Save the world: Answer the FEMA challenge

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Yesterday, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate took the stage at the 2010 TEDMED Conference in San Diego, CA, to announce a new public challenge to come up with creative ideas on how we can prepare communities before disaster strikes. 

Fugate talked about how responding to disasters takes an entire team, not just the U.S. government, and how we must plan for the entire community before disaster strikes. Fugate, a former volunteer fire-fighter and emergency medical technician, drew parallels between treating a sick patient and responding to a community devastated by a disaster. 

The challenge he and FEMA have issued:

To come up with ideas on how we can all help prepare our communities before disaster strikes. The sky is the limit. We want ideas from across the spectrum, from within whichever field you work, for whatever community in which you live. If you’re a doctor, what role can the medical community play? If you’re an artist, how can you use your medium to contribute?

FEMA exists to help after a disaster. And when disasters strike, over and over again, we see communities working together to help within themselves and to help each other. But FEMA is hoping that people who are willing to help after a disaster are also willing to help before one. Those are the ideas they're looking for. You might have an emergency kit if you live in a hurricane- or earthquake-prone area. But what else could we proactively do to help each other and ourselves on a larger scale before the need arises?

"As individuals, we are always thinking about staying healthy and protecting our bodies from disease, whether through vaccinations, doctor appointments, physical activity or other ways. Shouldn't we be thinking about protecting our communities in the same way?" Fugate said at TEDMED. "We are always encouraging individuals to visit and take the steps to be more prepared before disaster strikes, but I'm here to ask for your help and to recruit you for your ideas on how we can better prepare communities, entire communities, for disasters."

FEMA will accept entries through Jan. 2, 2011 and announce a winner on Jan. 26, based on originality, level of community engagement, and ease of implementation.

The "prize" is described as having your idea highlighted on the FEMA website. But presumably the end goal, and a much better reward, would be having your idea implemented and seeing the people you help and potentially the lives you save.

What's your plan to save the world? Submit it at

Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.

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