By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun
Over the years, the Kern River Valley has seen its fair share of devastating disasters, such as raging wildland fires, flooding from heavy rainfall, and prolonged road closures from snow and landslides. Fortunately, the community has been able to band together in order to survive and outside relief has often been able to reach those who need it. However, would you know what to do if a disaster, like a massive earthquake, affected the Kern River Valley? Would you have enough food and clean water to survive until help arrived?
Disasters can happen at any time, so it is imperative that you prepare yourself and your loved ones for if and when it happens. Here are a few tips that may help you prepare when disaster strikes:\
Be aware of possible disasters that may affect your area: Part of preparation is knowing what kind of disasters you might face and knowing how to react in each situation. The Kern River Valley has already seen the effects of wildland fires, earthquakes, significant flooding and landslides from severe weather. Do not assume because our community is in a rural and isolated area that a terrorist attack or pandemic flu won’t have an impact.
Know your area’s evacuation routes and possible shelter locations: The time to figure out how to evacuate your area is not when the fire is at your front door or when an earthquake has destroyed most of the major roads out of town. Evacuations are fairly common, so knowing how to get out ahead of time would be ideal. You should know all the escape routes from your own home and the places you frequent, including the more obscure or lesser known ones. If you have children, have them help you draw a map and post it near their door and practice getting out of the house in case of an emergency. You should also plan where your family will regroup if you are in different areas of the house or in separate locations entirely. Pick one location right outside your home, and one outside the neighborhood, in case you must leave the area. Decide ahead of time where you would go in case of an evacuation, whether it’s a friend’s or relative’s house or a shelter. Have a plan for reconnecting with children who may be at school, daycare or after-school activities. Talk to schools to see how they will communicate with families in an emergency, if they have a shelter-in-place plan and where they will go if they are forced to evacuate. Figure out how you will communicate with loved ones: If cellular networks and Internet services are down, as they were during the Erskine Fire, how would you communicate with those who matter? The Red Cross recommends using an out-of-area emergency contact to have family members check in with. Everyone should also have a list of emergency contacts and local emergency numbers that is easily accessible.
Sign up for local emergency alerts and know how officials will communicate with you during a disaster: If you have a newer cellular device, you probably have already experienced a Wireless Emergency Alert on your phone in a text format. But there are also other apps and local services that you can sign up for, such as ReadyKern through the Kern County Fire Department (http://www.kerncountyfire.org/education/ready-kern.html) or Nixle, which is through the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (http://www.kernsheriff.org/nixle.aspx), which are local to Kern County, or apps by the National Weather Services that can send you notifications if severe weather is headed your way. Don’t forget to tune into the local radio stations or check community social media pages and groups as well, but don’t rely on them exclusively, as you may not have access to Internet or cell signal in an emergency.
Have an emergency preparedness kit ready and know how to use all the items in it: The key is to have a kit assembled and ready to use in case of a disaster, not scattered all over your house. Make sure everything is in working order and that no one sneaks snacks from your finished kit. There are pre-packed kits available for purchase from various organizations, but remember, if you don’t know how to use what you have, it could be completely useless. According to the Red Cross website, at minimum, you should have the basic supplies as follows: Water (one gallon per person, per day), food (non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items), flashlight(s), battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio or the app on your phone, if possible), extra batteries for everything that requires them, first aid kit, a week’s worth of medications and other medical items if needed, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items, copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc.), cell phone with chargers, family and emergency contact information, extra cash, a whistle to signal for help, extra blankets and printed maps of the area. Don’t forget to consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit, such as baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers, etc.), pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowls, etc), extra sets of keys to the house and cars and a manual can opener. For a more detailed list of suggested supplies, visit www.ready.gov/build-a-kit or www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/be-red-cross-ready/get-a-kit. Whether you buy a prepacked kit or put one together, make sure it has all the items you may need and check the kit regularly for expiration dates and replace any used or out-of-date items.
Be aware of who may need special preparations or extra help during an emergency: People with disabilities, the elderly and small children will all need special considerations when planning for an emergency. If you or a family member need medication or special equipment, make sure you have a plan to bring it with you. Talk to your neighbors about how you can help one another in a disaster, exchange important phone numbers of who to contact in case of an emergency and check on each other in times of need.
Don’t forget to prepare for your pets: The goal of emergency preparedness is to keep the whole family safe, and that includes our pets as well. If you need to evacuate, you should never leave your pet behind. Try to evacuate to a friend or family member’s house, as pets may not be allowed inside public shelters. Keep a pet emergency kit on hand with food and other important items. Include your pets in evacuation drills so that they become used to entering and traveling in their carriers calmly. Make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease. The ASPCA recommends microchipping pets so they can be identified and returned to you even without tags or you may want to invest in a GPS tracker so you can find them yourself. The ASPCA app also helps you keep track of animal records required to board pets at an emergency shelter and has other helpful tips for a variety of situations.
Learn emergency skills for yourself and those around you: Little things like knowing how to perform basic first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher or how to shut off utilities in your house in case of a disaster that may damage gas, water or electrical lines can make a huge difference. Get trained in CPR or the even simpler hands-only CPR, which could help save someone’s life one day. Find out how you can help your community during a disaster: Learn how you can be a community leader during a disaster or teach others how to be prepared. You could also volunteer with local emergency response agencies or nonprofits to better grasp the needs of your community.
If and when a disaster hits, the key is to remain calm and be patient, do your best to follow directions given by local emergency officials, tune into a local radio or television for news for instructions, check for injuries on yourself and those around you, give first aid if needed, confine or secure your pets if you aren’t evacuating, shut off any damaged utilities, and call your emergency contacts and then check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
For more information about emergency preparedness, visit ready.gov or redcross.org.
*** The local chapter of Salvation Army is looking for volunteers for when local disasters arise. Volunteer responsibilities include: reporting to and assisting Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Coordinator, cooking meals for disaster victims in local shelter and/or using Salvation Army canteen, serving meals, cleanup, etc. We welcome anyone with a heart to serve those who are hurting! For more information, please contact your local Salvation Army Representative at: 760-379-0112.