Emergencies are inevitable: So, why don’t we prepare?

January 2021 Posted in Other
Dale Kunce.   Melissa Wagoner

Dale Kunce. Melissa Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

The Red Cross mantras, “disaster can strike at any time” and “disaster preparedness starts with you” are by no means new messages, yet they still go largely ignored by a large segment of the population, even as devastating hurricanes and wildfires tear across the country.
The question is – why is that?

“It’s hard to think about,” Dale Kunce, the Chief Executive Officer for the Cascades Region of the Red Cross told Our Town in a recent interview. “And a lot of people – they don’t know what the first step to take is.”

That’s why the Red Cross developed the “Prepare!” guide – a step-by-step guide to emergency preparations.

“It literally is – these are things that happen during a fire and these are things that happen during a flood,” Kunce said of the guide’s layout. “For instance, the folks from the wildfire they needed go bags. They needed a communication plan to let people know they’re safe. A lot of times it’s helpful to make one phone call.”

Those small details can make all the difference, according to Kunce who warned that, in widespread emergencies the chance of internet connections or phone lines becoming disabled substantially increases.

“You don’t want to have all the phone calls going to one place,” Kunce stressed.

Instead, he recommends a phone web in which participants call a predetermined friend or family member, verifying the location and safety status of fellow members as communication moves throughout the web.

“It’s a good way to stay in touch with your family members,” Kunce pointed out. “Call them every six months and say – hey, you’re my person.”

Like the phone web, many other emergency preparations should be done in advance. And that can feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to.

“My first piece of advice for prepping for disaster is, you don’t have to be a prepper,” Kunce laughed. “Prepping for a disaster for yourself doesn’t have to be that extreme.”

And preparations should be focused, Kunce added. Those living in a floodplain should prepare for floods. In wildfire areas, residents should prepare for fires. Each disaster bringing its own potential set of circumstances and its own preparation requirements.

“If you live in a wildfire area you need to prepare a go-bag,” Kunce stressed. “Have your important papers, some water in there, your favorite snacks, your kids’ favorite snacks. Prepping is individualized.”

Because what is vital for some – prescription medications for example – may not be necessary for others.

“When my wife and I were prepping for Hurricane Sandy that looked a lot different than how other people were prepping for it,” Kunce, who now lives with his family in Bend, recalled. Adding, “The best thing to do is become aware of what those things are.”

Because, while few people want to admit that a disaster may be headed their way, it is always better to be prepared.

“What I would say is that disasters happen where disasters haven’t,” Kunce said. “And that risk and hazard risk are real.”

And preparation should be community-wide. Because when disasters like the recent Labor Day wildfires occur, it puts incredible stress on emergency response systems, like the Red Cross. So, the more prepared individuals are for their own care, the better it is for everyone.

“Disasters are getting bigger, faster, stronger and more frequent and they’re getting harder to respond to because the most vulnerable are still the most vulnerable,” Kunce said.

In the case of the Oregon fires, after which over 4,000 families were evacuated from their homes, the ability for the Red Cross to help everyone was sorely tested.

“That’s about as far as we can stretch,” Kunce said of the days and weeks following the fires’ devastation. “That’s about as much as we could do.”

Because it wasn’t just the community at large that was affected, many of the Red Cross volunteers themselves were also under evacuation or threat of evacuation and that put a real strain on the system.

“At least for us, the volunteers are of your community,” Kunce confirmed. “One in ten of the volunteers were directly affected themselves.”

Which is one more reason why, right now is the best time to start preparing for whatever disaster comes next by creating a simple go bag or bin.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Kunce suggested. “It’s literally – do you have a big Tupperware bin or a backpack? My preparedness kit is two big Tupperware bins because they easily fit in my car. And where they’re stored in our garage, the sleeping bags are stored right on top.”

For those people with kids, make sure to talk about your emergency plans as a family.

“It’s important to talk to kids,” Kunce stressed. And it’s important to have those conversations ahead of time.”

That can mean discussing how to get out of the house safely, where to go in case of a fire and how to call 911. It can also mean attending one of the many Red Cross educational programs – the Pillowcase Project, aimed at third through fifth graders or Pedro Penguin, for kindergarten through second grade.

“It’s fun,” Kunce said. “That way the kids can ask me about disasters. We can talk to them about how do you get out of a house safely? And how do you call 911? All those programs we’re offering virtually right now.”

There are adult programs as well, including a Lunch and Learn.

“What you can do is make yourself prepared over time,” Kunce said. “That whole community approach is how we get prepared.”


Simple emergency preparedness tips

• Be informed – know what disasters are possible in your area.

• Make a disaster plan – involve your entire family in the discussion and practice.

• Build a kit – fill it with the basics (water, food and first aid supplies) as well as items based on your needs.

• Download the Red Cross app – which has information on what to do before, during and after a disaster as well as an “I’m Safe,” feature.

• Test smoke alarms regularly – have one on each floor and in every bedroom.

• Become CPR and first aid certified – designate at least one person in each family.

• Fill out an emergency card – choose at least one contact living out of state.

• Learn how to shut off all utilities; secure potential hazards.

• Visit www.redcross.org/prepare for more information.

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