Members of the Army National Guard clear roadways

As the sun rises over Southwest Louisiana Aug. 27, members of the Army National Guard clear roadways in Lake Charles while community leaders assess the damage from Hurricane Laura, which came ashore as a category 4 storm several hours earlier. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Josiah Pugh)

When weighing the importance of the 2020 National Preparedness Month observance, one should consider two recent developments – COVID-19 and the latest warning from weather experts that 71 percent of Atlantic hurricane activity will occur between now and the end of November.

Each year, Fort Lee joins communities across the country for a campaign of awareness and action. The 2020 NPM theme is “Disasters Don’t Wait, Make Your Plan Today.”

“It’s an exercise of ‘what ifs?’” observed Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager for the Fort Lee Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “Every one of us have to consider what we should do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm when the next disaster happens. Our actions can be guided by lessons learned and what experts recommend. Awareness and planning are the ultimate goals of National Preparedness Month.”

Living in a COVID-19 world presents a lot of “what ifs.” Public health experts warn there could be another spike of infections in months to come, which could be complicated by the usual round of flu season illnesses. Preparedness for that possibility would include insuring home emergency supply kits now include protective masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, extra toilet paper and the nonperishable food items that rapidly disappeared from store shelves when the pandemic was at its peak five months ago.

“The other pressing threat at the moment is late-summer storms that can range from tornado-producing thunderstorms to hurricanes of any category skirting or making direct impact within our region along the East Coast,” Loden said.

In an article on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross described the 2020 Atlantic storm season as “one of the most active seasonal forecasts” NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks. The agency is predicting as many as 16 additional “named” storms, with 7-11 of those reaching hurricane strength (wind speeds of 74 mph or greater).

“We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant and being ready to take action when necessary,” Ross said.

“As residents of an area that has seen its share of significant storm activity in recent years, we need to understand the steep cost of apathy and unpreparedness,” Loden further contributed. “We need to listen to what experts have to say about protecting ourselves, our families and our homes to the best extent possible. We must be considerate of the transient aspects of the military community – our newest neighbors may not have the first-hand experience of riding out a storm or comprehend the components of sheltering at home and living without utilities, supermarkets and other services.”

Throughout the month, DPTMS in partnership with the Public Affairs Office will publish informational articles in the Traveller and preparedness tips on social media. The week-1 topic is Make a Plan, which this article emphasizes. Week 2 is Build a Kit. Week 3 is Prepare for Disasters, and week 4 is Teach Youth about Preparedness.

“I know these topics are not something most people want to think about or simply dismiss because they have a whole lot of other things going on in their lives,” Loden noted. “That’s the first hurdle to overcome. It’s the understanding that we don’t have the luxury of reacting when a hurricane or other disaster is imminent – that’s when there’s a tendency toward panic over a well-thought-out plan of action.

“The main point is all of us need to take disaster preparedness seriously and not allow complacency to put ourselves or those we love in danger,” he further emphasized. “That’s really what it boils down to … knowing that the possibility of disaster always exists and simply having a plan and making those advanced preparations can greatly reduce the potential of harm, anxiety and panic when faced with a situation that’s far beyond our control.”

Fort Lee has a multifaceted communications network in place to keep you informed. The Mass Warning and Notification System, or “Big Voice,” can be heard throughout the installation and in most administrative buildings. The Fort Lee Facebook page is a resource for emergency response instructions and closure notices. Service members, DOD Civilians and contractors are required to register for the “Alert!” notification system by signing in with their Common Access Card to any computer connected to the government network.

Visit alert.csd.disa.mil/AlertSplashPage to sign up. If any difficulties are encountered, seek assistance from your organization’s computer technician or the personnel manager assigned to most units.

Several information resources with item checklists are available for individuals and families who want to establish or increase their emergency preparedness. They include the national ready.gov site, the Ready Virginia resource page at vaemergency.gov, and Fort Lee’s hazardous weather guide at home.army.mil/lee/index.php/about/hazardous-weather-guide.