FEMA Makes Catastrophe Readiness Look Like a Jimmy Stewart Moviedebragalant | March 16, 2011
The landing page of Ready.gov, the FEMA website that encourages us to get a kit, make a plan and stay informed so we’re ready in the event of a disaster, has a picture of an all-American family sitting on a porch, smiling placidly at the camera. It’s got the same creepy blandness as those safety messages they play on airplanes about where to find your flotation device and how to start the oxygen — the ones where the passengers almost look pleased to see their oxygen masks descending from the ceiling.
In other words, it’s nothing like the images of disaster we’re seeing in Japan.
I’m not sure who makes the aesthetic decisions for government preparedness websites, but if I were building one I’d take this picture, widen out to show the house in the middle of field, animate a tornado smashing it to smithereens and then show us the same family dealing with the wreckage. That might motivate to get my kit together.
We’ve learned since Friday that the Japanese are masters of emergency preparedness. Yesterday’s lovely op-ed piece by Marie Musuki Mockett in The New York Times spelled it out in personal terms.
When I was a child growing up in California, my Japanese mother would ask me, “How do you know a tsunami is coming?”
“When the ocean starts to disappear,” I would say.
“And then what do you do?”
“Drop everything and run up a hill.”
The residents of Fukushima Prefecture would have been taught this as well, and yet most would have had only 15 minutes to understand they had just experienced an earthquake, to notice the sea was retreating, and escape.
Ready.gov says that your preparedness kit should include one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries, flashlight and extra batteries, first aid kit, whistle, dust mask, duct tape, Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties, a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, can opener, local maps and a cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger.
In one article I read this weekend, a woman and her infant perished during the tsunami because she stopped home to get some milk.
Back in the days before the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000, the steady flow of Y2K stories in the press had many of us sure that as we partied that New Year’s Eve, planes would start to fall from the sky, the power grid would fizzle, the internet would implode and life as we knew it would suddenly morph into a Cormac McCarthy novel. Some people sheepishly stocked water in their basements, but I remember thinking that all bets were off in a real disaster scenario. If Life As We Know It came to an end, nothing I did to prepare would make any difference. And I’ve often joked that the real crisis in a post-apocalyptic world would come 30 days in, when everybody’s store of SSRI’s ran out.
But here we see a post-apocalyptic world unfolding daily on our TV’s. All bets may be off, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have to cope. They do, somehow.
One of the fascinations of this disaster is the fact that it’s happening in a developed country. We feel one way when we see images of disaster in a poor country like Haiti, another when we see them in a rich one. When third-world countries suffer in a natural disaster, we may respond with open hearts, but our internal actuaries blame it on their infrastructure and we continue to feel safe in our own lives. When we see what we’ve seen this week in Japan, we can’t help but wonder about our coastal regions.
Will Oaklanders be able to lug three gallons of water per family member with them if they have to dash from a tsunami? I doubt it.
But I sure hope somebody with power is looking hard at California’s nuclear plants. And for that matter, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Facility near the Jersey Shore, just 80 miles down the highway from me.
Given the near-hysteria over a few blizzards this past winter, I wonder what would happen if Mother Nature threw us a real curveball.
Power plant image via DigitalGlobe Imagery on Flickr.