Last weekend, the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan caused widespread devastation underlining the fact that the potential for natural disaster is always present.
Here at home, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) is wrapping up their observance of severe weather preparedness week.
Throughout the Midwest, seasonal storms are well-known for leaving devastation in their path. Spring is especially unpredictable since temperatures routinely swing back and forth between balmy and frigid. When warm, moist air collides with cool, dry air, thunderstorms can bring lightning, tornadoes and flooding. Historically, Indiana has experienced some of its worst weather-related incidents during the spring months.
Thunderstorms can produce large hail, fl¬ash fl¬oods, heavy rain, lightning, strong winds and tornadoes that can reach speeds in excess of 300 mph, be more than a mile wide and cover approximately 50 miles during destruction.
Schools across the state simultaneously practiced tornado drills on Wednesday when the Emergency Alert System sounded.
According to IDHS executive director Joe Wainscott, every school, family and business should take time now to review or create a weather safety action plan since planning and preparedness help minimize weather related deaths, injuries and property damage.
"Being informed is an essential first step, but Hoosiers must also join the effort of being prepared," Joe Wainscott, IDHS Executive Director, said. "During a disaster, emergency services may be stressed and in high demand. Being able to take care of your own needs - for even a short time - will help responders assist those needing it most."
Since weather-related emergencies are often unexpected and come in many forms - downed trees, power outages and wet basements are some of the more common while over 17,000 homes and businesses were damaged in the fall of 2008 when a three-day torrential rainstorm caused the Little Calumet River to spill over its banks - the degree of severity ultimately determines the course of action that must be followed to ensure community safety.
Along with the experts at IDHS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Weather Service, American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as our individual cities and towns have all created emergency management/preparedness plans.
While each organization has a slightly different focus, the overall message remains the same: the best thing you can do is be prepared.
In addition to staying informed--you should know the difference between a watch (conditions are favorable for severe weather) and warning (severe weather is occurring or likely to occur soon) - the key steps for being prepared include making a plan, building a kit and getting involved.
Start by considering the special needs of children, seniors or people with disabilities, family members that don't speak English and pets. Plan where to meet after a disaster choosing two places, one near your home and one outside your neighborhood (gas tanks should always be at least half full). Then, designate an out-of-area contact person who would most likely not be affected by the same emergency. Provide this person with names and contact information and instruct family members to check in with this person if you are separated during an emergency.
Everyone is encouraged to put together a disaster preparedness kit. Here are 10 important things to include:
1. Food and water for 3 days (includes 3 gallons of water per person, per day)
2. Battery operated all hazards radio
4. Extra batteries for radio and flashlight
5. First aid kit
6. Extra clothing, sturdy shoes, rain gear, blankets and personal hygiene items
7. List of emergency phone numbers
8. Important documents (copies of photo ID, social security card, insurance and banking information)
9. Cash (small bills/power outages can limit access to ATMs and the ability to use credit cards)
10. Special items (baby formula, insulin, life sustaining medication)
There are many different levels for getting involved and making our communities safer, stronger and better prepared to respond in an emergency situation. You can start with first aid and emergency response training. From there you could volunteer and support your local first responders.
In the event of a major disaster, emergency response services may not be able to respond to everyone's needs immediately. You could be on your own for at least the first 72 hours.
To learn more about preparing for severe weather, begin your search at www.GetPrepared.in.gov.