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FORT LEE, Va. -- In September, Fort Lee and the entire U.S. Army joins the nation in the observance of National Preparedness Month – an awareness and call-to-action campaign that urges every member of our communities to face the realities of potential manmade or natural disasters and do something to reduce their chances of harm.

The theme of the 2018 observance is simple and direct: “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.”

“Put that in the context of what you, I and the rest of the Army does every day … which is to ensure our military forces are trained, equipped, and physically and mentally ready to defend or safeguard the nation when called upon to do so,” observed Thomas Loden, Fort Lee emergency manager in the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

“We know this enemy.” he continued. “It comes at us in the form of hurricanes, severe tornado-producing storms, flooding and we’ve witnessed the types of recent attacks across the nation that result in mass casualties and destruction. So, we have to ask ourselves what the responsibilities are to prepare and practice contingency plans. What can be done individually and collectively to protect ourselves and keep us moving forward on the battlefield?”

The national website www.ready.gov similarly recommends a lot more than mere discussion when it comes to preparedness. “Take time to learn lifesaving skills, such as CPR and first aid,” its messaging reads. “Check your insurance coverage for the hazards you may face (paying attention to what’s not covered as much as what is). Make sure to consider the costs associated with disasters and save for an emergency. Also, know how to take practical safety steps like shutting off water and gas in your home.”

An important consideration that’s backed up by testimonial interviews from victims of disasters across the nation is what occurs in the immediate wake of a devastating event. Beleaguered eyewitnesses describe the desperation they felt, the home safety measures that were inadequate, the immediate medical help they couldn’t get and the complications of lost power, communications and access to basic supplies.

“Most assume immediate assistance is just a phone call away,” Loden said. “What they fail to consider is that emergency personnel – whether police, fire, medical or those providing utility services – will have a large influx of calls to handle, and it may take them much longer than normal to render assistance. Additionally, no power means no access to gas pumps or grocery stores. Roads may be impassable due to fallen debris or flooding. There are many complicating factors that could put community members in a short-term survival situation, and it does no good at that point to wish they had done some prior emergency planning and preparation.”

Army experts in the emergency preparedness business offer an additional consideration for “seasoned” community members. Is that junior-ranking service member or his family, who may have just moved into the area, prepared? Maybe they’ve never experienced a hurricane or tornado threat. The bottom line is looking out for the community as well as ourselves because, as noted on the ready.gov website, neighborhood residents are likely to be the first to render assistance well before first responders arrive.

“Our chain of command takes this very seriously, I can assure you,” Loden noted. “Resources have been dedicated to providing the step-by-step information required for effective emergency planning and preparation. Throughout the coming month in the Traveller and other post communication venues, we (DPTMS) will be passing along need-to-know facts, checklists and consideration points. The rest is up to our community members, keeping in mind that we’re not talking about something that’s only done in September. The campaign is about awareness and education … ensuring individuals, families and the community are ready for whatever is thrown at them is a year-round business.”

Subjects to be addressed throughout the month include emergency communication systems at Fort Lee; preparedness kit checklists and factors families should consider; weather alert and evacuation terminology; and more.

Team Lee members also should be aware of several websites promoting NPM goals. They include the Army Disaster Personnel Accountability and Assessment System, an online tool used by service leaders to keep track of – and provide support to – government personnel and families members after catastrophes. Those in the system should update their information regularly and newcomers to the Army should set up an account as soon as possible. Websites offering guidance and preparation pointers include the Ready Army resource at www.acsim.army.mil/readyarmy and the Ready Virginia page at www.readyvirginia.gov.