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Beth's Preparedness Pen is a special weekly editorial focused on disaster preparedness for the hero in us all during National Preparedness Month, September 2013.  

Beth Freeman is the Regional Administrator for FEMA Region VII


In Preparedness, Heroes Help Everyone

September 18, 2013

In disaster preparedness real heroes not only assist, they include. Be a hero in your local community by ensuring everyone is at the table, before a disaster strikes.

This past week, as I thought more about this year’s theme for National Preparedness Month, I realized this notion of being a “hero” may appear more daunting or perhaps challenging than it really ought to be. When we think of heroes, we think of the world’s helpers – from the residents in our neighborhoods to the service men and women who work and perform in various capacities throughout our communities.

Our heroes are those who act selflessly to empower and enable others, and those who have a strong, innate desire to make sure everyone has an opportunity to thrive. If you think about it, heroes are nothing more than regular people; people like you and me. They are people who have willingly decided to capitalize on opportunity in hopes of providing benefit to others.

Think about it this way. Let’s say you were walking to the store in order to purchase your weekly stock of groceries. Once your shopping is completed, you leave the store and notice a friend has dropped 3 full sacks of groceries – grapes, cereal and broken eggs are everywhere. You only have a limited amount of time as you are scheduled to arrive at work within the next 2 hours, a series of options present themselves:

Option 1: You could stop, assist your friend and hope that between the two of you, you’re able to get both his groceries and yours home within the next hour.

Option 2: You could stop, ask your friend if he needs help, then proceed to inform who he should call, or perhaps where he can go to get help.

Option 3: Or, you could pretend you didn’t notice a thing, passing your friend with his items scattered everywhere, and leaving him to figure it out on his own.

Naturally, this example may seem a bit exaggerated and that most of us, without hesitation would assist our friend in some capacity. The real question is how exactly do we plan to help? With apparent time constraints yet a strong desire to help, do you simply jump in and take over? Or, do you take a less intensive approach and offer to help however you can? The same scenario can easily be applied to how we respond to the call to help others during emergencies, especially those who may not be able to help themselves.

Perhaps more often than not, particularly in disaster preparedness, we just assume that we as individuals know the best means by which to prepare ourselves. This September let’s take a few moments to really reflect on that, and if you feel you have a solid plan in place, engage with neighbors and friends on what they would do.

As business owners we’ve done everything we can to ensure our facilities are accessible and functioning. As we engage with our neighbors, we know who in our community is elderly, who is a single parent, who has a child with a disability or hearing loss and even who has pets that need to be cared for during emergencies. As we build our own plans, we may even consider checking on these individuals or including them in our list of emergency response actions. But is that enough? While inclusion is important, how we include each individual’s unique needs and circumstances into our planning is perhaps even more critical.

In December 2011, FEMA took a proactive approach to begin addressing this very question by signing a memorandum of agreement, thus creating a new partnership with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and other advocates from across the disability community. The memorandum strengthened the existing relationship between FEMA and the NDRN and increased the agency’s focus and level of activity around planning for the needs of the entire community, the “real” needs; individual dispositions, family structures and household dynamics often impacted by disaster.

The Post Katrina Emergency Management Performance Act of 2006 (PKEMRA) created the Office of Disability Integration within FEMA, which included the placement of a Regional Disability Integration Specialist (RDIS) in each of the agency’s ten FEMA regions. The RDIS soon proved to provide an invaluable service, a tangible connection between FEMA and the disability community on a grass-roots level. The RDIS established and continues to expand a thriving roundtable of disability service partners, organizations and resources from across each respective region. 

In May 2011, when the City of Joplin was devastated by an EF-5 tornado, it was the synergy across multiple partners including the Independent Living Centers of Southeast Missouri, state health and human services agencies, several faith-based and non-profit organizations and FEMA’s RDIS that enabled hundreds of residents with unique functional and access needs to be restored to a functioning capacity. Patients were reconnected with prescriptions and medical equipment parents were assisted with schooling and medical costs, and people dependent on full-time care experienced continuity in the services they were provided.

While FEMA, the FDRN and countless disability community partners across the country continue to work together, identify issues and brainstorm how to best serve a variety of populations throughout the cycle of a disaster, the question remains, what can you do?

Once you’ve identified those who may need some additional or unique assistance during an emergency, it’s time to come to the table: you and them. Have you reached out to that elder neighbor, that single mother or the family with the disabled child? Consider having a conversation with them to not only share your disaster plan, but to learn more about theirs. You may be surprised to find just how far along their disaster preparedness plan really is. 

Connect with disability service groups in your community, tap into resources such as United Way’s 2-1-1 to identify organizations that assist a wide array of people during disasters, or contact your local emergency manager to inquire about getting involved. Bottom line, being a hero doesn’t take much, just an informed and open mind.

To learn more about getting involved with FEMA Region VII’s disability integration program or how to partner with individuals with disabilities, access or functional needs in disaster preparedness, visit or call (816) 283-7095.



Be a Hero in Your Hometown

FEMA and emergency management partners across the country are challenging individuals to be disaster preparedness heroes in their own communities. National Preparedness Month in September serves as a great reminder of how simple it is to become a preparedness hero in your hometown.

When you think of the words whole community, what comes to mind? For me, I immediately envision my neighborhood, my next door neighbor - who mows my lawn simply out of kindness, or the annual fall festival hosted by my local community. The term can have a variety of meanings, but a common thread always remains: Inclusion.

For the most part, we don’t think about how we include people in our lives, networks and activities; this happens naturally.  But how often do we think about the ways that we might not include other people in our lives? We get busy with work, finances, kids’ sporting events and family visits. All of these activities can lead to last-minute planning, unfinished to-do lists and forgotten items from the grocery store. Sadly, preparing for disasters often falls into this category. And when it comes to preparing for disasters, everyone has a role to play. Often the more inclusive we are, the better.

The good news is preparing for disasters can be a fun and simple process giving us the peace of mind of knowing families, friends, homes and businesses are safe and protected from threats. And while we can’t control when or where a disaster will strike, we can take responsibility for preparing ourselves and those around us for emergencies.

As we reflect on the damage caused by a number of tornadoes, floods, storms and other disasters impacting the Midwest over the past several years, we’re calling on you to “Be a Hero;” not only during National Preparedness Month this September, but all year long. Knowing your risk, taking action and being an example for others are just a few of the steps you can take to be better prepared and assist in saving lives.

Know your Risk: The first step to becoming disaster-ready is to understand the type of hazards that can affect where you live and work, and how such threats like weather-related emergencies could impact you and your community. Check the weather forecast regularly, monitor local news stations, follow the guidance of local officials and visit to learn more about how to be better prepared.

Additionally, you can sign up for local alerts from emergency management officials; determine if your cell phone is equipped to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts; and buy a weather radio. Severe weather comes in many forms and your family’s emergency preparedness and shelter plan should include all types of local hazards. Local emergency management officials can also help you determine the specific hazards that impact your community.

Pledge and Take Action: Pledge to develop and practice an emergency plan based on your local hazards and practice how and where to take shelter before a disaster happens. Post the plan in your home where family members and visitors can see it and be sure you and all family members have emergency contacts and other key information from your plan stored on cell phones or in another easily accessible location. Learn how to strengthen your home and business against disaster threats, particularly severe weather events. Download FEMA’s mobile app so you can access important safety tips on what to do before, during and after a disaster. For severe weather threats, understand the weather warning system and consider becoming a certified storm spotter through the National Weather Service. Stay informed by having multiple sources for weather alerts - NOAA Weather Radio,, Wireless Emergency Alerts or are all excellent resources.

Be an Example: Once you have taken action, tell your family, friends, and co-workers about how they can prepare. Many emergency management officials are now using social media for updates so you can receive and share valuable information with friends, loved ones, neighbors and colleagues during emergencies. Studies show that people need to receive messages a number of ways before acting – be one of those sources.

Building a Disaster-Ready Nation or a Whole Community of Heroes requires the action of each and every one of us. To be a “disaster-ready nation” means understanding the diverse capabilities and needs of the whole community, and building community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to unknown emergencies, both natural and man-made. Pledge to be prepared, learn more at, take action by involving and assisting those around you, and then you too can Be a Hero for the Whole Community.

Last Updated: 
09/18/2013 - 15:21