September 26, 2008

Disaster response leader preaches preparedness

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Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré speaks about emergency preparedness during the kickoff of the VUSN’s Centennial Lecture Series. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Disaster response leader preaches preparedness

“America needs to restack its value deck to include emergency preparedness,” said Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré as he addressed a crowd at Langford Auditorium and launched Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Centennial Lecture Series.

Known for leading the military response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Honoré was dubbed the “Rajun Cajun” for his take-charge style in handling the breakdown of logistics associated with the thousands stranded in the New Orleans Superdome. As a CNN contributor, he provided insights into the aftermath of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Honoré shared first-hand accounts from many disasters and emphasized the importance of emergency preparedness.

“We are delighted that he kicked-off our speaker series,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of VUSN. “He is a dynamic and provocative speaker who shared timely messages we all need to heed.”

Honoré made the case that natural disasters will impact many people sooner or later, since 42 percent of the U.S. population lives near a large body of water that could result in flooding.

“We can't vote these hurricanes away,” he said. “The difference we make is how we prepare and that will have a profound impact on the sick and poor populations.”

On a national and state level, he called for business people, educational experts and politicians to work together to solve the complex problems related to emergency preparedness. He showed the audience how $1 worth of preparedness for a disaster saves $9 in costs.

“We need to wake up and do better when it comes to preparedness,” Honoré said.

He wants more people to earn their first aid certification and showed how lifesaving training had reduced U.S. military deaths by 50 percent. He urged everyone to purchase a weather radio, which sends out alerts on chemical spills and homeland security issues as well.

He recommended that hospitals, pharmacies and other health care facilities invest in backup generators placed outside of potential flood zones. He also called for more use of electronic medical records to help identify people and their health histories.

“When I saw 19,000 of our fellow citizens in that Superdome, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life making sure that would never happen again,” said Honoré.

The School of Nursing Centennial Lecture series will take place throughout the academic year. The next speaker is former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, who will present “Health Care as a Currency for Peace,” on Oct. 30.