There aren't too many organizations that want to be put out of business. Yet that's just what Eddy Weiss, founder of Chasing4Life, hopes happens to him. He would like nothing more than to have people in the wake of a disaster tell him they don't need him or any other emergency response personnel.
With that mission in mind, Weiss gives 800-plus disaster preparedness presentations each year to everyone from pre-kindergarten students to senior citizens, and from fire departments to emergency management agencies. On the day EMSWorld.com spoke with Weiss he had already done five radio shows and one TV interview and had more speaking engagements scheduled for the next day in Kankakee, Illinois.
"There were storms last night in the Chicago metro area," he says. "Coming off of the last several weeks--with disasters in Tuscaloosa, Joplin and Minot--we've been busy. This year has been crazy, one of the worst ever."
Show Your Support
Chasing4Life is multi-faceted with focuses on disaster preparedness education and storm chasing/severe weather monitoring as well as disaster response. Weiss founded the organization in 2005.
"My father was a 25-year Oak Park (IL) firefighter," he says. "I grew up understanding the sacrifices our family had to make and the fear we had when he was doing his job. Then I became a firefighter. I knew what it was doing to my family and how hard it was so I started to create educational programs so I could show the American public that if they truly wanted to support their local responders they needed to do it by putting together a disaster kit and conducting tornado and fire drills. I tell people, 'make it so you don't need me'."
Weiss recalls many Americans' reactions shortly after 9/11. "Americans went to Walmart and bought shirts promoting support for local responders," he says. "That was great, but if they had instead bought a first-aid kit, a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher for the same amount of money, we would have felt the support more."
Weiss understands that hearing the disaster preparedness message and implementing a corresponding response can be difficult so he gets creative, and intersperses touches of personal anecdotes and humor.
"When I started the organization my mission was to meet a need for disaster preparedness education at a level that people understood, at a level where they wanted to hear it, where it wasn't dry and dull," he says. "I wanted to make disaster preparedness practical and easy for everyone. It can be easy to teach if you don't get caught up in being instructional."
Part of his presentation includes first-hand accounts of misfortunes within his own family. "I've lost homes to a hurricane, a tornado and a flood. My wife has been trapped in her vehicle while we were out storm chasing. I've suffered injuries to my body as well as my pride during disasters," he relates. "I travel the country teaching preparedness, yet I've gotten hit in the forehead by a trashcan lid as I watched a tornado. People seem to listen to my presentations because they understand I'm one of them. I'm here to tell them how stupid I was last year so they won't be stupid this year."
At the heart of his message is a plea for people to put together disaster response kits. While a kit is different for every family, Weiss encourages his audience members to think about everything they've done over the course of the last three days. "Play the paranoid game," he says. "Consider that there's no electricity. Start with a bucket and put some toilet paper in the bottom of it. Trust me, you'll need those items. Then add some water and food."
Develop a Plan
Weiss also stresses the fact that disaster preparedness doesn't have to cost anything. "A plan is free," he says. "If you don't have $30 for a weather radio, I understand that. But at least come up with a plan. Sit down with your family and make one."