May 6, 2013

Be prepared

The Daily Citizen

— Residents of Murray and Whitfield counties can sleep a little more soundly knowing that officials in both places have taken great strides to deal with natural disasters and other emergencies.

They’ve been busy trying to plan for the emergencies that could strike our area and to develop the skills and resources they need to deal with them. Government agencies in both counties have developed plans on how they will work with each other, with agencies from surrounding counties, the state and federal governments and with private groups.

In addition to ceaseless training, they’ve developed valuable real world experience aiding with the response to natural disasters in neighboring counties during the past few years. We are sure they are as prepared as they can be, but there’s more that can be done.

As far as government goes, the biggest hole in local disaster preparedness may be Murray County’s lack of any sort of reverse 911 system. Murray County uses a system called Nixle, which allows county officials to send mass text messages and email.

But Whitfield County uses a system called CodeRed that allows it to issue emergency notifications to residents by phone, such as alerting them to chemical spills and other emergencies. Those alerts can be targeted to specific parts of the county and can be tailored to give residents instructions on how they should react. CodeRed also provides Whitfield residents with severe weather warnings from the National Weather Service. Residents have to sign up for this service whether they have a landline telephone or a cellphone. You can sign up at whitfieldcountyga.com.

Most surrounding counties use CodeRed or a similar system. Murray County officials say that getting a reverse 911 system is one of their top priorities, and they have been actively looking into getting grants or other funding for such a system. They need to move as quickly as possible.

But residents can’t rely solely on government to help them respond to disasters. They need to be prepared themselves. If you don’t have a weather radio, get one. If you live in Whitfield County and haven’t signed up for CodeRed severe weather alerts, please consider that.

Get trained in first aid, or better yet, sign up for free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. For more information about this free program, contact Emergency Management Director Claude Craig, deputy EMA Director Jeff Ownby or Carla Kelley with Whitfield County 911 at (706) 370-4911 or email cert@whitfieldcountyga.com. You can also check out the program on Facebook at Whitfield CERT.

If you are able, you might want to consider joining one of the local volunteer fire departments.

The first step in dealing with any emergency is being prepared.