I live with my family in St. Petersburg, Florida. Florida was in Hurricane Irma’s path and many feared that it would be worse than Hurricane Andrew, which wreaked havoc on the state in 1992. Fortunately, St. Petersburg was spared the worst of the storm’s wrath. Irma did hit us, and some residents experienced considerable damage from this hurricane.   
There were a few tense moments during the storm, but my family walked away without any damage to ourselves, our home, or our property. We lived without electricity for a few days. In our case, this was a simple task, especially when considering what could have happened, and what has happened to many others affected by natural disasters.
We were lucky, and we were also prepared. Irma reminded us that we should always do our best to be prepared no matter where we live or work.
There are currently so many natural and human caused disasters happening all over the world. The thoughts of all of us at CPI are with the loved ones of victims, survivors, the citizen and professional responders, and those who have witnessed any of these catastrophic events.
I always emphasize both citizen and professional responders because both are essential to emergency planning and response. It makes sense to have a quick and efficient method for activating the Emergency Medical Services System and local law enforcement. Unfortunately, they may not be able to respond as quickly as we would like in times of extreme crisis. When the danger of responding outweighs any response risk factors, there may be situations during which the professionals can’t respond at all. That is why we also need to consider the importance of the citizen responder in any emergency.

We are ALL potentially citizen responders!

If we consider all the types of emergencies occurring in our world every day, citizen responders are almost always the first people on the scene. These include loved ones, friends, neighbors, and community volunteers.
In our own preparation for hurricane Irma, we really had to first look at ourselves. We needed to consider:
  • Could we help each other as neighbors if help was needed sooner than professionals could arrive?
  • Who else in our immediate world could help us?
  • How could we help based on knowledge, experience, skills, available resources, and training?
What kind of help can you provide as a citizen responder? You don’t need to place yourself in danger or perform heroic tasks. Even simple gestures can be very powerful! Consider:
  • Checking on a neighbor who lives alone.
  • Offering to contact family and loved ones.
  • Providing bottled water if you have extra.
  • Offering to charge flashlights if you have power.
  • Sheltering a friend in your home.
  • Giving first aid where needed.
In the immediate crisis moment, people frequently experience anxiety, fear, confusion, and disbelief. Panic is rarely seen. A situation may be abnormal, but, in general, people’s reactions are not. It is common for affected individuals to first attempt to ensure their own safety and welfare. Many will then make every effort to help others. Such behavior has been well documented in high-profile emergencies worldwide.
Before, during, and after any emergency, coping with painful emotions can sometimes prove   difficult. Feelings of anxiety, apprehension, concern, fear, and worry may haunt some people. These and similar reactions are quite normal.

Dealing with distressing emotions can often be a matter of shifting perspective. We offer the following tips for anyone attempting to maintain perspective before, during, and after an emergency:
  1. Keep yourself physically and emotionally safe. It’s important to stay aware of the suggestions made by authorities. It’s equally important to keep these suggestions in perspective.
  2. Focus on the facts. Be careful about making assumptions or adding to rumors. Rumors can spread quickly and the energy of a rumor increases as it spreads. A rumor can quickly get out of control, lead to panic, and further lead to serious danger.
  3. Consult with reliable and authoritative sources. These could include your local emergency management agency (EMA) and state, regional, and federal authorities. 
  4. Make positive choices. Remember your priorities. Only you know what they are! People are their own best experts and know best what they need. It is very important to seek out any resources that you feel may be helpful to you.
  5. Maintain a support network of family, friends, and colleagues and keep in touch with them. Note the things that really matter, and take the pressure off nonessential concerns.
  6. Focus on what you can do. You can do all of the above, but you cannot do everything.
  7. Continue routine activities. Maintain realistic expectations for yourself and others.
  8. Do something small for yourself and for someone you care about. Small things matter!
  9. Ask for professional help if you feel you need it. There are resources available to assist you. These include community social service programs, your local public health service, and resources available through your employer-sponsored employee assistance program (EAP), medical insurance, and other employee benefit plans.
In any kind of crisis, simple and clear guidelines for directing our decisions and actions work best. If you’re looking to design simple and clear crisis response procedures, start by downloading our free Crisis Response Planning Checklist—linked below and to the side of this post.