What Would You Do Today If You Knew a Hurricane Was Going to Hit Your Home or Practice Tomorrow?

Author:Sparks, Brian C.
 
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Lawyers spend a lot of time preparing for their careers. Most have spent 12 years of primary and secondary education, four years of college, and three years of law school for a total of 19 years in preparation. And, for most of us, becoming lawyers has worked out well; we can support our families and ourselves, contribute to our communities, and lead comfortable lives.

When it comes to preserving and protecting our families, our practices, and ourselves, however, studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, and other organizations indicate that most people, including lawyers, do not prepare adequately for disasters and emergencies. The next time we fall into the modern "cone of uncertainty" of an approaching hurricane's path, we undoubtedly will worry, is this the one that will hit us?

Of course, hurricanes are far from the only disaster or emergency that we may experience. Frequently occurring, low-impact and duration events abound, such as minor motor vehicle accidents, petty theft, short-term power or water outages, minor medical or first aid incidents, tropical storms, and isolated food supply disruptions. High-impact and duration events, although less frequent, may alter our lives or even end them, including hurricanes, school shootings, terrorist attacks, pandemics, wildfires, major crimes, and nuclear attacks or accidents. We and our families are exposed to those risks, both here in Florida and while traveling outside the state.

Consider the immediate and longstanding suffering of those in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, which recently was upgraded to a Category 5 tropical cyclone and devastated that area last fall. Many of our colleagues, their families, and their law practices will be adversely affected by that hurricane for many, many years.

Despite the well-known risks, the excuses for lack of preparation are legion, among them:

* A disaster or emergency probably won't affect me;

* I don't have time to prepare;

* Preparation is too costly;

* I don't know how to prepare;

* I plan to evacuate before it gets here;

* We're too far inland to be affected;

* The government and charities will take care of us if anything happens, and on and on.

It is an axiom of disaster and emergency preparedness that if we wait until the disaster or emergency is imminent, it is too late to prepare. As each hurricane approaches our shores, consider the masses of humanity always seen waiting in long lines at their local grocery store, gas station, and hardware store as a storm threatens their homes and businesses. The procrastination of waiting until the last minute to prepare frequently correlates with its ineffectiveness.

Despite the dedication of most first responders, attorneys may be among the last to be helped after a major disaster or emergency occurs. We tend to live in nice homes in nice neighborhoods and we typically have sufficient means to provide for ourselves--if we have chosen to do so. After a disaster or emergency, first responders are tasked first to help those assessed to be in the greatest need: patients at hospitals, assisted living facility and nursing home residents, the poor, and the elderly. In medical triage, being last in line for treatment tends to be a good thing (other than for those who are terminal), because it means that others have more urgent care needs. Nonetheless, being last in line for necessary relief supplies after a disaster or emergency can have life-altering consequences for our families, ourselves, and our practices.

In addition, the greater the severity and the broader the scope of an event, the greater the likelihood that the resources of public and charitable agencies will be overwhelmed and the greater the potential that some first responders may elect to take care of the needs of their families and friends at the expense of their sworn duties to the general public.

New RPPTL Disaster and Emergency Preparedness and Response Committee

After considering the foregoing, The Florida Bar Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section (RPPTL) recently created a new Disaster and Emergency Preparedness and Response Committee. This author has been appointed as the initial chair of that committee with co-vice chairs Jerry Aron, Benjamin Diamond, and Colleen Sachs, who took the initiative after Hurricane Michael to marshal the section's relief contributions to the Panhandle.

The committee's mission is to develop resources for members to use...

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