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Disaster response starts long before the floodwater hits

Editorial

Posted: Friday, October 13, 2006

Planning ahead is nothing new in today’s busy world. Juggling the demands of jobs, kids, pets, household duties, commutes, social activities and community involvements requires an organizational effort that would do the military proud.

But all too often, planning only extends to immediate concerns — tonight’s dinner, tomorrow’s meetings. Contingency plans are limited to what you’ll do if traffic is backed up on the way to work, or who can pick up Junior if you’re stuck in a meeting.

This week’s flooding in Seward is a perfect example of why just being prepared for what an average day may throw at you isn’t enough, especially in Alaska. Mother Nature has a much nastier curve ball.

When a disaster hits, seconds count, so every preparation you make before a crisis ensues is crucial to protecting yourself, your loved ones and your belongings. In an emergency, panic can be the biggest threat to safety. Rushing around gathering people and supplies that are scattered and unprepared only increases the danger of damage, injuries or worse.

Many in Seward heeded the soggy forecasts and flood warnings, readying their homes, pets and families to evacuate when the time came. It was a testament to residents’ and emergency workers’ preparedness, efficiency and composure that there were no injuries reported as a result of the flooding.

That’s how it should be. That’s how it can be the next time a disaster strikes on the Kenai Peninsula, if residents are prepared.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management offers the following tips for disaster preparedness:

· Get a plan. Figure out how your family will respond to a disaster — where will you meet? How will you get there? What if the phone lines are down? Write it all down and review it as a family.

· Get a kit. Be ready to be on your own for a few days by packing the essentials — warm clothes, ready-to-eat food, three days’ water for each person, prescription medications, pet supplies, baby supplies or whatever else you can’t survive without. Keep your kit somewhere easy to find and make sure everyone in the house knows where their kit is.

· Get informed. Learn about what emergencies your area is prone to and what special circumstances may ensue from them. Learn skills like CPR, first aid and fire suppression. Get a battery-powered radio ready so you can tune in to emergency channels for information on road and power outages, shelter locations and other information.

In addition, the city of Seward and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation offer the following flood safety advice:

· Do not walk through flowing water. When walking in standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure the ground is still there.

· Do not drive through a flooded area.

· Stay away from power lines and electrical wires.

· Shut off gas and electricity and move valuable contents upstairs.

· Look out for animals. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in people’s homes.

· Look before stepping. After a flood, the ground and floors may be covered with debris, or could be very slippery.

· Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Do not use candles, lanterns or open flames, and don’t smoke unless all gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.

· Boil your water. After floodwaters subside, chlorinate your well water then test it to make sure it’s safe. If possible, don’t use an on-site sewer system until floodwaters recede.

· Secure fuel containers, barrels and tanks so they don’t float away. Tanks can shift and lines can kink, weaken or break, or fittings can be loosened or damaged. Inspect fuel tanks and lines after a flood. Contact your fuel supplier for help, and report any fuel spills to the DEC at (907) 269-3060 or (800) 478-9300.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Living in Alaska only multiplies the equation — a pound of prevention for a ton of cure — making it that much more important to be prepared.



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