FORT LEE, Va. – “If anything positive can be said about global warming,” observed Installation Emergency Manager Thomas Loden, “it has to be the fact that more people than ever now understand the very real threat of catastrophic weather events.”
His comment relates to the September observance of National Preparedness Month – a time when extra educational efforts are focused on getting communities ready for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. In the central Virginia area where Fort Lee is located, those unsavory servings have historically included hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, massive flooding and crippling winter storm events.
Loden’s point about people paying greater attention to the weather was verified recently in a Federal Emergency Management Agency survey. It revealed that six out of every 10 Americans believe they will be personally impacted by a natural disaster over the next three years. The number of people confirming they have taken steps to prepare also has increased, with 81 percent saying they’ve assembled an emergency supply kit, 65 percent acknowledging they’ve sought out preparedness information and 48 percent having prepared a home emergency plan.
All of it is music to an emergency planner’s ears.
“What does preparedness do for us as a community?” Loden rhetorically asked. “First and foremost, it reduces the potential for panic and harm. Planning builds confidence in our ability to respond quickly and appropriately. Building a kit gives us peace of mind in knowing that we have the necessary supplies to take care of ourselves and loved ones for a few days if grocery facilities and other conveniences are not available. Knowing evacuation routes and emergency shelter locations enables us to bug out quickly if necessary.”
The transient nature of military communities adds impetus to the National Preparedness Month initiative, Loden also pointed out. The many service members, families and others who have joined Team Lee over the past several months likely haven’t had an opportunity to exercise their emergency response chops. NPM serves as an encouraging nudge.
“Read up on nor’easters, a weather threat unique to the upper East Coast,” Loden suggested to those unfamiliar with the area. “Over the past decade, we’ve also experienced the devastating effects of hurricanes, tropical storms and tornadoes. We even rode out an earthquake back in 2011. Awareness of flood zones also is important because flooding has probably taken more lives in this area than most of the actual emergency weather events themselves. We really need to be mindful of that because it’s an often underestimated threat.”
“Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be informed” is the long-cited mantra of National Preparedness Month. They are the action steps that have proven effective in reducing confusion, property loss, injuries and fatalities.
“I think it’s an awesome idea to focus on one aspect of emergency planning at a time,” Loden offered. “It’s an opportunity to thoroughly consider the various factors of what could happen and how you or your family would respond. For example, what home preparations would you take to prevent flood or wind damage? If you have kids returning to school, what is their emergency notification procedure and do they have good contact information on file? Do you know the difference between a watch and warning? If you already have an emergency kit, when is the last time you checked those batteries for the flashlight or the condition of any canned goods on hand?”
Recognizing how overwhelming all of those considerations sound, Loden quickly added that checklists and emergency planning guides are available through websites such as www.ready.gov. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also offers a free mobile app – available at www.fema.gov/mobile-app – with comprehensive preparation walk-throughs and a real-time weather alert feature.
“The garrison team also will be sharing information through social media channels, additional articles and community displays,” Loden acknowledged. “The overall goal is to create a sense of community involvement because we cannot direct people to be prepared; it has to happen because the individual recognizes what’s at stake if no action is taken.
“Extreme weather events have one thing in common – the ability to cause massive property damage and human suffering,” he said in continuation of the thought. “That commonality applies equally to hurricanes, tornadoes and any other catastrophic weather event. They test how well you’ve planned and prepared. Those who do nothing stand the greatest risk of experiencing harm. Proactive individuals who take the time to educate and equip themselves stand a better chance of avoiding injury or death and safely riding out the disaster.”
In closing, he emphasized that administrative areas and military organizations operating at Fort Lee should have an emergency plan as well. Loden and the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security team are available to answer questions and provide additional guidance as needed.