The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the American Red Cross (ARC) announced last week that they have joined forces to co-sponsor National Preparedness Month 2005, a nationwide effort scheduled for this coming September, “to encourage Americans to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, and schools.”

The DHS/ARC goal, officials said, “is to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.”

As of early last week, 126 public and private-sector organizations had already signed up as members of the “2005 National Preparedness Month Coalition.” That number compares favorably with the total of just over 80 organizations enrolled in the September 2004 coalition as participants in the first national preparedness month. This year’s total is expected to expand rapidly during the summer months as additional businesses, organizations, and communities develop and refine their own preparedness plans.

Among the major private-sector organizations already pledged to participate are the Ad Council, the American Hospital Association, the American Library Association, the American Medical Association, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Business Executives for National Security, the Girl Scouts of America, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Humane Society of the United States, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Fire Protection Association, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the Reserve Officers Association, the Salvation Army USA, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

Joining them in the escalating effort are such public and/or quasi-public organizations and agencies as the Civil Air Patrol, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Association of Counties, the National Guard Bureau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Postal Service, and the USA Freedom Corps.

The private-sector companies and corporations – many of them active in the homeland-security/counterterrorism field – in the coalition as of last week include ABC Radio Networks, the Archer Daniels Midland Company, the AT&T Corporation, BAE Systems, the BellSouth Corporation, The Boeing Company, The Dial Corporation, GE Consumer & Industrial, GE Healthcare, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, Major League Soccer, Management Sciences Associates Inc., NASCAR, Nextel Communications, RadioShack Corporation, Target, Verizon Communications, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The companies and organizations listed, and many others, DHS/ARC spokespersons said, are planning, among other things, to “provide information, host events, and sponsor activities that disseminate emergency preparedness messages to … their customers, members, employees, stakeholders, and communities across the nation.”

Initiatives, Essays, Ideas, and Demonstrations 

The seemingly ambitious plans announced last week are likely to be only the beginning. “No community … [will be] truly prepared for a disaster,” said ARC President and CEO Marsha J. Evans, “until every individual, family, and household takes personal responsibility for preparedness.” Red Cross chapters throughout the country are and will be available, Evans said, to help people “create a family disaster plan so that each person knows what to do, where to go, and how to contact loved ones.”

The DHS/ARC plans have received solid bipartisan support from both houses of Congress. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Representatives Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) have agreed to serve as the congressional co-chairs of National Preparedness Month 2005, and it can be taken for granted that all other members of both houses will participate in various preparedness seminars, panel discussions, and other public events in their home states and congressional districts.

Companies already involved, or preparing to become involved, in the field of domestic preparedness are expected to demonstrate their products at the same public venues and/or at their own open houses. Some also are likely to sponsor essay contests for high schools and colleges in their home communities and/or to help underwrite the cost of seminars and panel discussions open to the press and public.

The end result is expected to be not only an exponential increase in public awareness of the need for preparedness – personal, individual, and at all levels of government – but also a torrential flood of new ideas, initiatives, and programs that, no matter where they originate, can quickly and easily spread throughout the country.

A Fair Start at Union Station 

There is probably no private-sector organization better qualified to serve as co-sponsor of National Preparedness Month 2005 than the American Red Cross – which, as DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff commented in the department’s 9 June announcement, “has long been a leader in emergency preparedness and response.” Working through a nationwide network of almost 900 locally supported chapters, the ARC’s 35,000 employees and one million volunteers form one of the world’s foremost lifesaving organizations – which in recent years has mobilized relief for individuals and families affected by the estimated 70,000 disasters, large and small, that occur throughout the country each year.

The ARC also annually trains more than 15 million people in various lifesaving skills, serves as the largest supplier of blood and blood products to more than 3,000 hospitals throughout the United States, works with the nation’s armed services in support of U.S. military families both within the United States and overseas, and helps assist the victims of international disasters and conflicts in many other areas of the world.

DHS officials said that National Preparedness Month 2005 “will officially launch” on 1 September “with a public emergency awareness fair … at Union Station in Washington, D.C.” Officials emphasized in last week’s announcement that any event or activity conducted during National Preparedness Month would be “purely voluntary,” and that the department “is not financially obligated to any … coalition member.”

DHS promotes its public emergency preparedness programs primarily through the Citizen Corps and what is called “the Ready campaign.” The Citizen Corps is a grassroots DHS program that “localizes” the department’s preparedness messages and provides local opportunities for citizens to receive emergency-response training, participate in community exercises, and/or support local emergency responders. Ready is a national public-service advertising campaign, produced by the Advertising Council (in partnership with DHS), that is designed “to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to potential terrorist attacks and other emergencies.” (For additional information about the department’s plans for National Preparedness Month visit www.Ready.gov)

The preceding is the first in a series of T.I.P.S. articles on the preparations for and lessons learned from National Preparedness Month 2005. Future articles will report on local and state plans and programs, various training exercises involving the nation’s first-responder communities, and a broad spectrum of other emergency-preparedness events and activities planned for the month of September.

James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.

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