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Check this to help, for any disaster

The official logo for National Preparedness Month 2017

Disasters don't plan ahead. You can. The official logo for National Preparedness Month 2017. (Photo illustration by Ready.gov.)

Why check your emergency information? For some, the answer comes from our past experiences with disasters.

September is National Preparedness Month. Most of us are familiar with disasters, and each of us has a valuable memory. It would be good to hear them and know them to unite in our preparedness.

I’ll share my first memory, of Tropical Storm Carrie in 1972. I was four. I don’t recall much except that we had a gas stove and my mom popped corn in the dark while the thunder boomed outside. (I realize that this is small in comparison to disasters others faced, but it was pretty scary. So it must be for the kids in Houston.)

As this hurricane season reminds us, while our memories fade, events may spring unrealized, anywhere and anytime. All severe weather can cause significant damage and risk of life. The need for proper emergency planning is critical in response. So if you’re with me, this might be our fair warning to recheck our service records and plans for ourselves, family and friends.

A phone number update seems trivial, and it’s not as dramatic as pulling a neighbor from flood waters, but leaders know that it’s just as important when accounting for personnel during an emergency.

It had been some time since I made a check of my emergency data, and looking into my life and homeowner’s insurance, medical readiness, and accountability, I discovered some errors in the service files that might have severely affected my family and my leadership: My spouse’s phone number and cell carrier were incorrect and my primary email was outdated. I had thought that my insurance payouts were higher than they were.

It took me just 30 minutes to check and update all of it.

Speaking of cell phones, you should know there’s a FEMA app that includes disaster resources and weather alerts from the National Weather Service, safety tips, and a feature that enables users to receive push notifications to their devices to prepare their homes and families for disasters. The app also provides a customizable checklist of emergency supplies and maps of open shelters and disaster recovery centers. It’s at https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app.

In a more recent memory, of the Southeast wildfires last summer. Moving here from an assignment in the Midwest, I knew hurricanes would be an issue. Instead, fire surrounded the house. I can still smell the smoke, so thick; it forced us away. For a month, we stayed north and watched the reports to see where they burned. They stopped, just miles short of the yard. That was pretty scary too. People in Gatlinburg and other towns lost everything. Afterwards, we adjusted our homeowner’s insurance as well as made updates to the property. I’ll take a more careful assessment of area hazards at my next duty station.

National Guard Bureau officials said homeowners should review their insurance policies and ensure adequate coverage as well as understand exclusions. Contact your agent for any changes. If you’re not insured against flood, talk to your agent or visit www.floodsmart.gov. Renter’s insurance policies are also available and should be considered as a way of protecting your belongings.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of National Guard and regular forces are deployed in Texas for support to civil authorities. The National Guard responded to 80 natural disaster, wildfire and severe weather homeland events in 2015. There remains a reason to check emergency records regularly.

For all of us, the Ready.gov website provides many ideas and facts to get prepared. It’s online at https://www.ready.gov/.

Families, do you care for a special needs individual or have a pet(s)? Plan how you will assemble the family and loved ones, and anticipate where you will go for different situations. Get together and agree on the ways to contact one another in an emergency, identify meeting locations, and make a Family Emergency Communication Plan.

For all service members, the Service Members Group Life Insurance (SGLI) was recently made available online to review and update. It’s at milconnect, https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/.

For Airmen, the Record of Emergency Data (RED) and the Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System (AFPAAS) online allow commanders, first sergeants and other leaders to report when you are in danger, and how to contact you and your family in an emergency. They are online, on the Air Force Portal, www.my.af.mil. The My Individual Medical Readiness (MyIMR) is also online to check when your dental, medical, and immunization requirements are due and are in the green. It is online, on the Air Force Portal, www.my.af.mil. Other service members should check those equivalents.

For all of us, get to know your evacuation zones. Evacuations are more common than people realize, said National Guard Bureau officials. If you move, make yourself familiar with your community’s zones, so you’ll know exactly where to go. Remember: if a disaster hits or threatens your community and local officials say it's time to evacuate, don't hesitate – go early.