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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Flipping the mindset

The early days of the Cold War were terrifying for most Americans. World War II had just ended, and while the Soviet Union was our ally during the war, their actions afterward bordered on the reckless. At least we had the atomic bomb and they didn't. Certainly that would level the playing field if the Soviets were going to try something, right?

The first Soviet nuclear bomb test, August 29, 1949
That was until August 29, 1949 when the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb. The news shook American confidence to the core, especially given that expectations were that it would take at least a decade for the USSR to catch up with American technology.

With this new, exceptionally lethal weapon at their disposal, a single Soviet bomber could lay waste to an American city if it was able to slip through air defenses. What could be done to prepare residents for this potential threat?  Enter our friend Bert the Turtle.

Bert the Turtle
Yes, Bert was the brainchild of the Federal Civil Defense Administration. He was a jumpy little fella who, one day out for a walk has to use a special technique to hide from a firecracker - which we are led to believe is an atomic attack.


Of course, Bert does the right thing. He ducks and covers when he sees the flash of the firecracker, and his fast thinking saves the day. Across the country in school rooms, students were shown the film with the catch jingle and told to do exactly what Bert did - duck and cover.

A duck and cover drill
Sure, it seems a bit naive to believe that this drill would save many lives, but back in the day before the advent of the hydrogen bomb, whose power dwarfed that of the fission bombs in use, the drill could have possibly saved many lives from the prompt effects of the blast - burns, debris and other dangers.

What Bert also did was help to flip the mindset of the American public. Before these movies were released, people thought it was pointless to protect themselves from the dangers an atomic bomb could bring to bear. Instead, it gave them some concrete steps to take in the event of an attack that they could use to save their lives.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
For those of us who educate residents who live in areas where there are other threats unrelated to surprise nuclear attack, do we give our residents concrete steps they can follow to protect themselves?

I can't tell you how many times I have gone to a preparedness presentation and have been told by one of the audience members that once I spoke they were terrified by the prospect of living through a hurricane. Why would I tell them to build a survival kit, get boards for their windows and find their evacuation level if everything was going to just be destroyed? Why even bother? After all, we're all going to be victims.

FEMA Director Craig Fugate
Current FEMA Director Craig Fugate addressed this very concern a few years ago when he mentioned that we have to have a change in mindset:

Unless you are in the morgue, you are a survivor of a disaster.

Think about how profound that statement is. Once we couch our preparation efforts ... our education efforts ... around that statement, what can't we do? It paints for them a scary reality, but also an attainable goal. It tells them that while emergency responders will work hard to restore essential services, it is their responsibility to take care of their families for a minimum of 72 hours.

It gives them an action they can take to make their survival a priority.

Isn't that our goal?

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomiovino

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