Storms precede Emergency
Preparedness Month

By Johnny Jackson


Tropical Depression Fay's punch was somewhat muted across much of Georgia on Tuesday, but with wind and heavy rains that are expected to continue part of Wednesday, before tapering off.

This week's darkened skies have reminded officials of the importance of emergency preparedness in times of severe weather.

"One of the biggest things we do is emergency preparedness," said Don Ash, director of the Henry County Emergency Management Agency.

The agency will be out in the community promoting emergency preparedness during the month of September, known as National Preparedness Month, a nationwide effort sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to encourage Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools.

"We will spend the entire month of September, working to prepare our community," Ash said.

He recalled the impact of some surprise storms carried into Henry County in the summer of 2005 by Tropical Depression Cindy.

"It was an unexpected event," he said. Flooding, wind, heavy rains, and tornadoes spun by Cindy created widespread damage and some deaths across the Southeast.

"People should monitor and pay close attention to the weather and designate safe areas," Ash added. "We encourage that residents have a plan and make preparations now for emergencies. Especially as we talk about severe weather, we encourage people to get a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather] radio. It provides an accurate warning directly from the National Weather Service."

NOAA weather radios, which cost about $29-$39 each, can be plugged into an electrical socket, and include a battery back-up system, in the event of a power outage.

"We always suggest the NOAA weather radio, because it has the alarm tone," said Mike Griesinger, National Weather Service forecaster. "It will, hopefully, wake you up at three o'clock in the morning. A television may not do that when everyone's asleep."

Residents in metro Atlanta should expect a 20 percent chance of rain today, with another-but-lesser round of heavy rains, according to Griesinger.

Most of the storm damage on Tuesday was confined to the North Georgia area, he said. "For the most part, it has just been heavy rain," Griesinger said. "[This weekend,] we'll see temperatures get back up. Rain chances will begin increasing Saturday through Labor Day."

While there are weather disturbances currently brewing in the Atlantic and Caribbean, officials advise that residents take precautions and learn about every aspect in which severe weather or disasters may affect their lives.

Planning for animals in a disaster situation can save human lives, according to the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA). Nearly half of those who refused to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 did so because they were unable to take, or unwilling to leave, their pets, according to a study by the Fritz Institute, a nonprofit organization focusing on effective disaster response and recovery.

As hurricane season escalates to its peak in September, GVMA urges pet and livestock owners to create disaster preparedness plans, and encourages local government officials to consider the importance of including animals in disaster planning.

"The veterinary community is a key resource in public safety planning," said Barbara Kelly, chair of GVMA's disaster preparedness committee. "We are public health providers, whether it is a food inspection crisis, agricultural emergency or natural disaster."

GVMA is reaching out to veterinarians across the state to begin the process of helping them prepare for disasters, both in their clinics and in their communities. The goal is to have an animal disaster preparedness plan in each county to help prepare members of a community.

"Families are the first responders to any disaster," Kelly said. "When they are prepared, lives are saved and injuries lessened."

Tips on protecting pets, animals:

Keep pet and livestock identification tags up to date. All identification should include confirmation of rabies shots and contact information for the animal's veterinarian. Also, all pets should be micro-chipped and registrations kept up to date.

Have a disaster plan that includes pets' medications, food, water, a photograph and copies of medical records that can be taken quickly during an evacuation. Keep the items in a secure, waterproof container.

Know which shelters or hotels accept pets or identify a friend or family member outside the area who could care for the animals. Residents may be able to use a local fairground or nearby farm for livestock.

Also, become familiar with community or government agencies that provide care and support for pets and livestock in the event of an emergency. Residents should also display a sticker on the window or door of their house to let rescuers know animals are inside.

The United States Small Business Administration (USSBA) is one of the many government and private sector coalition partners participating in this fifth annual National Preparedness Month.

"There's a tendency - and it's human nature - to think that a large-scale disaster is not going to happen where you live," said Sandy Baruah, acting administrator for the USSBA. "Accepting the inevitability of an emergency, and then taking responsibility for your own recovery are the necessary first steps toward protecting your family, your assets, and your community."

The USSBA offers the following tips for preparing for disasters:

Develop a solid emergency response plan. Find evacuation routes from your home or business and establish meeting places. Make sure everyone understands the plan beforehand, and keep emergency phone numbers handy. Business owners should designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors. Everyone should ask an out-of-state friend, colleague, or family member to be a "post-disaster" point of contact to support the flow of information about short-term relocations, recovery plans, etc.

Have adequate insurance coverage. Have enough insurance coverage to rebuild your home or business. Homeowners and business owners should review their policies to see what is or is not covered. Businesses should consider "business interruption insurance," which helps cover operating costs during the post-disaster shutdown period. Flood insurance is essential. To find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit the web site at www.floodsmart.gov.

Copy important records. Back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store that information at a distant off-site location. Computer data should be backed up routinely. Copies of important documents and CDs should be stored in fire-proof safe deposit boxes.

Residents should also create a "Disaster Survival Kit." The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable packaged and canned food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic bags, cash, and a digital camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm.

For more about emergency preparedness, visit the Ready Campaign America, Henry County Emergency Management, Small Business Association web sites.


On the net:

Henry County Emergency Management: www.co.henry.ga.us/911

Ready Campaign America: www.ready.gov

Small Business Association: www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance/disasterpreparedness/index.html