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Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010
Eric Evans, 573-884-8984, 573-999-4207 (cell)
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Natural disasters, like tornadoes and severe storms, are things we don’t like to think about until necessary. But in Missouri, being prepared for spring storm and tornado season is a necessity, according to a University of Missouri Extension emergency management specialist.
“Missourians need to understand emergency preparedness is their responsibility. The Red Cross, the state and FEMA are not going to take care of you. They will come to your aid when they’re needed at some point,” said Eric Evans, community emergency management specialist. “But it’s your responsibility to take of your family, yourself and your pets and be ready for the next impending emergency.”
Missouri ranks No. 8 nationally in presidential disaster declarations, with 20 declarations in the past five years. Many were the result of severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks in 2003 and 2005.
Families need three things to be prepared for weather emergencies: a family disaster plan, a weather radio and emergency supplies.
“Probably the most important thing you can do for your family is have a family disaster plan that tells everyone in the family what you’re going to do when an emergency occurs,” Evans said.
The plan includes checklists, contact information for doctors, insurance plans, pharmacies, veterinarians and an out-of-state contact.
“In case you are impacted, you can call out of your area and can tell them your status, and then other people can call that person rather than trying to call into the disaster scene, which they probably won’t be able to do,” Evans said.
Weather radios, which cost less than $30, should be in every home, church and public gathering place, especially in communities that do not have emergency warning sirens. “Most areas rely exclusively on weather radios,” he said.
Weather radios can be programmed to broadcast alerts for watches or warnings for a specific geographic area. The battery backup ensures that it will sound even if the electricity goes out.
“It’s very loud. It will wake you up in the middle of the night,” Evans said. “I have ours programmed for watches and warnings, so I can have more notice and get the family prepared.”
Like other safety equipment, Evans recommends testing it regularly to ensure that it will go off when needed.
Finally, families should have a disaster kit that includes the disaster plan and emergency supplies. The kit should be easily accessible, so you can grab and go when there is an emergency, Evans said.
The supplies will allow you to survive for a few days on your own by having the “the things you need to get yourself settled and back in groove, and then you can move forward and start implementing your plan and recovering from the disaster.”
Items in a basic disaster kit should include flashlights, extra batteries, a battery-operated or hand-crank AM/FM radio, a first-aid kit and water.
Work gloves, sturdy footwear, toiletries and tools to turn off utilities are other items that can be included. When putting together your kit, remember pets and people with special needs, including babies, the elderly and those with medical conditions.
“Anyone with a special need, and there’re a lot of them, should go through the process of understanding how vulnerable they are during a hazard like severe weather,” Evans said. “That means putting together plans and maybe even buying the right things to put in the kit that make them able to survive for a short period of time during the aftermath of an emergency.”
One thing most people forget to include in a disaster kit is money.
“You may need access to cash in case there’s something you absolutely need to have and it’s a cash economy,” Evans said. “If it is a large-scale event and there is no electricity, you’re not going to get gas out of the ground, you’re not going to get money out of the ATM, and credit cards don’t work.”
Disaster kits can be assembled over time, buying a few things at a time. A list of recommended items is available from MU Extension at http://bit.ly/MUExtDisasterKit.
“By having these things in place, it makes recovering psychologically so much easier. The stress is so much less, and everyone gets through this emergency with much more ease.”
This is a lesson Evans knows firsthand. In 1998, his neighborhood was devastated by a tornado. By following the preparedness practices Evans preaches, “The entire family was able to function in the middle of that emergency with relative ease.”
As a result, Evans knows that planning works and wants others to realize the value of being prepared.
“When you do think about it and start preparing and you get your plan and you get your kit, the stress reduction when an emergency occurs is so amazing,” he said. “You’re able to function. Everyone knows what they’re doing. There’s not all the tears and excitement because you know what you’re going to do.
“You have a plan. You have all your supplies. You’re going to be fine.”
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