Raw Story: Cold War-style Preparedness Could Help Fight Future Pandemics

There is an article over on Raw Story about how local preparedness could be a more effective way of dealing with disasters and pandemics rather than a reliance on top-down response. Who woulda thunk?

Cold War-style preparedness could help fight future pandemics

A key group of allies is missing in the U.S. effort to face the coronavirus pandemic: the American people.

In the wake of World War II and during the Cold War, the U.S. was the world’s best at planning and preparing for mobilizing the citizenry to take action in an emergency. In those days, the anticipated emergency was a nuclear attack on the U.S., likely resulting in a loss of national leadership that required local governments and members of the public to step up.

Every American was asked to help prepare for that possibility, storing extra supplies, planning to communicate with family members and developing survival skills.

A poster from 1941 urged all Americans to contribute to community preparedness for emergencies.
Government Printing Office, 1941/Library of Congress

Eventually, this type of “civil defenseplanning grew to incorporate responses to other extreme events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

Over the latter half of the 20th century, the U.S. civil defense effort encouraged all Americans to be prepared to respond actively to a national emergency.

In recent years, however, Americans’ expectations have shifted from being ready to respond to passively waiting for help from a centralized, bureaucratic federal effort – usually led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency…

…Small organizations are able to adapt: Many have quickly shifted to fill the immediate need. Small wineries, microbreweries and distilleries are making hand sanitizer. Garment and uniform companies are making masks. Schools are using 3D printers to produce face shields.

These examples demonstrate that small-scale approaches can be effective in producing big results. In contrast, larger organizations are more bureaucratic and slower to respond. These inverse economies of scale mirror civil defense efforts: Many working collectively but independently are sometimes more effective than a larger centralized effort.

When facing an unexpected crisis, some amount of disorganization is probably inevitable. But other countries, such as Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Nigeria and Australia, actively work to engage all citizens in disaster preparedness, first aid training and other efforts that give people clear and productive tasks to accomplish.

Following their example – and indeed the United States’ own history – could help create a system of federal oversight and coordination complemented by prepared and trained local responders. That could better prepare the public to pull together as a collective civic community when disaster next strikes.

Click here to read the entire article at Raw Story.

Keep Gov’t Local – Excerpt from “Human Scale Revisted”

On the ability of local communities to better respond to issues than state or federal government, from the book Human Scale Revisited by Kirkpatrick Sale:

To find the government as the root cause of such problems, of course, should not surprise us by now: it is in the nature of the state, we have repeatedly seen, to create the problems that it then steps in to correct and uses to justify its existence. But there is a further point to the process that is pertinent here; in the words of British philosopher Michael Taylor:

The state…in order to expand domestic markets, facilitate common defence, and so on, encourages the weakening of local communities in favour of the national community. In doing so, it relieves individuals of the necessity to cooperate voluntarily amongst themselves on a local basis, making them more dependent upon the state. Teh result is that altruism and cooperative behavior gradually decay. The state is thereby strengthened and made more effective in its work of weakening the local community.

This is important: it is exactly this that accounts for the inability of the Lake Michigan communities to regulate their pollution problems in the first place. Communities that were in control of their own affairs, whose citizens had an effective voice in the matters that touched their lives, would almost certainly choose not to pollute their own waters or to permit local industries to do so, out of sheer self-interest if not out of good sense — particularly if they were small, ecology-minded, economically stable, and democratically governed. (And if by some chance a community or two did go on polluting, resistant to all appeals, their toxic effects would likely not overstrain the lake’s ability to absorb them.) It is this process, moreover, that accounts for the failure of the concerned majority to have cleaned up the pollution once it existed. Individuals and communities conditioned to cooperative and federative behavior, particularly those whose interests are greatest (in this case fishing villages, towns with bathing beaches, beach clubs, marinas, lakefront hotels, boardwalk businesses), would almost certainly work out, and pay for, a way to restore the lake — especially if there were no federal or state governments to siphon off the locally generated money through taxation.

As with pollution, so with the other public services of the state. There is a not a one of them, not one, that has not in the past been the province of the community or some agency within the community (family, church, guild) and that has been taken on the state only because it first destroyed that province. There is not a one of them that could not be re-absorbed by a community in control of its own destiny and able to see what its natural humanitarian obligations, its humanitarian opportunities, would be. Invariably hen the state has taken over the job of supplying blood for hospitals, there is a shortage, even when it offers money; the United States now gets much of its blood from overseas. Invariably when a community is asked to do it voluntarily, and when the community perceives that the blood is to be used for its own needs, there is a surplus. This is not magic altruism, the by-product of utopia; this is perceived self-interest, community-interest, made possible (capable of being perceived by the individual) only at the human scale.

Indeed there is not one public service, not one, that could not be better supplied at the local level, where the problem is understood best and quickest, the solutions are most accessible, the refinements and adjustments are easiest to make, the monitoring is most convenient. If it be said that there is not sufficient expertise in a small community to tackle some of the complicated problems that come along, the answer is surely not a standing pool of federal talent but an appeal throughout neighboring communities and regions for a person or group who can come in to do the job. (This is in fact what the federal government itself most often does today, hence the great reliance on contract firms and $650-a-day consultants.) If it be said that some problems are too big for a small community to hand along (an epidemic, a forest fire, or some widespread disaster), the anser is clearly not the intervention of some outside force but the ready cooperation of the communities and regions involved, whose own self-interest, even survival, is after all at stake. And if it be said that there is not enough money in a small community to handle such problems — well, where do you suppose the government got its money in the first place, and how much more might there be in local pockets if $500 billion of it weren’t spent by Washington, $200 billion by state capitals, every year?

I cannot imagine a world without problems and crises, without social and economic dislocations demanding some public response. I see no difficulty, however, in imagining a world where those are responded to at the immediate human level by those who perceive the immediate human effects and control their own immediate human destinies.