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praise_logo_grnIn the wake of a disaster, helping hands are always needed. Hands that pick up the pieces after a tornado tears through a town. Hands to help find shelter for individuals and families whose homes have been destroyed. Hands that bring hope in the form of much-needed food, water and supplies.

These helping hands often belong to members of the faith-based community who feel called to provide assistance and emergency support. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) stands with these houses of worship and has created the new Praise & Preparedness program to provide tools and resources to help them get ready before a disaster strikes.

Earlier this year, we completed our Praise & Preparedness pilot program with a house of worship in Bartow County that had been affected by a tornado in January 2013. Since completing the pilot program, I have spent the last seven months introducing Praise & Preparedness to other houses of worship across the state. I have been pleased with the response our program has received, and I’ve been even more pleased to hear many faith leaders express their concern about making sure that their congregants are prepared.

Praise & Preparedness makes it easy for faith-based organizations to prepare. Our website has a template to assist in creating a plan that addresses operations, communications and other key aspects of emergency planning. Our online toolkit also offers a variety of resources to help organizations share information that promotes emergency preparedness among its members. The end goal is to make sure that a faith-based community is prepared at both the individual and congregational level so that everyone is in stronger position to help in the wake of an emergency.

Houses of worship are a place of refuge and an ideal location to start recovery and healing. Now they can also be places that are prepared to handle emergency situations when they arise.

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xs and osFor many Americans, it is one of the most wonderful times of the year: football season. Coaches like the Atlanta Falcons’ Mike Smith and University of Georgia’s Mark Richt have spent the past year laying the foundation for successful seasons, investing countless hours to get their teams ready for the obstacles they will encounter.

As you’re counting down to your team’s first kickoff of the season, tackle your emergency preparedness to-do list using some of the same tactics your favorite coaches employ.

  • Gear Up: A coach wouldn’t let a football player be caught on the field without the proper equipment, and you and your family shouldn’t face an emergency without the proper supplies either. Be sure you have everything on your emergency checklist stocked up before a disaster strikes, including enough food and water to last you and for family for up to 72 hours. Also purchase a NOAA weather radio and download the free Ready Georgia mobile app to receive vital emergency alerts.
  • Research Your Opponent: The best way to beat an opponent is to know its capabilities and strengths. Take time before a disaster and do some research to know what you could be up against.
  • Practice: The old saying “practice makes perfect” is true in most aspects in life, but especially in disaster preparedness. Prior to a disaster, create a plan and practice it with your family to make sure all members of your team are ready.

Now that you know the basic Xs and Os of preparing for disasters, do you think you’re ready? Share your game plan with your friends and family to make sure you all will be successful if and when disaster strikes.

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Pay it Back

old hands2“When you’re older, you’ll understand.” “Use your inside voice.” “If you keep making that face, it will freeze that way.” The growing up years are filled with admonishments, rules and parenthood clichés designed to keep kids out of trouble and bring a measure of peace and quiet to a household.

Now it’s time for your inner child to return the favor. August 21 is National Senior Citizen’s Day and the perfect opportunity for you to take some of the phrases and life lessons your elders have given you, and pay it back to prepare them for emergencies.

  • “Don’t run in the house!”  Running around and grabbing items in the midst of an emergency is not ideal for anyone, especially seniors. Help the older adults in your life create a Ready kit of basic supplies that will allow them to survive on their own for at least 72 hours following a disaster. Remember that their needs are different from yours, and that their kit should include additional items such as extra eyeglasses, extra medications, hearing aids and hearing aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, oxygen, etc.
  • “Pay attention!” Encourage seniors to regularly check the weather forecast in their area and react accordingly. For example, this week’s temperatures are expected to rise over 100 degrees across Georgia with heat index values that will approach 110 degrees. During this extreme heat, it is important to drink plenty of water and stay indoors as much as possible. It’s also important for older Georgians to have multiple means of receiving emergency alerts in the event of sudden, severe weather. Purchase a battery-powered NOAA weather radio and add an adaptive device if your parents would benefit from visual or other sensory alerts. Seniors are also becoming more technologically savvy, so if your parent has a smart phone, encourage them to download the Ready Georgia app to receive alerts of bad weather in their area.
  •  “Don’t make me come in there…” Your parents shouldn’t rely solely on you if a disaster were to strike. Use Ready Georgia’s family communications plan template, working with your parents to make sure that they have several people who can assist them in case of an emergency. When helping them develop their plan, locate the safest place in their home to seek shelter and determine how they would evacuate if the need arose. Make sure they have information on how to meet their medical or prescription needs in the event of their necessary resources become limited or unavailable.
  • “Someday you’ll thank me for this.” Don’t be surprised if your parents fuss a bit and try to insist that they can take care of themselves. Gently explain that helping them is helping you, giving you peace of mind that they’re ready for whatever disasters may come their way.
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back-to-school111941_compressedAs summer is quickly winding down, parents, teachers and students are making checklists and rounding up all of their necessary items for going back-to-school. But back-to-school preparation should involve more than just new clothes, textbooks and classroom supplies. Now is also the perfect time to update Ready kits, discuss emergency preparedness with children and add school emergency information to family communications plans.

Here are our top three tips to get you ready for the new school year:

  • When shopping for school supplies, pick up items for your Ready kit as well. Use the supply checklist on the Ready Georgia mobile app to keep track of which items you need to stock.
  • Mark your calendar for a family evacuation drill. It’s easy to put off this important emergency preparedness step indefinitely, but setting a reminder on your phone or putting it on the family calendar will help make sure you get it done.
  • Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it’s important to make a plan to reconnect. Fill out an emergency contact card and put it in your child’s backpack. The family communications plan template on the Ready Georgia website includes wallet cards you can use for this purpose.

In addition to these tips, the Ready Georgia’s free online toolkit includes many kid-friendly resources that make it easy to prepare. Lesson plans about possible disasters, a recommended reading list and emergency preparedness videos are available for use in school classrooms, at home, or by any organization or agency that works with elementary school-aged children. The Ready Georgia website and mobile app also offer customizable emergency supply checklists and family communication plan templates. For more information, visit www.ready.ga.gov.

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The cliché that “there’s no substitute for experience” often proves true. Whether it’s at work or in life, sometimes there’s just no way to know how to handle something until you’ve been through it.

In the past year, Georgians have been through a lot. According to a new survey conducted by Ready Georgia, twice as many residents had recent experiences with large-scale emergencies than in the previous year, ranging from winter storms to tornadoes to floods.

However, the survey also revealed that people who went through those emergencies took actions to get more prepared for the next time. Most of them stocked emergency supplies, and many devised an emergency plan.

In other words, actually experiencing an emergency shifted many Georgians’ frame of reference and left many realizing they may not be as prepared as they thought they were. It makes sense. I may not realize how useful a backup phone charger or a battery-powered radio is until I’m stuck at home without power. If that outage lasts for a few days, I will realize how important it is to stock up on non-perishable food.

What about how to connect with family members if mobile phone networks are busy? Knowing in advance that text messages are more likely to get through can save valuable battery life instead of trying phone call after phone call. And if you can’t get in touch with someone at all, having a family meeting place arranged in advance is crucial.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize the importance of these simple actions until it’s too late. It’s the result of another cliché: “I never thought it would happen to me.” Here’s a sample of the percentages of Georgians who have stocked different types of recommended supplies:

2014-Emergency-Supplies-infographic

Whether or not you’ve experienced an emergency recently, I’d encourage you to get prepared. Think about where you would go if you had to evacuate due to a hurricane. Think about how you would get in touch with your loved ones if you were separated. Think about what you would need if you had to make it three days without electricity.

Ready Georgia has tools to help make it easy. Create a Ready profile to get a customized supplies list and plan. Download our newly improved mobile app to access that info at any time and get emergency alerts. We also have information specific to pets, older residents and those with functional needs.

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Atlanta_Lightning_StrikeWelcome to the first week of summer! Saturday marked the official start to a season full of outdoor festivities. You may know all the facts about summer fun, but are you up to speed on summer’s severe weather? Georgia summers are notorious for a variety of severe weather, but two of its biggest threats are extreme heat and lightning. Consider these striking facts:

Striking Fact #1: Heat is the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S. Tornadoes and hurricanes often get the headlines, but excessive heat is a formidable foe that claims more lives each year than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Stay informed about ways to remain safe when the temperature rises.

Striking Fact #2: The temperature inside a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and 50 degrees in an hour- even when outside air temperatures are in the 70s. Thirteen children have died this year from heat stroke after being left in a car, including an Atlanta toddler who was left in a car for more than seven hours one day last week. Check out the National Weather Service’s “Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat” campaign for more information about keeping kids safe this summer. Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.

Striking Fact #3: Lightning kills an average of 51 people and severely injures hundreds more each year in the U.S. Lightning is a deadly by-product of thunderstorms, occurring mostly during the warmer months of June through September. It’s also Lightning Safety Awareness Week, the perfect time to brush up on the 30-30 rule and other tips for staying safe.

For more tips and facts about summer’s severe weather, download the Ready Georgia mobile app or visit our website.

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Home screenAt the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), we have been hard at work on an improved version of the Ready Georgia mobile app for several months, and we are glad to announce that it is now available on iTunes and Google Play. The app, which originally launched in 2011, has been very successful at helping Georgia residents get prepared for emergencies, so much so that it has become a model for dozens of other states.

For the latest version of the app, our goal was to not only help users prepare before emergencies, but to give them better resources during emergencies as well. With that in mind, we made several significant improvements:

 

Before Emergencies: Improved Alerts

Alerts screenThe Ready Georgia app’s primary goal is to help Georgians get prepared before disasters strike, and it does this by providing features like a customizable emergency plan and supplies checklist, information about how to prepare for different types of disasters, and weather alerts.

In the latest version of the app, the alerts have received a significant upgrade. Geo-targeted severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service will now automatically notify your phone if there is a watch or a warning in your area. In addition, GEMA and the Department of Public Health now have the ability to send custom messages to individual counties if there is important information that needs to be delivered. This feature will only be used to communicate essential information, but it’s a useful tool to stay informed.

 

During Emergencies: Real-time Traffic & Shelter Information

Traffic Map screenWith the focus of the Ready Georgia app expanding to become a resource during emergencies, one of the key new features is the real-time traffic information. The app now has a live traffic map with icons of traffic incident locations, as well as a list of recent traffic incidents and relevant news and updates, such as current construction. These features will help Georgians stay more informed about current road conditions and how to avoid gridlocked areas.

Another feature that has been improved is the Open Shelters map, which displays the locations of nearby shelters and provides directions on how to find them. Previously, this map only displayed the locations of Red Cross shelters, but GEMA now has the ability to add other types of shelters to the map, such as approved “good Samaritan” locations that may open on an impromptu basis. This will enable users to find a safe place to go during and after emergencies.

The new Ready Georgia app is a valuable tool, and we encourage everyone with an iPhone or Android smartphone to download it. Remember, there is no all-in-one solution to staying safe. It’s important to stay weather-aware and keep up with what’s going on in your area. It’s also crucial to get ready in advance by making a plan and creating a Ready kit with crucial supplies.

As we head into hurricane season, we hope you take some time to get prepared so you can enjoy a safe summer.

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Ready kit-CMYKSummer is here and a lot of people are preparing for a variety of outdoor activities and vacations like beach trips, boating on the lake, mountain hiking and more.  Whatever getaway or summer fun you’re doing, you’re going to have to plan on packing the right items to get ready for your trip, whether it’s a swimsuit, hiking boots or sunscreen. While you can fully prepare for summer fun, you can’t always fully predict summer weather.

This Sunday, June 1, is the start of hurricane season. Although hurricanes pose the strongest threat to coastal regions, storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico have the potential to bring storm surge, high winds, tornadoes and inland flooding across Georgia. During the summer, Georgia is also notorious for having extreme heat conditions.

While heading to the store to pick up any necessary items for your planned summer activities, consider grabbing some items that could benefit you in the event of a disaster. It is a good rule of thumb to do one thing today that your future self will thank you for.

Getting prepared before an emergency is not as hard as you might think. First, create a Ready kit checklist consisting of all supplies you may need in the event of a disaster.  The Ready Georgia App also allows you to easily access a supplies checklist on your smartphone.

Some items you may want to include on your checklist:

  • Water. One gallon per person per day, for at least 3 days, for drinking and hygiene
  • Food. At least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Can opener. For food, if kit contains canned food
  • Radio. Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit

If you need some advice on additional items, visit the Ready Checklist page for some helpful suggestions.  Be sure to keep in mind the needs of children, people with disabilities, pets and seniors as well.

Once you have your Ready Kit checklist prepared, search your house for items you may already have, mark them off of your list and place them in an area that is easily accessible during an emergency. Then prioritize the remaining items on your list by the importance of each item. Once you have your list ready, make it a point to grab at least one item from you checklist every time you make a shopping run. If you follow this tactic, you will have your Ready kit fully stocked in no time!

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Fun activities are a great way to educate kids about potentially scary topics like natural disasters. That’s why Ready Georgia offers a variety of tools to help parents and teachers talk to children about the steps they can take to prepare for emergencies.

LEGO kids

Thanks to the FIRST LEGO League (FLL), this year children ages 9 to 14 had another fun way to learn about emergency preparedness and dive into the exciting world of science and technology. Through the League, student teams participated in regional, state and national competitions building innovative solutions to real-life problems through LEGO robotics. The 2013-14 theme for the competition was “Nature’s Fury,” challenging students to master natural disasters. Participants explored the effects of tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters, identifying where these events can occur and formulating a way to prepare, stay safe or rebuild.

Ready Georgia recently spoke with Steven Nelson, science and operations officer of the National Weather Service and coach of a participating team in First LEGO League regional and super regionals competitions. Read on for Nelson’s experience in the League.

RG: When did you first get involved with the FIRST LEGO League?

In August 2013, I volunteered to coach a team in the League consisting of 4th and 5th grade students from Kedron Elementary in Peachtree City. At this point in my life, I had not committed to something like this but decided to venture into the unknown. We were the not only first team to participate in the robotics competition from our school, but for all elementary schools in Fayette County as well.

RG:  Can you tell us what the competition entailed?

Each annual challenge revolves around a real-world, scientific problem. This year’s challenge was “Nature’s Fury.” Each team defines a problem related to a natural disaster, such as how to keep people safe during a storm, and uses STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) principles to research a solution to that problem. The most unique aspect of the challenge is the design and programming an autonomous robot, built from a special kit comprised entirely of LEGO pieces, motors and sensors to score as many points as possible on a themed playing field for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  It was a lot of fun, not just for the kids, but for me as well!

RG: What was your team’s name?

Our team name for the completion was the “Kedron Purple Princesses” and it consisted of 10 very motivated 5th grade girls. And before you ask, no, I did not wear a tiara.

RG: What did the “Kedron Purple Princesses” choose as their project for the challenge and what did they do to prepare for it?

In preparation for the competition, the team met after school three times a week for three months prior to the first competition. The girls researched natural disasters, came up with multiple project ideas, then built and tested robots. They ultimately decided to tackle the problem of keeping people safe during blizzards and named their robot “Frostbiter.”

During the team’s research, the students interviewed Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s public affairs officer, Lisa Janak Newman, on how to stay safe in blizzards.  For instance, she informed us that most residents of Georgia do not have a safety kit in their vehicles to be better prepared for winter storms.

RG: Can you provide us with a first-hand view of what your team experienced during the competitions?

In November, we traveled to Columbus State University for our first regional competition. The robot competition was a blast and everyone enjoyed watching the other teams compete. Judges also asked the teams to make a short presentation on the FLL core values, the technical aspects of the robot and programming and a project presentation in which they show their problem and solution. The team won a trophy in the programming category.  When all the points were added, we placed high enough at the regional level to qualify for the super regional competition in January.  While we did not place high enough to advance to the state competition, the girls walked away with the grand prize: a better appreciation and understanding of natural disasters and the knowledge that with hard work, fairness and cooperation, any challenge can be overcome.

RG: Do you have any advice to share with other teams that may participate in future competitions?

Definitely get involved. Let the kids experiment and make mistakes. Encourage discussion of why things work and don’t work.  While being recognized for doing well and succeeding at competitions is great, the kids need to be encouraged at all stages of the effort, and above all, let them have fun!

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The tornado that struck parts of central and southern U.S. on Sunday, killing at least 17 people, serves as an unfortunate reminder that disasters can occur with little warning. With severe weather expected through Wednesday in Georgia we encourage everyone to prepare now for these potentially disastrous storms.

Remember, tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. They can appear without warning and be invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears. Planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. Here are some tips, as well as an infographic, to help you prepare and plan for any future tornadoes.

Stay Informed:

• Contact your local emergency management agency to learn your community’s warning system.
• Familiarize yourself with the terms used to identify tornado hazards – a tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in your area. A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed for your area, so you need to find shelter immediately.
• Monitor NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, television and the Internet to stay informed of severe weather conditions.
• Make sure you have a way to receive alerts if you are at home, at work or on the go. Wireless Emergency Alerts are being sent directly to newer cell phones by authorized government alerting authorities. If you own a smartphone, download a weather service app to receive notifications of storms and hazardous conditions in the area. The Ready Georgia mobile app is free and offers up-to-the-minute, geo-located weather and hazard alerts, as well as customizable emergency preparedness checklists.

Prepare:

• Compile a Ready kit of emergency supplies – such as water, non-perishable food, flashlight and extra batteries and a first aid kit – in case you lose electricity or have to evacuate. Keep a copy of your insurance information and vital records, such as birth certificates, in the Ready kit. Don’t forget to factor in the unique needs of family members, such as supplies for pets, seniors, children or individuals with disabilities or an access and functional need.
• Determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of a tornado, preferably in a basement or a storm cellar. Keep blankets or a mattress here to protect against falling debris.
• Charge your cell phone in case you lose power.

Plan:

tornado infographic

• If local authorities issue a tornado warning – or if you see a funnel cloud or tornado – take shelter immediately.
• Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection. If possible, climb under something sturdy, like a heavy table or work bench, and cover yourself with blankets or a mattress.
• If underground shelter is not available, go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down and cover your head with your hands. A bathtub may offer some protection, but cover up with thick padding – like a mattress or blankets – to protect against falling debris, if time allows. A helmet can offer some protection against head injury.
• In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Go to the center of the room and avoid windows, doors and outside walls.
• Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter. Stay off the elevators, as you could be trapped if power is lost.
• A vehicle, trailer or mobile home does not provide good protection. Get out immediately and head for safety, preferably in a basement or sturdy building. If shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area and use your arms to protect your head. Do not get under an overpass or bridge – you are safer in a low, flat location.

To learn how to prepare for emergencies, create communications plans and more, visit ready.ga.gov.

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