Are you prepared?

Published 4:24 pm Friday, September 4, 2009

It has been eight years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington killed some 3,000 innocent people. How soon we forget.

Fortunately, there are people like Len Pagano who haven’t forgotten. Pagano is president and CEO of the Safe America Foundation, located in Marietta. On Sept. 11, Safe America rolls out a project called, “9/11 Drill Down for Safety,” a series of emergency drills designed to teach businesses and families how best to respond to emergency situations ranging from natural disasters to terrorist thuggery.

Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta is the honorary chairman of the program, which has the backing of the National Association of Emergency Managers, the U.S. Medical Reserve Corps, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a host of corporate sponsors.

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In a news conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mineta said, “Safe America is championing this project because we believe we need to shift the attention from what government can or can’t do to what individuals and families can do on their own. If individuals are trained, they are just as likely to survive on their own than if they wait for first responders to arrive.”

Pagano estimates there will be as many as 200,000 people involved in the “9/11 Drill Down for Safety Program.” Among the drills will be efforts to test how special needs populations can be evacuated, determining the most effective way to communicate to high school and colleges students through text messages and looking at how to shelter people in a business location.

The drills will be as varied as the locations in which they take place. In Atlanta, UPS will simulate how to protect employees during a potential tornado. The Allstate Insurance office in Marietta will do an employee family preparedness plan. York, Maine will conduct neighborhood preparedness drills. In Washington, D.C., Howard University will carry out student pre-evacuation program planning. The Lindon City, Utah, sheriff’s department will hold a drill for sheltering school kids during an earthquake. San Francisco will focus on day care centers. Motorola will conduct their drills on an international basis.

Here in Georgia, Safe America has contacted PTAs throughout the state to get school children and parents involved. (To learn more, go to Pagano says it is imperative that parents know how to text and be able to understand the “short-hand” that kids have developed. It could save a lot of lives one day.

Once this massive nationwide project is finished, Pagano, Mineta and their corporate and government partners will gather in Chicago in October for a post-mortem to see what worked and what areas need improvement. Refinements will be made and then begins the process of preparing for another drill in September and October 2010.

“We have chosen this time of year, not only because of the high awareness of the 9/11 attacks,” Pagano says, “but because it is also during this time of year that we have a greater likelihood of natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires, as well as the possibilities of pandemic influenza.”

I have known Len Pagano since he was a college intern in my organization at Southern Bell back in the 1970s. I have watched with pride as his Safe America Foundation has grown into a significant national player in safety issues ranging from teen driving to infant car seats to document protection. Now, he and his organization are taking on this critically-important project, “9/11 Drill Down for Safety.” Every business and every family in America — and right here in Georgia — owe it to themselves and others to understand how to prepare for emergencies.

One thing I have learned over my long life is that disasters occur without warning. When they do, will you know where your family members are? Your employees? Your co-workers? And even if you can locate them, will you know what to do next to ensure their safety? That is what Pagano, Mineta and 200,000 volunteers hope to teach you, starting on Sept. 11. I suggest you get involved and find out for yourself.