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Hurricane Isabel was the costliest disaster in the history of Virginia. It made landfall in Virginia on Sept. 18, 2003. By the time it hit Virginia, the former Category 4 hurricane was a Category 2 hurricane. The damage total for Virginia was $1.85 billion and the Richmond area was impacted with a reported 9-foot storm surge on the James River. (NOAA image)

While the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be less-eventful than precious years, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that’s no reason to believe the coastal areas will be spared.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, referring to the 1992 season in which only seven named storms formed, yet the first was Andrew – a Category 5 Major Hurricane that devastated South Florida.

The hurricane season continues through Nov. 30, and Fort Lee families should strive to be prepared for storms and the potential emergencies they may face.

Most assume immediate assistance is just a 9-1-1 call away. 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.

“That’s a very important reason why having an emergency supply kit is essential to making it through a disaster’s aftermath safely,” said Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager for the Fort Lee Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “The contents of a well-prepared kit will meet individual needs or those of an entire family for anywhere between 72-96 hours.”

Historically, Fort Lee families have not been very prepared for these types of storms that can knock out power for days, said Loden, noting many families are less prepared than those right off the installation. The military is transient by nature, and those coming to Fort Lee may not have experienced the effects of a hurricane.

“Fort Lee families should still make sure they are prepared for any storm even though the commissary and main exchange are on the installation,” said Loden. “It’s possible those facilities will not be opened due to lack of electricity or damage. You shouldn’t count on those locations for your emergency supplies after a storm hits.”

Another concern for Fort Lee families is downed trees and power lines that occur after a storm rolls through.

“Parents should make sure their children aren’t playing on damaged trees and they should keep a look out for downed power lines,” said Loden. “It takes time to remove debris and fix the power lines, and they represent serious hazards until they are repaired.”

The best time to assemble a kit, or check and restock its contents, is now – or the next immediate opportunity when you’re at home or out shopping and can easily gather the must-have items, Loden noted. Citing “real threats” like the hurricane season (“Super-storm Sandy” in October 2012 killed 286 people and caused more than $65 billion of property damage along the East Coast) and severe late-summer storms that produce tornadoes and wide-spread power outages, he said it’s imperative for community members to act on the recommendations of emergency planners.

“Too many people wait … they don’t want to be bothered with it right now,” Loden said. “Then, a large storm knocks on our door and they’re out there trying to gather needed supplies at a time when store shelves empty quickly and coveted items, like batteries and bottled water, are nearly impossible to find.”

When building or inspecting an emergency kit, Loden advised community members to carefully consider what they or their family would need if assistance were not immediately available. At a minimum, the following items should be included:

• Food – at least a three-day supply that does not need electricity for storage or preparation

• A manual can opener

• Water – at least three gallons per person for drinking and sanitation (Don’t forget pets)

• A battery-powered (or hand-cranked) radio with weather band and extra batteries

• Flashlight(s) and extra batteries

• A first aid kit

• A written family emergency plan

Once you have the essentials, add the following recommended items:

• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

• Whistle to signal for help

• Prescription medications and eye wear

• Dust mask to help filter contaminated air plus plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter where you are

• Sanitation supplies: moist towelettes, toilet paper, soap and plastic garbage bags

• Items for infants and toddlers

• Items for pets

• Local maps

• Copies of important family documents such as insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container

• Cash in small denominations or traveler’s checks and change

• Emergency reference material such as a first aid book

• Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person (consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate)

• Complete change of clothing including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and sturdy shoes (consider additional layers if you live in a cold-weather climate)

• Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper (when diluted in water, bleach can be used to kill germs)

• Fire extinguisher

• Matches in a waterproof container

• Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items

• Paper cups, plates and plastic knives, forks and spoons, paper towels

• Paper and pencil

Assembling and/or maintaining a well-stocked emergency supply kit provides peace of mind – knowing that you’re prepared if disaster strikes and immediate help is not available, Loden said.

To help those living in hurricane-prone areas prepare, NOAA offers hurricane preparedness tips, along with video and audio public service announcements at www.hurricanes.gov/prepare.

“It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall in your community to significantly disrupt your life,” said FEMA Deputy Administrator Joseph Nimmich. “Everyone should take action now to prepare themselves and their families for hurricanes and powerful storms. Develop a family communications plan, build an emergency supply kit for your home and take time to learn evacuation routes for your area. Knowing what to do ahead of time can literally save your life and help you bounce back stronger and faster should disaster strike in your area.”