Story by Douglas Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs
From flash floods to forest fires, September as ‘National Preparedness Month’ strained the resources of many and tested the mettle of most.
According to Terry Lerma, Naval Hospital Bremerton’s emergency preparedness manager, the recent onslaught of natural disasters that impacted sizable portions of the country – including neighboring lands – should be a wakeup call that disasters can impact anyone, anytime, anywhere.
“Disasters rarely go according to plan. Emergency events in our state range from earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions to more common events such as flooding, windstorms, even some type of disease outbreak. We train for responding here as a military treatment facility, but I can’t stress enough that everyone needs to take the time and establish what to do if some type of disaster strikes when they away from NHB,” said Lerma.
Lerma advocates using a top ten list compiled by several emergency management agencies as a preparedness foundation any family can build upon in case any worse-case scenario happens.
“Being ready isn’t rocket science. It’s all based on common sense and admitting that yes, some type of disaster can happen and we can handle it by not being blindsided. Those of us who have lived in the Pacific Northwest for any amount of time know that seismologists all say that it’s not a matter of if, but when, the next big earthquake takes place. When it does, will we be ready? Now is the time to make sure we are,” Lerma said.
Have a communications plan. Communications is one of the first things to go during a disaster. Create a family communications plan by choosing a couple of relatives or friends, one near and one far, that can be your central communications hub during a disaster. Make sure each family member has the contact info for these people and will check in with them if they can’t get a hold of their immediate family during or after a disaster.
“One thing that almost always goes wrong in any disaster is communication. Just having a plan in place helps relieve a lot of stress,” said Lerma.
Plan for disasters that are most likely to occur in your area. While hurricane season is dominating the national news, it makes more sense to plan for disasters most likely to happen in the area you live, such as fires and earthquakes. Even a job-loss can be considered a disaster.
There are also plenty of links available for resources such as the Washington State Department of Health ‘Home Emergency Preparedness’ page: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/BePreparedBeSafe/GetReady/HomeEmergencyPreparedness or the Ready Navy ‘Family Emergency Plan’: https://www.ready.navy.mil/content/dam/ReadyNavy/pdfs/PlanPDFs/PLANS_Family_031315.pdf
Stock food and water. Every family should have at least a week’s worth of food and water stored for use during an emergency. This food and water will pull you through disasters ranging from job loss and snow storms which close down the roads to earthquakes that can level local grocery stores and cause random food shortages. Make sure the food is non-perishable (canned, packaged or boxed) and easy to prepare.
Get all of your documents in order. Make sure you have your legal and financial documents scanned into your computer and keep the originals stored in a secure, accessible place. After a disaster, you will need things like house insurance papers, birth certificate, banking information, and other paperwork that can be easily lost in a disaster without proper preplanning.
Have a go bag ready to go. Sometimes last minute evacuations happen so it pays to have an overnight bag with a change of clothes, toiletries, some food, and other important items ready to grab at a moment’s notice.
Be healthy. During a disaster, you want to be as healthy and fit as possible in order to respond to the crisis at hand. Start now to improve your fitness and health.
Make plans for those you care for. Babies, the elderly, pets, and the medically frail all require extra care during and after a disaster. Make sure that things such as extra diapers, pet food and medications are available and that there is a evacuate plan in place.
Find out what community resources are available. Your command, the local Red Cross or Department of Emergency Management will have information about shelters, community disaster plans, and disaster resources in your area.
Take a class and get involved. CPR, HAM radio, and Community Emergency Response Team training are all skills that come in handy during a disaster and can be easily learned in your local area.
Stash some cash. It would be ideal to have enough currency on hand to cover at least several months’ worth of living expenses, but let’s be realistic, that’s just not feasible for everyone. But that next big seismic tremor could knock out the power grid and that means no ATM. Having some cash on hand can help cover many small emergencies.
When asked if there are there any recommendations that deserve more attention than others, Lerma replied that he does have a top three.
“Making a plan for yourself and those you care for goes a long way to being prepared. Have a go-bag ready. At least half of the people interviewed from Hurricane Harvey and the wildfires weren’t ready. By the time they decided to flee, they didn’t have what they needed ready to go. Above all, get a communications plan so family members know who to call,” stressed Lerma.