The antidote to an emergency is preparedness.
No one knows that better than Richland County’s emergency planners who built their careers around communicating the importance of being prepared and self-sustaining for when – not if – disasters occur.
“If you stay prepared, you are prepared,” said Sharon Long, Emergency Planner with the Richland County Emergency Services Department (ESD). “Our job is to make our communities as prepared for emergencies as possible.”
Long is one of four Richland County Emergency Planners who educate the public about how, when and why to organize supplies and develop a family communication plan, both of which could be life-saving during an emergency. Long gives preparedness presentations at schools, homeowners association meetings and places of worship during which she encourages everyone to have enough nonperishable, food, water and first aid supplies stocked in an easily accessible receptacle, such as a luggage bag with wheels, for three days for each person in the household. Pet supplies and medications should be included too, if needed.
“In an emergency situation, help can’t always be immediate,” Long said. “That’s why being prepared, having supplies stocked and having a communication plan are so important – those things can sustain you until help arrives.”
Long, whose public service career includes being a paramedic, law enforcement officer and fire marshal, also coordinates local houses of faith and community centers to serve as Community Emergency Evacuation Centers, known as “CEECs.” These CEECs serve as basic-level shelters; no food or supplies are necessarily available, but the buildings serve as immediate respite from a disaster. Long also works to ensure that pet-friendly shelters are available so dogs and cats can accompany their owners to safety.
During the October 2015 flood, several of Richland County’s CEECs opened their doors to the community.
“Our Emergency Planners are skilled and knowledgeable professionals who have public safety as their top interest,” said ESD Director Michael Byrd. “But it’s important to have the willingness and participation of our communities at large to help supplement and expand a County-wide emergency response plan.”
September is recognized as National Preparedness Month, a FEMA campaign that centers on the theme, “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.” Long said people often take steps toward building a supply cache after being directly impacted by a disaster or after seeing emergencies play out in the news, like the devastation from Hurricane Harvey or the impending threat of Hurricane Irma. But the challenge of an emergency planner is to keep residents properly prepared all year long.
“Some people aren’t able to go out and buy all at once the things that should be in a supply kit, but just getting one thing here or there and adding it to the kit is a big first step,” Long said. “Doing small things now can have a big result later.”
For more information and to schedule an emergency preparedness presentation, contact Long at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-240-9955. Visit rcgov.us/emergencypreparedness for more information about how to plan ahead for disasters.
Richland County will issue Hurricane Irma-specific news and information for the next several days. Follow Richland County on Facebook and Twitter (@RichlandSC), and visit rcgov.us for updates.