On Nov. 6, Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services convened a community-wide meeting to prepare our county in the event of a disaster. Since it can't be predicted when disaster will strike or what form a disaster will take, the only thing to do is prepare and train.
Planning is the key, both on a county level and a personal level. People need to understand that during a true emergency, 911, the Sheriff's Department, fire departments, and other emergency personnel will be overwhelmed with calls. These agencies may not be able to get to everyone in a timely manner. If a disaster affects 50, 100 or 1,000 people who are all calling 911, people need to be able to fend for themselves until help can arrive. During the recent hurricanes that affected the east coast, some people waited days to be rescued. Although a hurricane is unlikely in our region, a winter storm that disrupts power, heat and the ability to get to food and water is not outside the realm of possibilities. Winter storms and other countywide emergencies could be deadly for frail seniors and others living in the community without a plan in place.
Even though the County Emergency Services Department, the Sheriff's Department, and many other county and community partners work together to prepare our county for disaster, this does not replace the need for every citizen to have a personal plan. While a weather-related disaster is the most likely type of disaster in Western New York, other disasters like a pandemic illness or a hazardous spill from a train derailment or a plane crash could happen. No matter what form a disaster takes, there are simple steps everyone can take to ensure we, our friends, loved ones and neighbors survive.
NY State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services personnel attended the meeting at Chautauqua Institution to give their advice about our county disaster plans. In addition, they brought the new "Emergency Information Handbooks" that have good information about planning for an emergency. The handbooks are free. To get one, call the NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582, 661-7582, or 363-4582 or pick one up at any OFA office.
These are the key points from the handbook.
1) Make a plan: If disaster strikes there may not be much time to act. Planning ahead and sharing the plan with family, friends and neighbors can make all the difference. Know what to do if the power/heat goes out, the computer and phones are down, and meal or medical services are unable to get through for several days. Those who have home care service should know the emergency procedures and numbers of the provider.
2) Build a kit with at least three days of critical supplies. In a countywide disaster, it may take emergency personnel several days to get to everyone in need. Having essential supplies will free emergency personnel to treat the frail or critically injured neighbors who cannot wait for assistance. Maintain a plan or kit and review it every six months to a year. Make sure to rotate all the perishable supplies in the kit, update emergency contact information, and have fresh batteries for medically necessary devices or transportation equipment. The following is a list of recommended supplies for a disaster kit: three-day supply of nonperishable food, three-day supply of water (1 gallon per person, per day); manual can opener; flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; cellphone with extra battery and charger; sanitation items; change of clothes and weather suitable clothing; copies of ID, credit cards and cash; medical and Medicare insurance cards; list of medications and dosage; allergy information; extra eyeglasses and contact supplies; extra hearing aid and wheelchair batteries; plan for care of pets. People with special needs should also have a list of medical equipment, keep items such as wheelchairs and walkers in easy-to-find locations, and provide the power company with a list of any power dependent life support equipment.
3) Stay Informed: Sign up for NY Alert at www.nyalert.gov. NY Alert will call, send a text or email message when bad weather is approaching or a disaster is imminent. It is very easy to sign up for this program, and a person can decide which way to be notified and how often. Adult children can even sign up to get alerts about parents who may live in a different location. Since often power is the first thing to go, purchasing a battery or crank-powered radio can make it possible to get critical information from the emergency alert systems. People who want to assist first responders during a disaster can become a trained Citizen Corps volunteers. There are many of these groups already established in our county that are looking for members. Learning CPR or First Aid available from our local Red Cross Chapter is another way to help.
Just remember a disaster is not predictable. Yet every survivor's story seems to include the elements of "knowing what to do," "practicing" or "learning basic first aid." That can make all the difference for you, a loved one or the random person you may be with when an emergency or disaster strikes. Don't be unprepared.
For more information on emergency preparedness, Citizen Corp and the Red Cross visit these websites www.ready.gov/citizen-corps, www.chautauquaarc.org, www.redcross.org, or call NY Connects at 753-4582, 661-7582 or 363-4582.