Even a little bit of emergency planning can be a big help in the event of a disaster, said Glenda Bobalik, CEO of the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee.
“Having planned ahead for what you’re going to do brings such a reduction of stress and increases your ability to cope with what’s happening,” she said.
“Over and over again, it’s proven that people who have taken the time – even if it’s only 30 minutes – to do some planning and think about things ahead of time, those are the people that recover more quickly.”
The Red Cross is one of several agencies and organizations involved in disaster preparedness that are highlighting the importance of emergency preparedness this month.
Bobalik said September was designated National Preparedness Month after the 9/11 attacks. This month marked the 12th anniversary of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; a fourth plane went down in Pennsylvania.
After the attacks, Bobalik said, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led the effort to establish September as National Preparedness Month.
Emergency preparedness has three steps, she said. First, find out what natural disasters are common in your community and what preparation is needed for those specific disasters. Second, make a plan that encompasses your family’s unique needs. Third, build a kit that will help meet those needs in the event of a disaster.
“The most common disaster that we respond to is a home fire,” Bobalik said. “Flooding is obviously an issue for our area and has been traditionally. We’ve had some pretty serious windstorms; we had tornadoes here a couple years ago. And as we go into the winter months, we always want people to be looking at ice storms, winter storms, and what they need to do to get through those.”
A plan, she said, should start with communication: In an emergency, how will you communicate with your family, where will you meet if communications are down, and how will you take care of your family’s needs?
A plan can vary a lot; a senior citizen who depends on medical assistance might have a very different plan from a family with young children. Bobalik said patients should work with their doctors to ensure that they can keep a 3-to-5 day supply of needed medication on hand so they aren’t left without it in an emergency; for young children, toys and snacks might be important.
While every emergency kit should include things like food, water, a flashlight and copies of important personal documents, other items vary based on specific needs. The Red Cross strongly recommends a battery-operated radio to stay informed.
Bobalik said it’s also important for businesses to develop a disaster plan, following the same three steps – and making sure to involve everyone so there’s buy-in. Everyone, she said, should also think about reaching beyond themselves – especially to help neighbors in an emergency.
“We just encourage people to get out there and get to know [your neighbors], because if something major happens that is a large disaster, we’re going to need each other,” she said. “I think the main thing is we just need to take the time [to plan].”