Prepare now for hurricane season or prepare to suffer

Hurricane season, with all of its common-sense warnings, will be here in just a couple of months.

Did you just shrug?

Surely, Hurricane Ike's 2008 trail of destruction must be fresh in your mind. Even after three-plus years, the devastation Katrina wreaked should still conjure images of despair.

But have we really changed our attitudes? Have we really learned from past mistakes?

Russel Honoré, the no-nonsense retired Army lieutenant general who served as commander of the Katrina Joint Task Force in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 hurricane, now has a new mission. He wants to instill a culture of preparedness in the nation.

Honoré brings his message Friday to the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter's annual Heroes Luncheon, and it's more than preaching standard measures.

"Many Americans spend more time preparing to go to their favorite ballgame than they spend getting ready for a hurricane," Honoré said this week from his Atlanta home.

"We have people who don't prepare and then when the hurricane hits, they expect FEMA to deliver bottled water to them the next morning. We've got to stop that in America. We have to take responsibility for our own preparedness."

Honoré says the lesson from the nation's most recent disasters is that we must be our own first responders. That means having a hurricane kit with at least three days of water and food. It means preparing our homes and those of relatives. It means knowing the evacuation routes.

But Honoré wants to tackle age-old mind-sets, not just dispense advice. He wants schools to teach preparedness to kids, and he would love to see every college student take a Red Cross first-aid course.

"We have kids going to college and taking a course in basketball or soccer," Honoré said. "That's not going to save a life. … Teach them a life skill."

Efforts already are underway locally. Natasha Salazar, a local Red Cross youth specialist, said the University of South Florida has Red Cross clubs on both the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses totaling more than 400 students.

Core members make up parts of the disaster action response teams, while others help with community outreach and school programs.

Starting with young folks may be best when you consider Tampa Bay has not been directly struck by a major hurricane in 88 years. It's challenging to teach preparedness to generations who have gone unscathed.

Honoré said 80 percent of the residents evacuated before Katrina, but, on average, only 50 percent respond to evacuation calls in Florida.

"When government says it's time to evacuate, you should be ready to go and leave immediately," Honoré said. "Complacency will get you killed. Taking risks will get you killed. We don't need that."

Sometimes, I hear crazy talk that our area is guarded by atmospheric conditions that make us immune to hurricanes. Yeah, right.

Believe that, or be prepared. It's a simple choice.

That's all I'm saying.

The Red Cross

Heroes Luncheon

When: 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Where: Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa.

Keynote speaker: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré.

Additional information: Call (813) 348-4820, ext. 880 or e-mail kochm@usa.redcross.org for tickets.

Prepare now for hurricane season or prepare to suffer 03/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 12:07am]

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