September 9, 2012

Too many Kansans ill-prepared for emergencies, officials say

Each September, emergency management agencies across the United States observe “Emergency Preparedness Month” to remind people of the need to be ready for disasters both natural and man-made.

Each September, emergency management agencies across the United States observe “Emergency Preparedness Month” to remind people of the need to be ready for disasters both natural and man-made.

For residents of Oaklawn and portions of south Wichita, April 14 transformed the need from theory to reality.

An EF3 tornado that was as much as a mile wide touched down just south of Wichita and tore through Oaklawn and a portion of the city, causing nearly $150 million in damage.

Remarkably, there were no deaths and few serious injuries.

“The fact that we had no deaths and a relatively small number of injuries associated with the tornado could be attributed to the level of preparedness, as well as paying attention to warnings,” Amanda Matthews, a Sedgwick County spokeswoman, said in an e-mail response to questions.

But state and local officials say more needs to be done. As part of the month-long observance, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management is sponsoring an “Emergency Preparedness Day” on Monday at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.

“The unpredictability of Kansas weather is a reminder of just how important it is to be prepared,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement. “This year, we have seen multiple tornadoes and severe storms, extreme temperatures and drought conditions resulting in several wildfires.

“Yet it was only last year we had flooding problems. With winter just a few months away, we have the possibility of many more challenges.”

Local American Red Cross officials say April 14 showed that people often aren’t as prepared as they need to be.

“I think the community as a whole does a pretty good job of knowing where their storm shelters are,” said Bryan Saindon, disaster manager for the Midway Kansas chapter of the American Red Cross.

He said in addition to their awareness of bathrooms, basements and other safe areas a lot of local residents have disaster kits, too.

“The problem is, they’re not complete,” Saindon said.

The kits may have a radio, water and flashlight – but do they have extra batteries, copies of a driver’s license or a birth certificate or other documents that prove you are who you say you are?

Too many do not, Saindon said.

“If your wallet is sitting on the night stand, the first thing you’re going to do is run down in the cellar,” he said.

If your house is damaged or destroyed, that wallet or purse may be gone with the wind. So, too, may be medications you or family members need to take regularly.

“We see people all the time, after a disaster, thankfully they’re OK, but they say, ‘I’ve got these heart medications I’m supposed to be taking on a regular basis,’ ” Saindon said.

Without proper identification, he said, it promises to be much tougher to quickly get needed medications replaced.

To avoid that potential headache, Saindon said, people should keep photocopies of basic identification items such as driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate in their disaster kit — along with a supply of any needed medications.

To keep the medications from expiring, he said, residents should replace them once a month. Mark a day on the calendar each month to do it, he said, and make it a habit.

Sharon Watson, director of public affairs for the state division of emergency management, said too many Kansans still don’t have a disaster kit or an emergency plan.

“Often, we hear that emergency kits are too expensive or they take too much time, but they don’t have to be either of these,” Watson said in an e-mail response to questions.

Many of the items needed are things people already have in their homes — bottled water, snack bars, canned goods/can opener, medicine, blankets, radio and batteries. They just need to be gathered up and placed in a storage tub or buckets and kept in a spot everyone knows where to find them, she said.

“The biggest challenge we must overcome is the idea that ‘a disaster won’t happen to me,’ ” she said. “As long as we tell ourselves that, we won’t take the necessary steps to prepare.”

Simply talking with family and friends about what you would do if a tornado is approaching your house — and choosing a gathering spot in the aftermath of any severe weather — will help folks sort out the best steps to take in threatening situations.

“The better prepared you are before the storm, the far easier your recovery is going to be,” Saindon said.

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