BY MICHELLE SCHMIDT
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Mel Johnson, director of Nez Perce County Emergency Management. And it’s a call to which local residents can respond.
In what might look like a coordinated effort with Hurricane Sandy, this Saturday’s Lewis-Clark Valley Preparedness Fair will introduce people to steps they can take to be prepared for disaster or emergency, both individual and regional.
“We want to provide the information needed so our people won’t have to go through this type of experience,” said Johnson, referring to those on the East Coast without water, or waiting in lines at a grocery store or gas station.
Hurricanes aren’t likely here, nor are many other natural disasters that cause widespread damage — tornados, earthquakes or tsunamis. But floods occur regularly, as do wildland fires. Winter storms wreak their havoc on structures and power lines. And a combination of events can make everything worse.
With this, or any other disaster, most people assume it will never happen to them — the same frame of mind many on the East Coast had just three weeks ago. But personal planning makes a difference.
“It can be overwhelming,” said Johnson, who, for all his expertise in emergency planning, sympathizes with the average citizen. “They want to know how much water, how much food, and how do I do it without breaking my budget.”
That is what the Preparedness Fair intends to answer. From large-scale disasters to small individual emergencies, the event has something for everyone. Those gathering basic emergency kits can learn why 2-liter pop bottles are better for storing water than empty milk jugs, how to safely use propane during a power outage and learn simple ways to ensure important legal documents are available when needed.
Women can learn about traveling alone safely in a high-risk region. Advanced survivalists striving toward self-sufficiency can learn how to keep bees, grind grain and tan leather.
“There are some really simple things that anyone can do that can have a huge impact,” said Debi Ruppe, a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee that is coordinating the event.
Ruppe has made basic disaster preparation a way of life, equipping herself and adult children, via Christmas gifts, with emergency essentials like first aid kits and oil lanterns. But rather than a backyard bunker full of high-tech supplies, it’s a simple question that has guided her actions:
“Ask, ‘What do I need, what can I get by on?’ ” said Ruppe.
For all the basic checklists, there is much left to personal comfort and preference. For example, the extra cans of tuna, peaches and peanut butter she picks up at the store for her home pantry.
“That wouldn’t be for everyone,” Ruppe says with a laugh about her selection.
But in an emergency, she knows they would satisfy and sustain her.
“People that aren’t prepared are going to panic,” Ruppe said.
It’s often the panic that puts people in even more dangerous situations.
Knowing local risks and having plans in place to respond to them are a major aspect of the fair. Federal emergency response teams will display communication and lab equipment while St. Joseph Regional Medical Center will set up their mobile hospital unit. Attendees can sign up for the Idaho State Warning System, which automatically sends major alerts by phone and/or email.
“It gives you peace of mind to know those resources are available,” said Ruppe.
Debi Ruppe’s recommended online Resources:
if you go:
What: Lewis-Clark Valley Preparedness Fair
When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Nez Perce County Fair Building, 1229 Burrell Ave., Lewiston
30-minute presentation schedule:
9:30 a.m. — Food Labels, University of Idaho Extension
10:30 a.m. — Coping with the Stress of Disaster, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center Mental Health
11:30 a.m. — Disaster Resilient Neighborhoods, City of Lewiston
12:30 p.m. — Extension Services, UI Extension
1:30 p.m. — Warning & Notification, Spokane National Weather Service
2:30 p.m. — General Preparedness, Hal Gross, disaster survivor