While you are reading and thinking about recent disasters, think about the lack of preparedness and how disaster planning may have saved many lives.  Think about the community you live in.   How prepared are you for a disaster? What can/should you do to make sure you are prepared?  When you are thinking about preparedness, think about marketing.  How would you market preparedness to the public?  What would you do to make the idea of preparedness go “viral?”

More importantly, who is important to you?  Are they prepared if a disaster strikes?  Are you prepared so that you can survive a disaster and therefore be there to assist those that are depending on you?  While you are contemplating whether you should prepare, or when you will “take the time” to prepare, think about those that depend on you and think about what you would do if they were lost in a disaster, or what they would do if you were!

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September 2013: Book of the Month

This month’s book is Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger.  I am always on my pulpit speaking about disaster preparedness.  Are you prepared? Are your kids prepared?  What would you, your family or your loved ones do if a disaster or emergency occurred?  On this Blog and in all my classes, I relate back to and refer to one thing over and over, teaching our children “Good Habits” when they are young so that as they get older, they will survive any disaster or emergency they may face.  What does this have to do with this month’s book?

All of the ideas, concocts, latest strategies and innovative techniques for teaching disaster preparedness do not work if your message never “catches on.”  This is where understanding why things go “viral” and why some ideas work and some, which may be better, never do is the key to success.  Think about your clothes on fire, what would you do?  It is one of those early taught good habits.

In this very good book, Berger analyzes why some ideas are immediate hits.  He relays the steps to follow for trying to achieve this goal.  The book is not a disaster preparedness book, it is more of a marketing book.  However, marketing is where we as Emergency Managers sometimes come up short.  If the public does not hear our message, or they hear it and forget it, then those good habits will never be created.  The difference between living and dying is proper preparedness.

Many, if not all of you, have probably had a cheese steak.  If you are from the Philadelphia area, you know about cheese steak wars.  Could you imagine selling a cheese steak for $100, and people come and buy it?  In this book, find out why the $100 cheese steak is not only being sold, but very popular and is advertised mostly by word of mouth.  Think about the last time you got a good deal on a product or service, I bet you quickly told family and friends.  This is what we have to do with disaster preparedness.

If you get a chance to read this informative and excellent book and you want to discuss or send me your thoughts, please send me an email at

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National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month and FEMA kicked off its America PrepArathon program yesterday at the National Academy of Sciences.  It was a Great kickoff campaign and workshop.  Are you Prepared?  How would you contact a loved one if the phone lines did not work…follow SCTF PIO on Facebook where we will be doing updates all month to keep you, your family and your community safe!

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First Day Preparedness

Many parents spent the weekend preparing to send their children off to the first day of school.  Whether it is the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, the first day of high school or the first day of college, it’s a big deal.

Parents worry about their child fitting in with the other children or listening to their teachers.  For parents of young children it may be the fear of that first bus ride, or time on the playground.   For those with older children, it may be the first time that the child drives to school in their car, and the fear of motor vehicle safety.  For parents sending their children off to college, the list is quite extensive and ranges from alcohol to sexual relationships that we worry about with our children.

We all are thinking the same thing, did we teach them right, did they listen, will they take all that great advice we gave them, you know, you thought of things you experienced and then try to make sure they only get to do the good ones and avoid the negative ones.

How can we know though?  How can we be sure?  What gives our children the best chance for success and preparedness no matter how old or young they are and what grade they are entering?  Good Habits!

Have you taught your child good habits?  If you started when your child was small and you taught them good habits, those habits are going to help them be prepared no matter what situation they may face.  I was in a training recently in which the speaker was talking to Student Teachers about preparedness in the classroom. One of the things the speaker asked the group was, “What do you do if your clothes are on fire?”  I am sure I don’t need to tell you or anybody that has been raised in the United States in the past forty years.  Why?  Because we are taught this as a habit when we are young, it is drilled into us year after year, just like stay low in smoke and crawl to your exit. It becomes a habit, something you don’t have to think about, you just do.

I am a firm believer that we can teach people to be better prepared, no matter what the disaster, we just need to have good preparedness habits taught to us, all of us, from when we are young.

Think about a couple of things:  Do you wear your seat belt?  Do you drive through standing water?  Are you outside in a lightning storm?  What habits are you teaching your children?

I will pick this up next time.  In the interim, if you have any thoughts, feel free to email me at

Be Smart, Be Prepared, Be Safe!

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Stretching the Blog….

I have been posting on this blog for over a year and it is time that I start stretching the blog and getting to more topics and post on a regular basis.  As you know, each month, I try to post a Book of the Month, and I have posted a few other topics that have hit my radar and/or the emergency management radar.  Moving forward, I am hoping to post on a regular schedule, bringing in more and more topics pertinent to the field of emergency management.

Some of the topics I have on my list for future posts include:

1) Leadership

2) Education in EM

3) Historical EM events

In addition, I will make every effort to post about current events in the EM field as they unfold.

I hope you all had a great Summer!  Stay tuned for future posts very soon.  If any of you have ideas or want to send things for posting on this site, please email me at

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Preparing your College Age Children for Disasters

It is that time of year when anxious parents are preparing to send their sons and daughters away to college.  Parents are spending money on new computers, backpacks, toiletries, clothes and items for the college housing unit (we used to call them Dorm rooms).  We are preparing our children for life away at school, but are we really doing a good job of preparing them for life “on their own”?

As parents, you have trust in some institution, small or large, to take care of the well-being of your child.  Does the school have disaster plans in place? Have you looked on the website?  Is this a question you asked, or were you more concerned if your child could switch majors at the end of a year without penalty.   If you child is going to the Northeast, they are probably prepared for winter storms, if it is the Southeast, I am sure the school has hurricane preparedness plans and in the Midwest, we all know that tornado alley causes problems.  I am sure that you have been advised of all the health and safety plans the school has in place, you have been advised about school security and preventative measures for drinking, drugs, theft and various other criminal activities.  As wise parents, we all know that we need to advise our children about the various issues surrounding intimate relationships, and especially when you combine alcohol and these issues.

Every school has plans for all of these various issues, and by law these issues must be reported and publicly available.  However, what if a major storm hits your child’s school the day after you drop them off?  What if there is a major fire, power outage, ice storm or gas leak?  Or, it’s February and it has snowed for three days and your child is stuck in their housing unit.  What if the event is a manmade disaster?  Do your school and more importantly, you and your child have a plan for these events?  In today’s emergency management world, our goal is to have as many people as possible prepared for disasters to take the burden off of an already overburden emergency service community.  The better prepared you are and the more people that are self-sufficient, the better the systems will work for everyone.

Take the time to create a Student Disaster Plan and make sure your child understands it and understands the importance of the plan.  Remember, when you are eighteen to twenty-two and away at college, you are invincible.  You don’t have to invent an Action Plan, you can get one from the Millersville University’s Center for Disaster Research and Education website:, or you can go to or various other sites to download your free template and guide.

Why is this important?  Even at a small school, there will be thousands of students looking for guidance in a disaster and this can quickly overwhelm even the best prepared schools.  Using the massive snow storm as an example, maybe the school’s staff can’t get in to prepare meals, and even if they can, what if the roads are blocked and the trucks bringing the school its supplies can’t get through to the school.  Get a plastic sealable tub and put in a few days of supplies, canned food w a can opener, some granola bars or other energy bars, a small first aid kit, a packet of moist towelettes, a battery operated radio, a flashlight and spare batteries just to name a few important items.  NEVER let your child use candles or any type of open flames for their lighting or heat if the power goes out.

When your children were small they were taught EDITH, Exit Drill in the Home, as a method for getting out when a fire strikes.   Using this same principle, we need to have a plan for our children if they need to evacuate their student housing or apartment.  Many schools have plans and shelters, but what if your child can’t get to the shelter, or the school has to completely be evacuated?  Have two locations for your child to meet roommates, and/or you.  Why two different locations, because you never know where a disaster will strike and how large an area it will encompass.  Therefore, have meetings spots in two different directions, so your child can meet his friends, roommates and you.  These locations should probably be at least a mile away from the school, as a safe distance.  My son knows that if a major disaster happens that I am coming for him.  He also knows that we need to have that designated meeting spot ahead of time, because in major disasters cell phones are normally not usable due to the lines being jammed by the thousands of calls, such as happened at the Boston Marathon and here at Millersville during the gas explosion in October 2011.  Studies have shown that text messaging, and some social media does work during disaster events.

Another important issue is that of fire safety both here in the United States and especially when Studying Abroad.  Most school, if not all, have smoke detectors in their housing units.  Many now have sprinkler systems due to fires and student deaths in non-sprinklered housing units over the past decade.  You should still send along a battery powered smoke detector for additional safety.  In addition, explain to your child the problem with false alarms, which makes people complacent, and the need to always take every fire alarm seriously.

In Paris in 2011, a young college student died during her Study Abroad program because the apartment where she lived did not have smoke detectors.  Many schools are now being proactive with fire safety, which goes hand in hand with the crime prevention training that students receive before traveling.  A simple fifteen dollar smoke detector can be the difference between living and dying.  Check before your child travels to see what plans the school has in place to deal with not only fire safety but also disaster preparedness.

Eventually your child will probably live in off campus housing.  Make sure the local jurisdiction has good fire safety and building codes that are enforced.  Take the time to make sure your child’s apartment or house has smoke alarms, and if the property is heated by natural gas or oil, make sure there is a working Carbon Monoxide detector.  You can now purchase combination smoke/CO detectors.

Your child, like mine does to me, means the world to you.  You are sending them away to the care of another for the next four or five years.  Schools are established to educate our children and responsible to keep our children safe from harm.  However, remember that the school may have a thousand to sixty thousand young adults to protect, so the more you can do to prepare your child and yourself, the greater your chances of a good outcome no matter what the disaster, natural or manmade.

Habits can keep you alive or kill you in a disaster, teach your child good habits, such as those above to make sure that their health and safety are always a priority.  In a disaster, people revert back to whatever their habit is, make sure your child has these good habits!

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August 2013: Book of the Month

This month’s book is The Leader’s Checklist by Michael Useem.  As anyone who has ever been around me or one of my courses knows, I am a huge proponent in checklist.  I believe checklist are the keys to success, not just in business but in our personal lives.  Useem gives a lot of powerful insight in a relatively short book.

Leaders, especially leaders in the emergency services and emergency management, need system to make sure that it gets done and that it gets done right.  More importantly, this book also gives the principles to “good” leadership, not “easy” management.  Anyone can be a manager, but people will only follow “leaders.”  Leaders are those that can make the hard “right” decisions for the right reasons.

If you get a chance to read this informative and excellent book and you want to discuss or send me your thoughts, please send me an email at

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July 2013: Book of the Month

This month’s book is Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action by Simon Sinek.  Sinek explains a new concept of an old idea for inspiring people.  We have all worked with or for good leaders and bad leaders.  We look at the good leaders and try to figure out why they are such great leaders.  In this book, Sinek explains that many times it starts with asking the right questions, the “why” instead of the “what” or the “how.”  By asking yourself why, you can get to the core issues, the core problems and begin to inspire others to do the right thing.  As I mentioned before, and as has been documented by Col Danny McKnight, making the Easy wrong decision is simple compared to making the Hard Right Decisions.  Starting with “why” will assist you in your decision making and leadership abilities.

If you get a chance to read this informative and excellent book and you want to discuss or send me your thoughts, please send me an email at

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Why are People still dying in House Fires?

On June 24th, a mere eleven days ago on this blog site, I posted an article about people traveling abroad and dying in fires because of a lack of smoke detectors.  Yesterday morning, four people, two adults and two children died in a house fire in the City of Lancaster, Pa.; this added to the adult and child that died in a house fire just five months ago in Lancaster, is six unnecessary fire fatalities.  All of these senseless deaths could have been prevented by a simple fifteen dollar smoke detector.

The real tragedy, many fire departments, including the City of Lancaster, give away and installs smoke detectors for free.  Numerous home improvement stores and local television stations have been donating smoke detectors for years.  As a firefighter working in Lancaster for almost thirty years, I can tell you that we installed thousands of these free smoke detectors.  In a recent conversation with a friend and fire marshal in the City, we addressed the fact that the firefighters have probably installed enough free smoke detectors in the City to have covered every single residence.  Not only are they given away and installed for free, it is the code in the City and most municipalities to have working smoke detectors.  So, why are there people dying in house fires due to a lack of a working smoke detector?

There are a couple of very sad facts that address this issue, but it all starts with education.  Most people are afraid of crime, “no one will die in a fire.”  This is a sad truth of poor educational practices that I have heard hundreds of times in the past three decades.   Most people you talk to tell you that they don’t have a concern about dying in a fire for various reasons.  Comments like, “I am very safe,” “I am a light sleeper,” or “I will put it up tomorrow,” are all comments that allow for complacency and ultimately fire fatalities.

Science shows us that most people die due to the smoke long before the flames reach them.  As the fire burns, the smoke puts off deadly gases, including carbon monoxide.  These deadly gases reduce the person’s ability to function and slowly take their life away as it put them into an eternal sleep.  The quick reacting smoke detector is designed to create an early alert when smoke is present.  This is where many people lack the understanding and education, which leads to either failing to install a detector, misplacing a detector or removing a detector.  To go backwards in a time about a decade, the biggest issue was that smoke detectors were operated with nine volt batteries.  The kids needed a nine volt for one of their toys and a quick place to retrieve one was out of the smoke detector.  This problem was solved with new technology and ten year permanent lithium battery detectors.

The next educational problem is that the average person thinks there is something wrong with the detector because “every time I cook or every time I take a shower the detector goes off.”  This is not a malfunctioning detector; this is a detector working properly.  The detector is meant to “alert” whenever it detects something that blocks its “field” and sensors.  The smoke from cooking and steam from a shower are the same as the smoke from a fire, the detector can’t tell the difference.  One of several things is happening here to cause this reaction and it starts with education.  The smoke detector should not be placed in kitchens, bathrooms or immediately outside bathrooms.  Proper placement of a detector is very important so that it does not “alert” every time we cook or take a shower.  The detector is a piece of technology; it cannot differentiate between accidental smoke/steam and bad smoke/steam.  Every smoke detector box explains proper placement.  In addition, there is not a fire department in the world that will not assist the public with proper placement of smoke detectors to prevent false alerts, while properly protecting the citizen.

Complacency to install and procrastination are other very real problems.  In over thirty years of being in the fire service, I can’t tell you how many fires I have been to in which we discovered the smoke detector in the box on the shelf or in the closet. The person wisely purchased a detector, and then never took the time to install it.  Too often when we ask the fire victim about smoke detectors they would tell us where they are, in the box, and “I was going to install it, but didn’t get to it yet.”  These were the lucky fire victims, because the fire occurred when they were not sleeping.

There is one more very important point that needs to be addressed, firefighter safety.  In February several very good friends of mine were injured in a fatal fire, the one I mentioned earlier.  Did they have to get injured in this fire?  Lt Andre Kelly, a very good friend of mine suffered third degree burns over forty percent of his body while attempting to rescue trapped victims of the fire.  This is what firefighters do; risk their lives to save the lives of the public.  I realize that there was a “report” and the report addressed some concerns with this fire, but any firefighter worth his/her position, would have done the exact same thing, entered a burning building to try to rescue trapped civilians.  We can talk all day about the practices and procedures and what should have or shouldn’t have happened.  We can look at training and procedures and cast blame, as some have done.  There are even those who say they should not have entered the building, but what about the most important point….missing smoke detectors!

As I mentioned earlier, smoke detectors are “EARLY” warning devices.  If the home had working smoke detectors, properly placed throughout the home, there would have been an early alert to the fire.  This does two things: first, the fire is detected when it is smaller, so firefighters can be alerted earlier and therefore only need to deal with a small fire (both of these fatal fires were well involved when firefighters arrived); second, if the homes had working smoke detectors, the residents would have been outside when firefighters arrived.  Therefore, no life safety would have been at risk, the fire would have been smaller and the properly trained firefighters of the City of Lancaster would have quickly handled a small fire with no loss of life, no injuries and minor property damage.

Bringing this full circle, the smoke detectors are free, the firefighters will properly install them in the right locations, and with properly working smoke detectors civilians don’t die and firefighters are faced with smaller fires. My suggestion is simple, every municipality has a list of all of their respective residential properties, and computer programs track these properties, so why then can’t there be a list of every property in which a smoke detector was installed?  All of this though has to be followed by good public education.  People will do the right thing; they just have to know what the right thing is!  We don’t need any more civilian deaths in house fires, nor any more firefighter injuries and deaths; it is really as simple as proper fire prevention education

Questions?  Please feel free to contact me:

Be Safe

Be Smart

Be Prepared!

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