Beth Dunmire, operations officer for Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services, explains some of the food items residents are recommended to keep in their emergency preparedness kits. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — Eight years after it brought devastation to the central gulf coast, Clayton County interim fire Chief Dwayne Jackson said Hurricane Katrina remains a reminder to the nation about the need for emergency preparedness.
The storm brought a flash in inland flooding that leveled homes along the Gulf of Mexico and brought down the levies that kept Lake Pontchartrain out of New Orleans. Lives were turned upside down and thousands were left without homes.
“They weren’t prepared,” Jackson said.
But the hurricane is just one example. While it has been a little more than five years since a tornado hit Clayton County, Georgians have faced their fair share of severe, and downright deadly, weather in recent years. There’s been floods and, yes, tornadoes in surrounding communities. No community, including Clayton County, was spared when a snow storm crippled metro Atlanta and left roads unsafe to drive on in January 2011.
Therefore, Jackson said, residents need to be prepared for the worst on the spur of a moment.
“You should have all of your goods set aside, like your water and such, because an emergency can happen at any time and you never know when that time is going to come,” said Jackson.
This week brought the arrival of National Preparedness Week, which is dedicated to educating people about the importance of being ready in the event of severe and unpredictable weather. The annual observance was established in the aftermath of 9/11 to make sure Americans were prepared for anything that might be thrown their way.
The theme for this year is “You Can Be the Hero.”
Georgians should take this month as an opportunity to prepare as if severe weather could strike at any moment, said Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Charley English in a statement.
“To borrow a line from our latest public safety announcements, ‘Today is the day before,’” English said. “Disasters can strike quickly, often with no warning. That means we need to treat today as if it is the day before a disaster, and we need to take steps to prepare ourselves now. That’s a tough message, but it’s critical. It helps to have an occasion, a point on the calendar that reminds us to take action.
“That’s the idea behind National Preparedness Month and the activities that Ready Georgia and emergency management agencies across the state are organizing in September,” English continued.
Clayton County commissioners joined in the call for residents to be safe Tuesday night when they issued a proclamation to recognize National Preparedness Month.
“Emergency preparedness is the responsibility of every citizen,” the proclamation states. “A few simple steps such as creating a disaster supply kit, making a family disaster plan and staying informed all contribute to a citizen’s overall preparedness and personal responsibility.”
A major way families are urged to prepare for severe weather is to put together a “ready kit.” The kits are designed to have all of the materials families need to survive severe weather and to begin rebuilding their lives afterwards.
It’s generally recommended the kits have in them a long list of items, including three-day supplies of water and non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a radio, a flashlight, a whistle, prescription medicine, baby and pet supplies if the family has infants or pets, paper, pencils and important documents.
The food and water supply can be especially crucial when people are stranded for days after a disaster, said Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services operations Officer Beth Dunmire. She said residents should have one gallon of water per family member for each day stored away. For a family of four, that can amount to 12 gallons of water for a three-day wait.
“We say have three days worth of supplies because that’s the time frame during which first responders may not be able to get to you after a disaster happens,” said Dunmire. “If you self-sustain, that gives everybody, including yourself, time to access the situation.
“That way, you’ll know what you need to ask for when the first responders can get to you and ask what you need,” she continued.
Dunmire recommended families keep battery powered phone charges in their kits. She said people can communicate with public safety through text message or smartphone apps, including Facebook and Twitter, if they can keep their phone operating for days.
“When we had the snow storm a couple of years ago, people were able to go on our Twitter and Facebook pages from their phone and post information on what it looked like out there,” Dunmire said.
She said residents can also set their weather radios to broadcast only alerts for Clayton County by keying in a specific code for the county. The county’s code is 013063, she said.
Residents can log on to either www.readyclayton.com, or ready.ga.gov to find full lists of items needed for a “ready kit.” They can also sign up on readyclayton.com to receive weather alerts, said Dunmire.
One story state officials are sharing to highlight the importance of such kits is that of Griffin resident Nanette Chastine. When an EF-3 tornado struck her community April 27, 2011, she and her daughter and their pets took refuge in a spare bathroom. They had some blankets and a flashlight to protect them. Nothing else.
As the tornado roared outside, tossing around debris and tearing apart homes, Chastine and her family could only wait to see what would happen. There was no way of knowing how their home would stand up to the onslaught.
Would it hold together?
Would they be safe?
What if it didn’t?
Would they be OK?
Then the calm after the storm came. It was a fortunate near-miss because Chastine’s home was still standing with only slight damage after the tornado, but it proved to be a lesson for her.
As a result, however, she said in a statement that she began taking GEMA’s “ready kit” recommendations seriously after the storm.
“I realized then we were not close to being ready for the catastrophe,” Chastine said. “We were extremely lucky the night the tornado hit. However, luck isn’t always on your side. You never know if you have five days, five hours or only five minutes of warning before an impending disaster, so being prepared could save your life.”