Staying safe in perilous times

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

In 2009, there was great concern that either the swine flu (H1N1) or the bird flu (H5N1) would mutate, spread among the human population, and cause a pandemic. Organizations developed plans to survive the mass casualties that scientists believed would occur.

I remember sitting in City Hall alongside City Manager Steve Stillwell and being told in a briefing that I needed to put aside my personal feelings and mentally prepare myself to be able to order the mass burial of residents when the pandemic hit. The expectation was that the mass casualties that would occur would overwhelm coroner’s offices and funeral homes and that cemeteries would be unable to keep up individual burials.

I remember emphatically saying that “I didn’t sign up for this!” and being told by the briefing official “Oh yes you did – you ran for office!”

Fortunately, the pandemic did not occur. I hadn’t thought about that decade ago conversation until the long holiday weekend provided me the opportunity to watch network televised news, something that I don’t often take the time to do. Because of my schedule, it is far easier for me to get my news from other sources, including newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the televised weekend news was dominated by the approach and eventual landfall of Hurricane Dorian. As the storm approached, one of the broadcaster’s admonished listeners that they should have non-perishable supplies that would last a minimum of least seven days.

It made me wonder how many of Sidney’s residents would have enough non-perishable supplies on hand to be able to feed their household for seven days. After all, Sidney residents have been relatively fortunate over the years that we’ve not gone more than a few days without power, and I cannot recall a single instance when we’ve had an interruption in our water service.

As a result, most of us have probably not invested in emergency generators. Most people I know do not even keep an emergency supply of water on hand (one gallon per person per day.)

In addition to the 14 gallons of water my household needs to keep on hand, other items that households should maintain include:

• A supply of non-perishable food (at least a seven-day supply);

• A manual can opener;

• Disposable plates, cups, and utensils;

• Dish soap;

• Trash bags;

• A first aid kit and first aid reference guide (if the emergency is wide-spread, it may take first responders hours or even days to reach you);

• Prescription medication and basic over-the-counter medicines;

• Flashlight and batteries;

• An emergency radio (battery-powered and extra batteries);

• Matches (keep them in a waterproof container);

• A fire extinguisher;

• A whistle;

• Flares;

• Bedding (sleeping bags or warm blankets);

• An extra change of clothes and shoes;

• Rain gear (especially important if your roof is torn off in a storm);

• Basic toiletries (toilet paper, soap, sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine products, etc.);

• Basic tools (hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, wrench, crowbar, staple gun, nails and screws, duct tape, etc.);

• Knowledge of the location of shut-off valves for gas and water (and a wrench with which to do the job);

• Tarps (inexpensive plastic ones that can be used to cover windows that may be blown out or holes in the roof);

• Pocket knife and scissors;

• Chlorine bleach and an eyedropper (to disinfect or treat water if necessary);

• Water treatment tablets;

• Dust or surgical masks (to protect against storm debris);

• plastic freezer bags (to keep things dry);

• Cash (in emergencies, cash is king – residents should keep small bills including ones, fives and tens – those you may need to hire to help you will likely not have change for larger bills and remember, you’ll need enough for at least seven days – most consultants recommend at least several hundred dollars);

• Photo identification (if your neighborhood is heavily damaged or destroyed and is cordoned off, you’ll need ID to gain entry to check your property);

• Copies of important documents (insurance cards, insurance policies, birth certificates, bank account info);

• Emergency contact information (phone numbers and addresses);

• Paper, pens, and a permanent marker;

• A cell phone and a solar powered charger;

• A water-proof go bag in which to carry essentials (important documents, first aid supplies, etc.).

As a matter of course, every household should have enough emergency supplies for at least seven days. Those supplies should be routinely rotated, so that older supplies are used before their expiration dates and they are simultaneously replaced with new supplies.

In addition, get to know your neighbors. You will need to know who you can turn to for assistance, and which of your neighbors may need assistance (the very young and very old, those with handicaps, etc.).

It’s important to remember that over half the people living in the United States today are too young to have any memory of the Blizzard of 1977 and the long days and nights during which streets and roads were impassable. Particularly hard hit were the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Winds gusting up to 100 miles per hour caused the 40-inch snowfall to drift so badly that some homes were buried. If homes were not buried, homeowners certainly had a lot of work to do to even be able to get their outside doors open.

Grocery stores were closed and even when they reopened, shelves were nearly empty. Food and other staples were in short supply. With the interstate closed, resupply was simply not possible.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian reminds us that if you have already planned for potential emergencies, now is a good time to check your supplies. If you have not, today is a good time to begin making the necessary preparations for the emergency that will eventually happen — even here in Sidney.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.