By Doug MillerSeptember 10, 2012
Severe weather doesn't just happen on the Gulf Coast, and September's arrival reminds us to heed the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
National Preparedness Month coincides with the high-water mark of hurricane season, and Malanya Wesley will be busy in September reminding us all to have supplies handy and to have a plan in case of natural or man-made disaster. As Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's emergency manager, Wesley thinks about such things 12 months out of the year.
"Our train never stops," she says, noting the cycle of developing emergency plans, training first responders to implement them, evaluating their effectiveness and refining them. Each new catastrophe -- from 9/11 through Hurricane Katrina to the Fort Hood shootings -- seems to come with a new wrinkle that demands new contingencies, Wesley notes. "As we're learning things, so are hackers and terrorists."
And weather can always throw a good curveball. Hurricanes are less common here than in New Orleans or Miami, but they do occur in this region. Irene, which struck just over a year ago, was the last full-blown hurricane here. Tropical Storm Lee arrived two weeks later.
At the end of June an unexpected freak storm left millions without power -- some for a week or more -- and brought the word "derecho" to mid-Atlantic vocabularies. Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall ran on backup generators for a couple of days, Wesley recalls. While the effects of severe weather can be deadly, it's often the aftermath -- power outages, failure of water and sewer systems -- that induces widespread suffering and inconvenience. For that reason, the Federal Emergency Management Administration recommends that every household have at the ready an emergency kit that includes a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water (a gallon per day for each person), a manually-powered can opener, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit and, for personal sanitation, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties.
"We're really stressing that people should have a kit at work," says Wesley, who adds that she follows her own advice. "I always have a blanket in my car, and bottled water." Being prepared also means having plans in place about what to do in the event Family members are not together when disaster strikes.
The FEMA website urges each Family member to carry cards with contact information for the others, and even has a form that can be filled out and printed. Natural disasters, of course, go beyond wind and rain. Just days before Irene paid her call in August 2011, an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale rocked the region. Its epicenter was in central Virginia, but the quake was felt all the way to New York. In February 2010, "snowmageddon" brought two feet or more of snow to the mid-Atlantic. In situations such as the latter, the best course of action often is to stay put.
"If you don't have to be here, stay home" when snow or ice makes traveling treacherous, advises JBM-HH Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Surette. Wesley says she monitors the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to stay on top of weather developments. "My slogan is 'Be in the know.'"
To learn more about how to build a preparedness kit or for more information about making an emergency plan, log onto fema.gov. Also, follow JBM-HH on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on weather conditions, road closures and other important information.