October 4, 2022

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Thinking about preparedness now will help us in future disasters

6 min read
It's not as hard as you think to start a conversation with nearby neighbors, and well worth it, according to Lane County's Bianca Bell.

It's not as hard as you think to start a conversation with nearby neighbors, and well worth it, according to Lane County's Bianca Bell.

Neighborhood leaders met last month with Lane County Emergency Management Analyst, Bianca Bell.

[00:00:05] Bianca Bell: My name is Bianca Bell. I’ve got a degree in emergency management and I work for the county as an emergency management analyst and have recently started Resource Tap, which is a company designed to fill in the gaps in our community and get us a little bit better prepared to deal with our new reality.

[00:00:25] Due to climate change, we are going to start experiencing more disasters, bigger disasters, multiple disasters at a time, right? Like, we got to play COVID and fire at the same time. The trouble is that policy, funding, and just basic understanding across the board is inadequate for what’s coming next. And there are a lot of people that are, dare I say, highly educated and well-informed, that aren’t necessarily aware of that.

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[00:00:59] John Q: She said it helps to discuss preparedness before the event happens.

[00:01:03] Bianca Bell: When seatbelts were first a thing. made it mandatory that everybody wear a seatbelt, I remember my dad getting very mad and being like, they can’t tell me what to do with my body. Outraged. And now it’s just normal. Now he tells his grandkids, make sure you buckle up because the conversation has normalized. And if we can normalize a conversation before things get really scary, then we’re winning.

[00:01:32] Let’s say that prior to COVID hitting, we all just normalized the conversation about what wearing a mask does to prevent respiratory disease rate. If we all just got on the same page before it was scary, I think that would have aided a conversation once COVID hit.

[00:01:51] When people get scared, they shut down and it becomes a big conversation. We just want to get people in the habit of like feeling comfortable and normal talking about emergencies in the same way we feel comfortable and normal about wearing a seatbelt and having fire drills in school.

[00:02:07] John Q: She recommended going slow to go fast.

[00:02:09] Bianca Bell: ‘Gentle slow is the way to go.’ It’s like I really firmly believe that: Slower is faster. And that goes for you as well. If you’re not ready to talk to somebody about disaster preparedness, talk to somebody that you are ready to talk to.

[00:02:24] I would like to encourage everyone to go for the low-hanging fruit, because the thing about normalizing the conversation, which is really my goal, is that people have to be doing it, and once, like, we’re herd animals, so we’re going to take advantage of that. And it’s not necessarily a fast process, sometimes it is, but when we’re normalizing conversation, it’s not going to be a fast process.

[00:02:46] And so we just want to get people comfortable, like, ‘Oh yeah, climate change.’ ‘Mm-hmm. Looks like Oregon’s looking like a California was. ‘Boy, they’re in bad shape.’ And if that’s as far as they can go, great, talk to somebody else.

[00:02:59] And what’s going to happen is the more of us that are just conversating about it, just everyday lives, nothing scary, the more it’ll feel normal. Great. And then somebody else is going to say, ‘Oh yeah,’ like they’ll start independently having their conversations. And all of a sudden there’ll be this understanding that yes, disasters are going to get much, much worse.

[00:03:17] John Q: Emergency managers recognize that denial is part of the grieving process.

[00:03:22] Bianca Bell: In other parts of the country people are still rejecting the idea of climate change, right? Actually even here, I was working on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan for Lane County and I referenced climate change and somebody said to me, ‘No, you’ve got to take that out. That’s going to be rejected. They will not pass it.’ ‘Really? We’re going to upset people with this information? Okay.’ But even though there’s still some trailers, for the most part, I think people are on board with that though… Normalizing. That’s all we’re doing.

[00:03:49] The other thing I would say is there is this thought that discussions about disasters and fires and our resources being overwhelmed, there’s a thought that you have to be serious and dull and dreadful about it. And if that, if it’s not in monotone and talking about ‘how awful it could be and could you imagine,’ then it’s not a real conversation.

[00:04:13] And I reject that. I say, make it a fun conversation, make it a party, have party games. There’s all kinds of kind of horrible morbid games that you can play including, like, bingo or whatever. I was once told by somebody, ‘Wow, You don’t act very professional and you should be.’  I was like, ‘Am I not professional? Or am I just, like, the least dull person in the room?’ Because sometimes those things are synonymous.

[00:04:38] John Q: From the Eugene Neighborhood Preparedness Network, Randy Prince.

[00:04:42] Randy Prince: Bianca, you might be sort of the expert opinion on this. There are many areas of preparedness and then there’s the study of psychology. I saw in the New York Times about the tornado survivors in Missouri, with their lives disrupted and the shock of having a sudden event come on them like that. And so there is a lot of disaster psychology, and I wondered: How to get people to think ahead of time? Take the steps that will minimize the risk, to know what to do. And confronting the denial or the unwillingness to consider a situation that has no easy answer.

[00:05:20] Bianca Bell: You’re absolutely right. It is psychology and a hundred percent it is. You can watch people deal with hardship on an individual level and on a global level and it looks the same, like, it’ll follow the same pattern. There’s this moment of, ‘Wait, what now? And that’s immediately followed by taking inventory of the situation. And then that is then followed by, ‘Okay, let’s band together and coordinate and do something about it.’ And then after that, there’s this phase where people are like, ‘This still sucks and we were doing things,’ and there’s like anger and blame that comes with that. And then after that, there’s this resignation of, ‘Oh, okay, we’ll just get our hands dirty. We’ve got a long road, but it’s fine. And we’re just going to get through it.’ So if you watch, those are definitely how things go.

[00:06:05] And more to your question is: The more prepared and the more thought we put into it ahead of time, the better, because that allows us to prepare, which allows us to take ownership of the situation, which allows us to have less PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). So there’s actually a thing called Post Traumatic Growth that can happen. So you can go through hardship and like totally kick its butt, and then you’re actually stronger and happier and healthier afterwards. So trauma doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It’s just that we’re inherently not great at dealing with it. That’s why normalizing the conversation, getting people to think about it ahead of time,…and so that’s true for everything. Like the more prepared, the more confident we are, the better.

[00:06:48] John Q: Bianca Bell on how preparedness gives us an opportunity for post-traumatic growth.

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