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Disaster Myths

Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, the Joplin, MO tornado, terrorist attacks and other disasters have taught us that we need to be prepared for when an emergency happens. In our hectic lives it can be difficult to take the time for emergency preparedness. Emergency preparedness can happen in small doses and little habits that make up our days. Hurricane Rita, the fourth most intense hurricane ever recorded, struck Florida just a few months after Katrina. The day after Rita hit, CNN was running stories about people who were waiting in line at damaged grocery stores trying to get baby formula and diapers. Just adjusting your buying habits to ensuring a 72 hour supply of necessary items on hand will make a huge difference in your ability to weather a disaster. The most important part of any community's emergency readiness plan is the preparedness levels of individuals and families.

Prepare Before an Emergency Strikes

Have a supply kit, make a family emergency plan, be able to stay informed if electricity and telephones fail. Visit ready.gov for more information.

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12 Common Disaster Myths

Some of the biggest obstacles to comprehensive family emergency readiness education are the misconceptions and myths surrounding the true nature of preparedness. So to set the stage for better preparedness, and increasing your safety and resilience, let's try to dispel some of these myths.

Myth 1 — If something happens all I have to do is call 911

Myth-Fire Station CrushedThe history of the past ten years has taught us that fire, police and emergency medical services can quickly become overwhelmed or incapacitated in a disaster. September 11, 2001, Katrina, and Joplin, MO are all examples of emergency services in a community being overwhelmed. Approximately 2,000 people lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks. Over 1.6 million people on Manhattan were forced to deal with the aftermath, which included no emergency services available at all. The 911 Call Center for Manhattan was in one of the towers.

Emergency services are set up for handling the average number of emergencies in a community. While 911 services may still be operating during an emergency they will be attending to the most pressing needs first. The better prepared you and your family are the more likely your family will remain safe in a disaster. You will also create a safer community by easing the burden on the emergency services and allowing them to attend those in greatest need.

Myth 2 — All I need is a 72-hour kit with a flashlight, first aid kit, some food and water and a radio

Myth-Supply KitA 72-hour kit is a good start, but it is an extremely minimal amount of time and may not be realistic, depending upon the size and scope of the disaster. A more practical goal is to be self-sufficient for a minimum of two weeks (preferably even up to four weeks!). Why two weeks? As bad as Hurricane Katrina was in 2005, there are some scenarios that could yield substantially more damage and a disruption of local services for three weeks or more. Also, many biological scenarios, such as a serious flu outbreak, may initiate an order for a two-week quarantine to avoid spreading the disease. Customize the available emergency preparedness supply lists, like the one found at ready.gov, for your family's unique threats, needs and assets.

Remember: Assure your disaster food supplies are consistent with your regular diet to ensure that you remain in good health during an emergency or disaster.

Myth 3 — My insurance policy will take care of everything

Myth-Carmel FloodInsurance companies will be far more concerned about their own bottom line than yours. In fact, many insurance companies are rewriting policies to redefine some rather common terrorism- or disaster-related incidents as being excluded and not coverable. Check your policies closely. Remember: Most homeowners insurance policies do not cover special events such as flooding.

Myth 4 — Good preparedness is too expensive and complicated

Myth-SupermarketNothing could be further from the truth. You do not need to spend a fortune at upscale camping equipment stores to be well prepared for an emergency or disaster. A few simple additions to each trip to the supermarket is a great start.

Making disaster preparedness a part of our regular lives keeps it simple and cost effective. Most citizens aren't taught that there are literally thousands of subtle, simple and economical things we can do to drastically improve our emergency readiness. The notion that it might be expensive or complicated has come from companies that aggressively market high-priced, unnecessary gear.

Myth 5 — We can only form a neighborhood group through FEMA, the Red Cross or local law enforcement

Myth-Down TreeNeighbor helping neighbor is one of our highest civic duties. No one regulates this, and you don't have to get anyone's permission to help people living on your street. Working with groups like our local chapter of the Red Cross and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County is helpful, but certainly not required. Simply keeping your power tools in good working order can provide enormous benefits at an emergency or disaster. In the aftermath of a disaster, a functioning household chainsaw can be a very effective rescue tool. A pick-up truck or SUV can be used to move an injured person to a medical facility when no ambulances are available.

Myth 6 — In a large scale terrorist attack, we're all dead anyway

Myth-9-11 Twin TowersTerrorist attacks, like those tragically experienced by the United States on September 11, 2001, might impact larger numbers of people, but that doesn't mean widespread loss of life is guaranteed. In fact, even in terrible attacks like those against the World Trade Center, MOST people in the community survive! This does not mean that terrorist attacks are to be ignored or that they're nothing to fear, it's just that major devastation and thousands of deaths does not mean total destruction. When the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, most of the people safely escaped the collapse by exiting the buildings. Additionally, other New York City residents, including 1.6 million on Manhattan Island, effectively evacuated and survived the attacks. Plan for your survival!

Myth 7 — Nothing like that could ever happen here

Myth-Cypress Freeway 1989No area of the United States is immune from emergencies or disasters. California experiences a full range of disaster occurrences including fires, floods, civil unrest and earthquakes. The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 affected wide regions of the Bay Area and Central California, from the North Bay to Monterey County, and into the Central Valley. Millions of people live in this area. Despite the fact relatively few lost their lives, the impact of Loma Prieta affected everyone in the region. Fires, floods and other emergencies strike somewhere in California every year.

Myth 8 — All I have to worry about is my own family

Myth-Office EnvironmentTechnically, yes, but the more you're able to care for your own family, the more you can and should help others. Remember that you spend a lot of time at your place of employment and you should have a disaster plan for what you will do if you cannot leave work or get home. Have a kit, make a plan, stay informed applies to your workplace as well as home.

Myth 9 — If disaster preparedness were really important, it would be taught in school

Myth-SchoolPreparedness is important and, if funded, is taught in schools, but schools only have so much time and budget to teach core topics. Remember, we learn lots of things in places other than schools. This is truly something we must work on with our families and co-workers. Both children and adults are much less likely to panic or be afraid when they know what to do in an emergency.

Make sure you have alternate meeting locations so you know where to meet family members if you cannot get home.

Myth 10 — I can get preparedness information on the Internet

Myth-InternetMany free internet sources contain good information on disaster preparedness, the problem is sorting through the thousands of online sites. Many of them are nothing more than a rehash of 72-hour kit ideas and contain nothing new or comprehensive.

Of course, don't forget to visit: sonomacountyfire.org. On the left side of the page, click on the "Emergency Management" link. Here you will find several categories to help you get started.

Myth 11 — Full preparedness means I have to get a gun and become an end of the world survivalist

Myth-SecurityWhile personal security and family safety are valid concerns, the vast majority of people around you will not be a threat. In fact, though looters gained a lot of media attention after Hurricane Katrina, there were far more stories of heroism and of people making new friends through shared adversity. We suggest a moderate approach, balancing between personal security needs and the desire and ability to help others.

Myth 12 — If something really bad happens, no one will help

Myth-FEMAQuite the contrary, even when local emergency services efforts and those of our regional partners are not able to meet all the disaster needs, Statewide Mutual-Aid pacts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and many other organizations are in place to provide assistance wherever needed in the United States; however, these resources take time to arrive. The key to disaster preparedness is comfortably surviving the aftermath of a disaster until help arrives. Based on how widespread a disaster may be, it can take hours, days or even weeks for national-level assistance to reach a particular neighborhood. There's no such thing as "no one helping." However, the best thing people can do is prepare their families so they need as little outside help as possible.

Don't wait for help to arrive, help yourself by preparing before an emergency or disaster strikes. This really does not take much effort. You can get big benefits from small efforts!

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