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Disaster preparation is imperative

The tornadoes that wreaked havoc in midwestern and southern states should be yet another reminder for everyone to be prepared for the unexpected. It is one thing to be able to make some last-minute preparations when a slow-moving weather event (hurricane, blizzard) is taking aim at Northwest Connecticut. It is something completely different when it is a sudden strike like the recent tornadoes.You must have a plan and supplies for the immediate aftermath of a disaster. You need to be prepared to be on your own for approximately 72 hours. As we in local government emergency response roles want to start helping immediately, you have to remember that we will most likely be affected by the disaster, as well: our homes may be damaged or destroyed and our families will be suffering, too. It is very difficult to perform professional duties when personal responsibilities are overwhelming. Nonetheless, at times, the professional responders will have to assume their emergency duties.Another reason for the 72-hour self-care is that it simply takes time to mobilize resources. Again, the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are not organizations with men and women on “alert” status — those personnel have to be legally requested through the governor and the president. Even then, once activated, it will take time for the personnel to get organized (again, remembering that some of them may also be impacted directly by the same event). Once organized, access to the disaster may be limited by damage and debris.So, how do you plan for those first 72 hours? The best information available is on www.ready.gov. Consider what disasters you would have to confront. This area is more susceptible to natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and extreme cold than it is to technological or terrorist disasters, but the basic preparations for each event are similar. Once you prepare and familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of responding, you and your family will be that much safer.After a disaster, where will your family meet? You should have “rally points” — one in your neighborhood and another somewhat regionally in order to gather when your neighborhood is not safe. Everyone should be familiar with those locations. Contact information should also be determined. Many cell phones now have emergency contact functions (sometimes listed as ICE — In Case of Emergency). Documents for a family plan can be downloaded from the site mentioned above.A list of supplies can also be reviewed on the site. Those supplies include water, nonperishable food, flashlights and batteries, personal medical supplies and some simple first aid items. The supplies should be marked with dates to avoid spoilage and stored appropriately. In addition to a primary kit at home, it is also a good idea to have small kits located in your cars. Every family member should be familiar with the kits’ contents and locations. The kits should be inventoried twice yearly (as with smoke detector batteries, the period around the change from Standard to Daylight Saving Time is an easy reminder). The contents of the kits may also need to change as family circumstances change — children age, grandparents move in, etc.Once you get things set with your family, you may be interested in helping others in our community. Coursework to become a member of a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) are offered through the local college. According to the CERT website, Connecticut has 60 CERT teams located throughout the state. The closest area teams are in Torrington and Goshen. CERT members supplement official emergency responders and assist with a variety of response and recovery functions.The October nor’easter provided better insight as to the needs of the town to prepare for a disaster. I will work with the Board of Selectmen and other officials in order to adequately prepare for a disaster that we all hope will never happen. Those first 72 hours, though, will have to fall on you and your preparedness. Again, please visit www.ready.gov and begin your preparations now.Dale Martin is the town manager of Winchester.

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