When the new government handbook on emergencies landed on my doorstep this week I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a picture of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army on the front and instead of the title ‘Preparing for Major Emergencies – An Introduction’, I really wanted to see the words ‘Don’t Panic’, the much loved cry of Lance Corporal Jones from the same TV show. The very fact that the government saw fit to put the words ‘An Introduction’ on the cover suggests that there may be plans for follow-up books. However that would suggest that if this book prepares us for emergencies then the follow-up title wouldn’t be relevant until something actually happened. I have also heard some radio advertisements heralding the arrival of the booklet and informing me to put it in a safe place. Well as it happens I have just thrown out the iodine tablets, the last ‘Preparing for Emergencies’ effort that have now passed their best-before date and so a space has been created.

The idea for the booklet came on the back of market research that showed that the ‘vast majority’ of the public were concerned that the government had no plan to deal with a major emergency and wanted details of the action that the government would take in the event of one. Personally, as a member of the public, I never had that concern and I was never stopped in the street by a market researcher asking the question. I would love to know if anyone in Waterford actually did complete such a survey. I am curious about this ‘vast majority’ who were worrying about such things. Thankfully their fears have now been allayed in both Irish and English. The country may be going to hell in a hand basket but at least we can now rest assured that major emergencies are covered and our peace of mind has only cost us €2.2 million. That is the cost of this whole information and awareness campaign launched by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Defence Minister Willie O’Dea.

However Mr. Ahern was quick to point out that although countless hours, manpower and money have been poured into this exercise, the government has no real reason to think that a disaster is on the horizon. Our government is just a caring and sharing one that is concerned about the sleep deprivation of the ‘vast majority’ who were lying awake in their beds worrying about an impending fantasy major emergency. Now they don’t have to lie awake worrying any more, they can just reach out and get reassurance from the handbook.

There is lots of good news in the handbook itself. In the event of a flu pandemic we are told that ‘every household in the country will receive a leaflet before the pandemic reaches Ireland advising the measures that should be taken’. If there is a nuclear incident and a big mushroom shaped cloud appears on your street then go indoors and turn the radio on and listen for further instructions. If you find yourself near an explosion ‘get out of the vicinity or building as quickly as possible’. (I’m glad I know that now). One of my favourite sections is the one on ‘Suspicious Packages’. The booklet gives a list of reasons that ‘may cause, or combine to cause suspicion in relation to a package’. The list says that if a package has ‘visible wiring or batteries’ don’t open it! It would have to be a pretty poor terrorist or enemy who sends you a postal bomb with visible wiring or batteries. On the other hand it could have been badly manhandled by the postal service who assumed the ticking sound was an alarm clock bought on eBay. I also liked the flood warning list. One of the items under ‘What to do’ tells me to ‘always wear suitable clothing when working in or near floodwater’. Note to self: must buy slicker and waders and keep them handy as I have nothing presently that would be suitable to work in floodwater.

On page thirty it suggests preparing an emergency kit. (Why would you prepare an emergency kit if the government is insisting that there isn’t going to be an emergency?) Anyway it is quite a practical list of all the things you would need in an emergency but when you start to gather it all together you realise that the emergency kit is quite bulky. It includes spare clothes and sleeping bags for each family member, essential supplies of food and water to last for up to three days, a battery operated radio with spare batteries, a torch with spare batteries, candles and matches, a first aid kit, medication, toiletry and sanitary supplies, mobile phone charger and spare battery, strong plastic bags for clothing, valuables, documents and photographs, copies of important family documents, games for young children and, finally, ‘a copy of this handbook’! I have no doubt that in an emergency situation you would be very glad of all of the above (maybe even the handbook), but where are you supposed to store this kit? Let’s face it, if you did assemble it and put it all into a large box it would surely have to be stored somewhere that is relatively handy. It’s no good to you ‘somewhere in the attic’ in the event of a real emergency. It is also the sort of kit that would have to be checked at least annually for out of date food, moth eaten sleeping bags and corroding batteries.

It’s easy to poke fun at such a document and cherry pick the funnier aspects when there is no actual emergency. However, it is certainly more practical than the iodine tablets in that there are quite a lot of useful numbers and website addresses in it that could be of use in a real situation. (Of course it assumes that the emergency won’t have taken down the communications networks.) It also possibly focuses the minds of people, particularly those who have children or are caring for elderly or disabled relatives, as to what they would or could do, even in a domestic crisis. To their credit it is also very easy to read and clearly laid out. As usual, however, it is the political glory hunting aspect of such an endeavour that leads to an otherwise useful document being maligned and made to sound ridiculous. Why couldn’t they have quietly released the document as just a useful booklet of practical advice? Instead they marched journalists around the command centre in Dublin, launched the book as an innovative Government initiative and created radio ads that suggest if you have nothing else in an emergency except this booklet, you’ll be ok!

On top of all of that we still don’t really know what the Government plan is in the event of an emergency – they are going to tell us all when it actually happens, through our radios. Stay tuned.