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Lifestyles

October 15, 2011

From the Office: Emergency preparedness needs to be an everyday activity

My last article for The Daily Star appeared shortly after the fifth anniversary of the Flood of 2006 and it seemed an appropriate time to talk about emergency preparedness. Little did I know that two months later we would experience not one, but two bouts of power outages, flooding and destruction.

While Otsego County suffered less damage than our neighbors to the east, south and west, there were many without power for hours or days and experienced flooding and property damage after Irene and some areas of the county experienced flooding and damage to homes, property and roads with Lee. Some near rivers or other areas prone to flooding were evacuated.

There is nothing like experiencing an actual event to bring home the importance of personal preparedness. As Irene was hitting areas to the south of us, I watched the progress on television. At one point, the news personnel were interviewing residents of the areas that were in the proposed path of the storm. People who had weathered storms in the past were talking about what they did to be prepared. One spoke of filling a bath tub with water; another about how a full refrigerator or freezer will stay cold longer than a half empty one.

As it looked like the path of Irene was headed our way, I decided to take some of the advice I had heard and even written about. I filled our bath tub with water and it lasted for our washing and flushing needs for the 2½ days we went without power. I admit that we were conservative. My husband was getting a little tired of me telling him to save his wash water to use for flushing later, but that full tub lasted and would have taken us through another day or two.

I also decided to fill the refrigerator with water and other things to help keep the cold and put containers of water in the freezer to freeze. Many recommend turning both the refrigerator and freezer the whole way up if you expect the possibility of a power outage. I turned ours up some, but not the whole way because ours would then freeze everything in the refrigerator.

After the power went out, we were unable to connect with the dry ice distributions, but by limiting opening and shutting the doors and adding bags of ice we were able to keep everything frozen in the freezer, except a few things in the door, and the refrigerator stayed reasonable cool, but I did throw out anything that I had any doubts about.

We've received a lot of information about what to do before or after a flood or other disasters since Irene and Lee. One that has a lot of good information on a variety of topics is "Don't Be Left in the Dark" from the state Department of Health and can be found by searching its website and downloaded. One of the sections is about keeping food cold or frozen and what to keep and what to throw out. They suggest keeping an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer so you know if they go above recommended temperatures of 40 degrees or below for the refrigerator and 0 to 10 below zero for the freezer.

It also reinforces the need to have food that needs no refrigeration and can be eaten without cooking. Even though we have a gas stove and can light the burners manually, I found that I really didn't want to cook anything that would need a lot of clean up.

Having a three-to-seven day supply of shelf-stable food and water is just one piece of a personal preparedness plan.

Others include:

"¢ Have important phone numbers listed by the phone and ready to take with you _such as utility/fuel emergency numbers, family, friends and medical providers. Include home, cell, work and other emergency numbers.

"¢ Have a phone that doesn't need electricity (wall-plug style or cell)

"¢ Keep your car's gas tank more than half full

"¢ Make sure you have an adequate supply of medications. Many of us have limits on when medications can be filled, but get them filled as soon as you can for a few months so that you can have a week's supply for an emergency.

"¢ Keep your current list of medications with you.

"¢ Have a "go bag" with a change of clothing, your extra medications, important phone numbers and papers, some cash or travelers checks, flash light and extra batteries, gloves mask, copies of pet vaccinations etc.

"¢ Know how to turn your utilities and/or fuel supply off.

"¢ Make sure your fuel tank is securely fastened to the floor.

"¢ Don't forget to plan for your pet.

These recent events, while devastating to many, were somewhat easier for those of us less affected, since they occurred when outdoor temperatures were warm and loss of power didn't mean loss of heat as well, but we're coming to the time of the year when we need to be prepared for cold weather emergencies. In addition to the above we also need to be prepared to keep warm.

If your heat goes out during a winter storm, close off rooms that you don't need, dress in layers of light-weight clothing and wear a hat, add a blanket, consider bundling with someone close to you. If you have an alternative heating source, make sure it is safe and well-vented.

If you have to evacuate, let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to get there, no matter what the season of the year. In the winter keep a winter emergency kit in your car. Include a shovel, windshield scraper, blanket, water, snacks, hat and mittens, boots, rain gear, flashlight and extra batteries, a toolkit and cellphone.

We all have a responsibility to be personally prepared for emergencies, and if we are, we will be more comfortable while we are waiting for help or repairs to be made. Check on your family, friends and neighbors, particularly the elderly.

Listen to emergency personnel _ if you're told to evacuate, do so. Not doing so not only puts you at risk, but those who try to help you.

Otsego County residents 60 and older who would like a copy of "Don't Be Left in the Dark," may call the Office for the Aging at 547-4232.

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.

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