Be careful about the advice you follow

DOWNEY - Most of us receive forwarded e-mails from friends and colleagues that they have received from someone else. Sometimes the e-mails include amazing pictures, other times the messages are political stuff. Once in a while, the messages are uplifting or informative. Occasionally the messages are inappropriate or of questionable validity.In the last week I have received a few messages that merit review. One of the messages was handed to me by a student at our community CERT program. Another message was attached to an e-newsletter. The other message was forwarded to me by a current member of Downey CERT. I first read about the 'Triangle of Life' written by Doug Copp several years ago. Back then, the message was sent to me by a resident with a comment about how Mr. Copp disputed some of the current earthquake preparedness initiatives. The sender asked if I had heard of Mr. Copp and if there was any truth in his advice. So I read the article and started doing some research. I entered the words 'Triangle of Life' and Doug Copp in the search line of and waited for some information. I read through the findings. The website questioned the credibility of Mr. Copp and some of his recommendations. The website summary recommended readers follow the direction of the American Red Cross, FEMA and the Earthquake Country Alliance when earthquake preparedness issues are in question. The American Red Cross and a noted earthquake expert, Dr. Marla Patel, have prepared rebuttals to Mr. Copp's advice as well. My response to the resident was to be careful about the advice they choose to follow and to be concerned that the information they are reviewing is relevant to their situation. When an earthquake strikes, American experts advise we 'drop (to the ground), cover (our head and neck or, better yet, get under a sturdy table) and hold-on (to whatever it is we may be ducking under). The second message I received was an uplifting one. It recognized a number of disciplined behaviors that immediately followed the disaster in Japan. The unnamed author of the document noted the calm and grace of those who were seriously affected. The quiet order of those in line, waiting for emergency supplies and assistance was praised. The sacrifice of those who selflessly worked around the nuclear power plants immediately after the tsunami was highlighted. Those who were capable reportedly helped others in their time of great need. The article noted the actions immediately after the disaster were positively influenced by the training done before the earth began shaking and the tsunami warnings were heard. The third message I received was an insightful one. The author questions if we will truly 'learn' from the disasters in Japan or if the fundamental lessons learned will be lost. The author points out the history of technical improvements in the engineering and emergency response communities after other major disasters. Sadly, he goes on to predict other emergency preparedness lessons will not likely be followed. While the death toll in Japan is very high, it could have been much worse. If not for some of the training, preparedness and mitigation work done before the earthquake and tsunami struck, many more lives would have been lost. The 'lessons learned' author notes disasters are by definition surprising events, therefore relying on experts to predict the magnitude of a disaster event, and its impact on a community, is a recipe for problems. Further, disasters tend to exacerbate other problems. For example, earthquakes can cause considerable property damage. However, the fires resulting from damaged natural gas and electrical service lines in homes and businesses can cause just as much damage, or more. The lesson here is to be prepared for many problems when the disaster strikes. I am not sure how we can completely verify the validity of the second message now or how we will learn the lessons. In time, we should hear more and more of the individual stories. Perhaps we can then determine the accuracy of the messages. Until that time, let's keep an optimistic attitude toward the time we spend preparing for an emergency. Let's look for ways to make small improvements to our household emergency plans and make sure our emergency supplies and kits are up to date and adequate for our needs. We should also spend some time training for an emergency by learning first-aid and CPR, operating a fire extinguisher, and by finding our utility shut-offs and knowing how (and when) to use them. Individual and family emergency preparedness is the key to surviving and recovering from a disaster in our area. If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to

********** Published: April 28, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 2