Fulton County Civil Defense Office gives disaster preparedness tips everyone can use
GLOVERSVILLE — With winter getting a bit closer everyday, Fulton County Civil Defense Director and Fire Coordinator Steven Santa Maria held a special talk for senior citizens during a HealthLink Littauer VIP luncheon on Wednesday.
“We are very fortunate in Fulton County. We don’t have a lot of major disasters like we see going on in North Carolina right now, and across Texas and Puerto Rico last year with major flooding events,” he said. “But we do have some hazards in Fulton County that we deal with on a pretty regular basis and they seem to be getting more and more prevalent as the weather changes.”
Santa Maria said weather issues such as straight-line winds, flooding and blizzards can be seen in Fulton County.
“Believe it or not, in Fulton County there has been eight Presidential declarations for emergencies, totaling in the millions of dollars worth of damage,” Santa Maria said.
The last federally declared emergency in Fulton County was Winter Storm Stella in March 2017.
“While we thought it was just another day in Fulton County and just another bad snow storm, because of the rate the snow was coming down it met the criteria for a disaster,” Santa Maria said. “There was some recovery there. There were damages totalling around $600,000 in the county.”
Santa Maria said his department tries to plan and get alerts out to the public, but said weather patterns can shift quickly.
“We try to get the information out to you the best we can, and the weather forecasters are certainly doing the same thing,” Santa Maria. “[Storms] can strike quickly and without warning and force you to evacuate your neighborhoods or shelter in place in your own home.”
Santa Maria said the best thing senior citizens can do to protect themselves is to be prepared. He said local resources may not be able to reach people within 72 hours.
“What would you do right now if your basic services were cut off at your home. If you were without power, without heat and without communications?” Santa Maria asked the audience. “What happens if you lost all that stuff? How would you survive over a 72 hour period or perhaps even longer?”
A disaster kit
Santa Maria said how well a person prepares for a disaster can really determine how well they will survive a disaster and recover.
“The better prepared you are, the better you are going to fare one of these events,” he said.
Santa Maria said the first step should be to put a kit or go-bag together.
He said having these kits prepared can ensure that people don’t have to wait in long lines before a storm to get supplies and run the risk of not getting needed items.
The kits can also ensure that people — especially those with medical issues — don’t run out of medication or medical supplies during a storm.
“If you are trapped in your home do you have enough medication for 72 hours to a week?” he asked.
Santa Maria said a larger seven day supply of medication should be on hand, since weather could cause delivery issues or power could be out at the pharmacy for an extended period of time.
A kit should include basic necessities in case a home needs to be evacuated, he said.
Santa Maria said he recommends people get a wheeled luggage case for easier travel.
The bag should be packed and ready to go in one designated place that is easily accessible. The bag should have an ID tag to avoid confusion while at a shelter.
Those with mobility issues should also put ID tags or labels on things such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes.
The kits should be checked every three months to make sure things such as food, batteries, and medications are not expired.
Santa Maria said the kit should also be checked as needs change, such as a dietary restriction or a new medical condition.
If a family member has a hearing aid, extra batteries or an extra charger are good things to have in the kit as well. Spare eyeglasses should also be included.
Reminders to take health care items such as a CPAP machine or blood insulin testers and strips should be in place as well.
Santa Maria said kits should include copies of personal information such as insurance information, personal records like birth certificates and marriage licenses, and a medical history.
“Don’t keep your originals in your go bag. But it’s a good idea to have copies, so if you have to evacuate, you can call your insurance agent or if somebody does need to provide medical care they know what kind of medications you have or need,” he said.
He said every home should have working flashlights with extra batteries, a first aid kit and manual, and a hand-cranked radio to hear weather reports.
Santa Maria stressed that candles should be avoided during a power outage. He said that he has responded to a number of fires over the years that are caused by candles.
“They’re pretty, they smell nice and when used properly they are pretty safe. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, but again I’ve been to a lot of fires caused by them,” Santa Maria safe.
“You have all this good equipment and you can survive for 72 hours, but you need to have a plan,” Santa Maria said. “The next time a disaster strikes you may not have much time to come up with a plan.”
Santa Maria said disaster plans should include ideas for both times the family is together and those that they are not.
These plan should include a place to meet up if the family is separated. He said it can be something as simple as a local church or school building.
A designated contact person who lives in another part of the state or out-of-state who family members can contact to report their location into and get updates on other members who have called in should be included.
“Case history has shown that sometimes it is easy to call somebody out-of-town in a disaster than it is to call somebody in your town because infrastructure may be down and lines may be clogged,” he said.
People with accessibility needs who have to have special transportation should make special arraignments should they need to get out of their homes in an emergency.
Santa Maria said people can sign up with a medical company to coordinate with during an emergency or get themselves registered with the access and functional needs database with the county so rescuers know they may be trapped in their home since they can’t leave.
Santa Maria said residents can get help signing up for the registry at the county Office for the Aging, Department of Public Health or his office.
Santa Maria also encourages those who take necessary medications or have special medical needs to get involved in what is called the “Yellow Dot” program.
These free stickers alert first responders to special medication needs. The kit contains a medical information card and a Yellow Dot decal.
Participants complete the card, attach a recent photo, place it in the glove compartment for a vehicle or their freezer for inside the home and place the Yellow Dot decal on the rear driver’s side window, and at their home’s main entry door.
First responders arriving at the scene of an emergency will be alerted by the Yellow Dot decal to look for the medical information card in the designated location.
“It’s a good way for us to find out what medications you have and your medical history,” he said.
Should an evacuation be necessary, Santa Maria said shutting off utilities such as water, electric and gas are good ideas.
Electrical boxes should be left alone if there is standing water at or near the box location.
When it comes time to turn gas back on, a licensed professional should be called in to prevent a possible gas leak.
“If you don’t know how, now is the time to learn. National Grid will be happy to help you and your local fire department are really good at some of that stuff,” Santa Maria.
He said turning off water during power outages in the winter can help prevent frozen and burst pipes.
Multiple escape routes out of the area should be known in case the usual way is inaccessible.
Plans should be made for pets as well.
Seventy-two hours worth of food and water along with any medications should be brought along for them.
“If you evacuate, take your pets with you. We don’t want to leave poor Fido behind to fight the flood waters on his own,” he said.
Pets can provide a challenge when seeking shelter, since Red Cross shelters don’t accept animals due to health department restrictions.
Santa Maria said plans for pet shelter can include out-of-town friends or family or a pet hotel or boarding facility if need be.
“Pay attention to what is going on,” Santa Maria said.
Santa Maria said with the increased reliance on social media, his office has stepped up their social media presence.
The agency now has a Facebook page to get out alerts or warnings. The Montgomery County Emergency Management has one as well.
“That’s the way we are reaching out to some of the younger generation,” he said.
The Fulton County Civil Defense Office also has an app. The Fulton County Emergency Management Office app is available through both the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Montgomery County Emergency Management also has an emergency app.
Santa Maria said Fulton County’s app includes an emergency preparedness template to help build a plan.
Residents should sign up for the Hyper-Reach system. This system will send alerts via both landline and cell phones. Landline phones are automatically registered, but cell phones are not. Email addresses can also be registered.
Local media and the emergency alert systems are also ways to get notified of emergency situations.
Santa Maria said residents should be aware of the type of disasters that can strike the area. These include severe winter storms and ice storms, severe thunderstorms, localized flooding, straight-line winds and occasionally a tornado or the possibility of a forest fire.
Disasters and hazards are not just made by Mother Nature however. Infrastructure issues such as water and sewer main breaks can cause issues for residents as well, including boil- water advisories.
“Those are all things that can affect our daily life,” he said.
Residents should also be aware of what alerts are.
Santa Maria said shelter in place alerts can be used if there is a chemical release. He said this could be something like a large ammonia spill at a refrigeration location or a fuel spill.
“Release of those chemicals, depending on wind conditions or weather conditions, can travel a long distance and cause harm,” he said.
Shelter in place asks residents to stay inside, get to a safe room. Santa Maria said residents could be asked to put plastic or duct tape over windows depending on the situation.
When an evacuation notice is issued, Santa Maria said that is the time to grab the go bag and leave.
“I can certainly appreciate someone not wanting to leave their home… but again we have to think about those [first] responders. They have families too. We don’t want to put those people in harm’s way anymore than we have too. They are already out there trying to deal with the mess,” he said. “If we tell you to evacuate, it’s a for your safety. We don’t want you to have to leave your home. We know it’s an inconvenience, but if things are that bad that we are telling you to evacuate, take us seriously and listen to what we are saying.”
If a shelter needs to be opened, Santa Maria said the Red Cross will open one with basic necessities: food, water, a cot, pillow and blanket.
“It’s not a fun place to be, but in the event of an emergency that’s what we can offer you,” he said.
Santa Maria said his office will be hosting a community disaster preparedness event at the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District.
No firm date has been set yet. He said a go-bag will be given out at the training to participants.
∫ Water — one gallon per person, per day [3-day supply for evacuation and 2-week supply for home]
∫ Food — Include foods that do not need to be cooked such as canned and dried foods [3-day supply for evacuation and 2-week supply for home]
∫ Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs [do not use candles]
∫ Battery-operated or hand-crank radio
∫ First aid kit and manual
∫ Medications [7-day supply] and medical items
∫ Multi-purpose toll
∫ Sanitation and personal hygiene items [toilet paper, hand sanitizer, baby wipes]
∫ Copies of personal documents
∫ Cell phone with an extra battery and charger
∫ Family and friends’ emergency contact information
∫ Cash and coins
∫ Emergency blanket
∫ Maps of the local area
∫ One change of clothing
∫ Manual Can opener
∫ Pet supplies [including food and vaccination records]
∫ Extra set of keys
∫ Pack of cards to provide entertainment.
Cold climate supplies
∫ Jacket or coat
∫ Long pants and long-sleeve shirt
∫ Sturdy shoes
∫ Hat, mittens and scarf
∫ Sleeping bag or warm blanket
Supplies for your vehicle
∫ Flashlight with extra batteries and extra bulbs
∫ First aid kit and manual
∫ Tire repair kit
∫ Jumper cables
∫ Bottled water
∫ Non-perishable foods such as granola bars
∫ Winter: Blanket, hat, mittens/gloves, shovel, sand, tire chains, windshield scraper, fluorescent distress flag.
∫ Summer: Sunscreen lotion [SPF 15 or higher], shade item [umbrella, wide-brimmed hat, etc.]
Source: Red Cross Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors via The Fulton County Civil Defense Office