Time to prepare

Since 2004 September has been designated as National Preparedness Month. As we watched Hurricane Harvey — then Tropical Storm Harvey continue to devastate Southeastern Texas, we realize that there is no time like the present to prepare. Harvey’s destruction will not only affect the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands directly impacted by the storm and the entire Gulf Coast region, but may potentially affect the economy of the entire United States.

Texans are known for their toughness and resilience. But the damage caused by the flooding that this storm produced for days is unprecedented. It’s hard to imagine what could have been done to prepare for the magnitude of this mega-disaster.

In such overwhelming bleakness the brightest ray of hope is witnessing ordinary people doing everything they can to help strangers in need; using every means possible to save lives — even when the helpers have lost everything, themselves. All levels of government first responders, the National Guard, and the Coast Guard could not begin to keep up with the rescue mission even days after Harvey’s landfall. Somehow the volunteer rescuers possess the heart, know-how, and will to help others who are more at risk than themselves. Many made the difference between life and death by rescuing their fellow Texans.

This tragedy can provide a lesson for the rest of the country. While the risks and hazards of Central Ohio are much different than those of the Gulf Coast, it is not uncommon for us to have floods, tornadoes and ice storms with some regularity — almost always accompanied by power/utility outages. But weather events aren’t the only threat in Madison County. With major rail and highways crossing the County, there is also the potential risk of a large transportation accident or a hazardous material spill. What if one of these events directly affected one of our essential healthcare organizations, which then was unable to care for the sick and injured? Even a widespread contagious disease outbreak could become a threat to our life, safety and health.

The good news is that there are things that each person can do now to prepare themselves and their families for an unexpected disaster.

• Set aside enough drinking water and food that doesn’t need refrigeration for your family. If you can, store extra for your elderly neighbors or the single parent with three small kids down the street.

• Collect basic items you may need, like blankets, sleeping bags, extra clothes, medications, and personal items. Keep these supplies in waterproof bins that you can quickly take with you if you need to suddenly evacuate.

• Talk with your family about what to do for different types of emergencies. A tornado, ice storm, and large chemical spill all require different actions. Learn what to do in each situation that might occur.

• Take a CPR, first aid, or water safety class. There are also good online classes that are free. Check out the FEMA course IS-909 at FEMA.gov: training.fema.gov/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=IS-909

• Connect to other volunteers registered with the Emergency Management Agency. Call 740-852-4200 to be part of a community volunteer network.

• Learn the best way to put out a fire with a fire extinguisher and get the correct one for the potential fuel type — kitchen, garage and office may require different kinds of extinguishers.

• Plan an escape route from each area of your home. Decide where you will meet other family members outside your home and outside your neighborhood. Teach all family members the plan and practice it a few times a year.

• Put together a simple Family Emergency Communication Card that each family member can carry in their purse, wallet, backpack or diaper bag so the children’s caretakers have a better chance to connect with you during a disaster.

It could be a simple as the following information.

Neighborhood meeting place, phone number and address; work, phone number and address; school, phone number and address; evacuation location, phone number and address; other location, phone number and address; emergency contact name and phone number; out-of-town contact name and phone number; physician; pharmacy; health insurance; homeowners/rental insurance; allergies; and veterinarian (pets).

• Have some way to keep informed before and during an emergency. This could include a cell phone, a NOAA Weather Radio or a portable, battery-operated radio.

• Make a plan for the care of your pets, if you should have to evacuate your home.

• Learn as much as you can about how to prepare by visiting www.ready.gov. This site contains some excellent short but informative videos of how to best protect yourself during and after a disaster.

Just do something.

Make a commitment this month — National Preparedness Month — to take at least one step to better prepare yourself, your family, and in turn, your community when a disaster strikes our area. If you are prepared to meet your basic needs — food, water and shelter, then you will be safer while you wait for responders attending to those with a greater need.

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Pat Lentz

Contributing Columnist

Pat Lentz, MPH, is the director of emergency preparedness at Madison County Public Health. She can be contacted at plentz@madisonpublichealth.org or 740-852-3065, ext. 1525.