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Planning for an emergency is the best protection

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This month's windstorm raised havoc for people living on the Plateau. Power outages, falling trees and sub-freezing temperatures created an emergency situation for many residents. Yet for all the problems caused, this was a small, localized incident. Had this been a regional emergency, it would have taken much longer for Puget Sound Energy to restore power.

Tri-District emergency crews serving the residents of Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Wilkeson, and the Ridge communities include Pierce County Fire District No. 12, South Prairie Fire District No. 20 and East Pierce Fire and Rescue. Together we drill and practice for disasters of all types. In order to respond to a multitude of emergency situations, most career and volunteer firefighters in the Tri-District are trained as either emergency medical technicians or paramedics. Regardless of the emergency, we are prepared to serve our community.

Thinking about the unthinkable is what we do and we know it takes work and preparation. But we aren't the only ones who need to be prepared. Protecting yourself and your family when disaster strikes requires planning. Are you and your family ready for a large-scale disaster? Here are some suggestions so you can be prepared for the next emergency.

Develop a plan for gathering your family together

Where were you when the windstorm hit? The high winds caused traffic jams on all major arterials and downed trees and power lines blocked some parents from reaching their homes. If you are unable to reach your children at school or home, is there someone else who could care for them until you arrive?

Know how to contact your children at their school or daycare, and how to pick them up after a disaster. Keep your child's emergency release card up to date.

Make arrangements with a person outside the immediate area for family members to contact in case you get separated. This person should live far enough away so he or she won't be involved in the same emergency.

Remember, cell phones may not work and cordless phones need power. Keep an old-fashioned plug-in-type phone at home should the power go out.

If you need to evacuate to a public shelter, let someone know where you are going. Make arrangements for pets if they are not allowed in public shelters. Before you leave, you may be asked to shut off water, gas and electricity to your home. Make sure everyone in the family knows where these shut offs are and how to use them.

Don't forget important family documents such as wills, insurance policies, passports and family records. Keep these papers in a portable, waterproof container ready to take with you.

Keep fuel in your vehicle

Many residents found out that without electricity, gas stations are closed and those stations with power have long lines of people waiting for fuel. Whenever possible, keep the tank in your vehicle at least half full so you have enough gas to get home during an emergency or evacuate to a safer area.

Establish an emergency support program in your neighborhood

Citizens with special needs are particularly vulnerable during a disaster. The elderly, those confined to bed or a wheel chair and those who rely on medical equipment that requires electricity to operate may need extra assistance during an emergency.

Neighbors who do not speak English may also need your help.

Find out if there are neighbors who have special needs in your area and have a plan to check on them.

If you are interested in establishing a program in your neighborhood, contact Pierce County Neighborhood Emergency Teams (PC-NET), a neighborhood-oriented approach to emergency preparedness and homeland security. It is based on the belief that a cooperative effort between a county and its citizens is the only sure way to protect a neighborhood and to prepare for a major disaster. To find out more about PC-NET call 253-798-2751.

Use generators and alternate sources of heat wisely

Generators produce carbon monoxide that can be deadly if inhaled. If you use a generator, make sure it exhausts well away from your home. Never place the generator indoors.

The evening of the windstorm, we saw a number of chimney and wood stove fires. Before the power goes out, make sure all chimneys and wood stoves are clean and clear of debris.

If you use a barbecue to cook food, always keep it outdoors and away from anything that could catch fire. Remember, harmful amounts of smoke can collect even in a garage.

Expect slower response times

For all major events, we establish an emergency command center that prioritizes calls, sending crews to those in the most need. However, even with all personnel on duty, our crews can be swamped during an emergency. Emergency units responding to calls during the windstorm were sometimes forced to take alternative routes because of downed trees and power lines, further lengthening their response times.

During a disaster, residents should be prepared in case it takes longer than usual for us to respond to calls. In a major disaster, such as an earthquake or lahar, there may not be enough firefighters to respond to minor emergencies.

All residents should have a first aid kit, a first aid manual and extra medicine for family members and an emergency supply kit.

We recommend all citizens learn first aid and CPR. We provide monthly classes free of charge to Tri-District residents. Call 253-863-1800 for a schedule.

Keep enough food, water and cash on hand to last three days

The federal government has repeatedly stated that all citizens should be prepared to take care of themselves for at least three days in the event of a national or regional disaster.

Every family should have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. If you must heat food, be sure to have cans of sterno on hand.

Ask your physician or pharmacist about stocking up and storing prescription medications.

Without power, the cash machines don't work and merchants cannot take credit cards. Be sure you have enough cash available to purchase additional food, water and fuel.

All of us need to be prepared for the next disaster. If you have additional questions about your local fire department, call us at 253-863-1800. We are ready. Are you?

For more information on preparing for an emergency visit the Courier-Herald Web site at http://www.courierherald.com and click on the emergency preparation icon.

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