By Johnny Jackson
The stream of abnormal weather events began in January with the ice storm that wreaked havoc throughout the region. Georgia's 2011 calendar has been studded ever since with severe weather, from the devastation of tornadoes to threat of drought.
"We kind of started the year with a dose of reality, so-to-speak," said Clayton County Fire Assistant Chief Landry Merkison. "Our emergency operations were open for 96 consecutive hours [during January's winter storms]. We started off the year that way, and that really put the focus on preparedness."
Merkison and other area emergency management officials are spreading the word in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency's (GEMA) Ready Georgia campaign, to better prepare residents for possible natural and man-made disasters this summer. The campaign was launched in January 2008 to educate and motivate residents to prepare for emergencies.
The assistant chief referenced the severe weather that ravaged the Southern Crescent in late April and early May. He also noted predictions from weather experts, suggesting that the 2011 hurricane season could be more active than most.
"The East Coast is overdue for an impact, and I don't know how much longer we can dodge the bullet," Merkison said. "Preparedness, this year, is really at a higher level than, probably, it's ever been."
Henry County Emergency Management Director Don Ash affirmed that severe weather is the likelier cause of disaster in the area, alongside heat-related illnesses. "We're more affected by severe weather," Ash said. "Heat is a concern as well. We encourage our citizens to look at sites like Ready Georgia ... to be prepared, not just for severe weather, but for any disaster that may affect them."
Ash urges residents to have an emergency plan and an emergency kit in place at home to aid them in the event of an emergency or disaster.
About 64 percent of all Georgia households, now, are either, somewhat or fully, prepared with a kit of emergency supplies and a communications plan in place, according to a 2011 study by Ready Georgia.
The survey indicated that 60 percent of respondents know the emergency plan at their workplace, while 47 percent of households with children are familiar with the protocol for an emergency at their child's school.
"The destruction caused by the deadly storms in recent weeks is a reminder of the importance of emergency preparedness," said Charley English, director of GEMA/Homeland Security. "We hope that more residents will embrace the Ready Georgia message, and take action to prepare for a disaster."
Clayton and Henry emergency management officials emphasized the importance of keeping a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio handy in the home.
"It's easy to be informed during the day," said Chief Merkison, "but once the news goes off, and you are in for the evening, the radios are an invaluable tool to help you get prepared for weather."
Merkison said the Clayton County Fire Department is pushing to inform area residents about lightning safety this week.
"It's summer sports season," he said. "We really want to stress, when you start hearing that thunder, you need to take shelter. You don't have to see lightning to be struck by it."
GEMA offers tips on emergency preparedness at its Ready Georgia campaign web site, www.ready.ga.gov.
"We really stress that people not wait until the last minute," Merkison added. "When the storm is coming, and it's beating down on you, is not the time when you should be trying to prepare for it."