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Prepare now for disasters

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POSTED: April 3, 2007 5:14 a.m.
An article in the Coastal Courier about Liberty County being left out of a statewide tornado alarm and disaster drill (Exercise in disaster, Feb. 25) has proven to be very ironic.
Because the county was left off the list, the siren was not tested and schools were left wondering what to do as teachers and students waited, or conducted their own drills. Less than a week later, we were faced with a real test. We were lucky and spared the direct hit of the tornados that affected Richland, Newton, Americus, Columbus, Ga., Enterprise Ala., and other areas. We were lucky but are we truly prepared?
I was thrilled to read many of the schools went ahead and conducted their own drills, despite the meltdown in communications between, GEMA, NWS and the LHEMA. In the event of a real disaster, we need to be prepared for everything, including damage or failure of the systems many of us rely on too heavily.
As a former employee and disaster volunteer for the Red Cross in Miami, Fla., and as a former resident of hurricane-prone Florida for 41 years, I speak from personal experience on the importance of being prepared to care for yourselves and neighbors and not solely rely on help from the government and disaster organizations.
I am not saying these agencies do not have a responsibility to their communities. But, we also have a responsibility to our families, our surrounding communities and ourselves.
In the aftermath of a disaster, those primarily affected are on their own until help can arrive. This help may come in hours, or days, depending on the extent of the damage, amount of debris blocking the roadways, ability to navigate around downed power lines and other variables. In the meantime, we have to fend for ourselves, pitch in together and help each other get through the circumstances we may face until the cavalry arrives.
Hurricanes, tornados, typhoons and earthquakes are all products of Mother Nature and therefore very unpredictable as to their direct paths, speed and intensity. Even the scientists of NOAA and meteorologists admit they can never truly predict the exact landfall or the wrath the system may carry. They can come close, but they can never claim a perfect forecast.   
We need to quit living with blinders on, thinking this will never happen to us. We need to be vigilant of warnings we see and hear on the news and other media and have a plan in place in case we get isolated and cut-off from the rest of the world before, during and after an event.
There are many ways to learn how to prepare yourself and your family for a disaster. Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross and ask about CPR courses and for information and courses on disaster preparedness. FEMA has educational courses you can take online. Here are some simple steps to get you started:
• Ask yourself what would my family need to live without power and help for three days? This question should have you thinking about an inventory of things you and your family would need to survive without outside help for at least three days. Some items may include: Flashlights and batteries, water (3 gallons per person or pet per day), non-potable water for washing, rinsing, etc., medications, baby food or formulae, pet food, manual can opener, canned foods, non-perishable foods, first aid kits, rain gear, weather radios and much more (think of what your family needs are).
• Look around your house and neighborhood to identify possible flying projectiles, loose objects that can damage your house or others. Tie up loose objects, clean any extra debris, and trim back your trees away from your house.
• Have a plan ready in case you are separated from your family when the disaster occurs. Set up a meeting place, within a specified time
• Have your important papers ready and sealed in watertight containers.
• Heed the early warnings.
Sometimes we become complacent and do not get ourselves ready when the news begins to warn of potential bad weather. We need to be vigilant and get things ready should the storm head our way. It does not matter whether you live in a brick house or a mobile home, you need to prepare just the same because Mother Nature does not care what you live in and the potential for devastation at winds in excess of 150 mph are the same.
This is just a very small sample of steps you can begin to take, but they are necessary steps to get you through a situation until outside assistance arrives. If you and your neighbors all take small steps, then the community can be ready to help each other with resources until help arrives. The Red Cross taught me to have a plan, make a disaster kit, get training and always be prepared.
 

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