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Be prepared

Hurricane Katrina left an indelible impression on the national consciousness, serving as a graphic and tragic reminder of the damage Mother Nature can exact and the dire need for ample contingency plans.

United Way of Island County, along with the Island County Chapter of the American Red Cross, have ramped up their public awareness campaigns in September as the country recognizes National Preparedness Month.

“We’re reinforcing the information from two different angles,” said Cathy Niiro, executive director of the local United Way, of the public outreach.

Going a step further, Niiro said this month is also an opportunity to pay tribute to Island County’s quiet heroes, the first responders who put themselves at risk for the safety of their fellow citizens.

“These brave police officers, firefighters and emergency service personnel exemplify the compassion and commitment that strengthen our community,” she added. “We will be forever grateful for their service and sacrifice.”

If anything positive came out of the apocalyptic devastation that was Katrina, it was the newfound respect for emergency preparedness.

“Red Cross has been preaching this for years,” said Barbara Johnson, executive director of the Island County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Simple steps can prepare individual families for a disaster, Niiro said. Each residence should have a 72-hour supply of food, in addition to one gallon of water per person, per day. Flashlights with plenty of batteries, and battery-powered or hand-cranked radios are also crucial.

“Families need to make sure they have a first aid kit and other medications,” Niiro emphasized. “And access to important identification and financial documents, along with out-of-state emergency contact numbers and an evacuation plan.”

And remember to keep extra cash at the ready, she added.

The United Way is providing a weekly tip through the month, keeping the nation nourished with information. Parents are encouraged to inquire about emergency plans at each school and compile a comprehensive contact list with emergency numbers. A mother herself, Niiro said the first tip is timely.

“Back to school preparation is so important,” she said.

Niiro and Johnson sang the praises of 2-1-1, a simple, easy to remember telephone number that offers a “front door” to health and human services resource information, whether someone is looking for help, or hoping to give help.

“During the storms, 2-1-1 was very, very helpful,” Johnson said.

North Sound 2-1-1, formerly Community Information Line, is a regional call center that utilizes a comprehensive database of health, welfare, and recreation resources that, in addition to emergency shelter information, includes information about rent and mortgage assistance, counseling and support groups, food and clothing, donations, volunteering, and transportation.

“We’re trying to get the word out about 2-1-1,” Niiro said. “It is an incredibly valuable resource.”

The Red Cross has boiled preparedness down to three simple steps: Get a kit, make a plan and be informed. In recognition of National Preparedness Month, the local chapter is giving away a free, five-person disaster kit. To win, the recipient will have to guess how many Tootsie Rolls are in a jar pictured on the Web site.

Participants can enter by emailing their name, email address and phone number to johnsonb@islandredcross.org. The winner will be notified Oct. 1.

For more valuable preparedness information than one person could digest in three lifetimes, visit www.unitedwayic.org or www.islandredcross.org.

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