A top official in the U.S. Homeland Security Department is warning Iowans they cannot rely solely on government if there’s a terrorist attack or natural disaster. George Foresman, the nation’s Under Secretary of Preparedness, says the country’s biggest security challenge is to get Americans to start drawing their own emergency evacuation plans and putting together survival kits.
“One of the most fundamental challenges that we face…is changing the behavior of Americans. Government will only be able to do so much in the face of an emergency or disaster,” Foresman says. “Ultimately our key to a more prepared America is a more engaged citizenry in America.”
Foresman was today’s (Tuesday’s) keynote speaker at the third annual Iowa Homeland Security Conference in Des Moines and to prove his point he asked the four-hundred local and state emergency management officials in the audience to answer a question.
“How many of you all have detailed personal and family disaster plans which describe what you will do if in fact an unforeseen emergency or disaster occurs and you all are physically separated from your family?” Foresman asked. “How many of you that have that plan also have a disaster kit?…Not an overwhelming number of people raised their hands.”
About five of the four-hundred had their hands in the air. According to Foresman, 57 percent of Americans say they want to be more prepared for disasters, but only 18 percent have taken steps like assembling a disaster kit or drawing up evacuation plans for their homes or businesses.
Foresman also warned that looming retirements among emergency managers could lead to a nationwide “brain drain.” According to Foresman, more than 60 percent of the federal, state and local emergency managers will be eligible for retirement in the next five to ten years. “These are the people who’ve had on-the-job training of dealing with a post-Katrina and a post-9/11 world,” Foresman says. “We have fundamentally got to ensure that we create a new generation of men and women who can work in the private sector and the public sector who can help us transform how we prepare in America.”
Foresman also praised the 83 percent of Iowa towns and cities which have participated in disaster exercises in the past two years. Find more information on disaster plans and emergency kits on-line at www.ready.gov.