Emergency management expert says weather most likely threat

Published 1:04 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Guarding against terrorism isn't much different than preparing for the most likely emergency in Cass County -- severe weather such as a tornado or blizzard.
As county Emergency Management Coordinator Bernie Williamson stresses, all disasters are local, no matter how big or widespread. The impact is always going to be felt hardest at your house, the response begins at home and recovery requires your energy and resources.
Her office's four-fold role includes mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. "Mitigation is our efforts to prevent or minimize the impact of an event … recovery is our efforts to get us back to normal as quickly as possible," Williamson said.
Personal emergency management starts with prevention planning.
In Michigan and in Cass County, officials such as Williamson adhere to an "all-hazards approach" to disaster management.
Regardless of the hazard, basic response is the same. Safety and shelter. First-aid. Food and water. Emergency supplies. Clothing. Information and communication.
That point was driven home with a scenario drill at Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare System.
Williamson said a home assessment should determine where gas, water and electric shut-offs are located and do you know how to operate them? -- such as relighting a gas pilot light.
Are there any unsafe chemicals or poisons stored on your property that could be released into your environment?
Besides a first-aid kit with aspirin and non-prescription drugs, she said to consider copies of prescriptions. The Red Cross can refill medications, but only if it knows what is needed. If you wear eyeglasses, be sure to pack a back-up pair.
A three-day canned food supply is recommended. Remember to have a can opener. Replace provisions every six months. Include "comfort foods. I'm happy if I just have my cup of coffee," Williamson said.
Bottled water should be purchased vacuum-packed. "Water you put in bottles does have bacteria and will go bad," she said. As a rule of thumb, provide a gallon per person per day -- two quarts to drink, two quarts to cook with leaves none for cleaning or flushing.
Emergency supplies are probably already stocked in homes, but not together in a coherent location -- an ABC fire extinguisher, a shut-off wrench for water valves, signal flares and duct tape.
Disposables "could be your best friends," she said. "Paper plates, cups and utensils are convenience. Toilet paper and towelettes. Soap. Hygiene products. Garbage bags. Disinfectants and bleach. And definitely, a plastic bucket with a tight lid. Unfortunately, toilets may not be working if water supplies are cut. If you don't have buckets of water to pour into stools, you're going to need someplace to take care of business."
Clothing and bedding should also be evaluated for a three-day period.
Williamson recalled her own experience stranded in a snowstorm a couple of months ago on M-60 "20 miles from anywhere at 11:30 at night. I could see nothing. It was a total whiteout. I did know, though, I had a sleeping bag, a pair (of boots) and a canister of coffee -- my comfort food -- some munchies, my radio and a full tank of gas. I pulled off the road for a good couple of hours before I could move with the comfort I was not going to freeze and was connected to the world with my cell phone. That kind of planning didn't take me long. I threw it in the car in the morning before I left, but I thought about it. We all should be thinking about it."
For communications, in addition to battery-operated radios, televisions and weather-alert radios, make sure of a plentiful supply of batteries to power such appliances.
Documents should also be reviewed. Insurance policies. Wills. Deeds. Passports. Immunization records. Consider "what you're going to start with if you have nothing," Williamson suggested. "Also, numbers -- phone, credit cards, bank accounts."
Supplies should be stored in sturdy, waterproof containers that can be carried easily. Everyone in the family should be versed in elements of the emergency plan and where the kit is stored.
Williamson is available by phone at 445-8768, by fax at 445-0605 or by e-mail at NORTHSTAR@beanstalk.net.