because in an emergency you’ll put less stress on scarce local resources. Get prepared because the process involves some small amount of sacrifice… of time, money and sense of security. Get prepared because in various ways we have contributed to the mess we’re in and we should stick around long enough to be part of the solution.

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