This week I had the opportunity to meet with several CEOs of large associations and talk with them about a number of topics, including the importance of preparedness. I’ve found in my work that most people are more interested in the idea of emergency response, than emergency preparedness. “Response” sounds sexy and exciting. “Preparedness” sounds like homework and conjures up images of your mother telling you to eat your spinach.
But as I told the gathering of CEOs, preparedness can be sexy, and it certainly is impactful.
On March 11th, we’ll mark the one-year anniversary of the horrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. When I visited Japan not long after the disaster, I saw 350 miles of communities literally wiped off the face of the earth. That disaster claimed more than 15,000 lives. But there’s one fact that seems to get lost when we reflect on the Japan story: Hundreds of thousands of Japanese heard the tsunami whistle and got to higher ground. That simple preparedness measure saved their lives.
I think it’s a testament to our American optimism to think that nothing bad will happen to us in our country. At various times in my career at AT&T and Fidelity investments, I’ve preached about the importance of back-up systems and preparing for retirement. But since I’ve joined the American Red Cross, I’m more committed and determined than ever to help our country get prepared. Research shows that only 12 percent of Americans are fully prepared for a disaster, and only 15 percent of those in communities like New Orleans—that know full well the impact of disasters—are prepared for another one to hit.
Since I’ve been at the Red Cross, there have been two employees who have had heart attacks on campus and their lives were saved because their co-workers had been trained in CPR. Caterpillar, a very generous Red Cross donor, has opted in recent years to host CPR training at executive retreats, instead of the usual golf outing. In the four years since they’ve been doing this, those executives have saved two lives because they were prepared with the right skills when someone needed help.
Preparedness is easy, and it saves lives. And I happen to believe that knowing what to do when an emergency strikes is very important, empowering, and yes, sexy.