What does it mean to be prepared?
This was a question I asked my eight-year-old son while driving him to swim practice the other day. A true fan of all those who serve our great country, from the Military to the Public Safety community, he looked up to me in the rearview mirror, looks to the left, then to the right, and said, “Dad, of course it is like the United States Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus.” A father’s inquisitive thoughts outside of smiling I respond, “Well, what does that mean?” His response, “always ready.” Today, a year after a global pandemic began, threats of natural disasters knocked at our door. Yet, our children can still prove that resilience is ever-present as long as we take a moment and recognize it.
Our kids watch us constantly, seemingly our every move. They listen to conversations, “hear” the constant churn of news cycles, and gather information online. As parents, we begin teaching even before kids start walking. That teaching never stops: telling them not to talk to strangers, to look both ways when they cross the street, and to tell us where they are going, which teach and inform the action plans for any emergency. As they start school and become a bit more independent, our risk aperture grows as we try to help them understand other world dangers.
As parents, we learn the neighborhood, who lives next door, and who to go to if there is an emergency. Then, inherently, we start building skills for children to create plans, even if those plans are in their heads. These are all opportunities to build skills that will last a lifetime, especially related to preparedness and having a plan if there is a situation our children might face. My eight-year-old elaborated in another conversation that plans are action items telling us what to do if something happens or a disaster strikes. From going to the basement during a tornado warning to knowing what to do when the power goes out, our children at a young age will know what to do as long as we talk about it ahead of time.
When a tornado hit Jackson, Mississippi, my teenage niece and nephew knew exactly what to do. They moved to the home’s interior to be safe and then checked in to ensure the family knew they were safe. This made a world of difference. As we raise the next generation, there are three opportunities to better prepare our children. These include understanding risk, building action plans, and engaging in conversation about what to do when something happens.
To understand risks, we need first to outline what it is and then discuss the degrees of differences in a developmentally appropriate way so children find it easy to understand and apply. For example, we need to discuss knowing the immediate risk of crossing the street without looking both ways, as well as the broader risks in traveling across the city, country, and world, unaccompanied by a parent or a teacher, knowing we have instilled the right kind of decision-making and choices. Building an understanding of risk will help develop their confidence. With that knowledge, we are helping our children to be invested in their own safety and security, which they will never outgrow.
From discussions about and understanding risk, we can then move into action planning by giving with examples and offering practical application. We need to help them ask questions about what choices are available and how to make the best one based on what is happening at the time. Action plans start as conversations and can evolve into building written family plans related to preparedness.
Lastly, engaging our children in discussions about “what if” scenarios is exactly the opportunity for them to articulate precisely what to do when something happens and have the confidence to communicate and ask for help when they need it. Weather in the midwest offers us many snow, heat, tornados, and flooding scenarios to discuss. We also make sure to discuss and plan for emergencies and critical incidents that are not weather-related, such as getting separated from a parent or trusted adult in an unfamiliar place or unpredictable violence.
So while you walk the block today or tomorrow, the opportunities exist to ask your children what they see as risk, what they would do if they have to make a quick decision, and why they would make those choices.. All these trips and discussions are really building a file drawer full of options for a more prepared and resilient young but future global citizen. We are giving our children an opportunity to look at life a little differently and empower them to be the motto of the United States Coast Guard Semper Paratus, ”Always Ready.” ◙
About Thomas Sivak, CEM
Tom Sivak is the Vice President of Safety, Security and Emergency Management for Cresco Labs. In his current role he is focused on assessing risk related to human caused, natural, and technological disasters while establishing a comprehensive emergency management program focused on a culture of prevention, protection and preparedness.
Previously Tom served as the Deputy Director of Emergency Management for the city of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. In this role, he was primarily responsible for the comprehensive emergency planning portfolio and consequence management plans for special events. In addition, Tom’s duties included oversight of the City’s 24/7 Operations Center (OC), Emergency Operations Center (EOC), emergency management duty activations, and emergency management/homeland security capability enhancements and projects. During his tenure with the city of Chicago, Tom has led EOC activations for large-scale annual events including the Chicago Marathon, Chicago Pride Parade, the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup clinch game and victory parade and 2016 Cubs World Series and victory parade. In 2017, he served as a lead coordinator for the repatriation of hurricane evacuees from the island of St. Martin. He led coordinated recovery efforts for evacuees from Puerto Rico. Tom has also been involved in major activations as a result of the 2018 Mercy Hospital Active Shooter Incident and 2019 historic cold weather affecting the City of Chicago. Most recently he served as the Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander for the City of Chicago Covid-19 response to include building of partnerships and logistics for the vaccine mission. Served as Incident Commander of the EOC for Civil Unrest in May 2020, August 2020, and Presidential Election events in 2020 to include authoring the City of Chicago Election 2020 Consequence Management Plan.
Prior to joining the City of Chicago, Tom was the Executive Director for the Hamilton County Emergency Management Division in Indiana. He served as the Planning Section Chief for the Indianapolis Division of Homeland Security where he was a lead Planner for the 2011 Super Bowl XLVI Incident Management Team and was involved in preparations for special events surrounding the 2011 Indianapolis 500. He also led recovery efforts during the Enbridge oil spill, Henryville F-4 tornado, Indiana State Fair Sugarland stage collapse and the Indianapolis house explosion in Richmond Hill, Indiana. During his time in Indiana, Tom earned the certification of Tactical Information Specialist for the Indiana Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Planning. Task Force 1 is comprised of emergency responders from Fire Departments and civilians in specialized emergency disciplines in and around Marion County, Indiana.
Tom’s early career in emergency management began in southwest Michigan where he served as the Director of Emergency Services for the American Red Cross, Deputy Bio-terrorism Coordinator for the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, and as a Regional Security Planner for Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to Tom’s emergency management experience in Kalamazoo, he also served as a volunteer firefighter with the Oshtemo Township Fire Department.
He is a Certified Emergency Manager with the International Association of Emergency Managers
Tom’s interest in emergency services began when he was a teenager in high school as a volunteer firefighter for the city of DeWitt, New York.
A native of East Cleveland, Ohio, Tom earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from Marquette University in Milwaukee and holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Service Management from DePaul University in Chicago.