Friday, August 1, 2008

Hooked on Reality TV?

Real emergencies happen every day...maybe not to you, thankfully, but they have - and they will again. Are you prepared?

You may have missed this fantastic article in the Mercury News from earlier this spring, and since we have kind permission from the Newspaper of Silicon Valley to reprint it, I'm sharing it with you today. Kirstin Hofmann directs the County Office of Emergency Services, and Dr. Fenstersheib is the Public Health Officer for the county. Between them, they have the power to close all the schools and hockey games in the county with a single phone call. Woah.

They also have taken a critically important issue and made it fun to read, so enjoy:

Hooked on reality TV? Get ready for some reality of your own
By Kirstin Hofmann and Marty Fenstersheib

Article Launched: 05/12/2008 01:32:08 AM PDT

Americans seem to be sharing an obsession with the "real life" of others. While we are watching more and more reality TV shows, we are ignoring a critical reality of our own.

We all know that there will be an earthquake of a major magnitude, as well as other emergencies like fires and floods or pandemic flu. Yet we constantly avoid dealing with that reality. This denial makes us dangerously unprepared to effectively respond to these real emergencies.

Here's more reality. While Washington and Sacramento talk a lot about emergency preparedness, public dollars and resources for preparedness are limited and quickly disappearing. And one of the biggest realities we need to face is that government can't do it alone. We all share responsibility for being prepared.

In Santa Clara County, local governments have taken their responsibility seriously and have undertaken a number of preparedness activities. For example, Santa Clara County government has embarked on an intensive, comprehensive effort to educate, inform and train county personnel to respond effectively to emergencies that affect the health and welfare of our community.

But these activities point to another reality - preparedness will never be finished. Even if every public agency were able to do all it wanted to do, business, community organizations, the news media, schools, individuals and families have to get ready, too. That's real.

All of us - in government, the news media, businesses, schools and other community organizations - have a shared responsibility to prepare for basic emergencies. The reality is that we will be on our own for at least the initial period of any disaster. How well will we do? If all of us, including individuals and families, are not prepared at the most basic level, we will not do very well.

We all need to hold our own "reality" rehearsals and get ready for a major emergency event. Whether it's finally having your family emergency plan in place, knowing what steps your employer has taken to deal with the aftermath of an earthquake, or helping your kid's school prepare for pandemic flu, it is critically important that we all do our part.

It isn't all that difficult to get started. By doing just three things you will help yourself, your loved ones and your community.

• Have a basic family communication plan: who's calling whom, lists for everyone with the phone numbers to call (and loaded into cell phones) and an out-of-the-area number to call when local lines are overloaded.

• Shop for basic supplies like a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, flashlights that work and more batteries, food and water, and throw in some extra trash bags.

• Put a first aid kit together and include items that would be useful in a pandemic flu: supplies of face masks and plastic gloves, medicines that treat flu symptoms like ibuprofen, Tylenol, aspirin and cough medicine. Include disinfectants to clean surfaces where the virus may linger.

We know this is a community of people who are strong, resilient, independent and compassionate. In most cases, we are able to take care of ourselves. We understand the value and benefit in reaching out and helping others. It will take all of us being aware, prepared and ready to successfully deal with the real world we live in - a world where disasters do strike.

You can find out more about how to prepare for emergencies by visiting the Santa Clara County's Office of Emergency Web site at; the Santa Clara County Public Health Web site at, and other emergency preparedness Web sites, including

KIRSTIN HOFMANN is the Santa Clara County Director of Emergency Services. MARTY FENSTERSHEIB is the Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System Health Officer, Public Health Department.

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