The series of emergencies in Japan — a 9.0 earthquake followed by a deadly tsunami and ongoing concerns about a meltdown at a nuclear power plant that was damaged by the quake and massive wave — has some city and county managers in the United States checking their own disaster management plans. One of them, Santa Clarita, Calif., City Manager Ken Pulskamp, shares tips on preparedness he learned from the 1994 Northridge earthquake in an article on the Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) website.

While saying that there is no way to really prepare for a disaster on the scale of the one happening in Japan, Pulskamp, who also is chief executive of the Santa Clarita's Emergency Operation Center, says in the article that that does not mean planning is pointless. "When all is said and done, Mother Nature is going to get what she wants," he says. "But better prepared communities fare better." He goes on to stress the need for frequent drills that include leadership from all parties responding to the crisis, such as fire, sheriff, hazmat, other departments in the city, the county, hospitals and utilities.

Pulskamp also stresses the need for residents to be prepared to survive on their own for at least 72 hours after a disaster. "They need to figure out what they're going to need, such as medicines, water, food, blankets, and a generator," he says. Governments can help residents prepare by providing an emergency preparedness toolkit on their websites, including a list of critical items to have when an emergency strikes.

Finally, Pulskamp says that positives can come out of a disaster. "We found that in emergencies, particularly in the earthquake, neighborhoods really come together," Pulskamp says. He says the aftermath of an emergency can be an opportunity to assess ways to improve response. "We ended up coming out of the [1994 Northridge] earthquake in a much better situation than we were in before," he says.

Read Pulskamp's article. ICMA also lists several emergency management tools on the same page.

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