Gen. Russell Honore: Are you prepared for a disaster?

The man credited with bringing the calm after the storm three years ago in New Orleans recently brought his command style to the Chicagoland area to “share some ideas” about preparing for a disaster.

The man credited with bringing the calm after the storm three years ago in New Orleans recently brought his command style to the Chicagoland area to "share some ideas" about preparing for a disaster.

Retired Lt. General Russell Honore, the director of Hurricane Katrina’s Joint Task Force who oversaw the deployment of about 1,000 National Guard troops, garnered national attention when he demanded the troops to point their weapons down instead of towards evacuees.

"There were reports that a sniper was loose, so they came prepared," Honore said recently at an emergency preparedness summit sponsored by the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

But the Louisiana native said there was no sniper among at least 20,000 storm victims who were at the New Orleans Superdome, and he quickly ordered the troops to put those "damn weapons down."

"They (National Guard) were in the middle of a flood disaster, not at war. You can’t have guns pointed at someone’s head. The people were without food and water for a while before we got there. That’s what they needed, not rifles pointing at them," the three-star general said.

Honore, who has previous experience in flood disasters, said Katrina was an eye-opener for the country and got those who thought they would never be in that situation to "get it together."

In the 1960s, there was a culture of preparedness, he said.

Now no one knows the vulnerabilities of the street they live on or their neighborhood. Not enough people know first aid. Our communities are less resilient, the retired Army general said.

A disaster "unfolds the naked poverty" in an inner city, and residents need to empower each other to get on the other side of a disaster, he said.

"All of you think you have situational awareness. You really don’t. We’re in a dilemma because how you survive a disaster is directly proportional to what you were doing before," the Atlanta resident said.

He asked attendees if they had prepared disaster kits to keep in their vehicles and home. If so, did it include a weather radio, he asked.

About 10 of the nearly 400 people who attended Honore’s session raised their hands.

That’s too few, he said.

"You need a disaster kit. You need that weather radio. I bought one for $29.95, so I know everyone in here can go get one. You can’t rely on someone else telling you what’s going on," Honore said.

Along with having the kits, people need to know how to give first aid.

"First aid should be a requirement for high school and college graduations. When disaster strikes, help is needed immediately," he said.

Planning is the key to a successful evacuation, and a community cannot survive if they are ill-prepared, Honore said.

So what’s in a disaster kit?

Honore said every kit must include blankets, water, non-perishable food, flashlights, first aid kits and a weather radio, plus other items deemed necessary for survival.

"Go out, and get a damn weather radio," he demanded.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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