Knowing the hazards and preparing for them

Published 6:29 am Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chemical spills and accidental releases of other hazardous materials are high on the list of Southwest Georgia’s top public health hazards, but tornadoes, flooding, drought and pandemic flu are not far behind, warns Southwest Georgia Public Health Emergency Preparedness Director Julie Miller.

Regardless of whether the hazard is manmade or natural, the important thing is to be as prepared as possible for it.

“Throughout September we are observing National Emergency Preparedness Month,” Miller said. “Our focus is to encourage Southwest Georgia residents to take concrete actions to truly help themselves, their neighbors and their communities so they will be ready in case disaster strikes.”

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She said taking the following four simple steps now can make you and your family safer when emergencies occur:

 Get or make a disaster kit

 Make a family emergency plan

 Be informed

 Get involved

“Unfortunately, it isn’t a question of if, but when, we as a community will cope with disaster,” Miller said.

The 14 counties comprising Southwest Health District are part of Georgia’s “Tornado Alley. In recent years, deadly tornado strikes have claimed lives in Baker, Mitchell, Colquitt, Grady and Thomas counties.

Further, widespread flooding has caused serious property damage, injuries and drownings throughout the district.

And last year, Public Health officials were on high alert as 2009 H1N1, a novel strain of influenza, swept through Southwest Georgia on its way around the globe, said Miller.

Acts of nature are not the only potential disasters that could strike southwest Georgia.

“We encourage residents to check with their county Emergency Management Agency directors to find out more about hazards facing their communities,” she said. “One thing to be aware of is that chemicals and other hazardous materials are being moved on our highways and railroads and used on our farms and by our manufacturing facilities. When materials such as these are released into the environment—whether by accident or deliberately—it can be devastating.”

Emergencies occur without warning; and while local responders will be on the scene after a disaster they may not be able to reach everyone right away.

“Our recommendation is that emergency kits should have enough basic supplies for you and your family to survive for two weeks,” Miller said.

Kits should include food, water, flashlights, batteries, medications, a NOAA weather radio, personal hygiene items, baby supplies such as formula and diapers, garbage bags with ties, pet food, matches, a first aid kit and sleeping bags. A complete list is available at

When it comes to making a family emergency plan, be sure to plug in aging parents, children who are off at college and other family members who may not share the household or who may need additional assistance, Miller said.

“Think about that relative who lives in another community and also about your elderly neighbor and walk through with them what they would do if they needed to evacuate,” she suggested.

As for being informed, Miller said that means more than staying alert to what is being broadcast by news media.

“There are many ways to stay informed during an emergency situation, including using social media such as FaceBook and Twitter, by texting and by e-mailing,” Miller explained.

The importance of being involved by volunteering—or simply by taking care of friends and neighbors who need help during emergencies—can’t be emphasized enough, she added.

Public Health is seeking volunteers to join the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Reserve Corp, a unit affiliated with the Citizens Corps of Lee and Dougherty counties that partners with two Community Emergency Response Teams in Lee and Dougherty and a Fire Corps in Lee County, Miller said.

Other volunteer opportunities are available through the Red Cross, churches and social and civic organizations. “Public Health partners with many volunteer agencies during emergency response activities,” Miller said.

To learn more about the Southwest Georgia MRC, or to learn more about Public Health preparedness, go online to, place your cursor on the “home” button on the pull-down menu at the top and choose “Prevention,” or call Southwest Georgia Public Health Department of All Hazards Preparedness at (229) 430-1966.