Northern Alabama is no stranger to emergencies.
From the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Huntsville and Madison County expect the unexpected.
September is National Readiness Month, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) observes annually to raise awareness of the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could arise at any time.
As we wrap up the month, Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell reflected on what he thinks is most important before, during and after an emergency. For tips on how to prepare yourself or your loved ones for the unexpected, read on.
The 72 hour rule
In the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other unforeseen event, Birdwell recommends having enough supplies to survive for at least 72 hours. It can take up to three days for first responders to reach you in an emergency.
âWhatever you determine are your basic survival needs – you have to make sure you have enough on hand to get you through 72 hours,â Birdwell said.
A good 72 hour emergency kit includes non-perishable food, water, medicine, clothing, pet supplies, toiletries, important documents, cash, batteries and more to keep you and your family safe until help arrives. Don’t forget about specialty items, such as baby supplies, essential medical equipment, etc.
Birdwell also recommends that you always keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least half full in case gas stations are closed or in short supply.
âWhen you look at how hurricanes have been happening in recent years, they hit Louisiana and Texas, where all the oil goes through and the pipelines are closed,â he said. “Although the hurricane does not directly affect us, we may not have gas for several days.”
It is not uncommon for communities to seek help from the federal government after a natural disaster. Birdwell said the chances of getting a major disaster declaration are low, however.
âYou have to hit the financial thresholds,â he said. “Before this can even be eligible, you must have so much uninsured damage in your county, that it is difficult to achieve unless you have a major disaster.”
Since most home insurance policies do not cover events such as floods, earthquakes, and landslides, citizens should explore additional coverage to aid recovery after a storm. For example, Birdwell said flood insurance is inexpensive for those who are not in a flood zone.
âPeople have to think about how they are going to cover their losses,â he said. âPeople have to be financially prepared for what might happen. “
Have a communication plan
What if you can’t access your phone or don’t have cell service after an emergency? How will you let your loved ones or the authorities know that you are doing well? These are questions everyone should be asking themselves as they prepare for the next disaster.
To get started, create a hard copy with contact details for your family and other important people / businesses, such as medical facilities, doctors, schools, and service providers. Then make sure your loved ones all carry a copy in their wallet, backpack, or purse. It is also a good idea to display the document in a central location in your home, such as the refrigerator or a bulletin board.
Then practice your plan with your loved ones. Meet regularly to make sure everyone understands what to do in the event of a disaster and that communication is limited.
Pro Tip – FEMA recommends texting over the phone when the power is out or communication networks are unreliable. Why? Text messages require less bandwidth than a phone call and are more likely to reach the recipient as capacity becomes available.
Save money on supplies
Regardless of your disposable income, you can still collect supplies for an emergency without breaking the bank.
By shopping at discount stores or for sale items at large retailers, residents can assemble a starter kit with supplies that will last for days after a disaster.
âTake it step by step,â Birdwell said. âI hope before you know it you’ve got the gear you need. Don’t focus on doing it all at once.
For those who like to plan ahead and save money, the state’s next weather-preparedness sales tax holiday will be February 25-27, 2022. This three-day event gives shoppers the ability to purchase certain weather readiness items free of charge from the state. sales tax.
Click here to learn more.
To find out how you can make an emergency plan for your family, visit the EMA website.
Sign up for emergency alerts from the City of Huntsville here.