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Joe Wilson: Time for more awareness of public safety

Posted: September 27, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

September is National Preparedness Month, and as the month winds down we are reminded of our responsibilities to prepare ourselves and our loved ones. Now more than ever, it is essential that we drive a sense of urgency surrounding swift public response to emergency warnings.

This year we’ve seen startling examples of the importance of fast public evacuations during the record number of devastating wildfires across the United States. Of course, Santa Clarita Valley residents already live with the perpetual threat of potentially devastating earthquakes.

Take action now. It’s not only necessary to create a thorough preparedness and response plan for an emergency or disaster, but critical that Santa Clarita Valley residents are as educated as possible about the emergency communications systems in place within their communities.

Enroll yourself and any others for whom you are responsible in the city’s tool for providing residents and visitors with emergency information through multiple communications methods on everything from traffic to weather emergencies to hazardous materials situations. Information on this tool can be found on the city of Santa Clarita’s website at www.santa-clarita.com.

Even if you’re prepared for an emergency, the chances are that your extended family members, friends and neighbors are not. In fact, despite headline-grabbing emergencies, the public still remains largely unaware of critical communication processes, and in most cases is surprisingly apathetic to emergency notification warnings and potential disaster scenarios.

In times of crisis, people need to act fast — or risk waiting until it’s too late.

A recent public safety survey from Federal Signal and Safe America Foundation uncovered a shocking lack of knowledge, and even indifference, in the face of severe weather conditions surrounding emergency alerts and notifications.

For example, while more than 56 percent of Americans believe they are aware of the steps they need to take should disaster strike:

n Seventy-one percent are unsure if they have a personal alerting and notification system in their area, including a combination of options for call, text and email message notification;

n Less than one-half (47 percent) would take action based on a potential severe weather warning,

n 33 percent would require actual property damage or injury in order to care strongly about public safety awareness;

n Finally, 70 percent of residents are not very or not at all aware of the different sounds or sirens for various warnings.

While advanced technology and messaging formats enable more effective emergency warning and mass notification systems, achieving dependable communications with everyone on a moment’s notice at a time of crisis is more challenging today than ever.

New technologies, together with a host of human factors — including age, physical disabilities and cultural differences related to the diverse needs of citizens — must be bundled into the overall emergency plan to effectively communicate.

Fortunately, emergency managers are making progress in addressing language issues, for example, with the help of computer-aided translation technologies.

Emergency communications and mass notification systems require the capability to issue alerts through a variety of media, including telephones, text, and e-mail, while also confirming receipt of those messages in real time.

This reality also underscores why traditional warning devices such as radio broadcasts, and even police car PAs, continue to represent valid elements of a successful emergency communications strategy.

For these reasons and others, we must all remember that no single alerting method such as siren tones is sufficient. Take action now.

Joe Wilson is president of Federal Signal Corporation’s Industrial Systems Division. He has testified before Congress on public safety issues.

 

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