FORT LEE, Va. – The threat of devastation from category-four Hurricane Dorian over the past several days adds a huge exclamation mark to the following statement – September is National Preparedness Month.
Each year, Fort Lee joins communities across the country for a campaign of awareness and action. The timing for us is significant because the peak of Atlantic hurricane season is mid-August to the end of October.
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. 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.
The 2019 NPM theme is “Prepared, Not Scared.” Each week will have a focus area, starting with Save Early for Disaster Costs (see commentary on Page 2). Others, in order, are: Make a Plan to Prepare for Disasters; Teach Youth to Prepare for Disasters; and Get Involved in Your Community’s 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,” noted Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager for the Fort Lee Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “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.”
A DOD statement from a previous NPM observance best summed it up. “As part of our nation’s military – whether you’re active duty, a reservist, a civilian employee or family member – you play an important role in ensuring the welfare of our homeland. It is important to prepare yourself and your family for all types of emergencies so you can increase your personal sense of security and peace of mind. Preparing makes sense. Get ready now.”
“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,” Loden 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.”
The best repository of emergency preparedness information is ready.gov. It recommends three key steps in the process of safeguarding individuals and families. The first is to get a kit together that includes the items needed to sustain a person or family for three days. The kit should be inventoried periodically to ensure it’s complete and items are not outdated.
Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. Community members could get help in hours, or it might take days. Basic services such as electricity, water, gas, sewage treatment and telephones may be down for extended periods. Foremost among the survival items that will be needed are water, nonperishable food, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a battery-powered or hand crank radio.
Next, individuals need to make a plan and practice to make sure it works as described. Consider the range of potential emergencies and all the places you and your family might be. Some events require different responses than others, but a family communications procedure will be helpful in any case. Knowing how to keep in touch and find one another will help families stay safe and cope with the confusion and fear that come when emergencies strike.
Being informed is the most important of the “three tenants of emergency preparedness.” Learn about the response plans for your housing area, place of work, the installation, and the surrounding community. Before, during and after a disaster, it is critical that individuals maintain contact and accountability with their chain of command and listen for the most up-to-date information from local emergency officials (e.g., Installation Operation Center, Fire and Emergency Services, and Provost Marshal Office). Be prepared to follow critical instructions, such as when to evacuate or shelter-in-place and where to find assistance.
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 contactors can 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.