The year 2013 saw 62 presidentially declared disasters in the U.S. That’s 15 more than in 2012, and 37 fewer than in 2011. Two of those were in Oklahoma; one declaration covered the severe storm systems that swept through the state from May 18-June 2, bringing with them tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding. On May 20, an EF5 tornado struck the city of Moore, OK, destroying approximately 1,150 homes, killing 24 people including 7 children at Plaza Towers Elementary School. The catastrophic damages have been estimated at over $2 billion. As of early November, more than $85 million in federal disaster assistance funding has been approved for Moore. That includes money for Public Assistance, Individual Assistance, and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
The other declared disaster was for a severe winter storm that struck Feb. 24-26. Public Assistance for that disaster was estimated at $7.5 million.
These two disasters are representative of the types of hazards faced by people living in Oklahoma; disasters that are often further complicated by secondary hazards such as floods and power outages. Oklahoma is third in the total number of presidentially declared disasters (74), coming in behind California (79) and Texas (88).
What can people living in Oklahoma do to better prepare for whatever disasters 2014 may bring?
• Develop a family plan. Sit down with your family and talk about how you will respond to the disasters you are most likely to face. Talk about how you will all meet up and/or communicate if you are in separate places when disaster strikes, and phones are down. Keep a list of important family information such as social security numbers, medications, medical conditions and needs. Keep it current, updating it once a year. Store it in a safe place.
• Test your plan by having family drills. Make them fun for the kids by making games of them. Practice getting out of the house during fires; practice sheltering from tornadoes; and practice responding to earthquakes.
• Put together a family preparedness kit that includes non-perishable food, bottled water, blankets, boots, flashlights, batteries, radio and other necessities. Include pet food and prescription meds, eyeglasses, and any necessary special needs items.
• Keep a programmed NOAA weather radio on hand. Ditto for smoke detectors throughout your home.
• Learn about the new apps that can help responders find you after a disaster.
• Learn in advance where your local shelters are likely to be. Find out their rules regarding pets, and any items you may bring.
• Get involved as a volunteer for your local emergency management agency. Getting to know your emergency responders, and making yourself available as a volunteer during emergency operation activations will give you a wider basis of knowledge with which to prepare.
• Get involved with your local Community Emergency Response Team. Learn how to be one of the emergency responders in your neighborhood after a devastating disaster until the professionals get there.
• Adopt an elderly neighbor. Make sure they are safe during extreme cold and extreme heat.
• Find a safe place within your home to go during tornado warnings. If possible, purchase a safe room for your home.
In addition to these actions you can take to keep your family safe, think about those things you can do to make your community safer, including your business and your school.
Make a resolution to make 2014 your safest and most prepared year yet!
For more information on how to prepare for specific hazards such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more, visit www.ready.gov.