The next storm on the horizon may well come in the form of a challenge of sustainability, with regard to both finances and manpower.
Intermingled with those two facets is the matter of a public that to a great extent has become soft and spoiled by having its needs catered to.
First, there is cost to consider. The miraculous work that responders do does not happen without money to pay for it.
Typically, in the event of a declaration of disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) covers 75 percent of the costs of responding to the needs of the community. The state kicks in 12 per cent and local government is responsible for paying the remaining 13 percent.
“That has been a wonderful thing,” says Melissa Combs, Marshall County Emergency Services director.
The wonderful thing is almost certainly going to be less wonderful in coming months and years. The train wreck that masquerades as a federal budget is the most glaring problem, but many state and local entities are deep in red ink as well.
Right up there with the issue of financial support is this hard question: Who’s going to do the dirty work for a complacent and spoiled populace?
More and more coordinators see volunteerism as something that’s primarily handled by teenagers at one end and the middle-aged and older at the other extreme – and not too many in between.
In fairness, many of those in that gap are busy making a living, raising families and so forth. But the question remains.
“In the next 15 years, a lot of our volunteers are going to be retiring,” Combs said. “Who’s going to take their places?”
America’s emergency responders do an incredible job. In many ways, we show our gratitude to them and willingly support them.
Unfortunately, they also hear complaints that their response was not good enough or fast enough. Part of the “thanks” they get is complacency, heightened expectations and a feeling of entitlement on the part of those they serve.
Why bother getting out and clearing downed limbs out of your own yard when somebody with a big truck and chain saw will eventually come and do it for you?
Why have your own modest stockpile of water and rations when “the government” will soon be on hand with everything your heart desires?
Why volunteer for public service when you can be a recipient of public services? Why roll up your sleeves when you can just hold out your hands in expectation?
The reality is that each of us is his or her own first responder. We are all primarily responsible for taking care of ourselves – all the time, not just during emergencies.
That message is tough to sell. n