With the media focusing on typhoons in Japan, earthquakes in Colorado and Virginia, the potential threat from the New Madrid fault line and tsunami threats for Hawaii, the world seems to be full of natural disasters just waiting to happen.
In Missouri, weather-related disasters typically include extreme heat, extreme cold, tornadoes, floods and thunderstorms. And as many area residents know, disaster can strike at a moment's notice.
"This illustrates why we need to be prepared at all times," said David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management. "Everyone should have a disaster preparedness plan."
For years, Compton has urged local residents to prepare and maintain 72-hour kits in the event of a large-scale natural disaster. These kits are essential in having everything an individual or a family might need for the first 72 hours following a disaster of any kind, manmade or natural.
"Local officials will get into the disaster area to determine the needs and contact state and federal resources," Compton said, "but it can take up to 72 hours before a state or federal agency can get resources into place. If there is one thing we learned in 2005 from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, we know people have to be prepared to take care of their own needs."
Those immediate needs include shelter, food, water, prescriptions, first aid, sanitation and pet care. Food and water should be regularly rotated out and replenished with shelf-stable items.
But emergency preparedness includes awareness as well as the physical necessities brought about by disaster.
"People should know the risks of their particular area," Compton said. "If a family lives in a low-lying area, they should know that they might be prone to flash flooding. Even is it hasn't happened in over 100 years, the potential is there. That family should have an evacuation plan in place."
Residents should form a plan to locate loved ones in the event they become separated and phone service is out. Parents with children in school should be aware of the district's evacuation plan and know how to locate and retrieve their children from the district's safe location.
At times, local phone service may be intermittent or non-existent. Designate both a local and out-of-town contact for emergency notifications and make sure family members have the contact information with them.
In this technological age, sometimes computer service is not interrupted and messages can quickly be sent and retrieved via e-mail, Facebook or other social networking site.
Residents should keep at least half a tank of gas in their vehicles if evacuation is likely. Those without vehicles should make transportation arrangements with a neighbor or family member and plan to evacuate immediately if local officials advise them to do so.
"People should be aware of their local shelter locations and places that will accept pets in an emergency," Compton said. "Unless an animal is a designated service animal, they will not be allowed in a public shelter."
Most importantly, Compton said that each 72-hour kit should contain at least one gallon of water per person per day, food items that are not likely to spoil and can be opened and consumed without having to be cooked, any medications needed for the individual, as well as battery-operated flashlights and radios.
"Each community in the Barry and Lawrence county area should have its own disaster plan in place," Compton said. "People should familiarize themselves with their city's emergency plan and plan several evacuation routes in case their primary route is not passable. By being familiar with the plan, it will ease tension and fear, making the process run more smoothly."
Schools, daycares and businesses also have disaster plans, and employers, especially in businesses that have high turn-over rates, should drill employees on the plan at least once a year.
In the event of evacuation, residents should have copies of all important documents in their 72-hour kits. Those documents should include wills, birth and immunization records, medical records and contact information cards, as well as cash and coins, property, health and life insurance documents and a copy of all credit cards and a photo ID. That information will be useful in the event credit cards are lost or stolen. Original documents would ideally be stored in a bank safety deposit box for safekeeping.
In the event of a weather-related disaster, homeowners should also take precautions with their home by turning off electricity, gas and water, time permitting.
"We saw in Joplin earlier this spring where power lines were down, propane leaks were prevalent and utilities were disrupted," Compton said. "By learning the proper way of shutting down the utilities, a homeowner may reduce the amount of damage to their home."
Those having to remove debris following a storm are urged to wear long sleeved shirts, jeans, sturdy shoes and gloves in addition to other protective equipment.
"As we saw in the Joplin tornado, there were some pretty nasty injuries due to debris," Compton said. "People need to watch out for sharp edges on metal, downed power lines and other hazards that could cause injury or even death.
"One of the big lessons learned from Joplin is that people did not immediately respond to the warnings," Compton continued. "Instead, they went looking for additional information from other sources such as the television, radio and Internet. When a warning is issued or the sirens sound, people need to take cover immediately."
Area residents should know weather-related designations used by the National Weather Service.
A tornado watch means people should remain on alert for severe weather.
A tornado warning means that a severe storm has been spotted or indicated on weather radar and residents should take shelter immediately.
"Preparation is the key to successfully surviving a disaster," Compton said.
More information on disaster preparedness may be obtained on the Internet at www.fema.gov/areyouready, www.disastercenter.com/guide/family.htm and for pets at www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-prepared....