Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has designated September as Preparedness Month in Georgia to encourage citizens to be ready for whatever disaster may come their way.
Even as the national focus of emergency preparedness was shifted to terrorism after Sept. 11 when FEMA became a department of the Office of Homeland Security, Columbia County and the state of Georgia have continued to prioritize the types of hazards that can occur here, including natural, man-made, and technological disasters.
Some disasters occur without any warning and can be widespread, so being prepared starts at home with each family. You may have to take care of yourself for a period of time until help can arrive.
Families should 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 to seven day supply of water and non-perishable food, flashlights and extra batteries, a portable TV or radio and extra batteries, 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. Make sure your family knows the procedures for "sheltering in place" should a chemical emergency require that you stay indoors until the danger has passed, as well as evacuation procedures should you be asked to leave.
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.
As you prepare your plans, we continue preparing ours.
We are proud to have the "Mobile Operations Center" (MOC) that will provide us with interoperable communications and all necessary technology and equipment for improved disaster coordination at the scene. The MOC will be deployed to Katrina disaster areas within the next two weeks to assist those areas with communications.
Next summer we will have a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which will have the necessary space, advanced technology, improved communications systems, and self-sufficient capabilities to allow long-term operations and improved coordination between government officials and response agencies during emergencies or disasters. The new EOC will be located in the old State Farm Building on Ronald Reagan Drive.
We are very proud that 135 citizens from all over Columbia County have participated and become and certified in our Community Emergency Response Team to assist first responders during emergencies. Thirteen of our CERT members have volunteered to go into Katrina disaster areas to help victims, but if local disasters strike, many of them are your next door neighbors who can help give immediate response to your area if help cannot get there quickly.
The response to Hurricane Katrina is already triggering hot debate, as officials on the local, state, and federal level try to find out how improvements can be made to prevent the communication failures that occurred before, during and after Katrina made landfall.
My goal, locally, is two-fold. One is to reach out to our citizens in every way possible and urge that you take the time to follow these preparedness recommendations for your family. Don't wait until tomorrow; get ready now. That is your responsibility.
And two, to continue to work with all response agencies, public works officials, social and human services, public health officials, and private sector businesses to aggressively prepare, plan, and train for all types of emergencies and disasters so that when our community finds itself in the middle of a catastrophic event, we all respond appropriately and do not suffer loss of life. Visit the Columbia County Website at www.columbiacountyga.gov or www.ready.gov for more information on how your family can get prepared for emergencies.
(Pam Tucker is Columbia County Emergency Services Division director.)
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