As the novel coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated, the best time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens. Though knowing exactly what to prepare for can be difficult, there are some basic things anyone can do to be prepared next time an emergency strikes. That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) theme for this September’s National Preparedness Month is, “Disasters don’t wait; make your plan today.”
With the year’s second severe weather season fast approaching, the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency has been preparing its emergency equipment to be ready at a moment’s notice. However, like most people, EMA director Anita McBurnett said her focus has been on COVID-19 and finishing other projects delayed due to the pandemic.
“From an emergency preparedness standpoint, we’re looking at our operations and the readiness of our equipment to support any type of emergency,” McBurnett said. “Things are a little different this year as opposed to years past and where people’s focus is. Of course, what we want to do is remind everybody that even in COVID, severe weather doesn’t stop.”
She said exhaustion and frustration with restrictions, having to wear masks, job losses and school disruptions, has made many people become “blind” to the need for emergency preparedness.
“What we’re finding across the state is everyone is ‘preparedness blind,’” she said. “With COVID, the overall … psyche of people right now is they’re tired... People’s focus right now is on day-to-day matters and not severe weather preparedness.”
In the event of a disaster, McBurnett said people need to already have a family communication plan, emergency preparedness kits at home and work and multiple ways of receiving emergency and weather information. People should also know where public shelters are located and not be afraid to use them during emergencies.
According to FEMA, people should prioritize their immediate safety during a storm or natural disaster by seeking shelter and following evacuation orders even if social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.
“When it comes to tornados, your No.1 consideration should be your immediate health and well being,” McBurnett siad. “Some people don’t want to go to shelters because of COVID.”
She referred to the recent state of emergency issued by Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday due to Hurricane Sally as a prime example. With the hurricane bringing a potential for bad weather in the Sand Mountain area, McBurnett said local rescue teams have been put on alert.
“We’re making final preparations, which we don’t have a lot to make because we kind of geared up when we thought we were going to have to go to Louisiana,” she said.
With the second severe season beginning in November and with volatile weather patterns stirring in the gulf, McBurnett said people need to stay weather aware and start preparing for an emergency now before it happens.
“We don’t know what these systems are going to do, so therefore, we’re having to watch, monitor and prepare based on what issues they’re going to present to us,” she said.
McBurnett said the agency will continue to monitor the coronavirus case data for Marshall County, but she has been pleased with the recent low numbers, which she attributes, at least in part, to the mask mandate.
“We’re just hopeful that everyone will continue to follow the mask mandate,” she said. “I’ve seen more and more people relaxing that. We’re just hopeful it did make an impact by bringing the numbers down. We hope that continues.”
McBurnett said the EMA is already working with local officials to ensure a safe November election for voters and would be holding a drive-thru flu vaccination clinic at Marshall Technical School on Oct. 6.