NEWS | Oct. 4, 2011

Annual fair prepares military families for emergencies

By Petty Officer 1st Class Brannon Deugan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The Joint Base Charleston Emergency Management team worked hand-in-hand with local community organizations to host the annual Emergency Preparedness Fair at JB Charleston - Weapons Station Sept. 29, teaching service members and their families how to prepare for a natural disaster.

The fair is designed to provide educational tips and information for such disasters, ensuring the safety of each Airman, Sailor and their loved ones.

"The emergency management team is always looking for new fun ways to provide information about how to prepare for a natural disaster," said Steven Gottula, an emergency manager. "We wanted to provide a fun-filled atmosphere that would attract the whole family where they could enjoy themselves while learning."

For Ensign Aaron Sponseller, from Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, planning for natural disasters is something new and through personal experiences, he has learned first-hand the reality of not being thoroughly prepared.

"A few months ago my wife and I learned the importance of preparing for an emergency," Sponseller said. "We were living in Maryland when Hurricane Irene hit and we lost power for four days causing us to not have any food or water. So, we ended up relying on our friends to help us.

"We came out to this fair tonight because we don't want to be unprepared again," he continued. "There is so much information on how to prepare an emergency kit, an emergency plan and on generator safety, so this has been not only fun but very informative for my family."

One of the biggest areas of concern the emergency management team provided information on was family emergency plans and emergency supply kits. When a family develops an emergency plan and practices it on a regular basis, dealing with the aftermath of a disaster can help ease how stressful that situation can be.

The fair provided children with activities such as an inflatable jump castle, sumo wrestling and also provided parents the opportunity to have their children's fingerprints taken for children identification program. Children were also able to experience a smokehouse provided by local fire departments. The smoke house gave participants first-hand experience on how to maneuver through a smoke filled atmosphere to safety.

"It is very important that children are involved in the family emergency plan," said Gottula. "A lot of times when children witness a disaster, they tend to get scared. We want to help ready and educate parents so that should a disaster hit, they will be able to provide a more calming environment especially for children."

Other exhibits focused on generator safety. A generator can help preserve food and provide vital electricity to help keep TVs and radios going, ensuring updated and relevant information is received. However, users need to ensure the generator is not overloaded and is being safely operated in accordance with the manufacturers' guidelines.

"When researching a generator, shoppers need to establish what they want to remain powered-on in the event of a loss of power and find the correct generator to meet their needs," said Gary Gist, 628th Air Base Wing Safety office ground safety specialist. "You don't want to overload the generator so be sure to research the manufactures and FEMA websites about the safety precautions before use."

"Most of the time people try to utilize generators to maintain and protect their lifestyles while forgetting about the carbon monoxide that is produced by the generator," said Gist. "Even small generators put out enough carbon monoxide that when placed near a door, window or on the porch, the carbon monoxide can leak back into the home creating a dangerous situation for everyone in the home."

After a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster, many people find themselves using tools to clean fallen debris from roadways and yards when they have limited experience using tools such as chainsaws.

"During a disaster individuals get caught up in the moment and forget about wearing personal protective equipment," said Gist. "When dealing with chainsaws most people have limited experience. After a disaster everything changes; they need to be aware of fallen cables and wires before using a chainsaw and to be cautious of their surroundings."

The fair provided numerous brochures, pamphlets and advice to better prepare for emergencies in order to protect the whole family including exceptional family members and even pets.

"We wanted people to leave the Emergency Preparedness Fair knowing how to build a family emergency plan, build an emergency supply kit and where to take their pets in case of an emergency," said Gottula. "We suggest people should be able to provide for themselves with the basic needs of food and shelter for at least a week. A natural disaster doesn't wait, be prepared before it's too late."