Prepared. Responsive. Committed.

I had the great opportunity to participate in yesterday’s Faithful Readiness Conference hosted by the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.  It was an incredibly interesting dialogue between leaders of faith and disaster response experts, and it was neat to see how each bring important things to the table in terms of serving our communities.  While much of the discussion applied to various organizations, there were two overarching themes as to how individuals can most effective in a disaster: in terms of preparedness, you must take care of yourself before you can focus on others; in terms of response, you must take action before a disaster strikes

Preparedness is key, and we can’t provide services to others if our own basic needs aren’t met.  In general, it is considered wise to have enough supplies to survive in your home for three days without access to food, water, electricity, health care, or phone lines.  FEMA suggests a bare minimum of the following:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both

  • Flashlight and extra batteries

  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)

  • Local maps

  • Cell phone with chargers

Those are the very basics.  You’ll also want to keep in mind things like medication, personal records, pet food, and sleeping bags.  For more information on how to create and maintain an Emergency Supply Kit, check out ready.gov. While creating your own kit, you might want to think about whether any of your neighbors or friends might need assistance in becoming prepared. Individuals needing additional assistance before, during and after include those who have disabilities; who live in institutionalized settings; who are elderly; who are children; who are from diverse cultures; who have limited English proficiency; or who are non-English speaking; or who are transportation disadvantaged.

If you want to be able to help your community on a large scale in a meaningful after a disaster, you’ll need to become trained and affiliated in advance.  We’ve all heard horror stories of well-intentioned people attempting to help after a disaster and only becoming a part of the problem.  The SUV- Spontaneous Unsolicited Volunteer- has long been a problem of emergency response managers.  When there’s mass chaos, you don’t want random people flooding the area with no idea of what to do.  What you want are trained volunteers who know the chain of command and will be able to follow orders as they come in.

If you would like to take an active role in emergency preparedness projects and have the ability to help others in the case of an event, you may want to look into your Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT training is typically around 20 hours over a couple of weeks and covers disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, disaster medical operations, light search and rescue operations, disaster psychology and team organization and a disaster simulation. It’s free training and you’re guaranteed to learn a ton of information to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. In addition, if the need arises, you will be in a much better position to help those around you. In Maryland, find your local CERT organization at here.

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