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Ray Morris, Emergency Preparedness Specialist, St. Croix County
Ray Morris, Emergency Preparedness Specialist, St. Croix County

St. Croix County Emergency Preparedness Specialist asks, "Are you ready if disaster strikes?"

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

As the rain pounded down and the winds swirled outside, Ray Morris, St. Croix County Emergency Preparedness Specialist, said "It is a great day to talk about this. It is a good time of year. We are entering a period when temperature extremes make the weather volatile." From being prepared to learning about specific dangers Morris shared some highlights.

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According to Morris, a simple three step process including 1) get a kit; 2) make a plan; and 3) be informed, can make the difference between survival and complete disaster.

"You should have two kits, one for your house and one if you have to evacuate," said Morris, who lived on the barrier islands off the coast of Georgia while working for the National Park Service. "When you live in a place that is regularly threatened, you plan and adapt."

A plastic bin is a good place to start. Secondly, put a list of the contents on top of the bin, so if you have to evacuate it is easily identified.

"The biggest thing that people miss the most are their photos," said Morris. "It is their history."

Everything is spelled out in great detail at the website www.ready.gov and you can download specific pamphlets that deal with preparing for people with disabilities and special needs, preparing your pets for emergencies and preparing for older Americans.

When asked about the storm sirens, Morris strongly suggested that families and individuals invest in a weather radio. They are available at local retailers.

"If you have a weather radio, turn it on when the sirens go off," said Morris. "The radio offers the best and most accurate information. I recommend you select one that offers SAME technology, which allows you to program it for local information. They cost around $25 to $50 dollars and should be available at area stores." Other designations to look for on a weather radio are the public alert symbol and the NOAA symbol.

Morris also reminds us to not forget the battery back-up, necessary for the weather radio to work if the power is knocked out. According to Morris, the next best sources of information are television, radio and the Internet.

"However, a weather radio is portable, you can take it to the cabin, on the boat, virtually anywhere as long as you have the batteries," said Morris. "The bottom line is the radios are so inexpensive there is really no reason not to have one. They are for all hazards, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and blizzards, anything that poses a threat to people."

"Another thing for people to be aware of is if you can't make a phone call, you can still text a message," said Morris. "It will get through. Texts are the best possible link you can have with your loved ones."

"More than one warning is often necessary," said Morris, who related that last year, residents of Joplin, Mo., actually received multiple warnings. It wasn't until the third siren went off that they started to take action. "Unfortunately a lot of people don't understand that a severe thunderstorm can drop a tornado at any moment. It can happen at any moment and it is better to be safe than sorry."

One of the ways to be safe is to construct a "safe room" in your home or for your small business.

"Safe rooms are especially important for houses that don't have basements," said Morris. "The safe room has saved many lives." A safe room is designed to withstand extreme winds up to 250 mph and impact from flying debris. "It is vital for residents of mobile homes, to determine a community safe room and not to stay in their mobile homes."

For more information on how to design and build a safe room, go to www.saferoom@dhs.gov.

Next on Morris' list is lightning.

"Lightning is a killer. A lot of people up here, in the northern states, do not understand this," said Morris. "It is extremely dangerous. It is not to be underestimated." Thunderstorms produce lightning. According to a NOAA source, if you hear thunder, you are in danger. It can strike as far as ten miles from any rainfall. If a sturdy building is not available the safest place to be is in a hard-topped metal vehicle, i.e. your car.

"The car becomes what is called a Faraday Cage," said Morris. The passengers are inside an enclosed hollow shell made of an electrical conducting material, thus they are safe. A little known fact is that more people are killed by lightning each year than by either tornadoes or hurricanes.

Next, on the horizon is what Morris calls the coming attraction, Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which implements Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). This is a national emergency alert system to send concise, text-like messages to users' WEA-capable mobile devices. According to Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association website, wireless providers representing nearly 97 percent of subscribers are participating in distributing wireless emergency alerts. Mobile users will not be charged for receiving these text-like alerts and are automatically enrolled to receive them. The website outlines these details.

There are three different kinds of alerts:

Presidential Alerts: Alerts issued by the president or a designee;

Imminent Threat Alerts: Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., where an imminent threat to life or property exists; and

AMBER Alerts: Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice's criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.

Last fall President Barack Obama tested the nationwide alert system.

"If you don't test it, you don't know if it works," said Morris. The system has been in the development process since 2004.

The alerts will appear on a person's mobile device similar to a text message. However they are not text messages. They use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion on wireless networks. When the system is implemented you will receive the message for your current location.

Most of the alerts will be Weather Emergency Alerts. If you have a device which is WEA capable you may start receiving some message from the National Weather Service in Minnesota. At the present time only messages from U.S. government agencies are available. To learn more details, go to www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/cmas.shtm.

"It is getting warmer so severe weather is increasing," said Morris. "Along with that, we have more people living in areas of greater risk. A spokesperson from the weather service told me the weather is getting rougher," said Morris. "We have more than weather to worry about. We have terrorists."

For more information on nearly everything you need to be prepared, go to www.ready.gov.

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