Read the Winning DRI Foundation Scholarship Essay by Tomasina DeLong

DRI (Disaster Recovery Institute) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to make the world more prepared. Recent events have heralded in a new era of world tensions … and it is no wonder that preparedness is an important issue for organizations and governments alike. While preparedness on a national scale is at the forefront of all these events, local preparedness is one that is applicable to all of us.

Please provide your thoughts on how you could affect preparedness in your community.

Throughout my life I have been driven towards helping others – and I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true. As I have grown, I have begun to understand my tendencies, and to put it in more professional terms, I feel as though I am driven toward crisis management and support. I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist who tries to prepare for any disaster which makes me an asset: to my friends when we hang out when I have emergency water, band aids, and ice packs and to families I babysit when I can perform CPR and remain calm in times of panic. This is because, not to sound existential, disaster can strike whenever, wherever.

I understand that not all disasters can be completely prevented, but the definition of a disaster is an event that causes great trauma and loss; so, while the event may not be preventable the degree of destruction and loss is causes can. I think that emergency preparedness and emergency response planning are best explained as a process. This process is not up to date and effective unless it is continuously evaluated. I can easily be prepared in my own life by changing batteries in smoke detectors, setting the alarm, password protecting important information, and taking other preventative measures; however, when crises occur, they are not usually isolated to one individual or household. Thus, preventative measures must be taken at a larger scale. As ideal as that would be for everyone to prepare accordingly for any possible disaster, it is far from reality and therefore disaster recovery is necessary.

While being results and big picture oriented is a strong attribute, it can be to someone’s detriment when they are unable to make an impact due to the scale and scope of their project. In this scenario, global disaster prevention is an admirable goal, as are the elimination of world hunger and water shortage; however positive outcomes are more likely when the goal is more focused because it is easier to take action. In my community, there is a strong sense of family and togetherness because in Shaker Heights people pride themselves on the inclusivity and diversity of our town. This progressive atmosphere is home to many races, religions, abilities, and socioeconomic status however we are not perfect and have recently received a lot of criticism. Shaker’s public schools are funded by unusually high taxes, and in the case of a recession, the tax revenue would go down, potentially putting the schools at risk. To combat the loss of funds due any number of potential disasters, a contingency fund could be developed. This could allow my community to continue to provide the award-winning educational resources that Shaker Heights City Schools is known for.

Currently, the coronavirus has posed a great threat to education. My mother is a teacher and works in an impoverished inner-city public-school district. Shaker Heights city schools passed a levy recently which provided all students grades 5-12 with district issues chrome books. These have been vital to our day to day learning in the classroom, but they also allowed for a more seamless transition to distance learning when Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, closed schools. This, in and of itself, could be considered an effective step in disaster preparedness because all students in grades 5-12 have access to a device to complete schoolwork in the occasion that school is taken online. Our administration and coronavirus response team in the district created a tiered plan for distance learning – beginning with giving students time to catch up on old work, transitioning to a schedule with non-overlapping departmental office hours twice a week, and ending with optional lessons and new material. This was all possible because most students already had chrome books.

The struggle however did not stop there; not all students had internet and many students were relying on free and reduced lunches from school to feed them. Through collaboration with the public library, internet hotspots were provided to families in need of internet and computers were distributed by request to students in grades K-4. By working with food providers, convenient food pickup locations were developed and school busses full of bagged lunches and breakfasts followed carefully constructed routes each day to fulfill this need. Amid this chaos, I watched my mother struggle as she sat through meeting after meeting trying to find a way to reach their students. At her school, there is not money for every student to have a computer and the email addresses that students have are limited in capability as they are unable to send or receive emails from them. In the case of COVID-19, being prepared included having a discussion with our teachers the day before we were closed, having open lines of communication between teachers, students, and administration, and prefacing the closure with a message that during this time of crisis the primary goal is to keep everyone safe and thus, school is not the immediate priority.

When fears of the coronavirus pandemic first began, anxiety and fear caused people to panic buy which further escalated the issue. Most means of production are still intact and there is theoretically the same amount of food and resources in stores as always. When people overbuy and run stores empty, not everyone will have things that they need, heightening the demand for that item which is now considered to be a luxury. This could have exacerbated the effects of the stay at home order in some places, however these negative effects could have been reduced if people did not act irrationally, buying only what they needed and trusting that essential production would continue. In my community there are several Little Free Food Pantries located around the city and they are stocked by residents through an honor system of “leave what you can, take what you need” and trust like this is what supports communities during hardship. Creating more of these food pantries and supporting food banks locally is another way to prepare for disasters in which food supply is cut off or people are unable to purchase food due to things such as unemployment.

For my community to be more prepared for a crisis or tragedy I think we could do several things. Shaker Heights frequently has mailings and magnets delivered with varying pieces of information. People are generally more prepared when they are aware of the resources available to them. During a crisis however, the mind does not necessarily function as rationally as it would during times of security, so providing “in your face” resources and messages such as magnets (large enough to be noticeable but not too large that it has become an obstruction in the home) can help citizens utilize local agencies during times of disaster. I am creative and have some experience with digital design tools and I could come up with a magnet design and propose it to the city. I could also attend city council meetings and post on forums about the different hazards that could potentially affect my community: environmental emergencies, technological accidents, and deliberate incidents and attacks. After identifying these hazards, I can also do research on the necessary support that each disaster could warrant. Additionally, identifying and cataloguing members of the community who may require special attention, such as senior citizens, children, and community members with special needs, can help local government officials create a plan in the event of an evacuation or urgent care emergency. I have asthma and special medical needs and depending on the disaster, my lung function could be compromised. For example, I am part of the at-risk population for the coronavirus because of my compromised lung function and immune system. These are important things to know in times of crisis. I will be off to college in the fall, and when enrolling and signing up for various Ohio State programs, an emergency response alert messaging system was one of them. I am not currently in Columbus, however there was a tornado warning near campus and thus, a warning was sent out to all students and staff signed up for the messaging program. If one of these were implemented in my community, severe weather and local threats such as gun violence could be reported in real time. Overall, encouraging awareness of the need for emergency preparedness is the first step because no matter how prepared you may think you are; you never know until it happens.