Officials say preparation for disasters is important. Kits containing food, water and other needed supplies can be put together or purchased from places like Lowe’s, at left, or the American Red Cross.

Officials say preparation for disasters is important. Kits containing food, water and other needed supplies can be put together or purchased from places like Lowe’s, at left, or the American Red Cross.

ALBANY, Ga. — When the power’s out, an electric-powered can opener isn’t going to do you any good.

And simply realizing that you could need a hand-operated can opener in the event that you lose electrical power for an extended period of time — and then obtaining one — is the type of preparation that is needed before a disaster strikes.

“The most important thing to do is to plan,” Jim Vaught, emergency management director for Dougherty County, said Friday. “If a disaster hits and you haven’t planned, you’ll run around in circles and won’t know where to go.”

See a list of suggested emergency supplies here.

The weather’s getting warmer, which means there’s more energy in the atmosphere. And that means storms likely will be more frequent and, with the added energy, more powerful. Tornado watches and warnings will be more common as we move into summer, and the “official” hurricane season for the Atlantic gets under way on June 1, just six weeks away.

The need to be ready, however, is already here. The flood of 1994 hit in July of that year, but the 1998 flood that also bisected Albany came in March. Some of the most destructive tornadoes to hit Southwest Georgia came on Valentine’s Day in 2000 and March 20, 2003 in Camilla. The tornado that destroyed Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus hit March 1, 2007.

In fact, severe storms — including tornadoes — are No. 1 on the Dougherty EMA list of potential disasters for this year, a risk assessment that is developed by the EMA and approved by the Albany and Dougherty County governments.

“We analyze (risks) every five years to revise our disaster mitigation plan,” Vaught noted.

The rest of the top four, in order, are hurricanes, flooding and hazardous materials. The list isn’t static. In 2004-05, it was topped by drought.

The hazardous materials risk strikes a particular nerve now in the wake of the anhydrous ammonia tank explosions last week in West, Texas, that leveled 60 residences and buildings and killed at least 14 people. In an agricultural area like Southwest Georgia, ammonia is a frequently used chemical in liquid and solid fertilizers. Ammonia is also used by some local industries.

“It’s a very common chemical,” Vaught said, “and, unfortunately, it’s a very unforgiving chemical.”

The West, Texas, catastrophe also is an example of a situation that quickly became too big for local officials to handle.

“Every emergency or disaster is local,” Vaught said. “We do the best that we can with the assets that we have.” If the event becomes too much for local officials to handle, the state, though GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) becomes involved. If the event meets the criteria for federal disaster help, the governor contacts officials in Washington and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) comes in.

While help will be on the way, there can be a period of time between when it is needed and when it arrives. One key to preparing for a disaster of any type, emergency officials on all levels say, is to have a personal emergency kit ready and accessible.

“We think they’re important,” Vaught said. If a catastrophe were to strike, he said, a person should have on hand “whatever you feel as an individual you need to be self-sustained for 72 hours.”

That three-day period of self-sustainability is the standard set by emergency officials on all levels.

Among the items that should be in a pack are long-storage food, water, a first aid kit, a weather radio that is powered by batteries or a crank and a flashlight. And if the food is canned, that hand-powered can opener (Vaught said he has seen emergency pack that included electrical powered openers).

The contents of the pack are “really something you tailor to yourself,” Vaught noted, adding that items such as medicines, extra clothing or a spare pair of eyeglasses can be necessary for some people.

One mistake some can make that might not be all that obvious is the inclusion of a favorite food in the pack.

“People tend to put in food that they like,” Vaught said. “Then it gets midnight, they’re watching TV and they get the munchies, and then they go into the kit.”

A better plan, he said, is to go with nutrition bars designed by the Red Cross and others for disaster kits. The bars pack nutrition, but they’re short in the taste department, which means they’re much less likely to be consumed unless an emergency has occurred.

Emergency preparedness kits can be put together by individuals or they can be purchased from organizations such as the American Red Cross or stores such as Lowes. The Red Cross, for instance, sells kits that range from $50 for a single-person basic kit to $165 for a four-person pack.

There are a number of sources for suggestions regarding items that should be included disaster kits.

The Dougherty EMA’s list of materials can be found at:

Other websites with lists include:


Sign in to comment