In an emergency, are you ready?

If the worst happens during Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the northeastern United States, the damage could be the equivalent of a nuclear attack, said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré during a visit to Kennesaw State University on Oct. 29.

At least 15 million people would be without power, the financial system would be shut down not for days, but for weeks, and the most vulnerable populations – the elderly, disabled and poor – would be left on their own. Key to helping others is being prepared and ready for an emergency.

“Hopefully the worst case scenario will not happen and this storm will start to weaken and become another event in our rear view mirror,” said Honoré, who led the recovery efforts in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina the country has become better prepared for such emergencies. Among the changes that have happened since then: increased funding to the Department of Homeland Security; better cooperation among federal, state and local agencies; and the reorganization of the military so that rescue and recovery efforts are better coordinated.

But key to surviving an emergency is making sure that people are trained to help themselves and to lend a hand where it is needed.

“We have an obligation to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” Honoré said. “That’s a moral responsibility.”

Honoré challenged the Kennesaw State students to take life-saving training that will ready them for immediate emergencies.

“The other thing you can do is, what? End poverty,” Honoré said. “We won’t get really close to limiting our exposure to natural disasters or manmade disasters unless we deal with poverty.”

The challenge of the current generation of college students is to solve the problems that leave populations vulnerable. Opportunities to do that abound, he said. The world needs small, reliable and inexpensive power generators. It needs devices that would prevent the spread of disease by detecting illness in one person or a group of people. It needs computer apps that could tell users if food and water are safe.

Previous generations fought for independence, for civil rights, to contain Communism and end terrorism.

“What you have to worry about on your watch is how do you deal with the expanding global population,” he said.

Honoré arrived on campus following an appearance on CNN in downtown Atlanta. He returned to the CNN studios for an afternoon appearance after speaking and signing books. The three-star general retired in 2008 after 37 years of military service. His mission now is to create a culture of preparedness in the United States. Honoré’s most recent book is “Leadership in the New Normal.”

Honoré’s was speech was hosted by the Department of First-Year Programs, the Kennesaw State University Alumni Association, Kennesaw State University Student Life and the Emergency Preparedness Learning Community.

-Yolanda Rodriguez