Heavy winds, tornados, blizzards and floods – Union County has been through them all and is prepared to handle even more.
Brad Gilbert, director of the Union County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), said the EMA helps to prepare residents of the county for natural disasters. He said the EMA works to make sure people can increase their survivability and help minimize damage as much as possible.
“We hope you can take care of yourself, as well as your family or neighbors, for the first 72 hours until things start to settle down for a bit,” he said. “(We hope) you’re able to get out of your house, your power gets back on or volunteers can assist you in whatever you need.”
Gilbert said the biggest thing the EMA does for emergency preparedness in the face of a natural disaster is planning. He said there’s a countywide “emergency operation plan,” which details what the EMA needs to do, how to operate and respond to emergencies.
He said the EMA conducts hazard analyses for what could be expected to hit the county and to determine what is the number one threat from the occurrence.
Even though the EMA helps prepare residents for natural disasters, Gilbert said no one will be able to “completely prevent” the effects of a disaster. He said the best thing to do would be to prepare for what will come and to work toward lessening its impact.
“I think we’re very prepared but, we understand that, when mother nature strikes, you’re not going to prevent that disaster,” he said. “You’ll want to hope to recover from it quickly and put things in place to at least help minimize the loss of life and property.”
He said, through this procedure, “when the dust has settled,” the EMA works with local businesses and other agencies to assess damage.
“When we have that initial disaster… our initial response is to help and support other responding agencies trying to do the life safety and rescue stuff,” Gilbert said. “We’ll spend maybe our first day to help support agencies, make sure everyone is okay.”
When it comes to notifying people about a natural disaster, the EMA makes sure to send out reminders to residents through social media, its website or at events.
However, EMA emergency planner Kathy Brown said, because of the lack of people attending events for emergency preparedness, those are offered to organizations to see if they will sponsor hosting them. She said the EMA has done presentations for the boy scouts, apartment complexes and the Richwood Library this summer.
She said these events help residents in general preparedness, as well as making sure they have an emergency kit and making sure it’s fully stocked with the appropriate items. She said the events also teach people about having a communications plan in the event someone can’t contact others and an evacuation plan.
She said Union County experiences winter storms and thunderstorms the most often. However, the county also has a highest risk natural disaster: the tornado.
“We have the ones that happen frequently you have to be prepared for and the out-of-the-box ones that, if they do happen, are going to be catastrophic,” she said.
Brown said the EMA is well informed about storms before they arrive to the county thanks to reports and updates from the National Weather Service (NWS). From there, the readings are analyzed and, if the threat is assessed as being catastrophic, the proper agencies are notified.
To look up natural disasters that have happened in Union County in the past, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/stormevents.
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