Are you prepared for an emergency?

Officials offer tips on what to do before disaster strikes

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 13, 2017

METRO DETROIT — It’s sometimes easy to forget in our modern, often comfortable lives that something could throw a wrench into our routines and bring life as we know it to a screeching halt.

September is National Preparedness Month, a timely educational effort amid the wildfires, hurricanes and flooding that have been filling the news of late.

Local experts weighed in on what residents in the metro Detroit area can do to make sure they are ready for emergencies, such as water main breaks or power outages, or disasters, such as tornadoes or flooding.

 Duane Staten, deputy fire marshal for the Shelby Township Fire Department and emergency preparedness liaison for Macomb County, said it is important to make emergency kits for each person in a family to last at least three days, and up to 30 days.

“You can scale this down to what you can afford, or amp it up to what you can afford,” he said.

Basic things to include in the kits, he said, are flashlights and extra batteries, a portable or transistor radio and extra batteries, candles, waterproof matches, and enough food and water for each person for several days.

Other things to include, he said, are first-aid kits, extra blankets, a poncho for each person, a lantern, and hygiene products, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper and cleansing towelettes.

In case of high winds, Staten cautioned families to hunker down in basements or, if they don’t have a basement, in interior rooms or closets — always away from windows and doors.

“You want to protect yourself from flying debris, flying glass, in the case of high winds or tornadoes,” he said.

In case of flooding, Staten said to get to a higher level, but not the attic.

“If I get into my attic, I’m good until the water starts getting in there,” he said. He added that if the water level rises too high, people could become trapped in their attics and drown.

Many drivers, he said, make the mistake of thinking they can drive through flooded areas.

“You do yourself more harm than good trying to get through it,” Staten said. “Your best bet is to pull off to the side and not go through standing water. You don’t know how deep it is; you’re better off not entering it.”

The worst-case scenario, he said, is drivers could get swept away. Other drivers, he said, run the risk of damaging their vehicles.

In case of extended emergencies, Staten recommended that families check their municipalities’ websites, as that is one of the first places that community leaders will post information about warming centers or centralized relief efforts.

“If you have no access to the internet, that’s when a portable radio will come in handy,” he said. “Generally, you can get a radio signal.”

He cautioned against individuals trying to coordinate rescue attempts by themselves.

“It’s good to help people when you can, but you’re better off coordinating with emergency services rather than having a bunch of people go out on their own,” he said.

In the case of Houston, Staten said FEMA told all fire departments in the country to not come and start doing things on their own unless specifically asked to do so. He said doing so could result in duplicated efforts and wasted manpower.

“We get information as far as the needs for Houston,” he said. “Basically, at our distance, the best help we can give right now is financial — donate to reputable charities.”

Kevin Scheid, chief of emergency management for Oakland County Homeland Security, said it is important for people to be aware of impending severe weather. He recommended visiting the National Weather Service website, www.weatherservice.co, for current information.

“We all need to have enough supplies, wherever we live, for at least three days,” Scheid said. “That includes water, medications, food, pet supplies, and the ability to protect yourself from the elements, especially as the weather gets colder.”

Scheid recommended that families make arrangements to stay in a different home with other family members in case something happens, as well as for families to have a rally point in case all members have to leave and join up again.

Another tip, he said, is to list “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) in front of emergency contacts in cellphones.

“It’s so you have contact information if something happens to you and somebody else has to access your phone,” Scheid said. “Newer phones have it built in now. If anyone picks up your phone, (they can type in ICE) and it will have family members or other significant (contacts).”

Gerard Pietka, owner-operator of AdvantaClean in Harrison Township, offered additional tips for preparing for emergencies. AdvantaClean is a nationwide franchisor that specializes in water damage restoration services.

He said fresh batteries and chargers are important to remember for flashlights and electronics, but not to underestimate candles and matches, because batteries do run out.

“You want to store those in mason jars with a good seal or plastic bags,” he said.

Pietka also recommended that residents create a preparedness checklist, identify evacuation routes and pack all emergency kit items into a 5-gallon bucket or a big pail, preferably with a lid.

“Gather all of your important documents and put them in a waterproof pouch. Mason jars or baggies work too,” he said. “You want to stock three days’ worth of water and three days’ worth of dry food. That’s pretty standard.”

He added that cash is important to pack in emergency kits.

“Cash still talks, especially in emergency situations,” he said.

For more ideas about how to plan for an emergency, visit www.ready.gov or www.oakgov.com/homelandsecurity. For timely tips and updates, follow Oakland County Homeland Security’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OakGov.HS.