Severe weather brings most of the region’s natural hazards – like powerful gusts, ice storms, heavy rain and snowfall. Think windstorm 2015 with widespread power outages.
Nationally, September is recognized as family preparedness month with tips urging residents to get ready for those big storms or unexpected disasters.
“Our primary hazards here are severe weather, meaning windstorms, snow storms and things like that, and then of course wildland fires,” said Chandra Fox, deputy director for Spokane County’s emergency management department.
“We do also have a seismic risk here for earthquakes.”
Additionally, certain areas can flood, she said. The agency offers year-round resources, but a good place to start is to sign up for emergency notifications through ALERT Spokane. Registration is under a “Stay Informed” tab on the department’s website.
“If you want specific, local information, sign up for the ALERT Spokane program because that’s how we do our emergency notification locally,” Fox said. “They can choose which mode they want messages – their land line, cell phone, email or text messages.”
Another option is the free smartphone app, CodeRED Mobile Alert, for use on Apple or Android platforms to receive location-based alerts from local public safety agencies.
Beyond staying informed, Fox recommends another crucial step.
“The most important thing for people to do is to make sure they have a family emergency plan,” she added. “We have templates available on our website, and it doesn’t take long to complete.
“That is for making sure you work through specific needs of your individual family in terms of contact information, amount of food and water and other needs.”
Here are other emergency planning tips:
Decide as a family what paperwork – such as copies of insurance documents – should go into an emergency preparedness folder and what to store in a disaster kit in the event of an emergency or power outage.
FEMA and Spokane County offer typical disaster kit ideas for families to store crucial items.
Supplies to consider are extra medications, phone charger, folder with critical paperwork, extra shoes and clothes, pet supplies, battery-operated radio, flashlights and batteries, manual can opener, nonperishable foods and containers with water.
Recommendations for water are to store one gallon per person per day for at least three days.
Additionally, some disaster kit lists suggest a First-Aid kit, cash, prescription glasses, personal hygiene items, moist towelettes, warm blanket for each person, dust mask to filter contaminated air and matches in a waterproof container.
“When power is out for hours, a part of kits should include flashlights and batteries, and even lots and lots of battery-operated chargers for phones that you can get now in stores so you have the ability to charge phones,” Fox said.
The county’s preparedness kit ideas also suggest household chlorine and a medicine dropper.
“When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant,” the website says. And a few drops of unscented bleach can be used in gallons of water to sanitize for drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines.
How often should families update items in a disaster kit?
“It depends on what you’re storing,” Fox said. “You should go through and rotate it on a regular basis. Some people have canned foods that have an expiration date, and some people use freeze-dried camping food with a longer shelf life.
“You can even go to Costco and buy emergency food packets, and it’s meals I think for four people.”
Residents also can put a reminder on the calendar or smartphones to go through disaster kits to refresh items each September or semi-annually.
Make a plan
Planning for disasters also involves discussing what needs to be done as a family. Have you decided where you will meet if you have to evacuate your home?
Other thoughts are who will be an out-of-area contact for your family communications plan? The county’s emergency management website offers more resources and templates on how to get started with planning.
How will you and your family stay up-to-date on what’s happening during a disaster? Agencies recommend having multiple options ready, such as a basic radio, in case any one way of communication is impacted by an event.
Some people might feel overwhelmed about where to begin for a family emergency plan. That’s where Fox suggests one step at a time.
Additionally, families can find plenty of templates and lists through local and federal agencies. Residents also can request the county’s emergency management staff to speak in the community about how to better prepare for natural hazards.
“Really, what I’d like folks to understand is that sometimes if they haven’t done anything to prepare, it can feel overwhelming,” Fox said. “It doesn’t have to be difficult, just understand that every step they take, whether writing a plan or putting together a folder, it’s important as a step forward.
“It’s not something they have to accomplish in one day. And access to information is one of the key things, to make sure they’re registered at ALERT Spokane because that’s our first line we’re going to send information through.”
Volunteer options are available during or after a disaster at community resources. To plan ahead for being of service in Spokane, see the volunteering section of the county’s emergency management website.
Additionally, Spokane County is requesting public responses through the end of the year to its survey on creating its Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Find the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/Spokane_County_Mitigation_Plan_Survey.
“Our focus is preparedness for the Inland Northwest, which consists of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, with Spokane being the main hub,” the survey information says.
It asks about people’s past experiences with regional natural hazards such as floods, wildland fires, severe weather, urban fires, ice storms and other events. Responses will help officials with planning for the future and any needed infrastructure.
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