March 18, 2014, Winnipeg – The 2014 Manitoba Disaster Management Conference wrapped up Friday and I wanted to blog about my experience while it was fresh.
This was the first time I had presented at a conference and I can tell you that it was a fantastic experience. More than 400 delegates from Canada and the United States gathered to share information and experiences. The highlight for me, besides presenting, was the opportunity to learn about the Calgary flood and the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion. So with out further ado, I am putting myself out there to do more presentations – if you’ll have me, that is – because I believe I have a lot of work to do to get my message across.
There were so many great presentations and I believe the conference committee did a great job organizing the event. My one-hour session was on emergency preparedness messaging and how I believe the message the public is getting is confusing and conflicting regarding preparedness.
We seem to have a shotgun approach to prevention – trying to hit as many people as possible with the most amount of information – because we continue to be a culture of reactive response agencies. In my first published work for Fire Fighting in Canada a few years ago, I wrote about funding for prevention initiatives and how budgets are not aligned with strategic goals. We talk the talk, we did it then, and still do now, but nothing seems to change as the walk part keeps getting missed.
I firmly believe that if we want people to be more resourceful and resilient in a disaster we need to invest in programs that build capacity from the grassroots. Every dollar spent on preparedness and mitigation saves seven in a disaster.
One of the things my presentation focuses on is the fact that few of us have emergency preparedness kits at home. People feel they are prepared yet believe they do not need a plan, a kit or an understanding of their risks.
In my last blog I offered to buy coffee for any responders who emailed me pictures of their kits at home. I was going to try to inspire a few people to lead by example. I’m not sure if I was not clear enough, maybe no one read the blog, or those who did just did not have time to take a picture and send it in. But not one single person took me up on a free coffee for a picture of an emergency preparedness kit. At first I was a little perturbed as I felt my message was being ignored; but after doing a session for 106 responders, elected officials, and government leaders I realized just how bad the problem was, as just 17 people in my session of delegates met the criteria to be called prepared. Sometimes the choir needs a sermon.
Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a masters degree in disaster and emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at
and follow him on twitter @disasterbucket
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