The devastating images from Houston during Hurricane Harvey – many people fleeing with only the clothes they wore – serve to reinforce Hannah Panicco’s message:
“It’s easy to get into the habit of thinking that something as catastrophic as Hurricane Harvey won’t happen to us,” said Panicco, emergency management planner/public educator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office. “The stories coming out of Houston, though, demonstrate how quickly disaster situations can arise and how devastating the effects can be.”
Though Panicco has a master’s in public administration with a concentration in emergency management, she first learned preparedness as a young girl. Her parents stored a fold-up ladder beneath the bed of her second-floor room in Huntersville, N.C., and had Panicco practice hooking the ladder up to the window and climbing down. She never had to use it in a real emergency, but she knew how.
It’s important, she said, to engage children in preparedness efforts so they’ll feel calmer and more in control if an emergency does occur.
“Many people do not prepare adequately because they don’t think that the storm will hit or that the effects won’t be that bad,” she said. “But once it gets to a certain stage, it is much harder to respond to an emergency without having prepared ahead of time.”
Panicco’s mission is to educate the public. With hurricane season upon us and September being National Preparedness Month, she said there’s no better time to start. Her first stop: speaking to employees at Duke Energy.
"Our goal is to help people know how to prepare themselves for the first 72 hours of an event,” she said. “If the incident is severe enough, then first responders and emergency services may not be able to get to you right away. We tell people that the first 72 is on you and that you can prepare for that time frame by ensuring that you and your family have everything you need. There are things that can be done ahead of time to lessen the effects of the disaster.”
Among her tips:
Have a plan and discuss it with family and friends.
“One way to help your family to feel more comfortable with the plan is to practice getting out of the house at a moment’s notice with your essentials. Another helpful step you can take is to identify a pre-determined meeting spot in the event that your family gets separated or cannot reach each other by phone or other communication. By practicing and planning, you will be less likely to panic during an emergency, allowing for you to take productive steps to ensure your family’s safety.”
Assemble an emergency kit and check it regularly to make sure supplies are up-to-date.
“Emergency and disaster situations can develop quicker than we expect and catch you off guard. Let’s say, for example, a winter storm has come through and it’s worse than we expected. You’re now trapped at home and you can’t get out. If the power is out, you are unable to use household conveniences like the microwave, refrigerator, heat. That’s why it is important to have an emergency kit easily accessible at home with the essentials – such as a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food for each person, flashlights and extra batteries, blankets, etc. When making your emergency kits, you can engage children in the preparedness process by making it a scavenger hunt activity to find items to include in the kit.”
Safeguard important documents.
Copy documents to a flash drive or make paper copies to keep at work, with a trusted out-of-state family or friend, or in a fireproof and waterproof safe.
Sign up for alerts from your local government.
“I live Huntersville and I work in Charlotte so I have both locations on my profile.”
Sign up for alerts from your local emergency management agency and through social media. Alerts can send messages through a variety of methods including texts, phone calls, emails and apps. Ready.gov is a good resource.
Emergency kit checklist
- Three-day supply of water (1 gallon/person/day)
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food (include a manual can opener if using canned food)
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Filter mask (or cotton T-shirt)
- Emergency blanket
- Cellphone charger
- Moist towelettes
- Wrench or pliers
- Emergency numbers
- Unique family needs including prescription medications, infant formula, diapers, etc.
- Pet supplies