Gov. Sonny Perdue has designated September as Preparedness Month in Georgia to encourage citizens to be ready for whatever disaster may come their way.
And with the second major hurricane of the season now hitting our neighboring state of Florida, the timing couldn't be better.
Families can prepare for emergencies by assembling an emergency supply kit, establishing a family emergency and communications plan and becoming more aware of the threats that could impact their community.
Locally, historical occurrences and the existence of certain facilities in our area show that we need to be prepared for flooding, tornadoes, downbursts, severe winter storms, hurricanes and tropical storms, drought, severe thunderstorms, extreme heat, hazardous material incidents, radiological incidents and dam failure.
Preparing for these emergencies includes having an emergency supply kit that contains a minimum of a NOAA Alert Radio, a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food, flashlights and extra batteries, a portable TV or radio and extra batteries, a first-aid kit, manual can opener, dust masks, whistle and a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
Also, make sure your family knows what room is the safest inside your home for severe weather emergencies such as tornadoes or downbursts, and know the procedures for "sheltering in place" should a chemical emergency require that you stay indoors until the danger has passed.
Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another and review what you will do in different situations. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-state contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Be sure every member of your family knows the phone number and has coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.
Columbia County also continues to prepare for emergencies by recently completing a "Hazard Mitigation Plan," which is designed to eliminate or greatly reduce the effects of disasters in our community. We were also re-certified by the National Weather Service in May as a "StormReady Community," which means that we have met or exceeded the criterion required to be recognized by this program.
Another major preparedness accomplishment this year is the Mobile Communications Vehicle that was awarded by a Homeland Security Grant to provide us with interoperable communications with all agencies and the ability set up command at any disaster scene with all necessary technology and equipment for improved disaster coordination.
Citizens from all over Columbia County have been trained and certified in our Community Emergency Response Team to assist first responders during emergencies and provide community preparedness information to help citizens prepare for emergencies.
We are also planning a full-scale exercise with all agencies in early 2005 to test our plans and procedures for responding to emergencies.
As we move forward and continue to prepare on a countywide basis, we urge our citizens to also prepare their families for emergencies during "Preparedness Month" in September.
As Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says, "We can be afraid, or we can be ready."
Learn more about how you and your family can be ready by calling the Emergency Services office at 868-3303, visiting the Website www.ready. gov or calling 1-800-BEREADY.
(Pam Tucker is director of Columbia County's Emergency Services Division.)
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