Emergency prep workshop reminds people to plan early

Any emergency is stressful, whether it’s heart attack while weeding the garden, or a nor’easter pummeling the shore. Between Delaware’s vulnerability to coastal storms and life’s other stressful surprises, people need to prepare for emergencies early.

There was a free “Ready or Not” emergency preparedness workshop on Sept. 5 at the Roxana fire hall (fittingly, as Hurricane Dorian was sliding up the Atlantic coast). The goal was to help people plan for stressful situations before they occur.

“We live in this area because we enjoy the natural resources, but it’s the same resources that make us vulnerable,” said Danielle Swallow, planner and coastal hazards specialist at Delaware Sea Grant. “Storms are changing. … We’re experiencing more intense rainfall, we’re experiencing sea-level rise,” which will increase nuisance flooding on a regular basis.

The event was geared toward older adults, people with disabilities and their caretakers. Participants learned about weather events, individual preparation plans, evacuation and sheltering procedures, emergency profiles and more.

Even mild emergencies require some pre-thinking. Sure, a person can manage a bad knee on a daily basis, but can they step over a fallen tree in their yard? Sure, they may own contact lenses or eyeglasses to help them see, but are they quickly accessible during a power outage or midnight medical emergency?

“As we age, we might have more of those cases,” said Swallow, describing her own story of trying to locate her own eyeglasses and some emergency medications in a dark and unfamiliar hotel room.

“I think having a plan is paramount. One of the things we learned: the majority of the older adults in the room … they told us their close family members don’t live in the immediate area,” Swallow said. “So, in an emergency, there’s a real potential to be cut off.”

Particularly for storm events, locals should have a central contact person who isn’t in the storm’s path. That person can check in with family members, especially if they become separated. The communications plan should also consider the effectiveness of cell phones or internet.

“All of us are so used to having cell phones that we don’t have a lot of phone numbers memorized,” Swallow said.

What if the battery dies, the phone falls in water, or the cell phone towers fail?

“Take steps now, don’t wait,” Swallow said.

Presenters offered resiliency tips for major storms: Public shelters should be a last resort, since they’ll be in high demand. Try to hit the road early; don’t wait for the mandatory evacuation to leave. Have a plan for your medicines and pets. Deaf or hard-of-hearing people might want a notebook or dry-erase board for easier communication. Have icepacks ready for medicines that require refrigeration, such as insulin. Consider a waterproof folder to store important documents on the road.

Many people were also surprised to learn they live in an unincorporated area of Sussex County.

“They thought they were part of a municipality, and they’re not, so that was a big topic — and letting them know who they’re first-responders are, if they’re not in town limits,” said Stacey Long, Selbyville town administrator.

(People in unincorporated areas are directly covered by Delaware State Police and the Sussex County government. Municipalities are covered, in most cases, by town police and a local town council.)

Roughly 80 people attended to hear the speakers and visit tables with informational resources. The event was sponsored by a public partnership of the University of Delaware’s Sea Grant program and Institute for Public Administration; Sussex County Emergency Operations Center; the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce; and the towns of Fenwick Island, Selbyville and South Bethany.

“We had a wait list — that shows me there’s a lot of interest in emergency preparedness, particularly from this community of older adults in Sussex,” said Swallow.

Until more preparedness workshops are planned, Swallow suggests several resources for people:

• The website at www.PrepareDE.org has tips for surviving major incidents, from weather and power outages to pandemics, terrorism and industrial emergencies.

• The website at www.smart911.com lets people create a profile that emergency operators can see when they call 911. It alerts emergency personnel to special conditions when they respond to a household, such as allergies, autism or epilepsy; different entrances to the house; a less-than-friendly pet; and more.

• Sea Grant’s second edition of “Delaware Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards,” which was just published online at www.deseagrant.org/coastal-hazards. Paper copies are also available.


By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter