In both my undergraduate and graduate classes, we spend a good amount of time trying to figure out how we can better prepare people to deal with disasters. One of the things that is quite clear when we have these discussions is that we must start by teaching and preparing our children. As we all know, good habits taught to children can carry on for a lifetime of good outcomes. We know that for instance Stop, Drop and Roll taught in the elementary schools has proven to be successful as a lifetime habit. So how do we get to our children and how do we teach them these good habits?
I am a firm believer that if we are going to be better prepared as a nation, and even more importantly not just a nation, but across all nations, that we must train future generations. Recently I was having a conversation about how do we properly prepare people and how do we form good habits, when an example came to me. As I was speaking, I used my son as an example. He is now nineteen, away at college and living in Philadelphia. I often talk about how he does “x” or he talks about “y’, basic safety and preparedness issues. This is when it struck me about the habits as a real world example. As a safety professional and emergency manager, from the time he was born, I not only, as all parents do, was totally consumed with his health and well-being, but also taught him about health, safety and preparedness on what I am sure he would say was a daily basis, he may even say minute by minute. When we traveled, he would need to know how many doors it was in each direction to an exit from our hotel room. Seatbelts were never optional! I was glad when he got to school that it was an “opt-out” notification system rather than an opt-in, although I think he would have opted-in any way. Although he might tell you I was overbearing with some of these things, the reality was I made sure I never missed an opportunity to educate him on personal preparedness, for his benefit, as well as his parents!
Several weeks ago we were driving home from a soccer game with a friend and our friend drove through a large puddle while trying to be funny. Before I could say anything, David began talking about the dangers of driving through standing water and flood waters. I marked this one down as a success story, maybe he was listening!
As I reflected on this story and many other examples, it dawned on me that the research I am working on and the various project trying to better prepare our children is quite simple, in order to prepare future generations, we must do a better job of educating today’s generation. I imagine in the future when he has a family, my son will share the lessons with his family that I have always shared with him, soon as these lessons get passed down from generation to generation, we will have a generation with new good habits. If you study disasters, you will learn that people survive disasters based not only upon their own past experience but more importantly the experiences passed down from generation to generation. There are documented cases where earthquakes and Tsunamis have struck and the population survived because they had been told the warning signs through generational learning. These survivors had never experienced one of these events before; they only knew what they were taught by their ancestors.
We need to do a better job of generational learning and education. We need to figure out a way to get it in to our schools and our school age children. If we can get this generation, we can then rely on them to help with the next generation, so that when their children come home from school and talk about preparedness, the parents will understand and will listen and assist, rather than ignore and avoid the issues, because as all of us know, it WILL happen here!