(TNS) - Earthquakes, floods, fires, wind storms, oh my.
These are just a few examples of the potential natural disasters that could hit Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley.
In light of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston and other Texas cities, and Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida and the Caribbean islands, it's best to prepare for such disasters, according to Kern County Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong.
"There are ongoing disasters that are ever present and they can affect us in ways to varying degrees," Armstrong said. "The control that they can affect us directly correlates to how well we have been preparing our families and ourselves to withstand those events."
"When we talk about preparing for disaster, we are really talking about building family strength and resiliency," Armstrong said.
Emergency contact information
"A family communication plan is one of the basic recommended actions," Armstrong said. "It doesn't cost you anything and it's basically a way of saying to your family members that if something were to happen and can't be reached by phone, there is a better chance of making long distance calls out of the affected area."
Some ways to prepare a family communication plan include having a designated plan of contact, and have that name and number written down and in a safe place like a wallet.
"Everybody is going to call Grandpa Joe to check in and say they are OK," Armstrong said. She stressed writing contact information is essential. "After an event, if your phone is destroyed or not with you, most of us don't remember phone numbers anymore. They are programed into our phones — we've lost that ability or in a stressful situation we may not be able to recall it."
Pre-designated meeting places are another part of the communication plan.
"For some reason if you are displaced from your home and can't get back there, it's best to know where you can go and expect to find your family members," Armstrong. "These don't cost anything and are basic tools of where you can come together and know one another are well after an event."
A disaster situation also means preparing to act on your own. In advance of Hurricane Irma, Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents in the storm's path to evacuate, noting that emergency responders would likely not get to everyone.
Armstrong noted as much.
"When you have an emergency situation, you are going to have more people who need assistance than there are first responders, at least initially," Armstrong said. "In a very big event, resources are going to come pouring in from other areas, but that takes time. The more strength and resiliency you have to take care of yourself in the immediate after effect of an event, the better prepared you are to withstand that event."
"We are all our first line of defense," she added.
That includes stocking up on non-perishable foods, water, manual can opener, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit and heavy shoes and gloves (to help protect against broken glass or heavy debris).
Examples of lists can be found online at ready.gov/build-a-kit or via the Red Cross at redcross.org, or via the Kern County Fire Department website at kerncountyfire.org.
People should also take into account medications and the needs of their pets.
"For people who take medications on a regular basis, one of the recommendations is to have a list of your medications with the Rx number, dosage and the name of your doctor with you," Armstrong said. Having that information will help safeguard against incorrect dosage or delays if a person were displaced from a home and relocated to a shelter.
"One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was that for the folks who evacuated, who relied on medication for chronic conditions, were unable to obtain their medication for a period of time and that very severely damaged them," she said. "It's always in your best interest to obtain provide that information quickly and accurately in a disaster event."
Another thing if in a home following an earthquake: check utilities.
"One of the first things you want to do after an earthquake is check for a gas leak, and if you do smell gas, have the knowledge and tools there to shut off your gas to protect your from a house fire," Armstrong said.
She advised the knowledge and preparation are all essential, because in a natural disaster, a situation will get worse before it gets better.
"You want to be able to take immediate action so you can stabilize your family's situation," she said.
Money is another thing to keep in mind, i.e. keep some hard cash tucked away should the power grid be knocked out. Gas in your tank is also important.
"Not only will you not have access to your ATM card, you aren't going to be able to go to pump fuel," Armstrong said. "Look at your gas tank and readjust your thinking so that half a tank in your mind is an empty tank; never let it get down to the end because what if that moment you're running on fumes, you have a power outage and you can't refuel?"
A short term supply of cash is a good first step, but Armstrong also advises to think long term: the proper insurance.
"A lot of people think that if something happens, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is come in and make you whole again," Armstrong said. She said those moments that FEMA is directed to do so are very rare. "Your first line of defense is to have your own insurance for your home and property and to know the kind you have. Your general insurance doesn't cover earthquakes or flood, so if you live in an area subject to those, do your best to have that insurance because that's your first line of beginning to recover from a disaster."
Both Kern County and the city of Ridgecrest have their own emergency plans in place. The Ridgecrest Police Department, the city's public works department and the Kern County Fire Station are all hooked into emergency or natural disaster planning.
Armstrong said the Indian Wells Valley, like a lot of Kern County, has a very active Community Emergency Response Team presence. CERT educates citizens and volunteers on disaster preparedness for hazards that might impact the area; the program also trains in basic disaster response skills like fire safety, light search and rescue and team organization.
"They can come into an event supplementing first responders' resources," Armstrong said. "They don't do what first responders do, it's at a different level but it's for immediate needs. Going through the CERT training, you can be better prepared for your immediate family and part of this team that helps the community."
She said a community who has a team that is prepared and organized "is an incredibly valuable resource."
Another group that plays a pivotal role in emergencies and natural disasters are ham radio operators. Ham radio operators, through groups like ARES and RACES, are citizens trained and licensed to operate radio communications.
Armstrong cited a quote from a skilled emergency services manager she knew. "If she had to choose between water and the ham radio operators, she would take the ham radio operators," Armstrong said. "They can be your last line of defense when communications fail so they are incredibly important to overall communications."
Kern County has provided grant funding for ham radio equipment at its Emergency Operation Center, and a similar site at Ridgecrest Police Department.
"If communications were lost, at least we have something in place where hams can help with communication between the county and the city," Armstrong said.
On communication, Armstrong said social media postings can vary from being solid to too unreliable.
Information coming from official sources like Kern County Fire or RPD will carry accurate information.
"Social media when it's just everyone throwing their voice in there sometimes is very ripe for rumors," Armstrong said. "You always want to be wary of listening to unsubstantiated information and rumors."
She advises that residents sign up for ReadyKern (readykern.com), the county's emergency notification system. It's free, secure and used only when there is an official notification that needs to be put out over a wide area. The information is recorded and sent out via telephone, email and text to registered users.
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