FORT HOOD, Texas -- In September, Fort Hood joins other government agencies in observing National Preparedness Month. With the current drought and wild fire conditions, being prepared in the face of a potential disaster is paramount to Fort Hood Soldiers, Family members and civilians.

In the past month, more than 11,000 acres of training areas have burned at Fort Hood. With no rain or relief from drought conditions in sight, the focus is educating residents about preparedness.

Leading the charge in preparing Soldiers, Families and civilians for a variety of emergency events is the Ready Army initiative. With information available at displays on post throughout the month of September and online at www.ready.army.mil, the resources to help Soldiers, Families and civilians adequately prepare for disasters such as tornadoes, flooding and, of course, wild fires is readily available.

In addition, the Fort Hood Fire Department offers more information on their Facebook page under DES/Fire and Emergency Services Fort Hood.

Mark Peterson, the emergency management operations specialist at Fort Hood U.S. Army Garrison, said the basic idea behind emergency preparedness is quite easy. It encompasses three simple steps: Get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Peterson said in the large majority of emergency situations, people will be taking care of themselves for a period of time, at the very least until first responders can arrive. And that's where the first part of the plan comes into play -- get a kit.

"If we have a kit then first responders can go onto someone else in an emergency," Peterson said.

He gave a list of some essential items to include in an emergency kit for the home, but said it's a good idea to have an emergency kit in places outside the home as well. If disaster strikes, you might not be sitting in your living room. So Peterson said it's a good idea to have a basic kit at a workplace or in the car. While each kit might vary some, one vital item to have in all of them is potable water.

"Everyone should have water. You want supplies for 72 hours, and you need one gallon of water, per person, per day," Peterson said. He added that pets also need the same amount of water.

Aside from water, he said an emergency kit should include nonperishable food items, a manual can opener, a first aid kit, any prescription medicine or equipment if an individual has special needs, a flashlight, pet food, money and personal sanitation items, as well.

"Also, one of the most important things a person can have in there is a NOAA weather radio," Peterson added.

That's especially vital in a weather emergency.

"When the computer and electricity are out, normally the radio still works," Peterson said.

He added that people should know where to tune into to get weather updates and to make sure the radio has batteries.

In the local area, flooding, tornados and wildfires are generally the most likely emergency issues. And recent events have proven that those are very real threats.

The summer of 2007 brought widespread and dangerous flooding to the region. This year, the threat is the opposite as drought conditions combined with record-setting heat have produced fast-moving wild fires throughout the state.

Fort Hood has not been immune to that threat.

Because of weather conditions so far this year, the fire department has been the center point for Fort Hood disaster response. Fire officials urge residents to be prepared to act in case of an emergency.

"Preparing your Family for any disaster is important, especially now with the severe drought conditions that exist across Texas," Lacey Eide, public information officer, Fort Hood Fire and Emergency Services, said. "Natural disasters -- to include floods, wild land fires and storms --are the threatening forces we must all be ready for. Ensure your Family has a plan."

"Your plan doesn't have to be 100 pages long," Peterson said. A plan allows Family members, who might become separated in an emergency to have a meeting place or to have an escape plan if there is a house fire.

Peterson said the plan just has to cover the five W's -- who, what, when, where and why. But just making a plan isn't the final step.

Families need to practice that plan, especially to ensure children know the plan and where the Family will meet if they are separated, he added.

Involving children is especially important to continue the preparedness message.

"If we start when they are young, they will be more ready when they get older," Peterson said.

And the Ready Army website has special information just for kids, encouraging children to take an active role in creating a plan as well as putting the Family emergency kit together.

The final major point of the Ready Army campaign is to be informed.

Peterson said a state-of-art emergency notification system is already in place at Fort Hood. The "Big Voice" system allows information and messages to be broadcast over the installation. Peterson said the system is top of the line.

"It's one of the best in the Army," he added.

That became especially important on Nov. 5, 2009. Peterson said the mass warning notification worked as planned when it became evident that there was an emergency situation on the installation and that service members, Families and civilians were able to shelter in place as they had practiced. He added that other systems are in the works to help notify the public during emergency events.

"We're working on other systems. We have telephone alerting systems, which is used for a lot of the command and for first responders," Peterson said. "Fort Hood now has an enhanced 911 system."

The E-911 system has the capability to identify a caller's location and has the ability to broadcast emergency notifications to a specific geographic location.

In addition, the post has desktop alerts that provide email updates and instructions during an emergency or a disaster.

Other informational tools might include the "Little Voice" system, which is being installed in all new construction on post. That allows emergency notification instructions to be broadcast within one location, for example, a barracks building.

And electronic signs scattered around post can also be used as an informational tool during emergency events.

Fort Hood also is working to get local NOAA radio alerts in the future, Peterson added.

No matter what medium is used, people should know where to look for information and then what to do to remain safe.

Sometimes the safest thing people can do is to remain in place and await instructions, while in other situations, evacuation is required. Regardless of the situation, individuals are urged to listen to and follow the instructions of professionals.

(Sentinel staff writer Rachel Parks contributed to this story.)

Page last updated Thu September 15th, 2011 at 12:38