Official: prepare for disasters

Floods and tornadoes are Ohio's most common natural disasters.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Heart-wrenching images of human suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita inspired people to donate toward recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast. The question now is whether those same people will prepare themselves to ride out other storms.
Walter Duzzny, director of Mahoning County Emergency Management & amp; Communications, says last summer's devastating hurricanes are fresh illustrations of the need to plan before natural disasters occur.
"We are in the risk-management business. You have to help us manage those risks," Duzzny said.
This is Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio. A statewide tornado drill will be at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday. The county's 57 outdoor sirens will be tested, and schools and businesses are encouraged to practice safety measures. Sirens also will sound in Trumbull County on that day.
"What we're doing in government is to provide protection and warning," Duzzny said. "Then there's the 'you' part of this -- the homeowner, the resident, the CEO of a company. What are you doing about it?"
Most common
Flooding is the most common natural disaster in Ohio, followed by tornadoes, according to the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness.
Peak storm months are from April through June, when extreme temperature differences occur, Duzzny said.
Disaster planning includes not only knowing what to do when a storm occurs, but also preparing for the aftermath, Duzzny said.
That means taking photographs or videotape of personal property and storing those images in a safe place, in case insurance claims need to be filed. As was illustrated after Hurricane Katrina, when many people lost everything they owned, providing proof to claims adjusters can be physically and emotionally difficult.
"That certainly was not an opportune time ... to question people about their past lives when there's such a stress level on them," Duzzny said.
Keep supplies
Plan for power outages by having supplies on hand, including nonperishable food, water for drinking and sanitation, battery-operated radios and necessary prescription drugs. Duzzny compares that preparation with packing for a 72-hour camping trip.
Businesses need to be proactive, too, Duzzny said. Gulf Coast citizens were displaced from their homes and, in many cases, their workplaces. "If there's no emergency plan to deal with that, hundreds of people will lose their economic capability," Duzzny said.
The damage compounds as customers turn to other suppliers for products and services. "Those types of storms make you very vulnerable to the competitive market, more so than ever," the EMA director said.
Free consultation
The county's emergency management staff provides free consultation to help businesses develop recovery plans, Duzzny added.
Spring also is a time when outdoor athletic events resume. Coaches, team managers and presidents of leagues have responsibility for athletes' safety when severe weather occurs, Duzzny said. His office can help with that planning as well.
Tornadoes don't occur in Ohio as frequently as they do in states such as Arkansas and Illinois. The downside is that people put less thought into disaster planning, Duzzny said.

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