By Jordan Cohen
The American Red Cross is convinced that too many families are unprepared for disasters such as a house fire or a tornado.
If responses from shoppers at the Eastwood Mall during the organization’s Disaster Preparedness Day on Saturday are any indication, the organization has good reason to be concerned.
“I asked a woman if her children know where to go when a tornado is coming, and she gave me that “deer-in-the-headlights” look,” said Karen Conklin, executive director of the Red Cross Mahoning Valley Chapter. “People don’t take five minutes to talk to their families about safety.”
The local chapter is trying to change that.
“We expect to reach up to 300 families today,” said Jessica Jaros, Leavittsburg, a disaster supervisor. “It’s surprising that there is so much information that people aren’t aware of.”
The organization set up tables in the mall’s center concourse and provided a questionnaire about preparation, followed by a short presentation. Among some of the test’s surprising answers:
Cooking fires are the most common cause of home fires.
The majority of home fires occur early evenings on Saturdays and Sundays.
Only 26 percent of American families have developed and practiced a home fire-escape plan.
“I don’t want to be in that 74 percent of families who don’t have a plan,” said DeShawn Scott of Warren, who had a very personal reason for listening to the presentation. Scott said a woman he had known since childhood was one of four people who perished in a March 2012 Warren house fire. Two of the victims were children in an upstairs bedroom.
“I’m having my 13-year-old son come and listen to this so he’ll know where I’m coming from,” Scott said.
Jade Shober, who recently moved to Lordstown from Michigan, said her family always has practiced an escape plan, but it was another portion of the presentation that caught her attention.
“They made me think about getting a carbon-monoxide detector,” she said after hearing about the dangers of the lethal colorless and odorless gas.
The Red Cross provided free backpacks containing a flashlight, first aid kit, small blankets and other items essential for family-safety preparedness to each family attending a presentation.
“Dominion East Ohio gave us a grant of $50,000, or we could not afford to do this,” Conklin said.
Among the volunteers assisting at the mall were 12 family and friends of Diana Reedy, a longtime disaster volunteer from Champion who died five years ago. Her daughter, Davina Holbrook of Champion, said her mother was among the local volunteers who went to Louisiana to help after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We formed the ‘Heart of Diana’ to do volunteer work in her memory,” Holbrook said.