The god Apollo sent a dream to a king in which he told him: "Think of your people. You should store up grain and train a professional rescue team so that in times of trouble you will not be caught unprepared."
The king immediately did as Apollo said. He ordered the establishment of an emergency granary to store a tenth of the harvest each season to be used in times of emergency. He also called for the training of a professional rescue team who could immediately start relief work in the event of a disaster.
But three years passed in peace. One day the king complained to his courtiers: "Apollo's prediction was wrong. Nothing terrible has happened."
Apollo came to him and tapped him on the head with his golden bow: "Do you want me to bring disaster down on you, destroying half your kingdom so that you will be able to make use of your stored grain and relief team?"
This mythical story highlights the need for disaster preparedness. In fact, the greatest hope of those preparing for disaster relief is that no disaster comes, that the disaster relief center remains idle and relief workers can do other work. But nature's strength is beyond our comprehension and no one can say this wish will come true. It is like the story of the king and Apollo. The god wanted him to prepare for disaster, and it is simply because we have no way of knowing when disaster will strike that relief efforts are so important.
Even today, our ability to predict natural disasters is extremely limited. This was highlighted by the arrival of Tropical Storm Mindulle. We did not underestimate the strength of the storm itself, but we did not take into account its southwesterly air current, which caused considerable damage. The devastation to life and property of a natural disaster often happens in an instant, but the damage inflicted on the environment, infrastructure and the supply of electricity and fresh water can last for days, months or even years.
For these reasons it is necessary to be prepared for disasters so that relief work can begin with a minimum of delay after a disaster strikes.
American Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole once pointed out that times of disaster are the worst time to establish channels of communication. She said that if such channels are already in place, when the river breaks its banks in the middle of the night, you are still able to contact the relevant people and in a matter of moments and a smooth tightly-knit rescue operation can get underway. This is the spirit of disaster preparation.
Forewarned is forearmed. We cannot start thinking of solutions after a disaster has struck. Then it is too late to worry about how disaster relief should proceed, how it should be handled and the situation returned to normal -- for while we may have the time, the victims of the disaster cannot wait. It is necessary that we reach a consensus on such issues, and conduct research and training to develop practical procedures which can effectively deal with disasters. We should also set up transport links of materials and train volunteers, so that when disaster strikes, we are able to respond in the quickest possible time in an orderly and efficient manner.
To put it another way, even as we put all our efforts into relief work in the aftermath of Mindulle, we should also be thinking about ways to increase awareness of the importance of disaster preparedness so that we will be ready when the next disaster strikes.
C.V. Chen is the president of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China.
TRANSLATED BY Ian Bartholomew
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