What can you do to protect yourself and your family in a disaster? It’s important to think about that answer. Having a plan and getting ready are key steps to surviving and minimizing harm.
During September, emergency preparedness officials throughout the United States make an extra effort to raise public awareness about preparedness. I am one of a relatively small number of Americans who work full-time on getting ready for disasters of all sorts. Emergency preparedness involves not just the professionals, but every community member. All of us have a role in responding to disasters.
I encourage Yellowstone County residents to check out readyyellowstone.org. This web portal links to the Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services web page. The web portal also can connect you to key partners in our county’s emergency preparedness work, including United Way of Yellowstone County and the American Red Cross. The Red Cross trains people in advance of disasters to be on “disaster action teams.” The United Way trains people to staff a volunteer reception center where untrained volunteers would show up in the wake of disaster.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual disaster. Many organizations that generally use volunteers stopped. However, Yellowstone County residents still found ways to help their neighbors.
Pam Sanderson, who runs the United Way Volunteer Center, applauds “small random acts of kindness” that blossomed as local people did what they could to sustain others during the pandemic.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most effective step that most of us can take to stop the spread of the virus, prevent severe illness and death.
While the COVID-19 virus persists, summer has added more typical disasters in our area. House fires and wildfires can generate calls for emergency volunteers.
Fire emergencies may require coordination between multiple agencies to shelter and feed displaced people, pets and livestock. Delivering, food, water and cots can be a huge challenge when these basics are needed immediately in an area that may have lost power. Roads may be closed and the fire area itself may be moving.
“If you want to be prepared, volunteer now so you are trained and ready to volunteer when disaster strikes,” Sanderson said.
Besides volunteering, consider these preparedness tips:
• Talk to your friends and family about how to communicate before, during, and after a disaster.
• Keep supplies on hand that would sustain your family for several days if you couldn’t get out to shop or your water supply was interrupted. Consider the special needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. Update your emergency kits and supplies based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov).
• Learn how to reduce the risk of damage to your home from storms and fire. Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date.
• Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them that you will keep them safe.
Disaster possibilities are myriad – fires, floods, tornadoes, wind storms, blizzards, hazardous chemical spills, explosions, highly contagious pathogens spreading from person to person. Know what risks exists in Yellowstone County. Take reasonable precautions based on information from local, state and national emergency preparedness planners.
Ray Ezell, preparedness specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-651-6541.