Disaster planning is important for responders as well as individuals

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Thinking about unknown disasters isn't much fun. Neither is being a disaster victim without preparation. Gov. Bob Holden has proclaimed September as National Preparedness Month in Missouri. The special designation coincides with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

This week, local emergency management professionals will conduct a disaster drill aimed at making sure area agencies -- fire departments, ambulance personnel, medical facilities, police and others are ready to respond quickly and in an orderly fashion should the need arise. These annual drills offer responders and medical personnel the opportunity to review procedures and to gain valuable practice in working together and in keeping as much order as possible in crisis situations.

These mock disasters offer valuable experience in dealing with conditions that simulate field disaster conditions as closely as possible. A mock event will strike the Milo area, and crews will work hard to mitigate all of the dangers, as if it were a real disaster.

Of course, such drills can never recreate the harsh realities associated with disasters, but they're valuable training. It's especially important to practice coordinated efforts involving several public safety entities.

The reality is that a disaster could strike anywhere, at any time. Hazardous materials could spill from a railroad accident. A tornado could strike. Less likely, but still looming in the realm of possibility is an industrial accident, or even an earthquake.

As residents of Florida and other Gulf Coast states have learned recently, the toll of a hurricane can be overwhelming even with days of advance notice and preparation. In our part of the country, violent storms, fires, flash flooding and earthquakes are all disasters that can and do occur throughout the year.

Closer to home, residents of Stockton learned a similar lesson when a May 2003 tornado tore through the middle of town, leveling most of the Square and wreaking a wide path of havoc through residential neighborhoods and commercial centers of the town.

Officials who routinely deal with emergency preparedness strongly suggest that individuals and families develop their own plans before disaster strikes. These plans are based on preparation, location and communication.

The preparation includes having a plan and gathering emergency supplies -- especially water. Don't forget about the needs of family pets, which also will need food and water in the aftermath of a disaster.

The location involves designating a safe place to gather when a disaster such as a tornado is imminent.

This is the place where family members can go and where emergency supplies will be stored.

The communication is making sure everyone in a household knows what the emergency plan is and where to go if disaster strikes.

Good planning can't prevent a disaster, but it can save lives and make the aftermath of a storm or fire easier to deal with.

Much more information about disaster planning is available from the American Red Cross. The Vernon County chapter can be reached by telephone at 667-5563.

If you don't have a disaster plan yet, take advantage of National Preparedness Month in Missouri to put one together.

-- Nevada Daily Mail