Community Preparedness

The government is more ready than ever to respond and help people as they recover from disaster, but it is what members of a community do to prepare for disasters that often determines the outcome. As individuals, we need to prepare ourselves and our families for the worst, but we also need to think of our neighborhoods and our neighbors, and how we can help insure their awareness and safety during emergencies.

By doing this, we are creating a culture of preparedness in Mississippi.

If severe weather or an emergency strikes your neighborhood, 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. Neighbors can help each other and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency recommends setting up a Community Preparedness Group.

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 some 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. A full list of county emergency managers can be viewed by clicking here.

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.

  • Acting as liaison between community residents and the coordinator.
  • Establishing a telephone chain, social media group, or email or text distribution list by compiling and distributing a current list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers of community participants.
  • Visiting and inviting new residents to join; notifying them of meetings and training sessions.
  • Contacting each neighbor as often as possible to discuss possible problems, needs for assistance, and suggestions for program improvement.
  • If needed, distributing preparedness information to neighborhood residents.
  • Identifying gathering places in the neighborhood that may be crucial in a time of emergency such as schools, churches, or nursing homes.

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. This could include:

  • Severe weather warnings.
  • Heat advisories.
  • Burn bans.
  • Upcoming meetings or other neighborhood activities.

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.

In a Family Emergency Plan, prepare members to utilize the following:

  • Watch for notifications on the following:
    • Weather radio.
    • Social media/TV/Radio.
    • Phone.
  • Know where you will go:
    • Stay home/safe room.
    • Public shelter.
    • Pet plan.

In a Family Communication Plan, make sure neighbors know to do the following:

  • Have a meeting place.
  • Pick one relative/friend out of the area for everyone to contact.
  • Use text messaging, since cell towers tend to get overloaded with calls during a disaster.

Educate community members of what to have in an Emergency Supply kit:

  • Water.
  • Food.
  • Medications.
  • Radio.
  • Flashlight.
  • Batteries.
  • Important Documents.

Work with team leaders to identify the following residents:

  • Shut-ins.
  • Elderly.
  • Families with small children.
  • Medical-care dependent.
  • Do not speak English as a first language.
  • Low-income.
  • No transportation.
  • Could have other special needs that would keep them from being able to evacuate in case of emergency.

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.