PEARL – Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham has a new priority for Mississippians to prepare for emergencies. “Given the risks and vulnerabilities that we face in our state and our history of disasters it is time to develop what I am calling a new “Culture of Preparedness,” said Latham. “I am often asked if we are better prepared now than we were on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina, considered the worst natural disaster in recent history, made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Government at every level has made significant strides in preparing for the next storm. We have rebuilt stronger and better and our response capacity is better than it has ever been. Unfortunately I believe that our citizens are not as prepared as they could be. This new culture of preparedness campaign begins with individual and family preparedness and expands to neighborhoods and communities. The outcome of a disaster as it relates to injuries and deaths is often determined before the first responders ever arrive on the scene. If individuals, families and communities are better prepared we can save lives, reduce injuries and are then left to just cleanup and rebuild. We have to do more to save lives.

If severe weather or an emergency strikes your area, it could be hours or even days before emergency officials and other assistance can get to you if there are downed trees and power lines blocking travel. But the connections and plans formed by a Community Preparedness Group can save valuable minutes when the worst happens.

A Community Preparedness Group can serve several functions, from keeping a community informed on safety and preparedness issues, to looking out for neighbors with special needs during times of crisis, to keeping contact information for the neighborhood in case of emergency.

Here are just a few tips for setting up a Community Preparedness Group in your own area:

  • Meet with your County Emergency Management Director to discuss possibilities for your group. Find out if there are other groups in the area, what role your county EMA will have, if any, in helping organize the group and/or conducting meetings.
  • Talk to community members to see if there is interest in establishing a group to notify neighbors and check on them in times of severe weather or other emergencies. This can be done through word of mouth or speaking engagements at community churches, volunteer fire departments, and other local organizations.
  • Have an organizational meeting in which attendees are broken up into groups made of streets, neighborhoods, or a certain number of adjacent houses.
  • Discuss community concerns. What do group members expect from the Community Preparedness Group, and what are its capabilities in a time of crisis?
  • Pick team leaders from each area who will serve as a primary contact point for their groups.
  • Through your call tree, email or text distribution list, social media pages, or word of mouth, have team leaders notify their groups when there are coming issues which could affect their neighborhood.
  • Consistently use websites or pages on social media to communicate risks and hazards and for posting preparedness information and activities.
  • Establish contact with your local fire department, police or sheriff’s department, and EMS service and find out who the emergency responders in your area are. It never hurts to know the people who will respond to your home or neighborhood in case of an emergency.
  • Teach members to put together an Emergency Supply Kit, a Family Emergency Plan, and a Family Communication Plan.
  • Work with team leaders to identify neighbors and community members with special needs, such as elderly, shut-ins, etc.
  • Make a plan to have someone check on neighbors with special needs when temperatures are extremely hot or cold, or when there is severe weather activity or other disasters in your area.
  • Encourage members to start their children on emergency plans early. A child will keep the whole family accountable.
  • Plan to have periodic meetings with your team leaders to keep interest up and develop new ways to keep community members involved. Invite area responders to speak at or attend the meetings to keep awareness of and ties to your community strong.

Visit and click on the BE PREPARED section at the top of the page for more information.