STONE: Polar vortex highlights emergency preparedness

Like others, I had never experienced the type of weather that literally crippled our great state of Texas last week. Fortunately, my family and were well prepared ahead of the vicious polar vortex, ensuring we had the basic essentials to get us through. Unfortunately, this disaster revealed just how many were not ready to handle such an emergency.
According to a recent poll, nearly 41 percent of U.S. adults state they aren’t prepared for a natural disaster. Of those that do say they are prepared, only 39 percent indicated having an emergency kit and non-perishable food stocks.
The Permian Basin has certainly not been immune to its share of disasters. While we never expected crippling sub-zero temperatures to be the culprit, past years have brought upon drought, extreme heat, and even wildfires leaving a stark reminder that disasters do and will continue to occur regardless of the season.
Aside from natural disasters, the threat of man-made catastrophes is just as prevalent. From hazardous material exposures to occupational mishaps, the potential should always be considered high for such instances to occur. Preparing for the unexpected is crucial, because disasters aren’t a matter of if they’ll happen, but when the next one will occur.
Several reference and resource materials are available to help you and your family prepare, such as those offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In the meantime, now is the best time to start collecting essential items to have on hand. Building a “disaster kit” can be inexpensive and easy to maintain. The basic elements of a disaster kit should include:

  • Water (one gallon per person, per day).
  • Non-perishable foods (such as ready to eat meals and canned foods).
  • First-Aid kit.
  • Batteries.
  • Hand crank style flashlights and radios (particularly a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) radio).
  • Copies of important phone numbers and documents.
  • Personal hygiene items (toilet paper, feminine supplies, hand sanitizer, soap).
  • Tools (multi-purpose, hammers, nails, duct tape, utility knife, bungee cords, etc.).
  • Plastic sheeting and large plastic bags (for sanitations and waste collection).
  • Any special needs items for children, seniors, and/or disabled persons.
  • Essential supplies for any pets in the home.

Once you’ve established a basic disaster kit, it is important to periodically check the contents and replace items as necessary, such as food nearing or past expiration. A good compliment to the kit can also include “grab and go” packs for each family member. Grab and go packs are a streamlined version of the household disaster kit and are designed just as they sound, to quickly grab when having to evacuate an area. In these instances, you and your family should have a plan in the event evacuation is necessary:

  • Make sure family members know where disaster kits are located.
  • Keep a flashlight in each bedroom, along with a pair of shoes by each bed (in case an emergency occurs at night).
  • Designate where to meet after a disaster. Choose two locations, one just outside your home and one outside your neighborhood.
  • Identify at least two escape routes from your home and outside your neighborhood.
  • Get in the habit of keeping your vehicle’s gas tank at least half full.
  • Have conversations with children about disasters and conduct practice drills (this will lessen anxiety and help get them involved).
  • Establish an emergency contact, particularly someone outside the area not impacted by the disaster.

Like this major disaster, it might be several days before vital services are restored. All too often, the public relies almost exclusively on efforts from local, state, and federal agencies to respond and provide assistance during an emergency.
Ideally, the more prepared individuals are before disaster strikes, the more effectively resources can be utilized to lessen the strain and mitigate the situation efficiently. The earlier you begin to organize personal disaster preparedness, the better your chances of getting through a catastrophe with fewer headaches. Need more information on disaster preparedness? On the web, the following links provide easy to use references, check lists, and examples related to a variety of disaster scenarios: