Summertime is ideal for beach trips and backyard barbecues, but it’s also an active time for natural hazards. From hurricanes on the East Coast to tornadoes across the Midwest, these hazards can strike suddenly and leave long-term devastation. Disaster preparation is critical for families and entire communities in order to reduce risk and potentially prevent hazardous situations. But how do you prepare for a disaster? It’s a complicated answer, as there are many factors to address. From mental preparedness to having supplies at the ready, true disaster preparation starts with a keen level of awareness for the world around you.
Arizona State University’s expert faculty from the Master of Arts in emergency management and homeland security online program specialize in risk and hazard management. The program aims to develop students into leaders that help communities prepare for a disaster.
Professor Melanie Gall, the co-director of the ASU Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and professor Brian Gerber, the director of the emergency management and homeland security program, are actively involved in research and policy management that can help communities become more resilient when disasters occur.
We spoke to Gall and Gerber about how everyone can participate in disaster preparation.
Prepare on an individual level
While it’s challenging to imagine natural disasters and all they may entail, an important part of disaster preparation is making sure you're aware of your surroundings.
“It’s hard to get individuals, organizations and political systems to focus on something that hasn’t happened yet. It’s difficult for all humans throughout history. It’s just the way we’re built,” Gerber said.
However, there are ways you can reduce the risk and impact on your life. Gerber and Gall specifically recommend following these disaster preparation tips:
Reduce risk and build community resilience
While individuals can play a vital role in preparing for natural hazards and helping to reduce their risk, community awareness is equally essential.
“Communities have to make conscious choices to invest in public resources to reduce risk, which in turn improves their resiliency. If you want a community to succeed overall, you have to pay attention to what the vulnerabilities are and design policy and practices to better manage those vulnerabilities,” Gerber said.
Both experts agree that public policy and programmatic efforts are a crucial part of building resilience on a larger scale, such as at the community, city and state levels. However, we all have the power and opportunity to reduce risk and build resilience through smart decision making and civic engagement.
You can make a local impact by actively supporting community preparedness initiatives, volunteering with organizations that work on disaster issues, or participating in local government associations that address disaster preparation and risk reduction.
“Active involvement in your community can make a very real and very tangible difference,” Gerber said. “In most places, local governments are managed on a relatively small scale, so individuals can have a positive impact by participating in anything from setting building code standards to making land use planning decisions.”
Preparing on a community level also means protecting the most vulnerable people within the group.
“Many policies that are put in place have a bias toward homeownership,” Gall said.
She noted that there are many programs that help the homeowner population recover faster.
“There needs to be equitable recovery. We need to make sure there are programs to help renters, people on a fixed income, people with disabilities and migrants post-disaster,” she said.
Getting involved at this level has multiple benefits. In addition to helping build a stronger city, you can also learn more about your community’s risk profile, vulnerabilities within your neighborhood, and resources that can help you get prepared for the unexpected.
“It also helps you psychologically because that kind of social interaction is physically and mentally beneficial. It’s a classic win-win: you help your community, and you help yourself,” Gerber said.
Pursue a career in emergency management
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in relief services are expected to grow faster than the national average from 2016 to 2026, and employment has already more than doubled between 1990 and 2017. There are a wide range of occupations in disaster relief services, but they all have the common goal of providing help when it is most needed.
“A major historical limitation of emergency management as a professional domain is that it has been too heavily focused on reactive, consequence management after disasters strike,” Gerber said. “Our program is expressly designed to be the opposite of that and is built to be integrative and forward looking. Our program places a unique emphasis on strategic risk reduction and resilience capacity building. Those are the key trends in this professional area — and our program is respected nationally for helping move the profession in that direction.”
Gerber and Gall are diligently building awareness for the important role of disaster preparation. As dedicated faculty and co-directors for the ASU Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, they are involved with direct, applied work with both government and nonprofit sectors. They instill this expertise, problem-solving and open communication in their students.
“We try to think about the broader issues, like understanding risk and integrating tools and techniques for decision-making. We focus on understanding how organizations can better cope with risk and develop strategies, as well as the strategic thinking of the complexity and interdependency of risks,” Gerber said.
ASU Online is dedicated to addressing social problems and igniting future-focused ideas and innovative thinking, including our holistic approach to disaster preparedness. Learn more about our Master of Arts in emergency management and homeland security online program and discover what sets ASU apart.
Empowering students to think critically and solve real-world problems is an essential part of the ASU Online experience.
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