Kansas experiences its share of natural disasters, from floods and ice storms to tornadoes and wildfires. And let’s not forget the often-intense snow and wind events that can devastate open range rural areas.
In my previous experience as Kansas adjutant general, I had the honor of directing the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. The buck stopped with me when it came to the state’s emergency preparedness and coordination of resources in response to all types of hazards and disasters. Through that lens, I would like to offer some basic lessons learned and my observations on how you and your family can be prepared for emergencies during this National Preparedness Month.
Each type of disaster brings its own set of safety concerns. And each event brought home to me, repeatedly, the importance of being prepared at work and home, and preparing your employees and family for a localized emergency and potential widespread disaster.
At the very least have a plan and a backup plan. Even a simple one will get you through the initial stages of an emergency. The plan should address two scenarios: an emergency in which you will need to leave your home to get to safety; and a situation where you will be required to shelter in place. Identify the emergencies most likely to happen where you live and work — do you live near a flood plain? Within the bounds of “Tornado Alley?” For each scenario consider factors such as property-specific needs — turning off the gas after a tornado, knowing how to open an electric garage door when power is out, or closing window coverings to keep cool during an outage. Assign these responsibilities in your plan to family members.
A basic preparedness plan should also include how your family will communicate if communication channels are down — e.g., no cell phones or access to email. In that scenario, make sure you have a designated meeting point and that everyone in your family knows it. Do your family members have a list of trusted family, friends, local hospitals and other emergency contacts separate from those stored in their electronic devices (phones, laptops, etc.)? Before cell phones, most of us memorized important phone numbers and now we are lucky to remember our own landline number — if we still have one. Hard copy lists are essential for when power is out and damage to cell towers has left normal communication channels useless. Practice your plan, and your backup plan, and walk through everyone’s responsibilities.
At the very least, have a “go bag” for every member of the family, including your four-legged friends. It should include copies of important documents (birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, prescriptions, bank account information and insurance policies) in sealed bags, medications, cash, first-aid supplies, flashlight, food, water, batteries, blankets and a host of other critical items.
I highly recommend using the resources available on ksready.gov. During emergencies — every time and every disaster — we used to brief this information. It is an invaluable resource to educate individuals, families and businesses to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate all types of emergency situations. The website offers detailed information on creating a plan and responding to a variety of disasters, and it includes a section on teaching kids how to prepare before, during and after a disaster. There’s also a Kansas Preparedness Challenge you and your family can tackle at ksready.gov – Preparedness Challenge.
Preparing and practicing may not make “perfect” but having a plan and walking through everyone’s responsibilities in an emergency will help protect and prepare your family during a real crisis when emotions come into play. As Rorke Denver, former Navy Seal commander, shared recently with the Kansas electric cooperatives, “It’s a superpower to keep your head when others are losing theirs. Calm is contagious.”