The Atlanta-based Safe America Foundation will announce at a Congressional Briefing on 19 June 2012 its plans this fall for a national “drill season” to involve more than 2 million people. Under the name “BE Safe America,” the Foundation plans to orchestrate a three-pronged effort that emphasizes: (a) heightened training, (b) local practice “drills,” and (c) ongoing citizen education.
The Safe America program – which was begun as a national “exercise” in 2009 – is designed to help every American “practice” dealing with a major disaster. It invites companies large and small to “plug-and-play” their own preparedness programming into the “BE Safe America” drill season, which extends from September 1 to October 30.
Exercises, Drills & Texts
At the Capitol Hill Briefing, Safe America will announce plans to work with a coalition of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and Governmental units – a late summer outreach effort to encourage communities, businesses, NGOs, Governmental units, and “everyday American families” to conduct their own practice drill during this 60-day season. Exercises such as mass employee evacuations or shelter-in-place exercises will be encouraged, along with a simple 60-second “text drill” that the Foundation has developed for families’ use. It includes a “safety shorthand” to help families recognize that they can simply send out a 4-digit “R U OK” message and get a quick “I M OK” reply – which takes less band width than a 1-minute phone call. Safe America’s work with the University of Missouri has proven that 800 text messages can be put in this space – allowing a small community to reconnect immediate after a disaster rather than be isolated, not knowing the status of loved ones of co-workers.
Working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Homeland Security Task Force, Safe America will begin the process with a survey of Fortune 500 firms, to see whether they will “pledge-to-prepare” and then drill. This activity – to be conducted in collaboration with UPS, Federal Signal, and other partners (both corporate and non-profits) – hopes to set a benchmark from which future annual drills can be measured.
The program will include a “BE Safe America Drill Day,” being planned for 18 October 2012. It is being planned to coincide with the “Great California Shakeout,” a West Coast-based earthquake drill that last year engaged over 8 million Americans from California, Washington State, Oregon, and other earthquake-prone areas.
Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta is the Honorary Chairman of the program. Along with former Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Joxel Garcia, (Chairman of the Safe America Foundation) and Federal Signal President Joe Wilson, the program leadership includes Dr. Doug Himberger (NORC at the University of Chicago); Dennis Rubin, former Fire Chief for the District of Columbia; Al Berman, CEO of DRI International; and UPS Executive Jack McKlveen. A national steering committee composed of representatives from the Disaster Recovery International (DRI), the University of Missouri, Motorola Solutions, and over 20 non-profit and governmental organizations, including:
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- The Medical Reserve Corps
- The International Association of Emergency Managers
- Points of Light
- National PTA
- The National Emergency Managers Association
- The National Foundation for Women Legislators
- The All Hazards Consortium
- The American Logistics Aid Network
- The National Association of Government Communicators
- The National Association of State EMS Officers
- The National Association of Secretaries of State
- The African American Coalition for Drug Prevention Policy
- The Northeast Disaster Information Exchange (NEDRIX)
Senator Joe Manchin (D-W VA) will appear at the Congressional briefing along with Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ). Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who hosted the Safe America briefing in 2011, will be honored for her work at engaging “average citizens” in disaster readiness. Also honored will be current First Spouses Luce Vela (of Puerto Rico) and Diane Bentley (of Alabama) along with former First Spouse Gayle Manchin (of West Virginia). The three women – along with Mary Pat Christie of New Jersey – helped spearhead the involvement of Gubernatorial spouses from coast-to-coast, including the filming of television messages that have been run on local television stations.
“We’re living in a time when Katrinas, Joplins, and Tuscaloosas are annual events,” said Foundation President & CEO Len Pagano. “We’re 100% sure that there will be more significant disasters. The question is, can we minimize their impact by practicing how we’d respond afterwards. It’s obvious that – just like in other endeavors that require pre-meditated forethought and role-playing – a disaster drill can help make our response better, sharper and less spontaneous – which means we can lessen the chance that people will be left behind… or not react and remain in the path of destruction.”
Survey Results – Prepared or Unprepared?
A new survey – conducted by Zogby Interactive for Federal Signal – will be released at the Congressional Briefing. It takes a hard look at how knowledgeable and prepared Americans are for emergencies, showing that although Americans believe they are “aware” of the steps they need to take should disaster strike and feel confident of the community alert systems in place; in reality, the results uncover a shocking lack of knowledge – and even indifference – surrounding emergency alerts and notifications.
“This survey supports Safe America’s conclusion that we need to be out there practicing how we should react and respond in the event of an emergency scenario,” said Federal Signal President Joe Wilson. “We want to use these results to build a sense of urgency with regard to improving public safety across the board and remind public safety and community leaders that we have a need to educate the next generation how and what they should do when faced with an emergency.”
Another aspect of the BE Safe America program will be honoring the “Top 20” organizations who commit the most individuals and/or collective effort to exercising their readiness. Communities, individuals, and NGOs will also be “recognized” for their efforts at a planned post-event celebration in the 4th Quarter (hosted by UPS at its Corporate Headquarters in Atlanta).
“We’ll be working with elected women officials across the country to make a simple texting drill to family members as common a fall activity as replacing your summer wardrobe with your fall clothes,” said National Foundation of Women Legislators (NFWL) CEO Robin Read. “It’s not enough to have first responders ‘know’ what they would do – we all need to recognize that in many emergency situations, for the first 48-72 hours, YOU are your OWN first responder.”
Len Pagano is President, CEO, and Founder of Safe America, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the past 16 years, he has focused on emerging safety issues such as teen driver education, water safety, cyber safety, homeland security, youth safety, and community safety awareness. He formed Safe America after a 20-year career in television and nonprofit management. His administrative experience includes management responsibilities with Chamber of Commerce organizations throughout the Southeast.