Whether a person believes in the potentially apocalyptic Mayan calendar prediction or is a doomsday prepper of another kind, preparation for a cataclysmic event has become a way of life for some.
The disputed prediction involving the controversial analysis of the Mayan calendar says the world will end Dec. 21. Though the Mayans did not indicate how such a disaster would befall mankind, some speculate it could involve an astronomical event — such as a meteor striking the planet. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, however, has said the only noteworthy event set for Dec. 21 is the beginning of the winter solstice. The next fly-by of a meteor potentially large enough to destroy the Earth will be in 2488, according to NASA, when the object is expected to approach no closer than 3.6 million miles.
Still, local emergency preparedness officials say those living on the fringe, predicting the end is near, aren’t the only ones who should be ready in case of disaster. Real emergency situations can and do occur every day, they say.
As part of the “Twelve in 12/12” series, The Herald offers 12 tips to consider before disaster strikes.
1. Be mentally prepared. Disasters can happen any time and anywhere. The important thing is to have a general awareness about what might lie ahead, Alan Radcliffe, Franklin County emergency management director, said. Being prepared encompasses a variety of tactics, and it is by far the most important step a person can take. After spending two weeks in Maryland helping in the relief effort after Hurricane Sandy, Radcliffe said there still are people who don’t take disaster preparation seriously enough.
2. Stay informed. “We’ve done a hazard analysis in the county, and weather-related events are more likely to be our concerns in the county,” Radcliffe, who has been emergency management director since 2004, said.
Ice storms, floods, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are a continuing threat in the area. Listening to the weather forecast in the morning is one simple way of preparing, he said.
Potential man-made disasters could include fallout from an emergency at Burlington’s Wolf Creek Nuclear plant. Because the county is within the 50-mile radius of the plant, local officials have a plan if a dangerous event occurs, Radcliffe said. He doesn’t, however, expect such a situation.
“With the nuclear events, it’s within the first 10 miles around Wolf Creek that are in the biggest area of danger and would need to evacuate,” he said. “There would possibly be fallout that would come depending on which direction the wind was blowing ... so it could come into our county, but as far as a major disaster, I’m not too concerned about Wolf Creek causing that problem for us.”
3. Be versatile with backup plans. Disasters come in varying types and degrees, Radcliffe said. Losing electricity to a home could have disastrous consequences for a resident and his or her family — especially if the weather includes extreme heat or cold.
“You either need to be prepared to live without power for a week to two weeks or have a generator on hand and be able to go get fuel for the generator,” Radcliffe said.
Likewise, a fire destroying a home can be a disaster for the homeowner or resident. While such events don’t necessarily affect a large number of people, they do have a huge effect on the families immediately impacted. Residents should ask themselves where they might live immediately after an event makes their home uninhabitable.
“That’s what people need to sit down and think: ‘If I have a fire and I lose everything what am I going to do? If the power goes out and the power’s out for an extended period of time, what do I need to continue with my life?’” Radcliffe said.
4. Make a kit. Part of being prepared is having the essentials a person would need readily available in the event of an emergency. A 72-hour kit is recommended, Radcliffe said. Such a kit should contain enough food and water for each member of a household, as well as such other items as a first-aid kit and flashlight.
The Federal Emergency Management Association, or FEMA, also recommends such other items as a radio, maps and dust masks. A list of FEMA’s recommended supplies can be found at http://www.ready.gov/basic-disaster-supplies-kit
More dedicated survivalists, whether they are preparing for the end of the world or not, might consider a few other items, Steve Geiss said.
“Two that’s probably the biggest for popularity are the MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat),” Geiss, owner of Take It Outside, 114 S. Main St., Ottawa, said. “They buy them by the case, because it’s a stable meal. You can keep them for 15 years or so if you want, so that’s probably one of the big items.”
The store sells survival and camping gear, military surplus and other outdoor supplies.
“The other one is what they call the paracord, which is 550 cord. They call it 550 cord because it’s tested at 550-pound strength,” he said.
The strong, military-tested cord can be used for many things, including fishing line, boot laces, making shelter and snares.
“Anybody that’s really building a really true survival kit will have paracord in it,” he said.
5. Maintain your kit. FEMA stresses on its website that after a kit has been compiled, it should be maintained. Check the kit at least twice a year to ensure no food has become exposed to the air or is leaking.
6. Have a plan and make sure every member of the household knows it. The county, Radcliffe said, has an all-hazards plan, which encompasses several possible disaster responses. Each household should have a similar plan on a small scale as a means of being prepared.
A family emergency checklist can be downloaded at http://www.ready.gov/emergency-planning-checklists
7. Don’t rely solely on government for help. In the event of a disaster, local, state and federal governments are suddenly forced to enact plans that involve helping the area as a whole. And sometimes, Radcliffe said, that does not involve being able to focus on single individuals.
“The government — whether it be the local government, the state or federal government — cannot come in and take care of everybody as quick as possible,” he said, stressing that is why each household should be prepared for at least the first 72 hours.
8. Know leaving might be required. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the emergency, an important decision involves whether to evacuate. Sometimes it’s an option; other times it isn’t. If authorities ask residents to leave an area in advance of an emergency, they should do so, Radcliffe said. Failing to evacuate, he explained, can tax the first responders and emergency response agencies that then have to go out and rescue people, rather than doing other disaster-response duties.
9. Be prepared to stay put. A situation might arise when it simply is best to avoid the uncertainty of outside elements by “sheltering in place.” The length of time sheltering in one place can vary depending on the situation, but being prepared to stay in one place for an extended period of time should be a priority.
10. Consider how to help. During a disaster, as well as in its immediate aftermath, a willingness to help those in need can be invaluable. Emergency responders can only do so much, Radcliffe said, and those who are able, should be prepared to help others.
11. Get involved. There are many ways to help both before and after a disaster. FEMA recommends people get trained in basic first-aid and CPR skills. Volunteering at local fire departments and at the local American Red Cross chapter also can be helpful.
12. Aid recovery efforts. Perhaps the biggest portion of a disaster situation is the recovery process, Radcliffe said. It can last anywhere from a few days to years. After authorities have established a plan for recovery, Radcliffe said, it is important everyone lend a hand in returning a community to normalcy.
“What we in the government do is bring things back to normal as quick as possible. That can’t be done by just the government. That has to have every citizen involved in it, businesses involved in it, your faith-based organizations, your non-governmental organizations,” Radcliffe said. “Everybody has to come together and bring the community back.”