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Concerns arise as storm season begins

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency is renewing its efforts to inform Georgia residents about emergency preparedness.

GEMA's Ready Georgia campaign began state-wide in 2008 as a component of the broader Ready America campaign, to educate and empower citizens to prepare for, and respond to, large-scale emergencies, such as pandemic disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

"In the past 20 years, we have had 30 disaster declarations in our state," said Buzz Weiss, public affairs officer for GEMA. "Georgia is certainly vulnerable to the acts of mother nature."

Ready Georgia's aim is to prepare citizens for maintaining self-sufficiency for at least 72 hours following an emergency, said Weiss. He described what is expected to be a busy hurricane season this year, from June 1 to Nov. 30.

"There are predictions that we're going to have a very active season with as many as 23 named storms," he said. "However, our concern is that people be prepared for one storm that could affect us."

Weiss said storms have spawned tornadoes and caused extreme flooding across the state in the past. "People need to be aware of these threats and know what they will do," he said.

"Just because we are inland, that doesn't mean we aren't going to be affected by a hurricane, and tornadoes are prevalent this time of year for Georgia," added Susan Clegg, assistant director of the 911 Center with Henry County Emergency Management.

Clegg said as many as 65 percent of residents still do not know what to do if a hurricane hits and travels inland. "The public needs to be informed, and they need to be ready," she said. "Any time the citizens are prepared, it helps the emergency responders."

Clegg emphasized the need for residents to have an ample emergency supply, complete with a first-aid kit and three days worth of fresh water and non-perishable food.

Ready Georgia's recommended emergency supply includes water (one gallon per person per day, for at least 3 days, for drinking and sanitation); food (including at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food); a can opener; a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA Weather Radio; a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; a whistle to signal for help; a face mask to help filter contaminated air; moist towelettes and garbage bags; wrenches or pliers; and local maps.

However, most Georgians may not have the bare essentials stowed away and do not have a planned evacuation route, in the event of an emergency, according to Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. Brady said that, in a recent AAA Consumer Pulse online survey, about 35 percent of Georgia residents said they do not know, or are not confident, about their emergency evacuation routes.

"Evacuation plans are critical during hurricane season, especially since they can mean the difference between life and death," Brady said. "Not only are evacuation plans important, but so is hurricane-preparedness in terms of having a family plan, making sure all-important documentation is readily available, in case of evacuation, and having the necessary items in the event electricity or fresh water are not available."

Brady said the survey found that residents keep a plentiful supply of key items such as flashlights, batteries, and candles ( 85 percent of those surveyed); first-aid supplies (69 percent); and extra food (64 percent).

But, about 42 percent of survey respondents said they do not keep any emergency supplies packed and ready, in preparation for a major storm or hurricane. "Having an ample supply of the basic necessities is essential, especially in terms of food, water, and medications," Brady said. "These items aren't only important for us, but also for our pets. Whether you evacuate with your pet or not, they, too, will need a supply of water and food, as well as medication, if applicable."

Residents can find tips for planning for emergencies at GEMA's Ready Georgia web site, at www.ready.ga.gov.

Additionally, Ready Georgia has teamed up with WSB-TV and The Kroger Company to help supply NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radios to Georgia residents, said Buzz Weiss, GEMA's public affairs officer.

Kroger stores state-wide will be selling NOAA Weather Radios at a discount, throughout the hurricane season, offering them at $29.99, compared to the regular $49.99 price, according to Weiss.

"One of the single most important recommendations is that people have one of these NOAA Weather Radios," Weiss said. "They are important tools in making Georgians aware of the hazards. They save lives."