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Takeaways from Diverse Partners in Emergency Preparedness

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One in an ongoing series of reports from our funding awardees. Rudy Hurtado shares what he learned when he was awarded Professional Development funding to attend the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference in Tacoma.

By Rodolfo (Rudy) Hurtado, Director, Viva Hispanic Foundation NW, Seattle

The incredibly informative Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference included plenary sessions and numerous concurrent workshops, beginning with the very engaging keynote speaker who provided some valuable information and good tips on managing stress. Dr. Grady P. Bray, President of Crisis Human Services, Inc. spoke on the topic “Emergency Response: The Trauma that Does Not Bleed.”

Dr. Bray began by talking about the work Emergency Response workers do: they are in the business of providing service – protecting people, jobs, property, and businesses.

“It is often in the service we do that we define our lives. Yet the day-to-day exposure to the work we do takes its toll,” said Dr. Bray. The stress of doing this work is insidious. “There is a cumulative negative effect of constantly responding to emergency situations. The stress must be managed.”

He went on to say that there is both good and bad stress. Positive Stress is also called Eustress. The thrill and excitement felt by people when they are confronted by a demanding situation, which they feel they can handle. Positive Stress gives you the energy to throw yourself into something where you want to make some contribution.

Bad stress or Negative Stress is called Distress; it is stress that a person feels when they feel a situation is more than they can handle. If they have been feeling this stress for a long time they will not be able to function normally. This can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Dr. Bray said that “Perception is critical: realistic exercises and training help you see a situation as less stressful.” He also mentioned that change is inherently stressful. And he emphasized to “Watch out for your emotions; time and time again I find people find the love of their lives, it does not last – it’s situational – Disaster Response is not real life.”

Dr. Bray then offered tips to manage stress. People often develop stress headaches. Go to a dark place or take Excedrin (aspirin plus caffeine); develop a ritual, change your clothes when you get home; go to a dark room (no TV), take 20 minutes to reset; and drink lots of water, you have to keep hydrated.

Following Dr. Bray’s presentation, Vickie Nadolski, Director of the Western Region of the National Weather Service (NOAA) spoke on the topic “Weather-Ready Nation.”

“Catastrophic events are on the increase,” she began. She went on to say that “90% of Presidential Emergency Declarations are related to weather – tornados, floods, blizzards, wildfires, and drought. Sea level is rising, it’s a given, and more people are living on the coast; more people are moving west, we have to prepare for the danger of tsunami.”

Nadolski went on to give an overview of what the National Weather Service is doing to “improve weather decision services for events that threaten lives and livelihoods.” She discussed various initiatives: Community Emergency Preparation and Response, Warning Accuracies and Warnings – initiatives to provide longer lead times for high impact weather and water events and develop more accurate probability models.

Her presentation focused on the Weather Service’s work related to the need to effectively communicate risk and forecast confidence (what are the odds that this will happen).

Here are a couple of highlights from the many workshops presented at the conference:

Richard Brundage, President, Center for Advanced Media Studies, spoke on “Crisis Communications and Media Response Training for Today’s Leaders.” One take-away: when being interviewed, “Don’t talk to the reporter,’” instead imagine that you are talking to someone you love. Reconnect with your heart, because the media wants to know that you care.

Therese Quinn, Snohomish County MRC Coordinator, Snohomish Health District, spoke on the topic “The Importance of Cultural Competency in Emergency Management.” The key: “Valuing and respecting the individual.” “Treat everyone like they want to be treated.” “If we cannot effectively communicate in an emergency, we will waste precious time.”

And one more thing: The entire group of conference attendees participated in the first ever complete evacuation of the Tacoma Convention Center. On the second day of the conference the alarms went off while the workshops were being conducted. The more than 600 attendees left the building and crossed over to the sidewalks and parking lot across the street. It took seven minutes! It was a good exercise in that the conference management learned that there were some problems that need their attention, and, of course, that was the point of the exercise!

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