‘Be Strong, Be Prepared, Be Ready’ takeaway of National Preparedness Month

By Christine Born DLA Public Affairs

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Being prepared for a disaster involves making an emergency plan and knowing how to execute it when and if a disaster strikes, the emergency management coordinator for Fairfax County, Virginia, said Sept. 29 during the National Preparedness Month closing ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex.

David McKernan, operations manager for the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management, offered tips and advice that covered the county’s all-hazard approach.

“Disasters can range from weather to man-made, such as the terrorist attacks on 9/11,” McKernan said. “You need to be ready for anything from snow to dirty bombs. Our approach covers anything that can disrupt normal operations. We also do risk analysis assessments to determine the most likely events to occur in this area and exercise for those.”

Although many weather events, like snow or hurricanes, can usually be predicted days in advance, McKernan warned that most scenarios happen with little or no warning.    

“During the 2011 earthquake and the 9/11 events, most phones did not work well,” he said. “The systems were overwhelmed and people could not get through. It is hard to concentrate on work when you are worried about your family.”

McKernan suggested employees make a plan for themselves and their families that include a place to meet if members cannot get home or get through on phones. He also encouraged the use of text messaging, adding that texts usually work well during an event since they take a smaller amount of bandwidth.

The Fairfax County website and the Federal Emergency Management Agency website also offer a large amount of information and checklists for people to download and use no matter where they live, he said. One website, Ready NOVA, even has templates on creating a family emergency plan that employees can fill in and save, McKernan pointed out. In addition, employees should check their county, city or state websites for localized information.

“The Internet and use of smart phones has revolutionized the way people now receive information,” he said. “Now you can sign up for text alerts that tell you everything from road closures to imminent weather threats like tornadoes. Please take the time to check out some of these sites and apps—you will appreciate it when you need it.”

Helping out in your neighborhood following an event is also a great way to assist those who need it, including the local authorities, McKernan said.

“If we experience some sort of catastrophic disaster, our emergency responders will be overwhelmed,” he said. “There are many programs offered by the Red Cross and county emergency services that teach basic first aid, CPR and other life-saving procedures. Sign up for one and get certified. After you are sure your family is safe, helping others is not only personally rewarding but helps out first responders too.”

Other preparations should include a plan for what do with pets, the elderly and those with special needs, McKernan said.

“There is a lot more to do and this is only a beginning. Be strong, be prepared, be DLA ready,” he said.

September is designated National Preparedness Month by the Department of Homeland Security. This year’s theme is “Don't Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today.”