Public health department says be ready

ALBANY -- Chemical spills, tornadoes, flooding, drought, pandemic flu.

These are some of the emergencies people in Southwest Georgia have had to face in recent years, but officials say Georgians can counter the effects by being prepared. Officials say taking into account any possible contingency, man-made or natural, is extremely important.

In observation of National Emergency Preparedness Month, the Southwest Public Health District is urging people to expect the unexpected.

"Planning for any disaster will serve you well," said Julie Miller, emergency preparedness director for the health district. "We want to encourage people to think about the 'what ifs.'

"In the event of a disaster, are there ways to communicate? What if (people) need to leave their house?"

The 14 counties comprising the area health district are part of Georgia's "Tornado Alley." Area storms have at times resulted in widespread flooding, causing serious property damage, injuries and drowning.

"History has proven that strong-wind events are what we see the most of," Miller said. "They have been the most devastating."

In recent years, tornado strikes have claimed lives in Baker, Mitchell, Colquitt, Grady and Thomas counties.

There are four basic steps officials such as Miller have recently been promoting: getting or making a disaster kit, making a family emergency plan, being informed and getting involved.

Emergency kits should include food, water, flashlights, batteries, medications, a weather radio, personal hygiene items, baby supplies, garbage bags, pet food, matches, a first aid kit and sleeping bags.

Current recommendations call for kits to have enough supplies to last two weeks. In order to make the process more cost-effective, Miller recommends gradually building supplies.

"You can get a couple extra bottles of water at the grocery store, and later, a couple of extra canned-food items," she said.

Buying things in bulk is another way to build a kit without spending too much money.

"If you go to wholesale houses, you can find good bargains," Miller said. "We encourage people to look for that."

When it comes to having a family plan, officials recommend plugging in aging parents, children in college or others who may need additional assistance.

"Check in to see if they know where to go," Miller said. "Think about family members with a walker or with a cane."

Where a person needs to go may vary, depending on the situation, which makes staying plugged in all the more important.

"Listen to media reports," Miller said. "Where you go for a hurricane may be different than where you would go for a tornado."