COMMENTARY: It’s time for Delawareans to get winter-ready

In January 2016, a blizzard brought snow, freezing temperatures, and hazardous conditions to Delaware. However, winter storms are nothing new.

Every winter season, the threat of snow, ice, and other hazards create challenges that can have cascading effects, including transit hazards for commuters, the ability of businesses to operate, and personal safety in extreme cold temperatures.

These hazards are common, but with proper planning, preparation, and winter safety know-how, individuals, families, and communities can take steps to protect themselves and others. The Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region III want to provide tips and information to help you prepare for winter emergencies.

Step 1: Talk about it

Communication is crucial to responding effectively and safely in an emergency. For many, an important part of this is being able to stay in touch with your loved ones when you’re not together.

If the kids are at school, do you have the resources or info to reach them in an emergency? Do you know how their school transmits alerts and updates? If the school is evacuated, do you know where your children will go? Each school or district has a plan it can share with parents. The same goes for work situations.

Take steps now to plan how you will communicate during an emergency. Set an out-of-town family friend or relative as an emergency contact in your cell phone so everyone can check in with during an emergency.

This can be done by saving their number in your cell phone as an “In Case of Emergency (ICE)” contact. Or you can reach everyone via text messages (SMS), which will often go through when lines are busy.

DEMA and FEMA Region III have templates and tips to help you and your family start preparing for emergencies at http://www.preparede.org/ and https://www.ready.gov/. Both have information which can help you start the discussion and plan how you will communicate and respond to an emergency.

By having a plan you, your family, your employees, and community will be better prepared for emergencies, and able to respond safely.

Step 2: Have emergency supplies

Everyone has specific needs: pets, dietary restrictions, critical medications, access and functional needs, young children, and countless other circumstances. Having supplies that account for your specific needs is another critical step to be prepared for winter weather.

Do you have cat litter, a shovel, blankets, portable cell phone charger, and other items in your car in case you get stranded? Take steps to keep warm if the power goes out, including proper use of generators and having plenty of warm clothing ready.

Make sure you are aware of what you may need in case you are unable to get out in an emergency, and keep sufficient supplies of prescription medications. If you have pets, make sure you have extra food, water, and toys for them, or an emergency contact who can watch them if necessary.

Identifying these needs is a part of the conversation: by talking about what we need every day, we can identify what we need to prioritize in case of emergency. Check out our websites for information on pet preparedness, supply kits, and more to help you plan ahead.

We have checklists available to help you get started with planning and to help you build a kit that meets your needs.

Step 3: Know the risk

To prepare for emergencies of any kind, you need to know what hazards can impact our state, and what you can do to keep you and your loved ones safe.

In Delaware, winter weather is a yearly occurrence that brings the potential for flooding, icy conditions, snow, and freezing cold among- other possible hazards. Talk with your family, coworkers, and neighbors about what hazards you may be at risk for, and take steps to prepare for them today.

Start by visiting http://www.preparede.org/ and https://www.ready.gov/ for a wealth of information to assist in planning and preparing for emergencies. The FEMA App, available for iOS, Blackberry, and Android devices free of charge, provides weather alerts for up to five locations that you choose.

The app also has hazard information, safety reminders, and supply kit checklists to help you prepare.

Prepared Today, Ready Tomorrow

There are a wide variety of resources available to help you, whether from DEMA, FEMA, your local emergency services, or elsewhere from non-profits and relief organizations. By taking those first few steps, having a conversation about risk, and then planning and preparing for it, you’ll take steps to prepare for future emergencies, including winter storms. Events throughout the year and across the state highlight that being prepared is critical to staying safe and being able to respond to an emergency.

Take the first steps today to protect you and your family before disaster strikes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A.J. Schall is Director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

MaryAnn Tierney is FEMA’s Regional Administrator for Region III (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia and West Virginia).

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