As the recent devastation across southern Texas can attest, it's vital to stay prepared for emergency situations, because there's always a potential for catastrophe.

The issue: September is National Preparedness Month.


Local impact: When disaster strikes — like we've seen recently to the south with Hurricane Harvey — most people aren't prepared for evacuations. With Oklahoma's hazards including tornadoes, floods, wildfires and even winter storms, preparedness year-round is key.

 

 

As the recent devastation across southern Texas can attest, it's vital to stay prepared for emergency situations, because there's always a potential for catastrophe.

Because of Harvey, dozens have died and the lives of thousands of families have been turned upside down.

As September arrives, National Preparedness Month reminds residents of the necessity of emergency planning.

Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch said being prepared for emergencies and disasters helps the community respond better, saving countless lives.

“This year National Preparedness Month will focus on emergency planning — with an overarching theme ‘Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can’,” Lynch said.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of American families report having an emergency response plan, he said.

“Right now, we are especially mindful of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the need for individuals and families to have a plan,” Lynch said.

He said recently he was driving home from work and listening on the car radio to an interview with a lady in the Houston area.

“The lady being interviewed was commenting about how she and her husband were not prepared for the evacuation,” he said. “She said, 'In the middle of the night we had to evacuate, and all we could do is grab each other and our dog and get out. We’ve heard the message that you need to have a plan and a kit, but we never took the time — we’re believers now.'”

Lynch said everyone should all take action to prepare.

“We are all able to help first responders in our community by training how to respond during an emergency and what to do when disaster strikes — where we live, work, and visit,” he said.

The goal of National Preparedness Month is to increase the overall number of individuals, families and communities who engage in preparedness actions at home, work, business, school, and place of worship, he said.

“While we never know when the next disaster will strike, it is incumbent upon every American to be prepared,” he said. “The first steps include making and practicing an emergency response plan, creating an emergency supply kit, and signing up for emergency alerts.”

More information on making a plan and creating a disaster supplies kit can be found at: https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan

Lynch said Shawnee residents can sign up for emergency alerts at: www.shawneeok.org/citizenalerts.

The Pottawatomie County Local Emergency Planning Committee will host a Prepare Fair Saturday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the FireLake Arena at 18145 Old Rangeline Road in Shawnee. Local first responders, safety organizations, and other groups will be on hand to provide information on how to build a family disaster plan and supplies kit and provide training on skills to protect and help families during a disaster or emergency.

“We invite our citizens to come out and help make Pottawatomie County disaster-resilient,” Lynch said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) encourages families to create a plan for both adults and children to follow. A family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance — how to get to a safe place; how to contact one another; how to get back together; and what to do in different situations. During a disaster, roads are often blocked or closed and alternate routes must be used. Knowing multiple routes of travel in advance can save time and frustration when trying to reach loved ones.

OSDH also encourages families to have a basic emergency kit consisting of water, snacks, first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, prescription medicine and important paperwork. Parents can help reduce the effect of disasters on children by adding a few simple kid-friendly supplies such as books, games, a favorite toy or comfort item and medical items such as infant/child fever reducer to the kit. Those with babies should consider a three-day supply of formula, diapers, antibacterial wipes, non-perishable baby food and sealable plastic bags for soiled items.

Scott Sproat, director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Service at OSDH, said families who have members with medical conditions and disabilities need to consider any unique needs during and after a disaster.

“If you have, or care for someone, with a disability or access and functional needs, it’s important to include needed supplies, equipment and medications as part of your planning efforts,” Sproat said. “If evacuating from the home is necessary, it is important to take medication and specialty equipment such as hearing aids, oxygen, a wheelchair, diabetic supplies, food for a special diet, and supplies for a service animal.”

OSDH and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the additional following tips for families preparing for disasters:

• Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher, and show them where it’s kept.

• Practice your plan by quizzing your kids periodically and conduct fire and other emergency drills.

• Check emergency supplies throughout the year to replace batteries, food and water as needed.

• Plan alternate ways to charge communication and assistive technology devices if there is loss of power.

• Plan for medication requiring refrigeration.

• Check with your mobile carrier for options on wireless emergency alerts being delivered to your cell phone or other device.

For more tips and information, like the OSDH Emergency Preparedness Response Service page on Facebook.