Empowering Your Inner First Responder
As Americans seek self-reliance, more is also required of them. Studies show that Americans have a growing sense of it being necessary to pitch in to help one's self and one's fellow citizens.
Perhaps this might sound a little like an insurance commercial, but so be it. When the unexpected happens, you never know who will be on hand to help. The odds are it will not be a trained professional, but maybe that is okay. The more willing we are to accept this notion, the more prepared we will be to react.
Inclement weather, medical emergencies, transportation accidents, natural disasters and even terrorist attacks all require the services and expertise of first responders to help those in need. Yet, in most cases those first responders are often everyday citizens. Certainly, the frequency of the public being thrust into these situations seems to be increasing.
No doubt, when such situations arise, the professionals who would respond first are not typically on the scene at the moment of impact to provide their services immediately. As the effects of budget cuts across the US in state and local government take hold, the scope of these services has been reduced in many cases.
The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article on January 8th:
“In Kansas, state workers are no longer plowing for a perfectly clear path on weekends or after business hours, except on Interstate highways. 'Our budgets have been cut, and people will notice it on the highways this year,' said Steve Swartz, a spokesman for the state’s Transportation Department. 'In years past, we’d continue to pay our operators until we got down to bare pavement everywhere, at all times.'”
Such problems are compounded by the shrinkage of emergency personnel in some police, EMT, and fire departments as they are forced to make difficult choices as to where cutbacks should take place in the face of local budget crises. In states facing harsh winter weather, clearing snow from public roads may be relegated to those private citizens with their personal vehicles. An altruistic deed to be sure, as citizens take matters into their own hands for the greater good of their communities. Yet, with fewer regulations and less experience, room for accidents and errors only increases.
That said, often the good Samaritans in the crowd have skills and experience that can help them pitch in, and even save lives. An elementary school classmate of mine, Dr. Tolani, teamed up with a police officer on a subway last year to essentially bring a fellow passenger back to life. (Article link).
Since 9/11, citizens have always wondered how they can pitch in, yet there has been no real call to action. Many have taken the onus upon themselves to put their skills and empathy to work both here and abroad. Consider the lack of government help that was available to the people in Haiti during the aftermath of the recent earthquake. In many cases, the first external responders were foreign news reporters. Who can forget the images of Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper pitching in to help those injured.
Domestically, we see that a growing numbers of Americans, 48% (12 points higher than 2007), feel they “don’t have control over government or business making changes to your community”. For all that, the myriad of challenges Americans have faced in the past two years has increased resilience and self-reliance.
In April, AP-GfK poll respondent, Dwight Hageman, a retiree from Newberg Oregon stated “I think people are beginning to realize that there’s not always going to be someone to catch them when things fall down.”
It seems that this role of pitching-in to help one’s self and one’s fellow citizens has partially come out of a sense of responsibility, but also a growing sense of necessity. As I entered the security checkpoint at Midwestern airport just 3 days after the failed Christmas day bombing of the Delta flight over Detroit, the TSA agent reminded me and my fellow passengers: “If you see someone trying to light anything, beat them up – if you’ve got it in you. Protect yourself.”
Consider that terrorist attacks on at least 5 different commercial flights have been thwarted by airline passengers. Says Amanda Ripley in a recent Time article:
“And yet our collective response to this legacy of ass-kicking is puzzling. Each time, we build a slapdash pedestal for the heroes. And since regular people will always be first on the scene of terrorist attacks, we should perhaps prioritize the public's antiterrorism capability.” (Article link)
Could it be that the government is not asking enough of its citizens? Certainly the economic collapse has been a wake-up call for all individuals in this country as we have seen with the recent shift towards personal responsibility and self-reliance. Yet, those concepts seem to be in direct conflict with the system that has been established in this country over the past several decades.
We have come a long way since the ride of Paul Revere and the rallying of colonial militia Minutemen, but the fundamental ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality is still alive and well, now more than ever. We now know well that there are threats, natural and manmade which are bound to lead to things going wrong – often unexpectedly. While preparation and self-reliance are just good sound individual practices, state and local governments may be sitting on great untapped potential if organized in an effective manner.
Reading recommendation: Worst case scenarios.
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