Americans are unprepared for a disaster like Japan’s

Whether you believe in God, Allah, global warming or the tooth fairy, it’s time to face facts, people – the planet is winning.

Transfixed by the news coverage of Japan for the past four days, I can’t help but feel I’m watching a really long apocalyptic movie, complete with earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Citizen journalism is allowing us to live this waking and shaking nightmare with the Japanese people. And out of respect for the thousands of lives lost in this disaster, and those left behind to pick up the pieces, we must take this opportunity to prepare ourselves to survive a similar fate.

At the risk of sounding like a doomsday prophet, the past 18 months have shown us how vulnerable we are and I, for one, have decided it’s time to do everything to prepare for a disaster, just short of building a bunker.

If you’re not with me yet on the need to prepare for an earth-shattering crisis, here’s a recap of nature’s annihilative highlights of the past year and a half.

Less than three weeks ago, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand. Just over a year ago, an earthquake clocking in at magnitude 8.8 struck Chile and only weeks prior to that Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the surrounding area was basically leveled by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

We cannot sit back and think somehow the U.S. is more prepared for a disaster of biblical proportions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government rescue operations demonstrated their deplorable lack of competence immediately following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In a recent article in the Daily Beast, Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University said, “We have much work to do to make America as disaster-ready as it should be. Our health systems and hospitals are woefully underprepared, our infrastructure is dangerously fragile, and our response systems poorly coordinated.”

Redlener, who is also the author of “Americans at Risk,” a book that explains why we are so ill-prepared for disaster, told the New York Times that surviving depends even more on a person’s individual preparedness.

He said “Our mental infrastructure is in even poorer shape than the nation’s roads and bridges (…) In most of the country, simple plans that include having a quick-grab case of supplies, medications and important family papers, as well as a plan for reuniting family members who have been separated in a disaster, are distressingly rare.”

Even immediately following domestic tragedies, we have not shaped up in case we have to ship out.

In a 2006 survey commissioned by Operation HOPE, a non-profit social investment bank, nearly half of Americans said they believe a major natural disaster or terrorist attack is likely in the next five years and yet more than 75 percent said they were ill-prepared.

Again, I’m not advocating 1950s-style bunker building, but I’m no longer laughing at my friend (and his six siblings) who got 72-hour survival kits from their parents two Christmases ago.

The government website, Ready.gov, has resources to help people prepare themselves. Some of the items they recommend for an individual in a basic three-day emergency supply kit are three gallons of water, non-perishable food like canned meat and fruit, dry cereal, or protein bars, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first-aid kit and a whistle to signal for help.

The bodies are still being counted in Japan but many experts are saying the number of casualties would absolutely have been worse had they not been the most prepared country in the world to deal with such disasters.

As it stands, nobody will be saying that about us.