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A Sunday morning TV program today highlighted the continuing lack of spending and preparation for national disasters, on this 5th anniversary of Katrina. One study shows that disaster preparation costs 1/15th as much as disaster response, and that politicians who opt for spending on disaster readiness get no incremental votes, while those who spend on disaster response get a bump in voter support.

Yes, preparedness is boring, hard work, while disaster response is adrenaline-boosting, visceral, and I suppose, instantly gratifying.

If we realized how little preparedness there is in place for nuclear disaster, civilian accident or attack, we would be paranoid. Natural disaster planning, training and resource pre-placement is tokenism and minimal is most cases. I was a contingency planner in the Army years ago, and can attest to how marginally prepared we were then. Most of the planning was on paper, emergency supplies were out of date or missing, training was almost non-existent, staffing was embarrassingly minimal. As a young lieutenant, when I called these short-falls to the attention of superiors, they seemed shamed by having the subject raised, and only then allocated some new training and resources, and probably only for a short time.

Then there was the oil leak in the Gulf, demonstrating how an industry spent billions on technological development for deep-water oil drilling and again almost nothing on managing the potential for negative consequences of their exploitation of natural resources for private profit.

I suppose this tendency to bury our heads in the sand is related to the same psychology that results in lack of personal savings in our society, the greed of those who don’t look back at the consequences of their self-enrichment, and perhaps a decline in the very fiber of civilization that holds humanity together. What to do about it? How to turn these high risk trends around?

Take more personal responsibility for protecting our natural environment, protecting our built environment, supporting the social systems that are working or can be made to work to maintain social vitality. Reform government, beginning with term limits to encourage citizen politicians. Put a couple bucks in the bank for a rainy day, and keep some survival supplies in your home and car, and help your community prepare for the unthinkable, too.

Thinking about the unthinkable consequences of life on earth is the best way to preserve the quality of that life!

August 2010

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