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Disasters: Are You Ready?
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This past August marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. When asked how things have changed since that devastating hurricane, former FEMA head Michael Brown expressed the opinion that FEMA, and state and local governments had all made progress considering disaster evacuations and recovery. His concern, however, was that individuals have not learned from the experience and are not preparing themselves. Brown used the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta system as an example and stated that it could be the next Katrina. All experts agree the “big one” along the San Andreas fault will likely cause massive levee failures and massive flooding, yet residents there are not preparing.

An earthquake is not, however, the only threat to the levee system. Heavy winter rains may also cause severe damage and breaks. Levee failures will affect the entire water system meaning rapidly rising water to all rivers that feed the delta, including the Stanislaus River. When levees broke after Katrina, people fled to nearby communities. The same thing would happen here with thousands from Lodi, Manteca, and Ripon fleeing rising waters. Are you prepared with survival supplies when the victims arrive here and clear the store shelves of supplies? If you live in the flood area, are you prepared for a quick evacuation?

More recently, we witnessed the horror of a ruptured natural gas pipeline in San Bruno. Residents had only seconds to leave their homes. Such an event is possible everywhere. There are currently over two million miles of gas pipelines in the United States. With only 90 inspectors nationwide, only seven percent of these pipelines are inspected each year. Do you know which important documents you should have ready to grab to insure the replacement of your home and possessions? Do you have a meeting place in case your family is separated during a crisis?

Every day there are hazardous materials transported over highways that pass through town. A chemical spill could cause your evacuation and the inability for you to return home for days or even weeks. If you had 10 minutes to gather items to sustain your family, do you know what you would take? Do you have a list posted somewhere to help remind you of important items like reading glasses and cell phone chargers?

We may not be on an earthquake fault, but when the “big one” happens in San Francisco there will be thousands fleeing. During the summer months and on holiday weekends we see hundreds of people travel through town as they head for vacation homes. They stop here and crowd the grocery stores and gas stations. After an earthquake, many will head for those same vacation homes as their place of safety. They will stop and stock up on their way. Not only food will be sought after, but toiletries, medications, prescriptions, cash, gasoline and more. Leaving shelves empty, ATMs without cash and gas pumps dry. Roads and bridges would likely be destroyed hampering trucking. It will take stores days to restock. How long can you survive if the store shelves are empty?

September is National Preparedness Month. State and federal governments understand that they can not meet all the needs created during an emergency. We have witnessed many disasters the past few years and should understand that our safety and survival are up to us. Government and relief organizations cannot replace your important documents. You must preserve them yourselves now. They cannot feed thousands if roads and bridges are impassable. You must be prepared with a plan to shelter, feed and clothe your family. You must learn from Katrina and San Bruno and make your family’s safety a priority today.

According to a 2009 study by FEMA, 56 percent of Americans don’t have household emergency plans and two-thirds of us haven’t received first aid training in the past two years. Approximately 43 percent of Americans reported having no supplies set aside in their homes for disasters.

This year, National Preparedness Month focuses on encouraging all Americans to take active steps toward getting involved in learning about the dangers in their area and becoming prepared. Preparedness is everyone’s responsibility: government and relief organizations, community, schools, and families. Families are encouraged to make a family emergency plan, put together an emergency supply kit, learn about school and community plans already in place, be prepared to help neighbors, and work as a team to keep everyone safe. Working together we can make ourselves ready.

Carolyn Nicolaysen is the author of several books, teaches preparedness classes and does in-home preparedness consultations. Her blog can be found at: She is also the producer and host of a talk radio show, “Ready Or Notevery Tuesday 6:00pm at: