Emergency Preparation – good practices vs. overkill (Part 2)

October 18, 2015

Alison Epperson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Health Ed.
Murray State University

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

Staff training and expectations
How trained is your staff to respond in an emergency and then who do you protect? In a recreation setting what would you say to an employee if they just flatly refused to come to work because of a weather alert? Be it winter weather or tornados, you know at some point you’ll be faced with “It’s not safe for me to come in, so I’m not…” Do you have a policy ready for that? If you don’t, think about this situation for a minute.
In February of 2009, we had a massive ice storm that literally shut us down. We had NOTHING – we had totally taken for granted how critical power is; it provides the heat for our living spaces, warms our water, keeps our food at the proper temperature, allows the gas stations to pump gas, allows us to get money out of the ATM, and provides us basic communication. We had no TV, no internet and no cell phone service. I’ve never felt so prehistoric in all my life and I grew up before Internet, remote controls, good cable and cell phones!

After that, I have always tried to implement emergency preparedness in my health education courses, referencing the ice storm and explaining the importance of being prepared as young professionals entering the field of teaching and coaching. Yet again, case in point – the kids that spent the night on the bus in Atlanta.

We buy insurance policies for flooding and hurricanes for our own properties, knowing full well if you put a home on a coastal waterfront, the chances of hurricane damage is increased. Similarly, if you live in the Mid-West, and other tornado prone areas of the US, you know the weather patterns pretty well. But for those of us caught off guard by unexpected drastic weather situations that seem to occur once every ten years, we find ourselves making plans and policies after the fact.

I’ve noticed college students really don’t think about the possibility or plan for events that cause them to be unable to utilize everything they own. Because they have a flashlight on their phone and they use some type of card swipe for nearly everything, they often don’t think about those luxuries not being accessible. I usually remind them of how panic stricken they become if they just accidentally misplace either of those items. Here are a few suggestions that could be worth role playing scenarios among your staff:
• When the power goes out so do gas station pumps, ATM machines and credit card machines (unless there’s an emergency backup system);
• CASH! Cash was our only way to buy anything, I had thankfully stashed about $100 and that turned out to be one of the most important resources;
• In the event that there is a potential for a loss of power – plan ahead, get batteries, have a radio (the ONLY way we got any information was from using our old boom box and the campus radio station), flashlight, water and food;
• Blankets and layers. We stayed in our house (almost 48 hours) until the temperature dropped to 59 – at that point we had to get ourselves out.
• Communication systems – when the cell phone service went out as well as the Internet, all communication ceased. Students couldn’t contact parents and vice versa. Once the closest TV station regained power, they could at least direct parents to our campus radio station for information and updates;
• Don’t text and post status updates on social media unless it is critical/helpful information! This uses up the phone battery which is needed for basic communication – if there’s no power, you can’t recharge your battery!

Certainly, if your campus is in a large metropolitan area, your chances of sustaining long term weather-related power outages are substantially decreased. However, for those of us who have campuses in smaller communities which are also often largely agricultural regions, we predict the weather by the Farmer’s Almanac, wooly worms, the number of fogs in August and the Persimmon treat (imprint on the inside of the nut; knife, fork or spoon). According to all the ‘local talk,’ we are supposed to have another bad winter.
In addition, the Weather Channel’s prediction has indicated the South would have a colder than average winter. So, regardless of whether you believe the Farmer’s Almanac or The Weather Channel, there’s no doubt, it only takes one nasty blast of Mother Nature’s fury to catch you off guard and unprepared to teach you a good lesson.

Be prepared!

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