By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
The unexpected and unnecessary death of two journalists providing coverage of Tropical Storm Alberto should serve as a warning to the balance of us to begin our severe weather preparations for this year. After the storms of April, 2011, I was at an event where James Spann, Meteorologist with ABC 33/40, was speaking and he talked about the death toll from the storms. He noted in his remarks that for some people it was just meant to be their day, and there is probably nothing that anyone could have done to save them. But he said the deaths that bothered him were the ones that could have been prevented, if people had just received adequate warning and then used the warnings to make adequate preparations.
Spann noted that if you are waiting to hear the sound of sirens blaring as your early warning system, you are already putting yourself and your family at risk. For in most cases by the time you hear the sirens it will be too late to make a significant response before the storm actually hits. Spann advised that everyone get a weather radio and get an app for their smart phones that will provide early alerts. Here in Jefferson County we have an excellent early warning system available to us at no cost through the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency.
The system is called Everbridge Emergency Alerts and you can sign up for it by going to Jefferson County EMA’s website at “jeffcoema.org”. Once on the site look for the box in red at the top that says, “Click here to sign up for Everbridge Emergency Alerts” and you will be taken to a site that lets you sign up for the alerts. I have been using this service for several years now and it really is an excellent service. One thing that is good about it, is that when you sign up you identify the location you want to receive alerts concerning, and you only get alerts for that specific area. Such that if you live in Ensley, you will not get a notification for an event expected to impact Vestavia Hills only.
This kind of specificity helps to avoid what I would call alert overload, where you begin to ignore alerts because you get so many. The Everbridge system allows you to specify the way to want to be alerted. You have a choice of phone call, text message or email, and the system will try each one in the order you specified until you respond. Once you respond you will not be alerted again unless a significant new circumstance occurs. If you live in Jefferson County and have not signed up for this system I encourage you to do so.
The next thing that is important in responding to disasters is that we have a plan in place for how we intend to respond. If you are at home and a tornado warning is issued, where is the safe place for you and your family? If you do not have a safe place in your home, where is the nearest shelter and how long will it take you to get there? One important thing that I have seen over and over again in responding to disasters over the years, is that people do not have a plan in place for what to do with their pets. Most emergency shelters are not going to allow pets, and most decent pet owners will not be able to evacuate in peace if they do not know that their pet is going to be okay, so check with your vet and other care providers to see what service may be available in your area.
Another area that is often a problem for people and families in the aftermath of a disaster is access to needed medications. There are a couple of ways of addressing this problem and some of the choices of how to do it will depend on the resources of the family planning for the disaster. An ideal planning strategy would be to have a one-month supply of all your needed medications in an emergency bag set aside for disasters. Of course, I realize that for some people this is not a choice for economic reasons. Some other precautions you can take would be to have a physical copy of the prescriptions for your primary medications in your disaster kit, such that as soon as pharmacies are available, you can get your prescription refilled without having to get in contact with your care provider first.
Governors will tell you that in a major disaster you should be prepared to care for your family without assistance for at least 72 hours. This means you should have an adequate supply of drinkable water, supplies of food that require little to no preparations, temporary lighting, and in winter some way to keep your family warm until power is restored.
Natural disasters are going to occur. It is hard to predict the when, the where and the how severe, but we can predict almost without question that they will occur. Being ready when a disaster strikes is most likely for folks who are always ready.
Or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)