Emergency managers in Cabarrus, Stanly and Union counties would like to know what you think are the region’s most likely natural risks.The information will help emergency teams keep citizens safe when disasters hit.“We’re rewriting both our regional and county-specific mitigation plans, so we’re excited about hearing from the community,” said Bobby Smith, Cabarrus County’s emergency management director and lead planner. “We’re looking at hazards and vulnerabilities, such as low-lying areas, that can be threats during natural disasters. We have to make sure that our response plans cover every possible scenario and concern.“When we did this plan five years ago, we tried to gather input with community forums, but no citizens showed up. People may be more comfortable with an online survey.”Nathan Slaughter is a project manager at Atkins, the planning consulting firm that’s helping to gather citizen input; he says they have already collected more than 200 responses.Besides residents’ feedback, Smith said much of what they’ve learned about natural disaster risk and planning has come from firsthand experience.“Over the last five years, it’s been severe weather,” said Smith. “We had a tornado back in last March, thunderstorms and flood warnings.” Man-made disasters, such as the recent chemical spill that contaminated the water system in West Virginia, as well as train derailments and plane crashes, also require special planning and preparation. Charlotte Motor Speedway, where 200,000 people cram into for events, and Concord Mills mall require separate emergency plans for potential incidents, Smith said. “Depending on which way the wind is blowing, an incident at the nuclear power plant could mean a combination of a large number of evacuees, decontamination, testing or an order to shelter in place,” he said. A network of responders that includes firefighters, law enforcement, hospitals, the Red Cross and businesses – depending on the level of the threat – try out their plans and identify weaknesses by training together. Full-scale exercises every two years are graded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.“Mutual aid with community resources also helps put us back to where we were before a disaster,” said Smith. Early warning can be the most valuable tool for protecting the public against both natural and man-made disasters. Smith said his department uses every means available to alert the public, including the emergency alert system, radio and television, the Internet, Twitter and the local outreach phone system. “Many people no longer have landlines and rely on their cellphones,” said Smith. “The best thing to come along lately is the Wireless Emergency Alert automatic notification system, linked to FEMA.” According to Smith, another important element of disaster planning is home and business preparedness, a message he believes he cannot share often enough.He advises everyone to have a 72-hour preparedness plan in case they need to be self-sufficient until help arrives.“Our last statistics indicated that we have about one emergency responder for 300 (residents), so we can’t meet everyone’s needs at once. We have to prioritize. You may be on your own for a time,” said Smith. Families and businesses that have their own emergency plans help fill that gap.“If you see or hear of a threat, you need to know what to do for your own safety,” said Smith. Emergency planners are happy to reach out to community and church groups, schools and businesses to help spark that process, he said. Call the Cabarrus County Emergency Management office at 704-920-2143 for more information.
Monday, Jan. 27, 2014
Cabarrus County emergency teams offer survey to assess risks
Take the survey, learn more
• If you have questions regarding the survey or would like to learn about more ways to participate in the development of the Cabarrus Stanly Union Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan, call Nathan Slaughter at 919-431-5251 or email him at email@example.com.
• To learn more about FEMA’s automatic wireless alert notifications, visit the “Be Informed” link at www.ready.gov.
• From chemical emergencies to landslides and tornadoes, the American Red Cross has detailed guidelines for keeping families safe during an emergency and returning to normal once the threat has passed. Visit www.redcross.org and click on the “Plan & Prepare” link at the bottom of the home page.
Carole Howell is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Carole? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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