Get ready to stop, drop and roll because September is National Preparedness Month and students shouldn’t be caught off guard in the event of an emergency. The University is gearing up to hold their 13th annual Safety Expo this month in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its Ready Campaign, which is intended to educate people on how to prepare for emergencies. Unfortunately, the University doesn’t widely promote the expo and students often don’t take it seriously. But the GW Safety Expo is D.C.’s largest collegiate-based National Preparedness Month activity. Despite a lack of social media or campus advertisement for the event, students shouldn’t miss out on a chance to be disaster aware and take actions to prepare for emergencies.
From power outages to superstorm Sandy, most college students are unprepared to weather the storm in an emergency situation. I’m one of those unprepared students, which is why I’m planning to attend my first Safety Expo this year in University Yard Sept. 19. As the semester started, families were preoccupied purchasing highlighters, washi tape and Keurig cups for their sons and daughters leaving home for the first time and they weren’t prioritizing safety precautions. Establishing emergency contacts or learning where to shelter in the event of severe weather is easily disregarded, and many unfortunately opt to skip the Safety Expo altogether in favor of other fall activities.
D.C. might not be at risk from natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 12 years, but students at GW need to prepare for anything from a kitchen fire to an unlikely bioterrorism attack. The Safety Expo is a one-stop shop that all students should attend this year, especially those who remembered to pack a pair of L.L. Bean boots but forgot a portable radio and flashlight.
The goal of the annual GW Safety Expo is to introduce members of the community to both internal and external safety resources, but the GW Division of Safety and Security only aims to have at least 1,000 members of the student body turn out each year – a number that is low for the importance of the topic. The GW Safety Expo allows students to put faces to names. The event brings University offices and departments together with local, federal and non-profit agencies under one roof to talk to students about personal preparedness and safety. In past years, the event has hosted more than 30 outside partners, including the American Red Cross, D.C. Department of Health and local fire and EMS personnel.
The expo also offers students an opportunity to meet with members of the University’s Emergency Medical Response Group, who they could be seeing again after a medical emergency or a rough Friday night. At previous expos, EMeRG personnel gave previews of their free CPR classes offered each semester for academic credit.
Students can fill their backpacks up with informational handouts or business cards. Organizations distribute pamphlets on a variety of topics – from the Zika virus to bicycle safety – and information about the services they offer. At the Safety Expo in 2013, representatives from the FBI gave students the rare opportunity to see inside a mobile command center, which is a portable work station that’s only deployed in emergency situations – something most people only catch a glimpse of on TV. The Washington Animal Rescue League usually brings cats and dogs – up for adoption if you’ve been longing for a furry friend – and distributes pamphlets on pet care during emergency conditions. The expo is an opportunity to meet the important personnel from emergency departments around Foggy Bottom and upgrade your personal safety.
Students like me, who gravitate towards hands-on learning activities, get watch live demonstrations on everything from how to correctly discharge a fire extinguisher to self defense. Each year, officers from the University Police Department draw large crowds as they don heavily padded, protective gear and teach students how to block a punch, escape from an attacker’s hold and ward off unwelcome advances. This demonstration is a snapshot of their free self defense classes, which are held four times a semester. If you’re like me and you’re unable to find time in your class schedule to accommodate the one-credit self defense class, then this opportunity is a free alternative that easily fits in your free time.
Students who are short on time but are low on supplies if an emergency were to occur should stop by for the giveaways. At every Safety Expo, students assemble their own emergency preparedness kits. Last year, volunteers from Target and the Points of Light Foundation donated more than 15,000 items, including face masks, glow sticks, latex gloves, insect repellent, gauze, granola bars and other first-aid supplies.
Every student should be prepared for an emergency, either now or when they depart from Foggy Bottom. Any student who attends this expo will walk away with better emergency preparedness. The biggest benefit to students will be starting to develop a proper survival mindset, because when disaster strikes, ready or not, here it comes.
Sydney Erhardt, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.
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