EMA knows what it takes to be prepared for any disaster
by Shane Dunaway
Mother Nature has made her presence felt in recent months, ravaging Talladega County with high-speed winds, severe thunderstorms and flooding.

In the event of storms, tornadoes and other disasters, members of the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency offer valuable information to aid county residents and ensure people stay prepared for the worst-case scenario.

According to emergency management specialist Beverly Reynolds, the first phase in any disaster preparation plan should always be to make an emergency kit.

“Preparing a kit ensures you have all your necessities in case of a disaster because a lot of times after a disaster has happened, the first responders may not be able to get to you right away,” Reynolds said. “It’s recommended to have a kit able to sustain your family for at least 72 hours.”

Recommended kit items include battery-powered radios and flashlights, spare batteries, one gallon of water per person per day, non-perishable food items, a manual can opener, a first aid kit, sleeping bags and blankets, prescription medications, extra clothing, toiletries, rain gear, money, extra house and car keys, extra glasses, family information and documents, and important phone numbers.

County EMA director Deborah Gaither recommended each person also have some means of protecting their head, either with a bicycle helmet, motorcycle helmet or other means.

“The most common injury in a wind event or tornado event is head injuries caused by flying debris,” Gaither said. “The second most common injury is cuts caused by broken glass or knick-knacks.”

Once the kit has been prepared, Reynolds said phase two of preparations can be implemented — make an emergency plan and ensure the entire family is aware of it.

“Making a plan before a disaster is important because family members may be in separate locations at any given moment and may not be able to communicate with one another,” Reynolds said. “The disaster could be a fire or a tornado, so everyone must know what to do in each situation. Your plan may vary depending on the disaster.”

Emergency management specialist Leighann Butler said parents should also know the disaster plans for their child’s school.

“If you’re at work and aren’t available, you’ll know what their plan is and where your kids will be,” Butler said.

During the planning phase, if time is available, Gaither recommended securing loose materials outside the home such as barbecue grills, flags and other items that could be blown away during a wind event or tornado.

If a family lives in a mobile home, the EMA representatives agreed those individuals should seek shelter with friends or neighbors who live in a more secure structure. If none is available, those families can seek shelter at one of 11 emergency shelters listed on the county EMA website at www.talladegaema.org/community-storm-shelters.

For those who may not have the means to plan accordingly, Gaither noted the importance of ensuring their needs are also met.

“We have other types of individuals we need to make sure we plan and prepare for and that’s our special needs individuals,” Gaither said. “Here in Talladega County, we have a large number of special needs individuals because we have the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind and we have multiple nursing homes.

“We need to make sure all those individuals have a help network that can assist them in times of disaster,” Gaither said. “There are not enough of us here in this office or enough responders together that could help every special needs person in the county. If those people work with their families, friends, churches or nursing home personnel, they can make sure they have a help network in place so they can (establish) a plan of preparedness.”

For some families, humans aren’t the only ones who need to be considered when making a plan.

“Your animals are dependent upon you,” Butler said. “They can’t go to the grocery store and buy their own food, so you have to make sure you’re just as prepared for them as you are for your children.”

Gaither said she wished the EMA could work with some of the local veterinarians and animal shelters in the area to house pets during disasters.

“Some people may not want to leave their location without their animal or pet,” she said. “Some of them even consider their pets as their children.”

Phase three involves knowing what types of hazards are possible in the area in which a person lives.

“Always have a weather radio so you can listen to the National Weather Service in case you lose electricity,” Reynolds said.

According to alert notification manager Scott Murphree, the EMA has a multitude of services available to notify individuals of potential disasters.

The most commonly used tools include more than 80 outdoor warning sirens spread throughout the county, the EMA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/readytalladega, the EMA Twitter page at twitter.com/readytalladega and the Nixle alert notification texting service at www.nixle.com. Murphree said the texting service is free unless Internet or cell phone provider charges apply.

“We want to let everyone know what options are available for alerting the citizens of Talladega County because we don’t want them to depend entirely on the warning sirens in case of a malfunction or if a tornado destroys them,” Murphree said.

The final phase of preparation is getting involved with the local community. The EMA offers a number of programs to educate community members, including a Community Emergency Response Team that teaches interested community members first aid, light search and rescue, fire safety and other potentially life-saving skills.

“If disaster strikes and first responders aren’t able to get to you, you need to take care of yourself and the people you’re around,” Butler said.

Gaither said everyone needs to be ready for the next punch Mother Nature may throw Talladega’s way.

“Each person is responsible for themselves,” she said. “We encourage everyone to be responsible, plan for their families, plan for their special needs individuals, plan for their pets and plan for an evacuation. We talk a lot about sheltering, but not enough about evacuation. People need to think about evacuation when they are discussing and practicing their plan.”

© 2013