Commentary: Get your family, neighbors prepared for disaster

By Erica Borneman

Like most of you, we at Vermont Emergency Management have been watching events unfold in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. As we watch, most of us are no doubt reminded of our own historic disaster: Tropical Storm Irene.

We’ve seen many stories from Houston about individuals and families who were rescued from their flooded homes or were stranded in place for several days. Those who were stranded surely ran low on or eventually ran out of essentials like food and water while awaiting rescue. They weren’t being ignored. The scale of the disaster simply made it difficult to get to everyone quickly.

The same circumstances were present during Irene, and could one day again happen here in Vermont. Vermont has thousands of committed and talented emergency responders who dedicate their lives to protecting the lives of others. But during a disaster, their numbers can be spread thin and they must respond to the most life-threatening situations first. That can mean if you are not in imminent peril, they may not be able to make it to you immediately.

That’s why emergency planning for your family is so important: It can keep you safe while you await help. You need a plan for your family before, during and after a disaster.

Have you ever discovered a bees’ nest on your house or somewhere near your yard? You probably made a point to keep the kids away from it, worked around it when mowing or sprayed it – whatever it took to avoid getting stung. You may not have realized it, but you developed a small-scale disaster plan. You took steps to mitigate the risk and improved your odds against being swarmed or stung.

That’s what preparedness is about: developing a plan to mitigate the effects of a disaster or crisis, no matter how big or small.

You may not be able to avoid disaster, but if you know how to evacuate your home in the event of a flood, or if you have food and water on hand to sustain your family should you become home-bound for an extended period, you improve your odds against suffering serious harm. An emergency plan is scalable and can be as large or as simple as you choose to make it.

September is National Preparedness Month, which reminds us to remind you that you can make a difference in protecting yourself and your family.

  1. Contact your town office and ask where your town shelter is located.
  2. Determine the best route to the shelter from your home, taking you over high ground in case flooding overwhelms lower-lying roads.
  3. Establish an out-of-state relative who would be a central contact for your family should you become separated during a disaster.
  4. Make sure your children know about your plans and involve them in developing your preparedness kit.
  5. Have essential items on-hand in the event you are homebound and help elderly neighbors, or anyone who may need assistance, develop a preparedness kit. Your preparedness kit should include:
  • Water
  • Canned food and manual can opener
  • Batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Battery powered radio
  • Over the counter and prescription medications.

Responders do all they can to help everyone in a crisis, but it may take time to rescue you. So help them by helping yourself – prepare now, so you don’t get stung later.

Erica Borneman is director of Vermont Emergency Management


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