Response Professionals: The Hidden Heroes

Rampant wildfires swept through the Southwest. Then millions of people from the Midwest to the Atlantic learned the word Derecho the hard way. Along came Superstorm Sandy, the Nor’iccane or Hurriceaster, or whatever. Throw in a few tornados and a drought that’s drying up the Mississippi for good measure. Now we’re closing out the year with deluge in California.

In other words, it’s been a year like any other year for emergency preparedness and response professionals, only more so.

Whether or not all of this is the result of climate change, the effects of these natural phenomena seem to be felt more keenly now than within most people’s recent memory. And recent memory – or more accurately, lack of longer-term memory – may actually be part of the problem. For instance, if you’re a member of the Baby Boom generation, you probably remember when powerful weather events frequently knocked out the power for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes it even knocked out your phone line for a few days. Life wasn’t easy during a lengthy outage, but you coped. You got by.

Thanks to a few key technological advances in transmission and distribution design and equipment, things have gotten a lot better. Big outages are far less frequent, replaced instead by brief “interruptions.” Annoying to be sure, but hardly a threat to health or well-being, unless you don’t know how to reset all those blinking clocks.

Yet we seem to have reached a tipping point of sorts. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, not as many people kept large amounts of perishable frozen or refrigerated foods. We did not depend on air conditioning then as much as we do now. Furnace and water heater pilot lights did not need electronic ignition, so at least a little warmth was sometimes possible. For TV, you relied on over-the-air broadcasts and your own antenna, not cable or satellite. Phones that ran on rechargeable batteries? That was Dick Tracy – Buck Rogers fantasy.

So now we are seeing an unwelcome convergence of forces. Widespread reliance on high tech electronics as part of our daily lifestyle. Population growth and housing development in areas prone to wildfires, floods and hurricanes. An aging national infrastructure and a lack of will or wherewithal to repair or replace it. Off-the-charts weather events. And a fiscal cliff.

Given the forces at work against us, it’s a wonder that we’re able to hold it together. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the people who is holding it together. As a response professional, you’re overworked, under-resourced and unappreciated in the daily workings of your organization. The wider populace may not appreciate everything you do to keep the lights on, the hearth warm and the water flowing. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

But without the plans you’ve worked so hard to hone, without the emergency management training you do, without the exercises and debriefs you oversee or participate in, the effort to put things back together after an emergency hit would be a hopeless mess.

So as this year draws to a close, if nobody else thinks to tell you, know this: you are a hero to unseen thousands who don’t know you exist. And if everything goes well, that’s probably the way it should be.

So keep the faith.

So to all response professionals everywhere who help make our lives better, we at EPP thank you and wish you continued success in the New Year.

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