By Mary Wade Burnside
Although hurricane season begins in the spring, the big ones seem to hit in August and September. Plus a summer of high heat contributes to unprecedented wildfires, especially in California, which this year have been some of the largest ever recorded.
And, of course, we are about to hit the six-month mark on COVID-19’s official arrival in West Virginia.
So it’s no coincidence that the top three topics on the Ready.gov website, created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are COVID-19, hurricanes and wildfires.
I’ve been writing about National Preparedness Month for four years now. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey was hitting Houston. This year, the twin threats of Hurricanes Laura and Marco on the Gulf Coast had observers hearkening back to Rita and Katrina, other landmark storms that had calamitous effects on American cities and communities.
I’ve also mentioned the need to create emergency kits to keep in the home for when a situation strikes — even just a power outage — wondering if the advice would be met with eye rolls and ho-hums.
After just the first half of 2020, people are very aware that being prepared is a good idea, especially if those emergency kits contain extra toilet paper.
Of course, West Virginia doesn’t get direct hits from hurricanes, but storm aftermaths have caused devastating floods that have sometimes trapped people in their homes and wreaked other havoc. That’s why it’s a good idea to watch the progress of big storms and know whether evacuating your home is necessary. Remember, if you see standing water in the road as you drive, “Turn around. Don’t drown.”
And in the aftermath of a storm or any event in which you lose power, if you want to utilize a generator, follow these guidelines. At least eight of the American deaths attributed to Hurricane Laura were from individuals who died because generators weren’t used properly.
Wildfires also don’t happen here on the scale that they do in other locations, but I remember one year when Charleston was engulfed in smoke from nearby flames. And we do get red flag warnings when the potential for fire reaches a certain level, and that is when you want to avoid starting a bonfire.
Here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself in an area with a wildfire, according to Ready.gov.
• Leave if told to do so.
• If trapped, call 9-1-1.
• Listen for emergency information and alerts.
• Use N95 masks to keep particles out of the air you breathe.
As for COVID-19, we’ve been covering that topic in earnest since early March. Monongalia County Health Department has encouraged everyone to wear masks when appropriate and use social distancing. We’ve responded to questions and complaints as businesses work to follow new guidelines. We’ve distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care providers and first responders throughout the county. We’ve coordinated community testing events. And we’ve done our best to keep everyone informed through social media, our website and with the help of the press.
Jamie Moore, MCHD’s Threat Preparedness program manager, has this advice for staying safe during the pandemic.
“It’s more than just one action: wearing a mask, washing your hands, monitoring your health and making good social distancing decisions must all work together to maximize your individual efforts as well as our community protection effort.”
Of course, National Preparedness Month is about more than just wildfires, hurricanes and COVID-19. Those happen to be the pressing issues right now. Ready.gov is a font of information on how to be prepared for a variety of circumstances. Ready.gov/kit specifically provides tips on how to build an emergency kit that can help you weather different situations.
MCHD’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts are updated daily and our website, monchd.org, also provides a lot of local COVID-19 information under the “Preparedness” tab.
“Stay informed and think ahead to be prepared for whatever disaster may come your way,” Moore added. “If you have unique needs associated with your health, family or even pets, you are the best person to build your plan.”
As we’ve all figured out by now, “2020 is a very challenging year for personal preparedness, with COVID-19 as a constant threat,” Moore noted. “It is very important to stay alert to other disasters that can impact our lives and be prepared for them as well.”