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Heed Japan quakes hard lessons

My View • Dismantling of government institutions will not help when the Big One rattles our shores
by: NICHOLAS KAMM A man looks on as U.S. rescue workers search for survivors in a house in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture on March 16. The devastating earthquake is still producing ripple effects around the globe.

Earthquakes and tsunamis are reminders of why we need government.The coordinating ability and public service employees of our governments are essential in helping any nation deal with the aftermath of catastrophic destruction.

Inadequacies of the 'free market' and for-profit motive are powerfully revealed every time we see massive devastation of communities.Religious institutions and other charitable organizations are helpful, but not equipped to lead the response of dealing with the kind of destruction we are seeing in Japan.

I hope more Oregonians will see the value of strengthening the safety net and begin listening less to the foolishness of ideologies dismantling our institutions, services and programs designed to promote public health and protect the common welfare.

As world population grows and societies become more complex, so must governments grow in size and complexity. As much as the rhetoric on AM talk radio and cable news is antigovernment, I suspect most Oregonians do not want to live in a country (or state) that is not equipped to respond to natural disasters - which will inevitably come our way. We will face a time in Oregon when we're not watching communities in faraway places being swept away or crumbling, but we will be living it, right here.It's happened in the past, and it will happen again.

The Portland Tribune editorial, 'Best response to quake is action' (March 17), is right on. One reason we are not prepared to deal with catastrophic disasters is because too many of us are motivated to learn only when we're 'forced' to (in the classroom or workplace) or when something directly affects us in the immediate moment. Neither of those is an option in the aftermath of catastrophe.

Hundreds of Oregonians are already trained to deal with disasters from emergency first responders to social workers and administrative professionals who have trained to coordinate the tasks of saving lives. According to the American Red Cross (in 2000), social workers make up 40 percent of their trained disaster mental-health volunteers, psychologists 22 percent, nurses 14 percent, counselors 18 percent, marriage and family therapists 5 percent, and physicians and psychiatrists 1 percent.

While social workers are the bulk of the disaster mental-health volunteers, there are not enough social workers and the need grows every year. The Social Work Reinvestment Act in Congress (H.R. 1106 in the House and S. 584 in the Senate) will help deal with the shortage of social workers that our nation is facing. You can learn more on the Web at http://socialworkreinvestment.org.

Strengthen safety net

I occasionally see information on television or in the newspaper about disaster preparedness, but in my conversations with most folks, I know that few of us are prepared and most don't even know where to go to find information.

It's critical that everyone takes time to prepare as soon as possible, and you can find the information you need in the Web at: www.oregon.gov/DOGAMI/earthquakes/earthquakehome.shtml .

We need to stop thinking about how important it is to get ready, and start doing it.We can also confront friends, family members, neighbors or acquaintances who've bought into the lies that we must dismantle the social safety net to balance the budget.

Remind them to look at Japan. One lesson that nation is learning is that, in spite of being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, technology isn't enough, reliance on the private sector isn't enough: We need more professionals and lay persons prepared as soon as possible.

The message is loud and clear: We must strengthen our social safety net, because one day we will all depend on it.

Delmar Stone of Portland is executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, Oregon chapter.