For information on items included in the To Go Kit, visit ready.gov.

Winter is coming, are you ready?

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story series about preparedness during inclement weather.

As the season changes from fall to winter, a few things are destined to happen each year. Inclement weather can produce power outages, grocery rushes, school closures and unprepared individuals.

As emergency management specialists, we have access to meteorological information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which gives agencies the ability to track most storms, at least seven to 10 days before they reach the area.

In February 2010, fierce winter weather hit Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas. During that time, 54.9 inches of snow fell, which caused cities to shut down and stores were closed for at least four days.

Can you imagine the feeling of being unprepared after numerous opportunities were presented at the beginning of hurricane season? Prior to weather notification, alerts are used to inform large portions of the population any time there are significant changes in the weather. When weather changes, resources such as social media, radio and TV are made available so the public can make an informed decision.

An essential item during a weather emergency is the “To Go Kit,” which includes at least three-days of individual supplies such as water, medication, and clothes readily available, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Having a To Go Kit is not limited to just individuals. Families, communities and workplaces are advised to invest in them as well.

Why have a To Go kit? In 2012, there was a Derecho — fast-moving bands of thunderstorms with destructive winds. This storm hit the surrounding areas in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. The winds were as strong as those found in hurricanes or even tornadoes. These winds disabled 911 emergency response capabilities in multiple counties. More than 1.2 million residents were without power for days. This caused nonavailability issues for purchasing generators which could have been used as power sources during the outages.

Since a large number of people in the communities did not have To Go Kits, this created a shortage of fuel, food, and individuals seeking shelter. Infants and the elderly were at higher risk because there were high humidity percentages and temperatures with no power for air conditioning. There was concern for mold and bacteria due to flooding and standing water.

Despite efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other organizations to educate U.S. residents on becoming prepared, growth in specific preparedness behaviors, including actions taken in advance of a disaster to be better prepared to respond to and recover, has been limited.

Additionally, understanding the influences of beliefs on personal preparedness and promoting beliefs that encourage preparedness behaviors might improve risk communication and campaigns designed to encourage household preparedness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Being prepared is more than having items in a kit. It is a mindset that transitions a person’s beliefs, historical information recall, education, and training. For example, many believed earthquakes are relegated to the West Coast. However, in August 2011, the East Coast was hit with a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

Past historical information made it difficult for emergency management specialists to request resources in response to a possible earthquake, especially in Washington, D.C. There were no response plans developed for an earthquake in the area, because it had not taken place. When the topic was mentioned to superiors they asked, “Why should we prepare for an earthquake? That only happens on the West Coast.”

To assist communities in understanding the importance of preparedness, risk communication messaging and strategies are designed to encourage household preparedness behaviors, which incorporates approaches that will lead to higher levels of preparedness knowledge.

One of the ways to assist with preparedness is having messaging that focuses on preparedness tasks that are simple and incorporate evidence-based findings into household disaster preparedness behaviors might improve community disaster response, mitigation and recovery.

For information on items included in the To Go Kit, visit ready.gov.

 

By Malanya Westmoreland

JBM-HH Emergency Management Specialist