By Rachel Petersen
With winter set to officially begin in late December, local emergency officials suggest that area-residents begin to prepare. The weather forecast for today has high temperatures at 69 degrees and lows at 55 degrees. But by Tuesday, the temperature highs are forecasted at 56 degrees with lows at 34 degrees.
McAlester Fire Chief Brett Brewer said it is important for people to begin preparing now. “Have your heating systems inspected and serviced by a certified heat and air specialist,” Brewer said. “People haven’t turned them on all year and now that it’s getting cold, they’re going to start using their heating systems. It’s important for people to make sure their heating systems are in proper working condition before turning them on.”
Brewer also said it is important for people who have homes with fireplaces to get their chimney’s cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. After not using a fireplace for months, people need to have them properly cleaned before firing them up, Brewer said.
Trent Myers, director of the McAlester/ Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management said that area-residents should install and test carbon monoxide detectors in their homes. “It’s a really good idea to have one,” Myers said. “Because they’re starting up their heaters after having them off for so long.” Myers said having carbon monoxide detectors in older homes with older heating systems is especially important.
Lynn Edwards, director of the Southeastern Oklahoma Chapter of the American Red Cross, said that it is very important for families to check their heating systems in their homes prior turning them on. Edwards also said it is important to avoid using electrical space heaters if at all possible. “They are one of the most common causes of house fires,” he said.
Brewer, Myers and Edwards also discussed the importance of smoke detectors and being prepared for emergency situations.
The American Cross website, at www.redcross.org, gives a plethora of resources to help people prepare for emergencies. “The Red Cross is here to make sure you are as prepared as you possibly can be for potential disasters and other emergencies,” the website says. “These events can strike suddenly, at any time and anywhere. There are three actions everyone can take that can help make a difference.”
The website offers the “Be Red Cross Ready Checklist.”
• I know what emergencies or disasters are most likely to occur in my community.
• I have a family disaster plan and have practiced it.
• I have an emergency preparedness kit.
• At least one member of my household is trained in first aid and CPR/AED.
• I have taken action to help my community prepare.
The American Red Cross website lists many types of disasters that could occur in Oklahoma, including house fires, flu outbreaks, heat waves, poisoning, power outages, terrorism, thunderstorms, tornados, wildfires and winter storms.
“Learn the types of disasters or emergencies that may likely occur in your area,” the website says. “These events can range from those affecting only you and your family, like a home fire or medical emergency, to those affecting your entire community, like an earthquake or flood.”
• Identify how local authorities will notify you during a disaster and how you will get information, whether through local radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio stations or channels.
• Know the difference between different weather alerts such as watches and warnings and what actions to take in each.
• Know what actions to take to protect yourself during disasters that may occur in areas where you travel or have moved recently. For example, if you travel to a place where earthquakes are common and you are not familiar with them, make sure you know what to do to protect yourself should one occur.
• When a major disaster occurs, your community can change in an instant. Loved ones may be hurt and emergency response is likely to be delayed. Make sure that at least one member of your household is trained in first aid and CPR and knows how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). This training is useful in many emergency situations.
• Share what you have learned with your family, household and neighbors and encourage them to be informed.
• Make emergency contact cards for all household members. Print one card for each family member. Write the contact information for each household member, such as work, school and cell phone numbers. Fold the card so it fits in your pocket, wallet or purse. Carry the card with you so it is available in the event of a disaster or other emergency.
Make a Plan
The American Red Cross says it is extremely important to make sure that the entire family is prepared and informed in the event of a disaster or emergency. “You may not always be together when these events take place and should have plans for making sure you are able to contact and find one another.”
• Meet with your family or household members.
• Discuss how to prepare and respond to emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play.
• Identify responsibilities for each member of your household and plan to work together as a team.
• If a family member is in the military, plan how you would respond if they were deployed.
• Plan what to do in case you are separated during an emergency. Choose two places to meet — right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire; and outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.
• Choose an out-of-area emergency contact person. It may be easier to text or call long distance if local phone lines are overloaded or out of service. Everyone should have emergency contact information in writing or saved on their cell phones.
• Plan what to do if you have to evacuate.
• Decide where you would go and what route you would take to get there. You may choose to go to a hotel/motel, stay with friends or relatives in a safe location or go to an evacuation shelter if necessary.
• Practice evacuating your home twice a year. Drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable.
• Plan ahead for your pets. Keep a phone list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes.
• Let you’re family know you’re safe.
If your community has experienced a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you are safe. You may also call 800-733-2767 and select the prompt for “Disaster” to register yourself and your family.
Make a Kit
“Being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies you may need in the event of an emergency,” the American Red Cross website says. “Keep your supplies in an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate.”
Minimum basic kit supplies include:
• Water — one gallon per person, per day (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home);
• Food — non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home);
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible);
• Extra batteries;
• First aid kit — Anatomy of a First Aid Kit;
• Medications (seven-day supply) and medical items;
• Multi-purpose tool;
• Sanitation and personal hygiene items;
• Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies);
• Cell phone with chargers;
• Family and emergency contact information;
• Extra cash;
• Emergency blanket; and
• Map(s) of the area.
Consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit. Suggested items to help meet additional needs are:
• Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.);
• Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers);
• Games and activities for children;
• Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl);
• Two-way radios;
• Extra set of car keys and house keys; and
• Manual can opener.
Additional supplies to keep at home or in your kit based on the types of disasters common to your area:
• N95 or surgical masks;
• Rain gear;
• Work gloves;
• Tools/supplies for securing your home;
• Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes;
• Plastic sheeting;
• Duct tape;
• Household liquid bleach
• Entertainment items; and
• Blankets or sleeping bags.
The American Red Cross website has a list of tools and resources for preparing for a disaster. The website also lists resources for when a disaster strikes.
Contact Rachel Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.