Inside Insurance: Disaster planning starts with situational awareness

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Chicken Little was wrong when he said, “The sky is falling!” Paul Revere had it right when he shouted, “The British are coming!” That’s what situational awareness is – knowing what’s going on around you and reacting to it – quickly.

There was a statewide tornado drill issued by the National Weather Service on Wednesday.

Did you hear the disaster sirens go off in your area? Did your weather radio go off at 9 a.m. on that day?

The answers are “No and No,” but there was a “statewide drill” and there was a Weather Alert Radio “test.”

Only one little problem you needed to know about. Under Federal Communications Commission regulations, the National Weather Service only put out a drill message over their system, but to know about it, we would have had to look on our weather alert radio screens to read it. That’s an issue that the Georgia Emergency Management Agency cannot do anything about so there were no sirens to be heard.

News stories continually report on people who lost their lives because they weren’t aware of their surroundings. Many didn’t hear the sirens. Many did not have a weather alert radio, a radio or TV on at the time. Those that do hear sirens, if you can believe it, in some cases go outside to see for themselves if a tornado is coming rather than preparing for the disaster. Why? Those of us who live in the South should know that tornadoes can strike quickly with little or no warning; that they may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel. We should know that the average tornado moves from the Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.

How many times have we seen someone in a hurry talking on a cell phone, gulping down a cup of coffee while walking across a busy traffic intersection? Or the guy driving in his car, while coming his hair in the mirror, drifting through a red light? We’ve become so complacent that most people walk around in a fog; not aware of anything around them but their personal issues.

Why is Situational Awareness something Georgians need to be concerned about? Because severe weather season is approaching, and there is no better time than now to get prepared. We should have Internet access to weather radar sites, create an action plan for the family and obtain a weather alert radio.

Here’s where we can all help ourselves in the planning process for severe weather and other catastrophic events. If all households have a weather alert radio programmed for the local county, anyone in the home has a good chance of knowing the sirens are a drill because the announcer will say so in the alert message.

The same is true for businesses where a weather alert radio can sound the alarm and the message in small shops or a public address system in large offices or plans can warn employees of the situation.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) issued a news release at www.gemanews.com/external/content/document/759/1303707/1/Tornado that has excellent information about preparing for severe weather. It also has a mobile Smartphone app called Ready Georgia. The app, created by the GEMA and the Georgia Department of Public Health, is an interactive tool that makes it easier than ever to be prepared for emergencies. GEMA says the app includes features not previously available in one mobile application.

No matter how many tools we have -- apps, radios, or TVs -- the most important component of the family or business disaster plan is situational awareness. Because being more aware of your surroundings will help you to look at life a little differently. That might just save your life.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or dcolmans@giis.org.


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