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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Be safe in 2008 by preparing plans for surviving disaster

The beginning of the new year provides us an opportunity to reflect on the past and make resolutions to fulfill new goals in the coming year.

The recent devastating fires in California and other national and international disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia remind us that disaster can come at any time and in any form. As the director of emergency services for Ventura County, I know that there is much more work to do in disaster preparation, especially with the added threat of terrorism to our country. I am also keenly aware that even the most prepared government response will not be enough if citizens have not prepared themselves for times of emergency.

Ventura County has been challenged by recent incidents such as floods and fires, and we have, for the most part, withstood these incidents with relatively little damage and loss of life compared to other counties in the state. Our emergency managers have developed plans to respond to a number of potential emergencies, including terrorist acts. These plans include multiagency practical exercises designed to improve and adjust our response capabilities.

We cannot, however, plan for every possible emergency scenario. A major earthquake or other cataclysmic event could strike at any time and at such a level that safety resources could quickly be overwhelmed, and it could take time before mutual aid arrives to assist with the disaster. What concerns me the most is that many citizens have not properly prepared in the event help cannot arrive quickly. Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of what individuals and families must do to survive and recover from a disaster when resources are delayed or nonexistent.

When unexpected natural or man-made emergencies occur, our greatest individual defense is preparedness. Getting an emergency supply kit, making an emergency plan and being informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur in Ventura County are several things you can do to prepare yourself for the three to seven critical days following a disaster.

Some ideas for a basic emergency supply kit may include the following items to ensure individuals and families are prepared for any type of emergency:

— One gallon of water per person per day.

— Nonperishable foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking.

— First-aid kit, essential medications and eye glasses.

— Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

— Portable radio, flashlight and spare batteries.

— Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

— Household bleach for disinfecting and water purification.

— Sturdy shoes and change of clothes.

— Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and other vital documents in a waterproof, portable container.

— Food and water for pets.

Emergency supply kits should also be considered for your car and office.

Preparing a family emergency plan is free and simple. It can help a family stay in contact if they are separated during an emergency and, in addition, give you peace of mind should an emergency occur. Schedule time to meet with the members of your household to discuss local hazards and what each person should do in the event of an emergency. Some ideas to include in your discussions may include:

— Picking two places to meet in the event of an emergency: One right outside of your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire; a second location outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home or are asked to leave your neighborhood.

— Picking two out-of-town contacts for communication. One should be a friend or relative who will be your household's primary contact, and the second will serve as an alternate.

— Discussing what to do if a family member is injured or ill.

— Discussing what to do if authorities advise you to shelter-in-place or evacuate. Be familiar with evacuation routes.

— Planning how to take care of your pets. Pets (other than service animals) are usually not permitted in public shelters or places where food is served.

A new resource has been developed to assist the residents of Ventura County educate themselves and prepare for a disaster. The county of Ventura homepage (www.countyofventura.org) now has a new link titled "Disaster Information."

This portal enables residents to learn about local hazards in our area, as well as how to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from a disaster.

Individual homeowners can protect their homes by implementing flood prevention strategies, such as evaluating your property and preparing for water and debris flows. Personal safety is the most important consideration during a flood.

Regardless of how a flood occurs, the rule for being safe is simple — head for higher ground and stay away from flood waters. Even a shallow depth of fast-moving flood water produces more force than most people imagine. The most dangerous thing you can do is to try walking, swimming or driving through floodwaters. Two feet of water is enough to carry away most automobiles. Even 6 inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off your feet.

By taking some simple steps to prepare, we can help protect our families in the event of an emergency.

Make a resolution that is both important and easy to keep by taking these simple steps to provide for your family's first line of defense.

— Bob Brooks is sheriff of Ventura County.



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