As the U.S. reels from disasters, here’s how Idahoans can prepare for an emergency

There are many steps that individuals and families can take to engage in whole community preparedness, writes guest columnist Alex Hentges.

September 1, 2023 4:25 am
Homes and businesses destroyed by wildfire are seen on Aug. 14, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii

Homes and businesses destroyed by wildfire are seen on Aug. 14, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. At least 93 people were killed and thousands were displaced after a wind driven wildfire devastated the towns of Lahaina and Kula this past week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As September marks the beginning of National Preparedness Month, it is a great time to remind communities in Idaho what emergency preparedness means and what steps every household can take to ensure they are ready for a disaster or emergency. To do that, it is important to recognize common risks in Idaho, identify national initiatives directing preparedness and discuss what whole community preparedness is and how you can participate in preparedness activities.

According to Risk Factor, within the next 30 years, there are 119,546 properties in Idaho (21% of all properties in the state) that have over a 26% chance of flooding, and 612,805 properties (58%) at risk of being affected by wildfires in the same timeframe. 

While fire and floods may pose the greatest risks, a look at the Idaho Office of Emergency Management indicates that Idaho is not limited to just these natural disasters. Recognizing all the risks posed to the communities in the Gem State is important to implementing the proper preparedness activities and mitigating risk. National support is crucial to ensuring these steps are taken. 

Emergency preparedness becomes national priority

Emergency preparedness has grown in recent decades through the expansion of emergency management funding and national directives. In 2011, Presidential Policy Directive 8 established our National Preparedness Goal and recognized preparedness as a national priority. The Federal Emergency Management Agency outlines our national goal and its purpose:

“The National Preparedness Goal defines what it means for the whole community to be prepared for all types of disasters and emergencies. The goal itself is succinct:

‘A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.’

These risks include events such as natural disasters, disease pandemics, chemical spills and other man-made hazards, terrorist attacks and cyber-attacks.”

These five mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery – are the pillars of emergency management and guide emergency management professionals, such as myself and my colleagues in the seven health districts in Idaho, in their missions. Preparedness is the foundation of all five mission areas that determine a community’s ability to recover from a disaster or emergency.

Preparedness at the community level

The preparedness phase of emergency management is a cycle of continuous improvement that includes planning, training and exercise, after-action reviews and corrective action items. By following this cycle, emergency management professionals can identify areas of improvement, implement changes to plans and then exercise these plans again to ensure that best practices are established. This cycle encourages community involvement from all potential responding agencies and helps to familiarize emergency operations plans.

However, the preparedness cycle is not just limited to emergency management professionals. In fact, a crucial part of the preparedness cycle is advocating for individual and whole community preparedness. FEMA defines whole community preparedness as a shared responsibility involving:

  • Individual and families
  • Businesses
  • Faith-based and community organizations
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Schools and academia
  • Media outlets
  • All levels of government, including state, local, tribal, territorial, and federal partners

For businesses, government and community organizations, whole community preparedness may be actively participating in emergency planning, establishing agreements with partners, engaging in trainings and exercises, and building relationships with partner organizations. 

Preparedness at home

There are many steps that individuals and families can take to engage in whole community preparedness, one way is to engage in your own emergency planning. According to the 2022 National Household Survey on Disaster Preparedness, roughly half of the United States households plan to prepare for a future emergency, but have yet to begin. To promote this preparation, here are some helpful resources you might consider following:

  • Build A Kit: This webpage from outlines emergency supplies that should be considered while building a disaster supply kit.
  • Make A Plan: This section from details the steps each household can take to build an emergency plan.
  • Individual and Community Preparedness Activities: FEMA provides scenario-based activities you may walk through on your own, or as a community, to establish what you would do in an emergency scenario. This helps communities to act quicker should an emergency occur.
  • Youth and Emergency Planning: Emergency planning should not just be limited to adults. Children play an important role in emergency planning and can begin recognizing the need for preparedness at a young age. This FEMA resource provides steps the youth can take to begin emergency planning. 

Community Emergency Response Team: CERTs are a volunteer-based group which every community can build. CERTs engage in training to be able to respond during emergencies and assist their communities. This FEMA webpage outlines what a CERT is, and how to get started. 

Many Idahoans have recognized the risks in their communities and are ready to respond when called upon. Continuing this culture of preparedness within Idaho will not only enhance community response and recovery, but serve as a leading example for the rest of the nation to follow.


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Alex Hentges
Alex Hentges

Alex Hentges is an emergency management professional with a background in homeland security and emergency management. He serves as Central District Health's cities readiness initiative planner, where he leads medical countermeasure initiatives by managing emergency operations plans and building partnerships with community stakeholders. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in homeland security and emergency management at Idaho State University, where he gained extensive knowledge in all phases of emergency management, intelligence analysis and cybersecurity. Hentges is returning this fall semester to earn a master’s degree in cybersecurity and aspires to apply his skills and knowledge in the cyber and emergency management field.