The images of death and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are difficult to describe with mere words alone. The pictures are incomprehensible. The response will be the largest disaster relief effort ever undertaken by our country. Many fire, rescue and EMS personnel will be part of this massive response. Before deployment, make sure all affairs are in order. Two primary considerations should be made - home preparedness and deployment readiness.
Make sure, in your absence, your family is prepared should a local emergency or disaster occur. We are in the midst of the peak of hurricane season, and as awful as this may sound, we certainly could be impacted again by more storms. Assure that you have a family emergency plan as well as a communications plan, and a well stocked disaster supply kit. Start by reviewing your emergency plan with family members.
Everyone in the family should know what to do if severe weather threatens. Safe areas should be identified for protection of flying debris from wind events like tornadoes and inland tracking hurricanes. Areas prone to flooding should be abandon if water begins to rise and/or if evacuation orders are issued. And on that note, have a relocation plan should evacuation become necessary. Make arrangements with friends or relatives outside the affected area for safe housing. If that is not possible, make plans for relocation to a shelter or hotel.
Explain the procedures for safely controlling the utilities and when such actions should be taken. Review with family members where and how to turn off utilities like water, electricity and gas. Verify emergency numbers are posted near the phone and make sure that younger family members know how and when to call 911. Check the operation of your NOAA Weather Alert Radio and review the appropriate procedures to be taken when a weather alert is received.
Assess your communication plan. Everyone should be familiar with a location outside your neighborhood where they can meet in the event that they can't return home. This could be at the home of a friend or relative. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number. Then confirm a contact point of out state. After a disaster it is often much easier to make out going long distance phone calls than it is to receive incoming calls. That way, family members (as well as other remote family and friends checking on your family's well being) can call one point of contact for information.
Following a disaster, it may take three (3) days or more before help arrives. Check your emergency disaster supply kit for the necessary provisions. You should have at least three days (more if possible) of water and non-perishable foods. Additional items include flashlights and extra batteries, a first aid kit and medicines, a battery powered radio or TV, some small hand tools and personal hygiene supplies, extra clothing and bedding, and any special items (like baby food, prescriptions, etc.) that may be necessary.
The American Red Cross, in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, has developed several publications to assist you in family emergency preparedness. Should you need assistance in developing or modifying your emergency plan, visit their website at www.redcross.org and click on the "Get Prepared' link. You can also contact your local American Red Cross chapter or Emergency Management office.
If you are deploying to an affected area, make sure that all departmental documentation is reviewed prior to departure. This may include leave slips, insurance forms, and mutual aid reimbursement procedures. Assure that any necessary medical issues have been resolved, including receiving all appropriate inoculations. Most departments have procedures already in place for this. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has information available on their website at www.cdc.gov.
Do not expect to find the comforts of home during the response. It is best to arrive as self-sufficient as possible. Develop a pre-deployment checklist to assure that you have packed everything that you may need during your stay. Remember, if you forget to pack it, you will likely not be able to simply find or buy it once you get where you are going. Some items to pack include (but certainly are not limited to): cash, communications equipment and chargers (cell phone, two-way radios), plenty of weather and task appropriate clothes and footwear, personal hygiene items (including a small first aid kit), sunscreen, bug spray, medications, sleeping materials, flashlights and extra batteries, a multi-tool, and perhaps food and water (depending on deployment).
Be prepared for horrific scenes. Some personnel may not be mentally or physically prepared for such an event. Critical stress management should be in place for anyone involved in the response. Deployments should be limited to two to four weeks. It is easy to become quickly overwhelmed and all personnel should be closely monitored for stress disorders. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Whether or not you deploy to an affected area or support the overall mission from home, emergency preparedness is essential to the health and safety of all responders and their families. Please take the time now to assure that preparedness plans are in place at home and deployment readiness is in place should you be sent to help others in need.