Do you have enough water to last your family through an eight-day loss? Where would your family meet if you were cut off by an emergency situation? Where is the shutoff valve for your gas supply if you detect a leak?
These are some of the things you need to know before disaster strikes, National Guard First Lieutenant Thomas Frost told more than 60 people who jammed the Senior Citizens Center for a lecture on disaster preparedness Wednesday, March 22. “Knowing what to do ahead of time really helps out,” he said.
Frost is an engineer trained in construction management, mapmaking and explosive demolition. “Engineers always get called up in a disaster; that’s why I became an engineer.” And while the training included construction and planning, he said, “the main reason I joined the engineers is they said I could blow things up.”
Blowing things up was not on the curriculum Wednesday. The three-expert presentation included planning for emergencies, including escaping from a home in a fire or flood, stocking up on emergency supplies, how to help neighbors in the event of an emergency, and specific instructions for different types of emergencies.
Frost and Captain Brett White, also of the National Guard, distributed handbooks that summarized the instruction in each of the situations, from flooding to a terrorist attack. In public emergencies, the focus should be on keeping oneself safe, not trying to play hero. For instance, an appropriate response to a house fire would be to stay at the scene to tell firefighters or police how many people might be in the building and where they would likely be found.
Disaster response starts at the local level, with the county, the state and even the federal government stepping in depending on the scope of the disaster. The three major types of disasters Frost covered were natural, manmade and technological.
Hurricanes, earthquakes, heavy snows and similar natural disasters are events we have no control over, Frost said. Manmade disasters include fires, auto accidents, train derailments and building collapses. Technological failures result when mechanical or electronic systems go awry, from loss of cellphone coverage to power outages. Terrorist attacks are also a possible source of system failures.
“Understanding the types of disasters that may affect you or your family will really help you start to get a plan together,” Frost said. From “grab-and-go” kits for when you have only seconds to evacuate to emergency supplies of food and water, advance preparation is the key to surviving disasters. “Preparation is your most important step,” Frost said. “It can set you, your family and your community up for success if anything happens. During a disaster or when one is about to hit is not the time to run out and get the important things you may need.”
Precautions such as posting contact information for police, fire and EMS services prominently in your home, putting together the grab-and-go kit, developing an evacuation plan, and agreeing on safe places to meet when a family is away from home are best done well in advance of disaster, Frost said.
Every home should be equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, Frost said. Preparedness includes checking your homeowners’ insurance, as well. Know what is covered, and keep the paperwork in a safe place. And Frost warned to keep a sufficient supply of medications available and make sure you bring them if you must evacuate.
Families should prepare for the needs of their four-footed members and make sure they have sufficient food and litter.
Learning basic first aid is also part of preparing for emergencies.
Brett White is with the engineers, the outfit that repairs and maintains equipment such as vehicles, and deals with transportation and emergency responses. His unit was activated during Tropical Storm Irene, delivering supplies and rescuing trapped residents.
In a disaster situation, the number of emergency responders may be limited, so well-trained volunteers can be a major factor in giving aid, White said. “You should be prepared for staying in place or evacuating, and if you practice you’ll know what to do if an emergency situation arises. Once you are okay, you should check on your neighbors. They may have been impacted worse than you, or they may be elderly or have very young children or other special needs.”
Connection with local authorities is also important for evacuation orders or other special instructions, White said. Once you contact authorities, remain on the scene to direct them to where help is most needed. “Don’t go into the building yourself, because you are needed to give the responders information, and if you are trapped, you become one more person who has to be rescued.”
Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra talked about local preparedness for disasters, including the efforts of local emergency services and police. He described a recent exercise based on a potential train derailment at the crossing on Rt. 212. That is an especially dangerous place for a derailment as there are propane storage tanks on both sides of the road, he said. A train derailment in New Windsor carrying hazardous materials last month illustrated the need for emergency services to be prepared.
Sinagra suggested that members of the audience consider volunteering for a fire department, ambulance corps or a similar organization to help in emergencies.
In response to a question about the trains that now pass through Saugerties, Sinagra acknowledged that the railroad has no plans to reduce this traffic. “Right now, we could have 33 trains a day on these tracks,” he said. “If you look at most of these trains, they’re tankers. They’re carrying all kinds of volatile gas, liquids … It is something to be concerned about.”
Trains are not the only carriers that carry disaster risks, the police chief said. Sinagra suggested that residents subscribe to Nixle alerts to get messages on their cellphones in the event of emergencies. “We send out Nixle alerts even for broken water pipes,” he said. To sign up for Nixle, visit http://police.saugertiesny.gov/and click on the link at the bottom of the page.
The disaster preparedness program is free. To arrange to have it presented to a group, call Frost at (518) 390-0503 or White at (518) 390-0754. For information about the program and emergency preparedness, visit www.prepare.ny.gov.