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“With severe weather events becoming more frequent and more extreme, it is more important than ever that New Yorkers are prepared for disasters and know what to do in an emergency.” – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, 2014 State of the State Address
from the Citizens Preparedness Corps training session at FIT on October 15, 2014
Last month FOP attended a New York State Citizen Preparedness Corps training session at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Our attendance resulted from both personal interest and from our ongoing research into how we might enact practices to meet changing planetary realities of the Anthropocene.
Local city council members introduced the evening’s program which was then run by members of the National Guard, creating a hands-on atmosphere. The primary message was: “it’s not a question of if, but when” the next event (storm, disaster or nuclear accident) will occur. Individual readiness was strongly encouraged in recognition of the fact that New York City systems and rescue workers in place to help will likely become overwhelmed.
A couple of years ago, this program’s theme would have appeared somewhat “apocalyptic” to us. But after Hurricane Sandy and the stream of less than encouraging headlines out of the IPCC, its seems we’ve traded in Hollywood projections of fictional disasters for the actualities of contemporary reality. What practices are meaningful to enact in response? How might we “hold the thought” that it’s becoming increasingly likely that we will have to enact some of the preparedness scenarios we were offered—and hold that thought without feeling depleted? These are ongoing questions we (FOP/smudge) consider on a regular basis.
Though we appreciate the intentions of the anticipatory actions that the Citizens Corp invites, we question the idea of preparedness itself. Some of the first words spoken at the gathering directed us toward the imporance of being “prepared in the case of unforeseen circumstances.” To us, this seems more than a little contradictory. The dictionary defines “prepared” as a state of being “properly expectant, organized and equipped.” The auditorium was packed, no doubt in part because of the promise of a really nice backpack jammed full of affordances for being better equipped during the next event (batteries, vacuum packed food, flashlight, radio etc.). But it’s hard to imagine how we might achieve a state of being “properly expectant” and organized for so much of what is to come. It seems acceptance of this difficulty might be the first step in rethinking how the idea and practice of preparedness itself needs to be updated to meet newly emerging realities. We have a long way to go as a culture to be able to let our responses to this difficulty breathe and take shape. Perhaps in addition to many gallons of water stowed under the bed, we need training in meeting the unexpected (improv, surfing), or perhaps in skills of oral storytelling so we can pass the hours without electricity more meaningfully. There is a great deal of uncertainty circulating, so much so that preparation itself can seem futile. Still, the idea of safety and security is becoming increasingly valuable as more and more conversations shift from aiming to “stop” global warming to aiming to “adapt” to various scenarios in which, in the relatively near future, the planet is between 2-4 degrees warmer than today. How might we update ideas and actions of preparedness for this future?
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