Finding shelter in a disaster

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By Gayle Deaton

Where do you go when disaster strikes?


Emergency officials say where you are, and what type of disaster you're caught up in will ultimately decide your best bet.

For example, if there were a hazardous materials incident, Charlie Frazee, director of the local Emergency Management Agency, said there are a couple of different options officials would have.

For example, Frazee said he could ask people in the area to evacuate, find immediate shelter in a place such as a home or office, or some combination of the two.

Typically, Frazee said people are asked to evacuate an area when a toxic cloud has formed because of the hazardous chemicals released into the atmosphere.

When that happens, Frazee said people in the area just need to get out and away from the area if possible because a toxic cloud can last for a long time.

If the chemicals were less toxic or the people in the area were more confined, another option would be for them to take immediate shelter whether they were in a home or office setting. When people are asked to take immediate shelter in a hazardous chemical situation, Frazee said the key is to turn off any HVAC system so air is not being pumped into the space from the outside, and to close all windows and doors, sealing them as tightly as possible. In those situations, people are asked to stay indoors until the cloud clears.

All area residents are also asked to keep a battery-powered radio on hand in case of an emergency, Frazee said. In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, emergency management officials would be communicating with the public mostly through the use of electronic media, he said.

He said his office would rely heavily on an agreement with the National Weather Service to put messages on 1650 AM so local people could access the information immediately.

Angela Disch, executive director of the Red Cross, said her agency has an agreement with 20 sites including churches and schools to serve as emergency shelters in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

In addition, four churches have members of their congregations that have received training in how to help displaced families should such an emergency occur, she said.

How a site is selected really depends on what and where it happens.

"We look at the scope of the incident and make the determination based on a number of factors," Disch said. "We just don't predetermine a shelter."

Frazee said his agency also maintains its 7th Street location as well as the Stratton Center, and county fire department building as emergency shelters when the need arises.

"We've never really done one for a tornado," Frazee said. "If one ever came right through town, we probably would have."

Recent weather situations that brought a need for some emergency shelters included the ice and snow storm of 2004 when I-64 was shut down, Frazee said. When Clear Creek flooded in 1997, there were anywhere from 25 to 30 homes affected, he said, but most of those at the time ended up staying with friends and relatives rather than needing to be put up in a shelter.

Disch said the Red Cross promotes the idea of preparedness as much as possible.

"We recommend preparing ahead of time," she said. "The more prepared people are before something happens, the better off they'll be."

The Red Cross also offers free disaster preparedness seminars at no cost for businesses and schools, as well as social and civic clubs. For more information on a preparedness seminar for your group, contact Disch at (502) 633-2486.