This past week I started watching Season 3 of the award-winning Netflix hit Stranger Things, an American science fiction horror flick. It’s the story of a small rural town in Indiana where a laboratory ostensibly performs scientific research for the government but (SPOILER ALERT) secretly they are Russians from Moscow that do experiments into the paranormal and supernatural.

A mall has opened above the secret laboratory and becomes the focal point of the town’s despair, driving many downtown businesses into an economic disaster. The business district suffered neglect, decline, and abandonment and the residents were furious at the loss of their livelihoods. Before you can say, “that’s my community”, a group of young friends battle the evil forces of man and beast and save the day. (I think that’s what happens. I have not finished watching it yet)

But the influences of the 3 M’s, malls, monsters, and Muscovites, to a community are disasters that can be overcome. Analysts estimate by 2022 that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. will go bankrupt and downtowns will have a resurgence, the Russians (we can only hope) will return home after the 2020 elections, and monsters will disappear if you just turn on the lights.

The real catastrophe facing communities is not the 3 M’s but the four horsemen of disasters…. earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and fires. (There are more horsemen, but my cartoonist could only fit 4 in the cartoon) These natural disasters will affect the residents and businesses in calamitous ways. Businesses will close, file for bankruptcy, or relocate to a different community. Hospitality sectors will lose millions. The economic disruption of a community could last a decade or may never recover at all.

Just this month there have been 3 earthquakes on the west coast, massive flooding on the east coast, hurricanes in the South and Midwest, and thousands of acres of forests destroyed by fire in numerous areas of the United States. We tell ourselves that a natural disaster will never happen to our community, so we don’t prepare for them. But recent history has shown that every single state has experienced some sort of disaster that has resulted in significant personal and economic consequences. Wishing that it won’t happen in your community is not a good argument for not being prepared.

Despite the news, people don’t think things are possible if they have not experienced them. Scientists and geologists know that the four horsemen of disasters will occur but have a hard time persuading businesses and the general public to be prepared especially when they can’t say when most disasters will or will not happen. While more than 75% of Americans surveyed report having supplies set aside in their homes just for disasters, less than 50% have a household emergency plan. More people have made plans concerning a zombie apocalypse than preparing for any of the four horsemen of disasters.

We can’t stop these disasters from taking place, but we can plan for them by being prepared, and creating resiliency plans and policies that will result in fewer lives lost, reduced recovery dollars, and more businesses saved and operational sooner. How can we do that, you ask?

September is National Preparedness Month. The Theme for 2019 is “Prepared, Not Scared. Be Ready for Disasters” and encourages Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, schools, and communities. Their web site includes a public education outreach campaign and disseminates information to help the general public prepare for and respond to emergencies. National Preparedness Month encourages individuals across the nation to take important preparedness steps including getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, being informed about the different emergencies that may affect them, as well as taking the necessary steps to get trained and become engaged in community preparedness and response efforts.

The 2019 Great Shakeout is part of a worldwide annual drill that will take place on October 17th. The Shakeout is an opportunity to practice how to protect ourselves during earthquakes. More than 18 million people in the United States participated in the drill last year with more than 21 million participating worldwide.

The drill is designed to promote awareness and increase earthquake preparedness and remind participants to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” as the recommended safety action immediately when an earthquake occurs. Drills will take place in homes, businesses, schools, places of worship and communities and also features weeklong events to connect communities with preparedness resources and the information and knowledge to prepare, respond, and recover in the event of an earthquake.

Community champions and economic developers can take a leadership role by contacting businesses, sponsoring events, coordinating a Disaster Preparedness Day, registering to be part of Shakeout, encourage disaster checklists and plans in business expansion interviews and surveys, and assist with the preparation of emergency kits and survival kits along with many other preparedness activities. How quickly a company is able to get back to business after a disaster often depends on emergency planning and preparation done before the disaster strikes.

These events are a necessary and inexpensive way to educate your community and businesses on the importance of disaster preparation. A big part of disaster preparation is knowledge, and these events will help save lives, money and possibly the economic future of your community.

Several years ago, the International City/County Management Association came up with the idea of creating “disaster resistant communities”. The goal was to have communities commit to steps that minimize the effect of a natural disaster by promoting proactive plans for sustainability. Participating in these events is a good first step and will go a long way to reaching that goal.

Charles Darwin said, “We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realized that they were inside us.” The four horsemen of disasters are real and not inside of us but outside our homes and businesses. It’s time to turn on the lights and be prepared.