Disaster preparedness is necessary for everyone

  • Published
  • By Capt. Paul C. Smedegaard
  • 4th Combat Camera Squadron
Acts of terrorism and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Southern California wildfires have been widely publicized by the media. In response to these disasters, governmental and private organizations have developed disaster preparedness strategies and tactics to help individuals and families prepare for the unexpected. 

For example, the Department of Homeland Security Web site, www. ready.gov, encourages and instructs Americans to prepare for emergencies. Additionally, the American Red Cross, www.redcross.org, provides additional disaster preparedness information and actions individuals and families should take during a disaster. 

Agencies such as DHS and the Red Cross have provided us the tools necessary to help us prepare for and survive emergencies. Therefore, it is our individual responsibility to ensure that all of us use these tools in order to properly prepare for disasters. 

Some people claim that disaster preparedness is not necessary because they live in a low-risk area. For example, some of our traditional reservists from Arizona believe that they are not at risk of earthquakes. 

Although our Arizona-based reservists are less likely to experience earthquakes than people living in California, earthquakes still pose a risk. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 14 earthquakes of magnitudes ranging from 4.0 - 5.9 originated within the borders of Arizona during the past 100 years. Although the magnitude of these earthquakes did not cause significant property damage, the risk of earthquakes and other disasters still exist.

According to the Red Cross, the first step in preparing for a disaster is to contact your state and local emergency management divisions in order to identify the local-area hazards that threaten you and your family. 

Many individuals claim that they have thought in great detail about disaster preparedness and have developed an informal disaster preparedness plan. Additionally, single people without children often comment that having a formal plan, for only one person, is unnecessary. 

According to the Red Cross, the second step in preparing for a disaster is to develop a formal disaster preparedness plan. 

A formal disaster preparedness plan can help ensure that all family members have a methodical approach for evacuating and surviving an emergency. The plan should contain critical information such as how to contact family members during an emergency, where to meet, a listing of out-of-town contacts, escape routes and how to care for your pets. 

People often mistakenly assume that they can take their pets with them to an emergency shelter. However, for health reasons, pets are not allowed into emergency shelters. 

Although single people may not have to include family contact information in the disaster preparedness plan, most of the other elements of a formal disaster preparedness plan recommended by the Red Cross are applicable. 

Many people believe storing critical personal and financial documents in a safe or safety deposit box will allow enable them to recover quickly from a disaster. 

Maintaining critical paperwork in a safe or safety deposit box may help to safeguard your critical information during and after an emergency; however, you may not be able to gain timely access to your paperwork. 

According to the Red Cross, the third step in preparing for a disaster is to assemble a disaster supplies kit. The kit should contain items that will enable you and your family to cope and recover from an emergency. Items that should be included in a kit include, but are not limited to, a three-day supply of water and food, medications, clothing, personal hygiene items and copies of important family documents such as insurance policies and bank account information. 

Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas H. Coffin, a combat camera photographer from the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, credits his disaster supplies kit for helping him to safely escape the October wildfires. 

Pilots from helicopters flying above Coffin's home in Crestline instructed Coffin and surrounding neighbors to evacuate their homes. Coffin promptly loaded his disaster supplies kit as well other personal items into his sports utility vehicle and evacuated his home. 

"I took the deed and my mortgage paperwork, checkbook and irreplaceable photographs," said Coffin. "You tend to take things that are valuable and important to you." 

Fortunately for Coffin, the October wildfires did not damage his home; however, it is important that we all follow his real-life example and properly prepare and plan for potential emergencies and disasters. 

When the next disaster strikes, make sure you are properly prepared to survive and recover. Identify your local area risks, develop a formal disaster preparedness plan, assemble a disaster supplies kit and periodically review and update your plan and kit. It is your responsibility to be prepared!