WEST GOSHEN >> Amy Kate Amer knows what it is like to suffer through a natural emergency, and wants residents of Chester County to have a small bulwark against that possibility.
At the first gusts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Amer lost power at her family’s home in Valley. Her mother and son were forced to shower and sleep at a nearby fire station, and even though she works at the county Department of Emergency Services (DES) as a community outreach coordinator, she had no more inside information on when PECO would get around to restoring her electricity than any of her neighbors.
They were out for seven days, she said in a recent interview. “You are out of it. The whole situation makes you feel like you can’t cope. It has to be hard on people. They can’t control their electric, they can’t control their water.”
Amer is at the forefront now of the county emergency department’s new effort to help residents regain some control of their lives in the possibility of an natural emergency by taking a few simple steps. The effort, which will kick off this week, the beginning of National Preparedness Month, is called ReadyChesco.
“The whole idea is to get people prepared,” said Robert Kagel, the department’s deputy director in his office at the Government Services center in West Goshen. “Being prepared is not something that people think about every single day. It is not like taking your trash out. We say that a lot about emergency services. Your don’t really think about it, you just expect it to be there.
“Preparedness Month is a time that is dedicated, set aside, so we can push the message of personal preparedness and get people in that mindset,” Kagel continued. “How can I take care of myself, how can I take care of my family, my friends, my pets, my neighbors?”
In a series of public efforts starting Wednesday, the department will hand out postcard fliers with three steps to ensure that you and your loved one have the basics in place for an emergency. The postcards will be distributed at SEPTA railroad stations in Thorndale, Exton, Malvern, and Paoli; at the county’s two-dozen-plus Wawas; its public libraries; and at outdoor events like Phoenixville’s First Friday, the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, and the West Chester Restaurant Festival, Amer said.
Preparedness has become a lot more important in this county, said Kagel. And that does not mean running to the grocery store the night before a big storm is forecast to hit.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Federal Emergency management Agency started the concept of community preparedness, he said. “It’s is not a government-centric response. It is truly the whole community coming together to respond to a emergency and recover from an emergency.
“It is the whole idea that I’m prepared so I can take care off myself, but now I can also take care of my family and take care of others who might not be able to take care of themselves,” he told an interviewer.
The basic idea is to be prepared to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.
“All we are asking is for folks to be able to take of themselves for three days,” Kagel said. “Just three days. You are talking about nine different meals. It’s a long weekend. It’s not a huge stretch or a big burden.”
The department’s efforts with ReadyChesco will be to inform residents to be about three things to be able to make it through any emergency situation.
“The first is just knowledge and education — what are your risks where you work, where you live,” Kagel explained. “The three bigs things here in the county are severe thunderstorms, flooding, and winter weather. It’s a no-brainer when you sit down and think about it.
The second part, he said, is to know where to go to get information, to get alerts. The DES provides a free text messaging service, called ReadyNotifyPa, a regional program that residents can sign up for to get messages on their cell phones.
“After the ice storms this past winter, we realize the importance and need of having more ways to communicate with the public,” said John Haynes, acting direct of the department. “ReadyNotify is a great, free service available to all residents and municipalities in Chester County.”
The final, and perhaps most important, step is to make a “ready kit” for your home. That includes having sufficient water for everyone in the household (three gallons a day, plus a gallon for pets), a three day supply of non-perishable food (and a manual opener to open canned foods), a battery powered or crank radio, flashlights, extra batteries, a three-day supply of medication, first aid kits, and other essentials — including a cell phone and charger.
“The theme is to be prepared, because it is simple,” said Kagel “It really is.”
More information on ReadyChesco and tips for preparedness can be found at the department’s website, www.chesco.org/des.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.