Fall is ideal time to prepare disaster plan

DOWNEY - Earlier this month the City Council proclaimed September as "National Preparedness Month." The goal of the effort was to encourage residents, neighborhoods, churches, schools and businesses to embrace the need to prepare for emergencies now.Several incidents and emergencies have occurred in recent months that highlight the need for emergency preparedness. Recent studies have found adequate communications and fresh water are two of the most important issues immediately after an emergency event like a serious earthquake. Communications during an emergency and immediately after an emergency can be very problematic. Typically cell phones and landlines do not work well for an hour or two, or more. We should all have a back up communication plan. First, we need to have the ability to use a pay or business phone. This means we need to have some change and have a hard-copy of our most important phone numbers. Include the out-of-state phone number of a friend or relative with the emergency numbers. Frequently we can call out of our area before we can call a number inside our area. Be prepared to send or receive a text message too. Texting works sometimes when the voice systems do not. Communications also means learning more about the situation or checking in with others. The City has a reverse 911 system and uses it for emergencies and occasionally for public information. The system has worked well. However, the system requires a phone number for most messages. In 2011, not all community members have a landline phone. Many who don't have landlines, have cell phones. The problem is, the City does not have access to the cell numbers in our community. Instead, the City must rely on community members to sign up with the reverse 911 system by going to the City website and entering their information. This entry only takes a couple of minutes and is done by the following actions: log on to City website at downeyca.org, click on the 'Quick Links' button, click on 'Citizen Alert', click on 'Notification Sign Up', then follow the prompts on the 'Emergency Alert Program' page. Reverse 911 systems have been used to notify neighborhoods of emergency operations, post disaster information, missing children, police activity, and important environmental information. Downey currently has nearly 400 phone numbers in the citizen alert system. We know we have thousands of community members who would benefit from the citizen alert registration system, if they would simply sign-up. Another post-emergency problem is reunification. With children in school, family members and roommates working, shopping and social activities, we find we don't spend the majority of our time together. Instead, we are frequently spread out across the area. Without our phones, we are forced to find other communication options. The American Red Cross offers a 'safe and well' option on their website. Google has an option too. Families should think about how they can contact each other without their phones after a major disaster. Internet activity has jumped in each of the regions affected by disasters in the last decade despite the number of people who have evacuated or who have lost service. Having a hard-copy of a few e-mail addresses of friends and family (local and out-of-state) will serve everyone well. Finally, having a dependable AM radio with a supply of fresh batteries or a hand-crank power option is always a good idea. A recent study found some of the most searched for sites after an emergency were that of the national weather service and for recovery information. Following an emergency, the AM frequency band will be used for relaying important post-emergency information. Many AM radios have the weather service band and also double as flashlights and cell phone battery chargers. Many of our community members have taken advantage of the free city water barrel program and picked up a water barrel (capacity of 15-55 gallons) at one of the drive-thru events held at the Discovery Sports Complex. However, there are many other ways to store water. Whether drinking water is stored in small, single serving plastic bottles or in one gallon containers, we still need at least a gallon (better to have two!) of fresh water for each person in the house. Remember to include enough water for your pets as well. The supply of water should last a week, so multiply your daily need by seven (7). When you do the math, you might find storing some of your water in bulk makes sense. If you decide to use bottled water for your emergency supply, remember to get in the habit of replacing the stored water with fresh bottles after six to twelve months.

********** Published: September 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 24