The Time to Prepare Is Now

Thomas O'Neill III, Peoria County Board

It is an unfortunate fact of life that disasters, natural and man-made, happen. They may be on the smaller scale of an automobile accident or a house fire, or much larger, like Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti. How quickly we respond to disaster and how successfully we recover depends on how prepared we are beforehand. September is National Preparedness Month, and there is no better time than now to make sure your family is prepared when disaster strikes.

Public safety agencies such as police and fire departments plan, prepare and practice for emergencies as part of their routine training. Agencies like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are trained to offer support services to individuals and families affected by disaster. But these agencies—public safety and support—arrive after the fire has started, the tornado has struck or the buildings have crumbled. Who protects your family during disaster?

Everyone should have a family disaster plan to protect themselves before help arrives. If your house is struck by lightning during the night, a fire ignites on the main floor, and your family is sleeping in three separate bedrooms upstairs, how do you escape? Which room do you use? Will the window open? Is there a screen? Do you jump with a three-year-old and an infant?

Awakening to a smoke-filled house with scared kids is not the time to plan your escape. Rather, now is the time to make a plan and practice the plan so you'll know—when you need to—which windows open readily and which screens can be easily removed.

Now is also the time to establish points of contact for emergencies. If you and your spouse are at work, one child's at school and the other is at daycare, how will you know everyone's safe after the tornado strikes? Use a local point of contact for singular or targeted disasters such as a house fire, and an out-of-state contact for more extensive disasters such as Joplin or Katrina. If each member of your family knows who to call or where to go after disaster, you'll be able to learn the condition and whereabouts of your loved ones much more quickly.

Planning and practice go a long way towards preparedness, but it is also important to have an emergency supply kit for use in the immediate aftermath of disaster. Ideally, a supply kit should provide for your family for a minimum of three days. Kits should include water, non-perishable food items, first aid supplies, flashlight and batteries, matches, sanitizer, medications, and other necessary items as identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at ready.gov.

The Peoria City/County Health Department offers a budget-friendly guide for building a complete emergency supply kit in 24 weeks. The guide also provides a "to-do" list that includes developing home evacuation plans and identifying family point of contact locations. This guide is available on Peoria County's website at peoriacounty.org/pcchd/emergency.

Certainly public safety and support agencies have a role in disaster, be it rescue or recovery, but we must first assume responsibility for ourselves. Don't let another month go by without being prepared. iBi

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