While we certainly know how vital it is for our agencies to prepare with training, drills and literature to handle disasters, it is time to start preparing the public to be a part of the solution. It’s long been a responsibility of local first response agencies such as EMS, fire and police to help protect themselves and their communities.
Most people tend to think of disasters like hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, earthquakes like the 1994 Northridge quake that hit the Los Angeles area, or tornadoes like the one that reduced a Missouri town to rubble in 2011. New York has felt the ground shake, we’ve had tornadoes that left us with chilling death tolls, and a hurricane in 2012 that ultimately left dozens dead. New York State has also experienced ice storms, plane crashes, forest fires, floods, gas explosions, train accidents, terrorism and more.
The better prepared communities are to deal with natural and man-made disasters the better the chance of survival is, there’s a faster recovery for the municipality, and the less strain there is for emergency responders. People can prepare for many potential emergencies and learn the basics for any unusual event. Preparation involves building a plan of action including possible escape/evacuation routes, knowing where to turn for information from official sources, setting up a chain of communication for family members to reconnect, and putting together an emergency disaster kit that could help meet your basic needs until conditions improve.
Before your agency schedules outreach programs with the public to help educate and prepare, you should first learn what potential hazards are using demographics and history — Has your town flooded? Are you in a low valley near a reservoir, river, or lake? Do you have chemical, nuclear, or otherwise hazardous-substance plants? What about your infrastructure such as highways, railways and airports? Are there any schools in your community that could place large numbers of young children away from parents in a sudden emergency? Consider the physical needs of hospitals and nursing homes in your area. Know about existing and potential shelters for use in an emergency; if possible, know which shelters are pet friendly or designed for special needs.
Invite residents to a meeting to discuss potential hazards, assure them that your agency is prepared to respond to their needs and what they can do to help ensure their own and family’s safety. Explain the potential hazards your community might someday face and explain the differences between evacuations and sheltering in place. Ask residents for (voluntary) info to help create a database of at-home invalids and those on equipment requiring electricity to keep the person alive.
Set up a workshop to help residents compile emergency supply kits including: Water (1 gal/@ person ea. day X3); non-perishable food (3 day supply @ person — no refrigeration, cooking or water needed); medicines (w/ Rx copies); spare eyeglasses (if available); battery-powered or hand-crank radio; flashlight; extra batteries; simple first aid kit; whistle; wrench; screw driver; blade/knife; can opener; fire extinguisher; cell phone & charger (solar or crank charger if available); cash; personal toiletry wipes; contact list with phone numbers; account information.
Help pet owners to compile emergency kits for their dogs, cats, gerbils, birds, etc. Pet emergency kits (for EACH pet) should include: 3 to 7 days' food, 2 week supply of medicine; 7 days of water; dish and water bowl; litter box and/or pee-pads; flea/tick prevention; pet grooming wipes; collar, leashes & ID tags; owner documents; vaccine records & vet name; comfort toys; and a pet first-aid kit. If the family, INCLUDING pets, needs to evacuate, pet friendly shelters require carry cases/cages/kennels.
Some of the places you can go to for information to disseminate to your community include: https://www.ready.gov/ (Ready.gov), http://www.nfpa.org/ (National Fire Protection Association), and http://bit.ly/2wS6BCK (Corporation for National and Community Service). There are printouts available to share with your community.