On April 11 and 12, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) Emergency Preparedness Task Force, in partnership with graduate students from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, held two separate discussion groups at the Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) office on emergency preparedness. We invited participants from across Southwest DC to talk about what “emergency preparedness” means to them, a total of 16 residents participated. The conversation was designed to better understand what Southwest residents are concerned about and what types of pressing information is needed to best prepare for unexpected emergencies in our community.

Many participants had similar understandings of the different types of disasters that can occur.

Natural disasters mentioned included hurricanes, floods, fires, and tornadoes. Human-made disasters included terrorist actions in Washington, DC and the surrounding areas, derailed trains, and hazardous spills from train derailments. Although there was clear consensus regarding what types of activities constituted these emergency categories, there was evident concern regarding best practices for how to respond in these situations. For instance, one participant voiced her apprehension aloud asking, “Where do you go, what do you do, what’s your first step? All these issues, I’ve never heard them answered well for this neighborhood.”

A number of participants shared their existing emergency plans, which included relying on bike transportation if mass transit is unavailable and/or driving is not practical, and having “go bags” filled with several days’ worth of supplies and medications, a small supply of cash, and paper maps to use if cell phone service is unavailable. The consensus among both discussion groups was that many individuals and families in Southwest are not adequately prepared for an emergency. As one participant astutely pointed out, “You never can tell what you’re going to do unless you practice.” Several participants expressed the need for additional information on how to prepare for unexpected situations, as well as what resources and services already exist in Southwest or across DC to help the general population, children, older adults, and people with disabilities in these dire circumstances.

In response to the conversations that occurred in the discussion groups, we identified the following best practices that can immediately be implemented for yourselves and your families.

Suggested Steps You Can Take to Prepare for Emergencies:

  1. Be
  2. Develop an emergency plan for natural disasters and human-made disaster
  3. Scenario plan with your
  4. Understand what resources exist in your
  5. Find out where nearby fall-out shelters are
  6. Identify how local authorities will notify you and how you will get
  7. Pack a “go bag” (and practice with it!).

As you start to think about how you can prepare yourself and your family with an emergency plan, be mindful of available resources from federal and local government agencies and organizations that have already been developed to aid in the emergency preparedness process. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends packing the following items (at a minimum) in your “go bag”: water (at least one gallon per person, per day), nonperishable food items, manual can opener, basic utensils to prepare and serve meals, three-day supply of all medicines, medical supplies (syringes, a walking cane, hearing aids with extra batteries), soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, baby wipes, contact lenses or glasses, first aid kit, emergency blanket, multipurpose tool (pocket knife), whistle, flashlight, radio, cellphone with backup chargers, extra batteries, copies of important documents such as insurance cards and immunization records, extra cash, and an extra set of car keys and/or house keys.

This is just one example of the myriad resources available from organizations like the SWNA Emergency Preparedness Task Force, DC Emergency Preparedness Resources, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. For instance, the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response has also created “Ready Wrigley” as a fun, hands-on activity to engage children in emergency planning. The hope is that these resources and strategies will enable individuals in our community to take control of their emergency preparedness planning and be better prepared moving forward.

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