It's that time of year to ponder new goals and perhaps even make a few worthy resolutions for the New Year! We want to encourage everyone to add disaster readiness to their "achieved" list in 2011!
Disasters can happen at any time and our ability to recover begins with understanding the type of events that can occur and the appropriate actions that each of us can take to be ready. The Borough encompasses a large and diverse geographic area and has experience with floods, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, severe weather events, tsunamis, coastal erosion and storm surge, hazardous material spills and explosions, avalanches and earthquakes. Yikes!
So the question is what kind of steps can we each personally take that would make a difference? The results of a national survey by FEMA indicates that 30 percent of Americans have not prepared because they think that emergency responders will help them and over 60 percent mistakenly expect to rely on emergency responders in the first 72 hours following a disaster. Yikes!
Let's put that in perspective -- in terms of the response resources that actually exist.
Within the Borough's 24,000 square mile boundary, emergency response is shared by 5 cities, 3 villages, 6 emergency service areas, and 4 volunteer fire departments. Central Emergency Services, for example, serves approximately 22,000 people in a 2,200 square mile area with twenty-nine full-time firefighter/medics (nine on shift at any given time) and thirty back-up on-call staff. At best, (if ALL hands are on deck!) this translates to about 1 firefighter/medic for every 372 people. At worst, (consider a circumstance where only the regular on-shift personnel are available), it's more like 1 to 2,444.
It's a sobering reality that a large-scale event would quickly overwhelm our day-to-day emergency response resources. It's clear that all of us as individuals must be prepared and responsible for ourselves and our families so first responders can focus on restoring priority services and helping those most in need.
What can we do? An important first step is to have contingency and communication plans and basic emergency kits in the places we spend a lot of time: home, school, office, and in the car. Checklists to help with this are available from the Borough Office of Emergency Management (www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency -- or online from www.ready.gov.
Available locally is a neighborhood-level organizing tool -- Map Your Neighborhood and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program. CERT is free, open to all ages and abilities (teens through seniors), and provides skills in fire safety, light search and rescue, triage, first aid, incident command, team work and disaster psychology. People who complete the training can become CERT volunteers and help in non-emergency roles to promote community preparedness as well as standing ready to help first responders to bridge the gap in large-scale disasters. There are currently 170 CERT trained volunteers in communities across the Borough (www.kpvolunteers.org). CERT is a productive way to get involved and give back to your community!
Remember -- everybody has a role in preparedness! Resolve to be Ready in 2011 -- Make a Plan, Get a Kit, Be Informed and Get Involved!
A prepared community is a disaster resilient community!
Glenda Landua is the Program Coordinator for the Borough Office of Emergency Management and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-262-2098, Soldotna Emergency Response Center, 253 Wilson Lane, Soldotna.
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