Be ready to help yourself and your neighbors when an emergency strikes
By Mary Wade Triplett
Last spring on a comfortable weekend day, the power went out. My husband and I had lived in our home for six months and we didn’t know many of our neighbors. After we bought our house and got settled, the days grew long, winter descended and we hunkered down. We had met our elderly next-door-neighbor, Rose, so while my husband called the power company, I went outside to make sure she was OK. Others had done the same thing. Together we discussed checking on Rose, and as a bonus, I became even more familiar with my new turf.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but as mild of an incident as the power outage was, it was the first step on what to do in an emergency.
September is National Preparedness Month, promoted by the national Ready Campaign. The Ready Campaign breaks down being prepared into four steps, and today we’ll be focusing on step two: Plan to Help Your Neighbor and Community.
Using the outage as an example, we of course needed the power company to fix the problem. What would we do in the meantime? As it turns out, the power was only off for an hour or two on a mild spring day. We didn’t have to worry about being in the dark or being too hot or cold and we also didn’t end up losing our refrigerated and frozen food. It was just a brief interruption of the plans we had for the day, and it ended up serving as a great time to meet neighbors.
But what if it had happened at night and in more inclement weather? What if the power outage had been longer in duration? I’ve had that experience and I’m sure many of you have as well. This is where the advice of the Ready Campaign comes in handy: You are the help until help arrives.
And what if the incident isn’t a power outage but instead a fire or a car accident? Then, instead of calling the power company, the Ready Campaign wants to make sure you call 911, even if you think other people are calling as well. You can also think ahead of how you would handle a call to 911, when you are calm. After all, during an incident, anxiety might get the best of you. The Ready Campaign has some good advice: Let the 911 operator guide you through the call. Provide as much specific information as you can and answer the operator’s questions.
As you wait for first responders, is there anything else you can do to help? If a car accident happened in front of your house, can you try to help the drivers or passengers? You can watch a video and play an interactive game that gives instruction on what you can do in these types of situations. One first responder says that it’s a rare occasion when an ambulance shows up at an emergency in which a bystander isn’t already trying to help. The training offers handy tips on how to maximize your efforts.
What else can you do? Another suggestion is to identify your gas, electrical and water shut-off locations so you can turn them off in an emergency. And as noted before, getting to know your neighbors is a good idea. Discussing how you would respond to an emergency with them is an even better one.
A logical place to start is neighborhood associations. Check out this website to find out about a group near you. Many of these neighborhoods also have Facebook pages that you can join to interact with other Morgantown residents. The ones in South Park, First Ward and Suncrest are particularly active, giving citizens a platform to talk about anything from car break-ins and lost dogs to yard sales. Imagine how helpful those sites—and the connections—could be when a real emergency arises.
There might be other organizations to check out as well. Ready.gov recommends Citizen Corps Council, USAonWatch (Neighborhood Watch) teams, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Fire Corps units, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) units, and Medical Reserve Corps units. You can also call your local police or fire department and ask for guidance from them.
Another great source is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And this Friday, September 15, is National PrepareAthon Day. It’s a grassroots campaign that educates while you participate. A site provides tips on how to do basic preparation, like documenting and safeguarding your property, to encouraging you to hold a drill so you can figure out how you and your neighbors can handle an emergency.
So get cracking, and be safe out there.