The 2019 National Preparedness Month theme is “Prepared, Not Scared.” More than a catchy phrase, this tagline lies at the heart of every emergency management plan. Developing an emergency plan, sharing it, testing it and refining it are critical features of a successful preparedness program. These tasks support a key pillar of preparedness: the elimination or mitigation of panic when responding to an emergency. Shifting the most common human reaction to stressful situations can help you be better prepared for an emergency.


It’s common for people confronting an emergency to panic or freeze – or to default to reactionary behaviors instead of response tasks that may save their own life or the lives of those around them. When people react, they focus on fear instead of thinking clearly and taking decisive life safety actions.

Prepare for an Emergency by Seeing Yourself as a First Responder

During an emergency, shifting your thoughts from the fearful nature of the threat or hazard to response tasks will give you a tremendous advantage. This is what I call a “first responder mentality.” With a calmer head, you will be able to use your time and energy to quickly consider your best survival options and implement them.

First responders are a unique and highly trained group. They run toward danger when emergency strikes, instead of away from it. Still, we can all put ourselves in their shoes when it comes to being prepared for an emergency.

  • Think through what your response actions might be in the event of an emergency, particularly in the places that you frequent most. Since an emergency can happen anywhere, thinking like a first responder in your most common environments such as your home, office, car or on public transportation is a critical first step.
  • Develop an emergency plan for scenarios most likely to occur. Ensure your plan addresses the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
  • Once your emergency plan is written, train, train and train again. First responders are not only certified in their fields but also participate in ongoing training to maintain or advance their professional competencies and ensure that their actions in crisis become as instinctive as possible. While you may not go so far as taking an accredited course, be sure to practice what you’ve documented – whether that means running drills with your family or developing a robust training program for your workforce. Continuously challenge yourself to step up to the task. Don’t just think about what you might do, act it out.

Challenge Yourself Now

In honor of National Preparedness Month, I challenge you to identify at least three response tasks you can implement should an emergency occur at work, during our commute, in a retail store or at home. For example, if a fire occurs at work or home, what are the three best escape routes? If your commuter train cannot operate because of severe weather or a derailment, what are the best alternative routes home?

Thinking like a first responder will focus your thoughts on your response options and better position you to help yourself and those around you in an emergency.