Article by Mary Ellen Welch

beach houseEmergency preparedness is an issue for an increasing number of people and families. No matter the season, take steps in advance, and be ready for storms or other natural disasters. Personal experiences with storms – Tropical Storm Irene (2011), Sandy (2012) – and conditions that produce snow, winds, flooding and storm surge, serve as reminders. Weather events can impair your health and safety, limit access to roads, cause property and tree damage and loss of electricity.

At the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island, a team of Extension and Sea Grant educators is addressing coastal preparedness through a USDA-NIFA Special Needs grant. UConn Extension has created a preparedness education program to help people, including those with pets and livestock, prepare for storm emergencies. UConn Extension’s EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network) website contains a compilation of emergency preparedness resources designed by experts.

The collaborative team includes Mary Ellen Welch, disaster preparedness team leader; Robert Ricard, UConn EDEN team leader; Juliana Barrett, coastal preparedness; Karen Filchak, family and community development; Diane Wright Hirsch, food safety; Joyce Meader, dairy and livestock; Jenifer Nadeau, equine specialist; Faye Griffiths-Smith, family economics and resource management; and Pamela Rubinoff, University of Rhode Island, coastal resilience specialist.

Pamela Rubinoff is developing Rapid PACE (rapid Property Assessment of Coastal Exposure), a storm mapping, assessment and planning tool, so municipal officials, coastal communities and residents can assess potential storm hazards. The tool aggregates existing high resolution map data from multiple sources and will generate user friendly reports that summarize the potential impacts of storms upon specific parcels of land in coastal Rhode Island.

In Connecticut, focus groups met in four coastal communities – East Lyme, Old Lyme, Groton and Stonington. A diverse group of community representatives participated – fire marshals, emergency/health managers, social services, school and library personnel, housing/senior center directors and beach association members. Their knowledge about local residents and resources is guiding the team to reach audiences with functional needs; people living alone without family nearby; people with limited English proficiency; part-time residents or visitors; the large and mobile military service population; seniors and families.

Juliana Barrett is assisting communities with finding new ways to reach both their year round residents and transient populations who might be on vacation for a weekend or a couple of weeks. By developing flyers for rental units with pertinent information, she hopes to engage people in what to do and where to go should an emergency occur.

“Prepare your family now so they will feel in control when severe weather arises,” affirms Faye Griffiths-Smith. “Have emergency kits as well as a plan for communicating if you are separated. A pre-determined place you will go can make dealing with a stressful situation more manageable. Review these plans and your emergency supplies periodically.”

Karen Filchak recommends, “Think about and prepare for situations where property may be damaged, lost or destroyed. Do you have insurance information for repairs, records to prove ownership of a vehicle that floated away or documents to prove the value of the contents of your home? Having the appropriate documents and financial information will help in recovery from the impacts of a destructive event.”

Food and water safety/provisions is a health issue during and after storms. The UConn Extension Food Safety website has publications on: pre-storm shopping, whether you should keep or discard food during a power outage and what to do if garden produce becomes flooded. Interior and exterior household preparation may limit loss and can impact your health and comfort during storms.

The UConn EDEN website contains pet friendly advice about necessary pet provisions whether staying at home or away. “Livestock typically are housed in their barns during storms,” indicates Joyce Meader. “Keep barns in good structural condition so they will protect animals and keep them safe.”

“It is never too early to begin planning for the possibility of a disaster,” advocates Jenifer Nadeau. “Hopefully you never have to experience one, but being prepared is half the battle.” A microchipping clinic is being offered this fall as an additional way to help identify horses.