This piece was originally published Red Cross Central California's Blog on September 25, 2015.
Thank you to Dr. Jamie D. Aten, Founder and Co-Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois for the following guest post.
There was a lot of fanfare leading up to Stephen Colbert’s September debut on the Late Show. However, it seems like a whole lot less people were aware of another important September debut—National Preparedness Month. In celebration of Colbert’s new show, I wanted to share a several important elements of disaster preparedness—each inspired by segments of Colbert’s last gig, The Colbert Report.
Threat Down: Conduct a Risk Assessment. According to Colbert, bears are our country’s biggest threat. If you’ve seen this segment of his old show then you know he normally included a couple other major threats, like penguins, for safe measure. He was looking out for us by alerting viewers to the dangers that are out there. While Colbert’s list is entertaining, what he suggests is a vital part of preparedness—everyone does need to know the most likely threats to affect their communities. It is important to know what types of disasters have affected your community in the past, big and small. It is also a good idea to consider what types of disasters are most likely to occur in the future. Perhaps your community has a history of floods or of forest fires. Or maybe you live in an area prone to tornadoes or hurricanes. Whatever the threats, the more aware of them you are, the more likely you can prepare for them.
Doomsday Bunkers: Gather Supplies. A few years ago Colbert reported on family heirloom quality doomsday bunkers. My guess is that most of you reading this probably don’t have funds handy to purchase one of the bunkers he referred to as “underground cruise ships.” You know, the real nice kind of doomsday bunker you can pass along from generation to generation. The good news is that you don’t have to be able to afford a bunker to prepare for the worst. However, if you can afford it, you should try to set aside enough non-perishable food and water for about 72 hours. You’ll also want to make sure you have a small backup supply of any medicines you or your family might need. Some other basics to have on hand might include a first aid kit, batteries, flashlights, and a weather radio. If you have small children, you’ll also want to pack some toys and other comforts to help them through the process.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Hide”: Make a Plan. In the same top-notch report highlighted above, Colbert recommended that listeners pick up a copy of the book,Oh, the Places You’ll Hide as a graduation present to go along with the bunker. Though a bit (or a lot) misguided, Colbert stressed the importance of having a plan. Once a disaster strikes, the unfortunate truth is that it is extremely difficult to pull together a plan for how you will respond. So, gather your family together and write your own book. Okay, a book is probably a bit overly ambitious and really isn’t needed. Instead, work with your family to create an emergency preparedness plan. You will be glad that you did. A plan should include things like when, where, and how you might evacuate if a disaster hits. It also often outlines how your family will communicate in a crisis with one another. For more information on writing a family disaster plan, check out some of the great examples at www.ready.gov
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow: Give. In 2011 Colbert launched his own Colbert Super PAC and invited members of Colbert Nation to give to his cause. Thanks to the generosity of his viewers and some of his friends, he was able to raise over a million dollars in funding. Upon the closing of his Super PAC, Colbert shared that he wanted the remaining monies to go to UNICEF. He went on to add, “Unfortunately, the rest of the board found out that UNICEF is the name of my yacht.” Colbert then announced that instead of funding his yacht, a significant portion of the funds would go to help Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. Like Colbert, we need to do our part to help others affected by disasters. Even if we don’t have our own Super PAC, we can give what we can. After major disasters and crises, Colbert regularly highlights non-profit groups like Red Cross where viewers can text a small donation. If funds are tight, consider other options like volunteering at a shelter or food bank.
Maybe the most important lesson we can learn about preparedness doesn’t actually come from his shows, but from Stephen Colbert himself. In recent years, Colbert has shared openly about some of the hardships he and his family faced growing up. These included experiences of incredible loss. Rather than becoming bitter due to hardships, he learned and grew from these experiences. He found ways to be grateful amid adversity—he learned how to be resilient. Granted The Colbert Show and the Late Show aren’t the best places to go for disaster preparedness lessons. However, if we look at the person behind the shows, it’s probably more likely we’ll learn a thing or two.
Dr. Jamie D. Aten is the founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. He is a co-author of the new “Disaster Ministry Handbook.” Follow Dr. Aten on Twitter @drjamieaten and jamieaten.com.