Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reflections on Receiving the 2016 FEMA Individual & Community Preparedness Award for Technological Innovation

Having just returned from being honored at a jam-packed, two-day awards ceremony at the White House Executive Office Building and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters, including roundtable and breakout discussions, and after five security checks, eleven highly-exciting Uber rides, hearing the word “preparedness” at least 3000 times, and great discussions with the high-level officials and the other 10 Individual and Community Preparedness (ICP) Awardees from the 160-applicant pool, FEMA’s annual event might be summarized with one basic question:

Why are so many Americans still so complacent in doing even the minimal effort required to lead to a better outcome in case of an emergency?

disaster communicationsBut that one question has many complex answers and FEMA is striving for two-way communication between itself, as a large government agency with resources, and the people it serves.  They recognized the achievements of SUNRNR and so many others, while wanting to learn from our successes and our barriers therein.  FEMA, the American Red Cross, Emergency Management Services, et al will be there to help, but there’s so much we can do to help ourselves before, during, or after a disaster, to save a life or lessen the damage or bounce back. 

Just as the threats can take many forms, from natural to man-made, so can preparedness … from the simple plan and kit to the one-year bunker.  Then there is also “resilience”, the second-most spoken word during those two days.  I went in thinking it just meant how fast a community could rebuild to business as usual.  I learned it went much deeper.  Resilience involves physical and emotional readiness to get through a bad situation.  It is greatly geared to the front-end and during although it also tends to indirectly, and positively, impact the speed of recovery.  Basically, be ready to take care of yourself and others until things return to some sense of normalcy.

In retrospect, six points stand out from the days in DC:
1)      Not only did they honor our small business’ technological innovation, they also wanted to learn from the stories and experiences of those being honored because they knew we were each “ambassadors” for their message and we were out there finding creative ways to get people to listen to it.  Zombies, horses, sporting events, teens, snowmobiles, hospice and much more were involved.
2)      Just writing our application helped us understand our own mission and potential more clearly and we have much to offer within our area of expertise.
3)      The messenger must walk and talk like the message in order to be seen and heard, e.g. a rancher will likely pay more attention to a boots-on-the-ground person over a “suit”.
4)      The time and money expended up front is usually a better investment than the time and money required to compensate for non-preparedness or great loss.
5)      The threat menu is growing and it is unrealistic to prep for every scenario.  We at SUNRNR get so deep in our world of backup power, it was refreshing to be reminded via the other awardees that preparedness is much bigger than electricity, although losing electricity does seem to be a common, and important, theme.
6)      As an optimist, I hope people choose to choose self- and social-responsibility.  We may, however, need to monetize, incentive, or gamify the objective, making the message more fun or more valuable – tax credits or point systems for Scouting, faith groups, seniors, college credit, etc.

Let’s make America’sPreparathon!Day every day.  Get to know your neighbors even more deeply than a nod and a wave.  Know their name, age, and background.  Maybe there’s a nurse next door or a guy with good tools across the street that you could call on during an emergency.

In conclusion, our customers-owners and their testimonials deserve credit for SUNRNR receiving this award.  You showed us your resilience and let us know how you persevered after hurricanes and derechos and how you use your systems sustainably during the months or years in between power outages.  The best part of this job is the people we meet!

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