Disasters Happen: Make a Plan

Last week in our regular formal meeting we declared Johnson County to be an official part of National Preparedness Month.  We commented at the time about how timely and appropriate it seemed as we were looking at the real possibility of widespread flooding returning to our area.  Fortunately, that was mostly averted, but as Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, the importance of these measures is placed in stark relief.

For the past and the next few months, I have been engaged in formal training to achieve certification through FEMA as a “Public Information Officer,” or PIO.  This is the person who conducts the press conferences you watch during disasters like we saw recently in Marshalltown, or are about to see unfold in the Carolinas. The PIO is responsible for gathering, verifying, and disseminating true and accurate information to and from official Emergency Management Incident Command.

This training involves several classes, both online and in person, in something called the “Incident Command System” or ICS (government adores its acronyms).  I must complete 6 different levels of accreditation before taking the week-long PIO training in December. I have completed 4 and will complete the other 2 by the middle of October.  Presuming all goes well, I will be 1 of 4 certified PIOs in the County, and the only elected official who has been formally trained (the Sheriff goes through a different type of training).

It is easy to see why such a position is vital to emergency response and recovery, and why proper training is paramount.  Doing this job wrong can put lives in danger.  Doing it right can save those lives.

I’m studying all of this in order to be of service, obviously.  But I’m pursuing this specific track because while I am usually very good in high-stress situations and emergencies – decades in food service will do that to you – I am not exactly cut out to be the person who is actually rescuing you from a flood or administering your CPR.  Besides, we have consummate professionals on staff for that.  I am pretty good at communicating, though, so this seemed like a way I could help.

You can help, too, and what you can do is far less time-consuming or academically challenging.  You also don’t have to do it in front of a dozen press cameras.  It is, simply, prepare.

The County has a display in the lobby of the Administration building that shows one example of a way to prepare, and that’s to make and maintain an emergency preparedness kit for your home and family.  These vary widely according to individual needs, but there are lots of suggestions and guidelines at Ready.gov.  It also discusses how to make emergency plans with your family.  For example, have you and your family discussed what you would do when a sudden disaster strikes, such as a tornado, while all of you are in different places?

Ask yourself and your family:

That last one was always the one that scared me.  Events like the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and countless school shootings occurred while my kids were school-age.  The 2006 tornado directly impacted my family while we are all in disparate locations.  Communicating, and reuniting us, took fitful hours.  These days we rely heavily on things like cell phones, social networks and reliable transportation, but what do you do when all of those are clogged with traffic?

The answer is plan ahead. 

Any of us can become overwhelmed with fear, either in the moment or just thinking of the potential outcomes.  Planning ahead, discussing plans with your family, being as ready as possible can alleviate those fears, as well as saving time, money, and lives.

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A display of one type of home emergency/disaster preparedness kit