You never know when disaster will strike, but being prepared before it occurs can save lives.
That is the message that the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter and the Yuma Fire Department are hoping to get across to Yuma County residents during September’s National Preparedness Month.
"If the community is already prepared when disaster strikes, the better position they will be to help their family," said Cynthia Snyder, the county’s emergency services specialist.
The Red Cross will be participating in two events to spread the word:
• Boy Scouts of America Scout-O-Rama: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Yuma Civic Center, at 1440 W. Desert Hills Drive in Yuma. The agency will have booths with disaster preparedness information.
"We just want to get the word out to the community: we’re here and we’re available," Snyder explained.
• Disaster preparedness education workshop: 3-5 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Yuma County Main Library, at 2951 S. 21st Drive in Yuma. Attendees will learn how the Red Cross can help prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters.
Whether residents can attend the events or not, the Red Cross is encouraging them to create a family disaster plan to make sure they’re ready for the next disaster or emergency that might hit without notice.
Families are urged to take three actions that can help make a difference: Get a kit, make a plan and be informed.
Plans should include designating a meeting place right outside the home in the event of a sudden emergency, such as a fire or a flood; an out-of-area emergency contact person; and a location where everyone should meet if they’re unable to return home.
All members of the household should work together on the emergency plan, and each person should know how to reach other family members.
"Disasters can strike at any time, and being prepared is the best defense," said Natasha Holstein, the Grand Canyon Chapter’s community preparedness and resilience manager. "No one can predict where or when disasters will strike, but preparedness steps taken today can save lives tomorrow."
Although Yuma County has not suffered community-wide devastating disaster in recent history, it does have its share of emergencies.
Synder pointed out the recent severe thunderstorms that led to widespread power outages. In the middle of Yuma’s summer, not having air conditioning can be life-threatening. In response, the Red Cross opened cooling stations and shelters.
However, the most common disaster in Yuma is the single family house fire.
"The more they’re prepared before such an event, the more resilient they’ll be," Snyder noted.
In cases like this, the agency encourages families to have packed bags in case they have to leave quickly. The bags should have extra clothing, medicines, identification cards and extra cash.
"If there’s no power, they might not be able to buy anything," Snyder said.
Residents should also know where to go for help and the most current information. She noted that a good place to start is http://www.redcross.org.
"Always go to our website for more information. We’re here in case you need us," Snyder said.
Likewise, the Yuma Fire Department urges families to think about how they would react if faced with having to leave their homes.
For National Preparedness Month, the department has posted on its website a series of questions to think about:
How about if utilities like electricity, gas, water or telephone service are disrupted? What if grocery stores are closed due to the emergency? Do you have an emergency plan?
What if something happens while you are at work and your family members become separated? Have you identified a friend or family member living in another part of town that everyone knows to go to if you can’t go home? Do you have a 72-hour supply of non-perishable food and water?
The department notes that in large scale emergencies and community disasters authorities will do their best to reunite families and provide other assistance to the public, but a personal emergency plan, especially one that has been discussed with family, and practiced, is going to be more effective.
"Think about your personal emergency plans now, because during the emergency is not the time for preparation," the department states.
For more information or to set up a class about emergency preparedness, call Mike Erfert, Yuma Fire Department, at 373-4850.