Staff Writer

You have probably heard about the importance of keeping a kit for emergencies — but do you actually have one?

Todd James, executive director of the American Red Cross North Central Ohio Chapter, said the Red Cross’ advice includes three steps: get a kit, make a plan and be informed.

James said an emergency kit should include the supplies your family will need for three days or more, if you need to evacuate your home. James said a lot of these items may be around your house already, but it helps to collect them all together in one place.

The kit should include water and high-protein food that doesn’t require being cooked, in case you have no power.

The “be informed” part of the Red Cross’ advice means make sure you have good information. Relying on one source of information, such as television, may not work as it’s not available if there is no power. And “cell service goes out,” James pointed out. He advocated keeping a portable radio.

And James urged people to actually take the information they hear seriously. It’s easy, if you’ve experienced a tornado warning where no one was actually hurt, to assume it’s not that dangerous. But “then the one time that it does hit you,” you’re not ready, he said.

Many disasters are unpredictable. But, in Ohio, often we do know ahead of time that bad weather is coming. James encouraged people to know the difference between a watch and a warning, and to make sure they’re prepared before the storm hits, rather than waiting until it strikes. If a blizzard is expected, have a conversation with your family about what you’ll do if you’re stuck in your house for a few days with no power, he said.

James said not to use an unsafe heating source. For example, turning the oven on for heat can lead to carbon monoxide build up, or a fire.

He said families should also prepare for fires and have a meeting place designated outside the home.

Keep your pets in mind, too.

“They are part of the family,” James said.

Your emergency kit should include extra pet food and a leash or their toys. Know where a pet-friendly hotel is, in case you need to evacuate your home. He said the Red Cross cannot take pets into its shelters, but works with humane societies and other partner organizations to find a safe place for pets.

James has been deployed as part of a Red Cross team to major disasters in other parts of the country. He said he’s seen people in shelters who have their kit with them. When you show up at a Red Cross shelter, they’ll have a cot and a few basic items, but it helps to have your own things with you, including medications, a change of clothes, and perhaps a child’s favorite stuffed animal, he said.

The Red Cross’ “pillowcase project” teaches third- through fifth-graders about emergency preparedness. The idea is “not to scare them, but to help them understand,” James said. The children can take their pillowcase home and build a kit with their family.

James was deployed to Moore, Oklahoma following a tornado in 2013 that had hit an elementary school. He returned to the area following more tornadoes in 2015. There, he met families whose children had gone through the pillowcase project — and he saw a difference from the time before.

“They were prepared,” he said. “They weren’t scared.”

James said being prepared can in some cases be life-saving. Firefighters, for example, have found the bodies of children who hid in a closet during a fire because they were scared. The instinct is to hide, but having a plan and being prepared means the child will be less scared — which might play a role in preventing a tragedy.

Findlay police officer Brian White offered advice on things to keep in your vehicle in the winter, starting with clothing.

“Some people fail to dress appropriately for winter weather because they think they’ll be in the car the entire time,” he said via email. “The problem arises when their car breaks down and now they don’t have warm clothing. I also recommend a spare set of clothing in case they need to get out of the car and get wet from the snow or conditions. This gives them dry clothes to change into.”

He also recommends a small shovel, ice scraper/snow brush, cat litter or cardboard (to give your vehicle tires something to grip on to if stuck in snow) and blankets.

Also, year-round, keep a warning device like a flare to alert people that your vehicle is on the side of the road. “This also alerts law enforcement to stop and check on you,” he said.

Keep a flashlight and batteries (make sure the batteries are fresh), a “multi-tool,” a first-aid kit, and water and food like energy bars, he said. Also keep jumper cables and duct tape, “a great item for temporary repairing minor things such as something hanging from the vehicle,” he said.

In addition, “check to see if your car has a spare tire and know how to change it,” White said. “Many newer vehicles are being sold without spare tires to save on cost and weight to get better gas mileage.”

Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Corey Hartman added a car cellphone charger to the list of things to keep in your car.

And “Keep your gas tank full in case of evacuation or power outages,” he said via email. “A full tank will also keep the fuel line from freezing.”

Hartman encouraged people to “prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Learn how to keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.”

And learn the signs of, and basic treatments for, frostbite and hypothermia, he said.

When it comes to flooding, do not drive through flooded areas, he said.

“Six inches of water can cause a vehicle to lose control or possibly stall,” he said. “A foot of water will float many cars…. Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.”

If an “explosion or other factor” makes it difficult to control the vehicle, pull over, stop the car and set the parking brake, he said. And if a power line falls on your car, you are at risk of electrical shock. So, “stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.”

Finally, avoid overexertion while shoveling snow to reduce the risk of a heart attack, Hartman said.

In a power outage, keep your freezer and refrigerator closed, and disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges, he said.

James acknowledged that, although people know they should have an emergency kit, most people don’t. He said there are a lot of things we know we “should” do, but we may not do them until we are motivated.

“You have to consciously carve out a little bit of time,” he said.

The Red Cross sees an increased interest in emergency preparedness after an emergency. When a disaster hits, someone might think, “Oh my God, that could have been me,” and they want to be ready, he said.

Do you have questions about how to do this?

“Call us,” James said. (The Findlay office’s number is 419-422-9322.)

The Red Cross educates school and community groups, and James has taken the emergency preparedness message to the community at Coffee Amici, as well as businesses’ “lunch and learn” programs.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494

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Twitter: @swarthurs