Are You Ready for June I.C.E.? (In Case of Emergency)

Top 5 Ways to Prepare, Recover, and Be Resilient after Disaster

The photo was taken after the April 1974 tornado which destroyed 700 buildings. Source - Oshkosh Public Library.

The photo was taken after the April 1974 tornado which destroyed 700 buildings. Source – Oshkosh Public Library.

By Lori Palmeri

Research on preparedness shows that people who believe they are prepared for disasters are not as prepared as they believe. Forty percent of survey respondents did not have household plans, eighty percent had not conducted home evacuation drills, and nearly sixty percent did not know their community’s evacuation routes.

Nearly twenty percent of survey respondents reported having a disability that would affect how they respond to an emergency situation, but only one in four had made arrangements specific to their disability to help respond safely in an emergency.

Becoming more prepared is easier than you think. Whether it’s your home, neighborhood or workplace, or school, a few simple steps to prepare a community can go a long way to being resilient when the situation occurs.

What’s the difference between disaster, emergency and hazard? According to the Wisconsin Emergency Management Response:

A Hazard – Is the potential for emergency or disaster, such as large chemical storage facility

An Emergency affects a smaller area or number of people, such as a fire

A Disaster – affects a larger area or group of people, such as a flood or chemical spill

Wisconsin Emergency Management website is a comprehensive resource for disaster planning at the household level.

But what about Winnebago County and Oshkosh specifically? Are we ready? Do we have an accessible plan and has it been practiced? Past events show that our community has experienced disasters.

Why should Oshkosh residents care to prepare?

Timeline of Oshkosh Disasters:

  • 1874 – 1875 Fires destroys north side of downtown. 700 Buildings destroyed.
  • 1885 Devastating Tornado
  • 1922 West Algoma Flood/Devastating Sleet Ice Storm
  • 1952 Tuberculosis Epidemic among people between ages of 20 and 30
  • April 1974: Tornado hit west side – Two died, and nearly 400 homes were damaged and some 17 to 35 people were sent to Mercy Hospital with none life threatening injuries. The tornado was classified as an F4 multi-vortex tornado. State of Emergency declared and National Guard sent to keep sightseers out.
  • December, 2000: Hydrite Chemical – “Sodium hydrosulfite on railroad tracks near Hydrite ignited and sent a toxic plume of smoke over the same neighborhood affected last week. The incident evacuated 700 homes and for some the quarantine lasted three to four days.”
  • June 2001: Windstorm, State of Emergency Declared
  • June 2008: Flooding, State of Emergency Declared
  • 2011: Blizzard, State of Emergency Declared
  • September 2013: Hydrite Chemical Spill Evacuation – 117 households evacuated “due to a mixture of nitric acid and muriatic acid that occurred when the hose from a muriatic tanker truck was erroneously attached to a nitric acid tank inside the plant. The nitric acid tank is made of stainless steel, which muriatic acid corrode.”

According to the DNR 2014 report on hazardous substance spills, Wisconsin averages 1,000 spills of hazardous substances every year. The majority of these spills occur in the most populated areas of the state. According to WISPIRG, using low estimates, over 41 million Americans live in zip codes that contain manufacturing companies with vulnerable zones that extend more than three miles from the facility. Thus, at least one out of every six Americans lives within a vulnerable zone – the area in which there could be serious injury or death in the event of a chemical accident – created by neighboring industrial facilities.

Locations of the largest extremely hazardous chemical storage sites in Wisconsin are Bordan Chemical Inc. in Sheboygan, Wausau-Mosinee Paper in Brokaw, Vulcan Chemicals in Port Edwards, P.H. Glatfelter Co. in Neenah and Hydrite Chemical Co. in Oshkosh.

A community’s ability to recover from a disaster (man-made or natural) is costly, and authority or agency communication not always prompt with their internal “need to know” policies. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program, et al…and the CSIS Pennington Family Foundation Series on Community Resilience, “…recent reports indicate that from 2010 to today, the U.S. federal government has spent an average of approximately $85 billion per year in response to severe weather events. This figure is more than double average yearly spending on such events in 2000-2009. While there is significant debate about the reason for this increase, some experts have noted that an overall increase in the number of disasters, an increase in their severity, and an increase in the amount of vulnerable infrastructure may be factors.”

We may not be able to control severe weather or hazardous disasters, but we do have power over how we prepare and respond to them at a local community level, and most certainly from a household and individual level.

CSIS goes on to recommend: “Given the growing cost of disaster response efforts, the United States should consider steps that would enhance the nation’s disaster preparedness and resilience. By emphasizing planning, partnerships, and capabilities development that improve preparedness and resilience, the United States may be able to mitigate some of the effects and costs of natural disasters. Meaningful progress will require reform at several levels, including but not limited to changes to federal executive branch policy, additional action by the U.S. Congress, and closer partnerships and cooperation between the public and private sectors.” I would agree, but as an urban planner, coming from a comprehensive planning perspective, I would add that our local efforts to prepare for recovery, resiliency and adaptation require some smaller scale responsibility. And to be honest, before researching and writing this article, I had not been familiar with the Winnebago County or City measures in effect for disaster recovery, let alone resiliency. And, besides, do you really want to rely on FEMA to save you and your community sitting helpless with a white flag on your roof?

In Wisconsin, each county is designated as an Emergency Planning District and has a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The committee is made up of county representatives from Business and Industry, Elected Officials, Health Services, Firefighting and HazMat, Environmental Organizations, Media, Law Enforcement, Transportation and Emergency Management. LEPC’s administer the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requirements at the county level.

Winnebago County LEPC assists Winnebago County Emergency Management Department in emergency response planning for all natural and man-made hazards, including biological and chemical hazardous materials response. They also provide assistance in training, exercising, and increasing public awareness of chemical hazards in our communities. It is the Committee’s goal to provide you with emergency preparedness information to help you respond if a natural or man-made incident occurs involving chemicals, biological agents, severe weather or terrorism.

In the early 1980’s, my family lived in Europe for several years, on the outskirts of U.S. military installations in what was then known as West Germany. As a young, baby-on-the–hip-toting Army Private’s wife, I found myself living in a foreign land, learning the language, culture, how to drive, and to my surprise, going through my own military training I had not planned for.

Are-You-PreparedThis experience has shaped much of my thoughts about household and community management in the three plus decades since. While I am not suggesting communities go through the detailed military exercises we practiced, I would like to share some of this training as it relates to community preparation for unexpected disruptions to our households, our neighborhoods, and other aspects of community planning and recovery that will leave us not just surviving a disaster, but coming out resilient enough that we are able to move through post disaster recovery to resiliency and ultimately sustainability. I would like to share my “Top Five Preparations for Recovery and Resiliency.”

The earlier mentioned military exercise we participated in was then called Non-combatant Evacuation Operations, AKA “NEO Exercises”. NEO’s were a form of preparation and processing for military dependents, should the situation arise calling for evacuation. Along with the periodic NEO exercises, we also had orientation and training relative to living “off-post” that required you keep a minimum of a half tank of gas in the car, 3 days of food and water, batteries, radio, and important documents such as passport, ID, birth certificates, medications, etc.

We lived on the German economy and drove the 10 kilometers to the post for some of our needs. At the time I recall getting to post and the NEO exercises being a real inconvenience and somewhat frightening. I had to have the baby formula, diapers, carrier, stroller and important papers ready to carry and leave at a moment’s notice. When the exercise occurred, everyone was required to meet on post at a processing center, and go through stations with our passports, birth certificates, and a whole host of difficult things to do with an infant and no formula warming or diaper changing facilities. We did everything except board a plane for evacuation. It took the better part of a day and I remember asking, “But how will we all leave once we get here and are jammed in like tagged and processed cattle?” I don’t recall getting an answer to that, but I’m sure someone somewhere knew the answer.

My then husband, was off doing his training, so the Army wives banded together as best they could to come up with ways to help each other get through this logistical nightmare with our gaggles of little ones. It was hot, crowded, and included a lot of uncertainty since it was practice. As you can imagine, things did not operate as smoothly as one would hope.

I’m not suggesting we perform military operations to ready ourselves for resiliency, but I am suggesting we could improve on our ability to bounce back when the unexpected occurs. Think of it as a personal insurance policy when public services are not able to reach you as soon as you would need.

While disaster can come in various forms, both natural and human error, it is the community left with the after effects. It is the households, the neighborhoods, and public agencies that have to decide how to pick up the pieces and either recover or adapt, or both. How can we best prepare for the risk of a disruption which is more than just a hiccup in Mother Nature’s systems? How much in the way of resources should be invested to avoid unintended consequences of the built environment gone awry? While this article intends to provide a general guide for households and neighborhoods, it also anticipates our local government will likely be slow to communicate or execute a plan in the event of such a disaster. I cannot emphasize enough how much a few minutes of preparation before a disaster can make a difference when it actually happens.

Why should we concern ourselves with this now in this day and age? Let me ask you this: does your family have alternative communication plans or meeting point in the event of being separated and something happens to disable transportation, cell phones, food or water access, power or other life as we know it conveniences? Are your important documents all in one place, or better yet, do you have duplicates stashed? What about your neighborhood – can you organize a practice event and inventory who has what first aid skill, or damage repair tools such as chainsaws for downed trees, amateur radio operator. Does a church or school open for emergencies? Who has a key? Rain barrel maps for emergency water use?

ReadyWisconsin is an initiative of Wisconsin Emergency Management designed to educate and empower Wisconsin residents to prepare and respond to all kinds of emergencies including natural and other disasters.

According to the state website, be prepared for at least 3 days supplies for each household member, including pets. “Emergency preparedness is no longer the sole concern of earthquake prone Californians and those who live in the part of the country known as “Tornado Alley.” For Americans, preparedness must now account for man-made disasters as well as natural ones. Knowing what to do during an emergency is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.”

“Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take days.

Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer. Or, you may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You probably will not have the opportunity to shop or search for the supplies you need.

That’s why it is important to have your own fully-stocked disaster kit ready.

A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items that members of a household may need in the event of a disaster. Supplies such as food and water should last for at least three days.”

They have extensive lists for each of the following suggesting specifics for “Basic kit”, a “Go kit”, important family documents, weather radio.

Top 5

  • GET A KIT – Basic: Essentials for each member of household for 3 days, “Go Kit” Basic plus portability, for Locations: Home, Work, Car
  • MAKE A PLAN – shelter in place, family communications, family meeting place, seniors, functional needs, pets
  • BE INFORMED – Emergency communications, weather radio, two way radios, know what kinds of disasters require different tactics. Wisconsin Emergency Management suggests the three steps above, but I would add the following two steps, in order to be resilient AFTER surviving the immediate threat:
  • PRACTICE the Plan! Residents, neighborhoods, community agencies
  • REVISE the Plan

TOP FIVE Emergency

Preparedness TIPS for households:
1. Prepare and have a Plan (and a backup plan)

  • Include a shelter in place or evacuate section of the plan
  • Where will you meet if you cannot return to your home? A school or church or other outside the city location?
  • What about communication? If you are separated – children at school, you at work, is there a meeting place you can get to?
  • Check your workplace and school emergency plans!
  • Make special provisions for disabled family members and pets

2. Prepare and have access to an Emergency Kit of necessary supplies (Include NOAA radio for #3 below)

  • 1 gallon water per person per day (for 3 days)
  • Non-perishable food and can opener
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • NOAA radio
  • First Aid and Medications
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Household chlorine bleach and eye dropper
  • Dust masks
  • Whistle
  • Consider special needs for infant supplies, seniors, disabled, pets

3. Be and Stay Informed – Remain Calm and Patient – understand the different situations that can and do arise

4. Practice the plan – at least once a year, practice with neighbors and make it a social event

5. Evaluate/Revise the Plan

A source of a sample neighborhood disaster preparedness can be found with a simple Google Search with templates and details of how to make and practice a plan. 5steps.LA has a good example of a comprehensive neighborhood plan which includes Templates for Disaster Response Roles, Threat risks and asset inventories relative to a post disaster recovery, and Communications/Logistics and Search and Rescue. The neighborhood specific inventories identify specific threats based on the unique characteristics of a neighborhood such as chemical spill from neighboring facility, flood from nearby river/lake, and structure fires (due to older wood frame houses in close proximity). These are then ranked by the level of likelihood and scale of potential impact. The asset inventories identify skilled personnel, facilities, and equipment, open spaces for gathering/triage/treatment, as well as and transportation routes/maps. Some plans go as far as establishing a temporary animal shelter and in the worst case scenario, a morgue.

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL PREPAREDNESS MONTH – work with your block or neighborhood over the summer to come up with a “Ready for Anything Plan!” and practice the plan in September. Share and report your results to local media!

In 2010, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published a white paper entitled:
White Paper on U.S. Disaster Preparedness and Resilience: Recommendations for Reform.

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