Chris Oaks spoke with Todd James, executive director of the North Central Ohio chapter of the American Red Cross:

Q: March 17-23 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio. With the disasters we’ve already seen in the Upper Plains and down South, the timing reminds us how serious this can be.

A: Unfortunately, it’s been an early start. We have more than 500 Red Cross personnel on the ground helping with the floods in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. The tornadoes in Alabama earlier this month were just catastrophic for so many families.

What’s important to remember as you see that devastation is that there is a lot you can do beforehand that can help your family not only stay safe, but also make the recovery process easier.

Q: What steps can people take that would apply to virtually any disaster?

A: I think a lot of it comes down to planning and communication. You want to know multiple ways to get out of the house in the middle of the night. Everyone should have a common meeting place. Know how you will communicate with family to let everyone know you’re OK.

If your family is separated when the emergency strikes, how will you communicate with each other? And especially in families with small children, make sure they understand and aren’t afraid by all the warnings, sirens and such they might hear.

It’s a child’s instinct to want to stay in the home and hide when they’re scared, but sadly, that can be a deadly mistake.

Q: You mentioned the fact that it’s entirely possible an emergency may strike when the family is away from home, which brings up the point that we need to have these same plans for staying safe in our workplaces.

A: Earlier this week was the statewide tornado drill. We all remember doing those at school, but businesses should be doing the same thing from time to time. Knowing multiple exit points or storm shelter locations is critical when every moment counts.

Q: We see post-storm images of families that were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs. Getting out alive is the most important thing, of course, but how can we make sure we have at least the essentials to get by in the immediate aftermath of a storm or other disaster?

A: I can’t stress enough the importance of making a family emergency kit. It should include things like a few days worth of non-perishable food which doesn’t need to be cooked, personal care items and extra clothes, several days of medication or at least copies of your prescriptions, important papers like your bank and credit card information, insurance and driver’s license numbers and so on.

We suggest checking that kit a couple of times each year to make sure the information is still accurate, the food is still edible and so on.

Q: You’ve deployed to many disaster areas with the Red Cross, so you’ve seen more than your share of this — what’s the biggest mistake people make in the aftermath of a storm or other emergency?

A: I would say it’s going back in too soon. It’s only natural to want to return to your home to survey the damage and begin the recovery process, but it’s critical to wait until emergency officials give the all clear that it’s safe to do so.

“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at chrisoaks@wfin.com, or at 419-422-4545.

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