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By Roy Acree – Deputy Fire Chief/EMA Director, City of Smyrna

Last September, the City of Smyrna enthusiastically embraced a new national preparedness campaign called America’s PrepareAthon! The initiative builds on FEMA’s successful Ready America efforts – or locally, GEMA’s Ready Georgia campaign – but encourages a more focused call to action for individuals and organizations. The goal: to get communities to take simple, specific actions to increase their preparedness for a potential local disaster.

To tie into spring weather awareness, Ready Smyrna is hosting another PrepareAthon! this weekend. Smyrna Emergency Management Agency personnel have taken steps to reach out to business owners, discussing shelter-in-place plans, and encouraging participation in a city-wide tornado drill scheduled this Friday at noon.

The city has also organized a Family Preparedness Expo on March 22nd, where citizens can learn specific disaster-related protective actions and community plans. Held at Smyrna Elementary School, this event will provide preparedness information in a seminar-type environment. Scheduled presenters include; Cobb-Douglas Public Health, Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, Tru-Prep, Safe America Foundation, Smyrna Police and Fire Departments and others.

Finally, in an effort to increase awareness of Ready Smyrna’s PrepareAthon! campaign, the city has launched a new website – www.readysmyrna.com – and will unveil a mobile app this Friday. The Ready Smyrna PrepareAthon app will have several functions. Primarily, it will notify users of severe weather in the area. Additionally, it will have preparedness information embedded in the app.

Having preparedness information is good, having a plan is better, but putting a plan into place is best. Quite simply, that’s the intent of Ready Smyrna’s PrepareAthon! – increasing our whole community’s level of disaster preparedness by encouraging action. And there’s more to come.  The city is already planning the next PrepareAthon! event for September.

To learn more about America’s PrepareAthon!, visit FEMA.gov\prepareathon.

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It was the miracle shot that potentially saved thousands of lives. Six years ago today, an Alabama basketball player sank a last second shot against Mississippi State, sending the SEC tournament game into overtime. As a result, when an EF-2 tornado tore through the heart of Atlanta only minutes later – severely damaging numerous downtown landmarks including the Georgia Dome – the majority of the 20,000 fans in attendance were still in their seats.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), tornadoes are the No. 1 severe weather-related killer in Georgia. Although they can strike at any time, March, April and May are typically the most active months for twister activity – so there’s no better time to start preparing for these dangerous storms. Here are a few other notable tornadoes that took place in the spring.

  • April 1936: Known as the “Gainesville Tornado,” a pair of storms converged in Gainesville, killing 203 people and injuring 1,600. Property damage included destruction of four blocks and 750 homes in northern parts of the state. This storm made the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration list of the 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes on record.
  • March 2007: On March 1, a record 21 tornadoes touched down in central and south Georgia, leaving nine people dead, nearly 100 injured and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The 143-bed Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus took a direct hit from a violent EF-3 tornado, but fortunately the staff was able to safely evacuate all 53 patients from the 265,000-square-foot complex.
  • April 2011: From April 25 to 28, there were more than 150 reported tornadoes and approximately 321 fatalities in six states throughout the Southeast. In Georgia alone, 15 tornadoes touched down, including a rare powerful EF-4 tornado that struck Catoosa County, the ninth in the state’s history. The outbreak killed 15 Georgians, injured 143, caused extensive property damage and left more than 49,000 residents without power.

And here are a few key facts about tornadoes.

  • The United States has the highest number of tornado occurrences in the world with an average of 1,000 tornadoes reported each year.
  • According to the National Weather Service (NWS), there were 55 tornado-related deaths nationwide last year.
  • Most tornadoes form from severe thunderstorms, but hurricanes or tropical storms can also produce them.
  • They can appear without warning and remain invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears.
  • Winds may exceed 300 miles per hour and often move at less than 35 miles per hour.
  • Tornado watches are issued by NWS when atmospheric conditions promote the forming of tornadoes.
  • Warnings are issued when Doppler radar detects a mesocyclone in a thunderstorm, or when a funnel cloud has been spotted.
  • The Fujita scale is used to estimate the wind speed of a tornado by the damage the tornado causes. In 2007, a team of meteorologists and wind engineers updated the original scale – which was developed by Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago in 1971 – with the Enhanced F Scale. The category scale ranges from EF0 to EF5.
    • EF0: Wind estimates between 65 and 85 miles per hour.
    • EF1: Wind estimates between 86 to 110 miles per hour.
    • EF2: Wind estimates between 111 and 135 miles per hour.
    • EF3: Wind estimates between 136 and 165 miles per hour.
    • EF4: Wind estimates between 166 and 200 miles per hour.
    • EF5: Wind estimates more than 200 miles per hour, which can tear a house off its foundation and send automobile-sized missiles flying through the air.

Although tornadoes may be unpredictable, the sudden nature of this type of disaster calls for diligent preparedness so you’re not caught off-guard. If one struck tomorrow, would you be ready? Take proactive actions and prepare in advance to protect you and your family before disaster strikes. Visit our website to ensure you have a reliable alert system and plan in place.

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Pipe_CalmFrom unseasonably warm temperatures to ice and snow to tornadoes, 2014 has been a wild weather roller coaster for Georgia. And that’s not all. Two earthquakes that struck South Carolina rattled Georgia, too. At 10:23 p.m. on Feb. 14, an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.1 struck near Edgefield, S.C., according to the U.S. Geological Survey website. On Sunday, Feb. 16, a 3.2 aftershock near the site of Friday’s event was confirmed at 3:23 p.m. Shaking was felt hundreds of miles away.

Regardless of the severity, it’s important to spend time after any natural disaster evaluating your response and preparing for the next potential occurrence. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, so procrastination is not your friend when time is tight and every minute counts. Here are some tips to help you take advantage of this “calm after the storm.”

Evaluate:

  • After-action review. Now is the perfect time to evaluate your family’s emergency plan. Take time to assess the event and research appropriate preparedness steps and responses for the next time a storm might strike.
  • Take notes. Document which tools in your Ready kit were beneficial and any additional items that could be helpful for future disasters. For tips on helpful items to include in your Ready kit, click here.
  • Assess property damage. Check your home for damage and document it prior to clean-up or repairs. If you are a renter, report damages to your landlord as soon as possible. Make sure to review insurance coverage and report claims.

Prepare:

  • Stock up. Print out a Ready kit checklist and travel to a local store to buy supplies. Remember the essentials such as water, canned foods, batteries, flashlight, a battery-powered radio and first aid kit, as well as unique items for pets, seniors or family members with special needs. Make sure you have enough supplies to survive at least three days.
  • Cash out. In case of a power outage, always have cash ready as ATM and credit card receivers may not function.  
  • Have a way to receive weather alerts, wherever you are. Contact your local emergency management agency to learn what warning system is used in your county. If you are a smartphone owner, 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. GEMA also recommends having a NOAA Weather Radio. This is the best way to hear watches and warnings from NWS, even if they are issued in the middle of the night.
  • Know the basics. From snowstorms to tornadoes, it’s important to know how to respond if disaster strikes. For example, even though they are rare in Georgia, earthquakes can occur with no warning and vary in severity.

Visit the Ready Georgia website for more tips on how to “drop, cover and hold on!” the next time an earthquake hits or what to pack in your car should a snowstorm leave you stranded.

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snowgirlPreparation is never an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if you didn’t have time to put together a complete Ready kit before the snow and ice set in, you can still make some last-minute preparations and take safety precautions for what lies ahead.

If you currently have power:

  • Juice up. Make sure all electronics are plugged in so they can be charged to full capacity. If it is safe to go to your vehicle, make sure the car chargers for your devices are accessible so you can utilize your car as a source of power, if needed.
  • Keep a flashlight handy. Be sure to have flashlights at the ready, and look around the house now for extra batteries to power it if needed. Flashlights are the safest light source during a power outage, but if you opt to use candles, check out these safety tips to reduce your risk for a house fire.
  • Locate your power company’s number and store it in your phone. If and when the power outage occurs, you will need to inform them. Do not call 911 to report a power outage.
  • Plan for fun. Having a ready supply of board or card games to play with your family or friends is a great way of avoiding boredom and staying positive in the event of a power outage. There are thousands of suggestions online for activities to keep kids entertained. Check those out now and gather supplies so you’re ready to go if the lights go out.
  • Do some baking. While you still have electricity, go ahead and cook a few foods that will be easy to store and eat later. Muffins, fruit breads and other treats like brownies and cookies will be especially welcome if you are without power long enough to tire of canned food items.

If you lose power:

  • Generate electricity safely. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, use generators, grills and portable cook stoves outdoors only. Use extreme caution when using alternative heating or cooking sources. Click here for more tips from the Georgia Poison Center.
  • Pull the plug. Pull the plug on motor-driven appliances such as refrigerators and electronic gear such as computers and televisions to prevent damaging electrical overload when power is restored.
  • Water safety. Check with local authorities to be sure your water is safe for usage.
  • Layers, layers and more layers. During cold weather, wear multiple layers of clothing, which helps to maintain body heat.
  • Utilize your freezer. A freezer that is half full stores food unharmed for up to 24 hours. A full freezer, however, keeps food preserved properly for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
  • Also utilize your refrigerator. To preserve refrigerated items, pack items such as milk, other dairy products, meat, eggs and spoilable leftovers into a cooler enclosed with ice. For this purpose, inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are efficient. According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture,  refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
  • Preserve your light sources. Open up blinds and utilize daylight in order to save the candles and flashlights for the night.
  • No-power cooking. There are plenty of recipes of recipes for meals that don’t require electricity. One of our favorites: “No-cook Soft Tacos” from Power Outage Picnic.

For more ready tips, be sure to visit www.ready.ga.gov.

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family planThis week, Georgia experienced an unprecedented series of challenges related to the winter storm and subsequent traffic shutdown. At Verizon, our employees in the affected areas experienced many of these challenges, and our thoughts go out to everyone who was stuck away from home. This winter storm really drove home the enormous importance of getting ready before severe weather emergencies.

Monday is the first day of Georgia’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, when Georgians are encouraged to take steps to prepare for the upcoming severe weather season. Our focus at Verizon is to keep people connected, to this end, here are a few tips on how technology can help keep your family connected in the event of an emergency like the one last week.

First, develop a family emergency plan that includes what to do, who to call, where to go and what supplies to take with you if your family must evacuate. Wireless devices can be a key source of information and communication in an event of an emergency, so be sure to keep phones, tablets, laptops, batteries, chargers and other equipment in dry, accessible locations like re-sealable plastic bags. Plus, have car chargers available to charge devices while on the road.

Use your smartphone or tablet to take photos or videos of personal possessions for insurance purposes. You can save them to an online file storage site such as Verizon Cloud, ensuring you have a copy on file in case your computer is damaged.

When communicating with family during an emergency situation, opt for brief text messages rather than voice calls. Text messages are likely to get through more quickly in a crisis. You can also use your phone to follow local news, emergency contacts and community leaders via social media.

There are many apps available to help before, during and after an emergency. Weather Bug, for example, alerts you to potential severe weather, including radar, and supplements TV and radio warnings when the power goes out. Ready Georgia’s mobile app  offers local weather and hazard alerts, lets you create and update your personalized emergency contacts and plans, provides an emergency supplies checklist and information on how to prepare for specific threats, and shows the location of the nearest open shelters. Also, an app such as Flashlight on iPhone can turn your smartphone into a light source in the event of a power outage.

Other wireless tips to help you stay connected and informed:

  • Limit non-emergency calls to conserve battery power and free-up wireless networks for emergency agencies and operations.
  • Check weather and news reports available through many Internet-connected wireless phones, and through other wireless phone applications, when the power is out.
  • In extreme conditions when your battery is running low and you are unable to charge it, consider conserving battery life:
    • Establish an “on air” time as part of your emergency communications plan with family and friends during which you power up your wireless device to take calls or messages during designated times.
    • Turn off background data applications or wi-fi search services if you have a wireless device that is capable of these communications. (Note that your device will not receive alerts while data is turned off.)

Verizon Wireless is again working with GEMA’s Ready Georgia campaign to educate consumers about how best to prepare for severe weather emergencies. To further help you stay connected during an emergency, Verizon Wireless and Ready Georgia are giving you seven chances to win a Mophie Juice Pack™ Powerstation that lets you charge a range of devices on the go. Visit and like www.facebook.com/ReadyGA for details on how to win as well as preparedness tips and other updates year-round.

Kate Jay is public relations manager for the Georgia/Alabama Region of Verizon Wireless.

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Just before the polar vortex struck Georgia, one of the most common sights on the news was footage of grocery store shoppers stocking up on food. Preparing food in expectation of severe weather is important, but in this case, many of the items in people’s carts didn’t seem ideal given the weather situation. Based on customer shopping trends, bread, milk and eggs appeared to be the “snack of choice” this week – and while those foods are fine to have, they’re not going to get you very far in an emergency. If your home loses power for a week, you’re probably not going to be reaching for the milk carton.

Instead of focusing on the ingredients for French toast, prioritize non-perishable items and water for your emergency supplies. You should be prepared to keep the members of your household supplied for at least 72 hours after an emergency. If you were stranded after an ice storm without power for that long, would you have enough food and water to survive?

Here’s a handy list of items to consider that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation:

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener
  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • Vitamins
  • Food for infants
  • Comfort/stress foods, like chips or chocolate

There are a variety of recipe ideas online for meals made of non-perishable foods that do not require electricity, including these from the American Public Health Association. Of course, you will want to factor in any special dietary needs for family members and pack food for your pets as well.

If you want to cook without power, remember that charcoal grills and camp stoves are for outdoor use only. The same goes for portable generators. If you plan on using a gasoline-powered generator to power kitchen appliances or other items, it’s absolutely critical to keep it outside, away from doors, windows and vents. Never use generators inside homes, garages, crawl spaces, or other partially enclosed areas, as this could lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide in your home, which could be fatal. Click here for more information about generator safety.

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pastel-new-year-1435613-2-mNew Year’s resolutions are often challenging because it’s difficult to stick with them for the long haul. Getting in shape, spending more time with family and reducing stress are all worthy goals, but they’re long-term propositions. This year, why not make a worthwhile resolution that can be knocked out quickly, like getting prepared?

Preparing for emergencies is an important action that many of us know we should do but simply put off. Interestingly, it doesn’t even take that long to get ready. In fact, here are twelve tips to get prepared that are so easy, you could finish them before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve.

  1. Create a Ready profile: The best way to start getting prepared is to create a Ready profile on the Ready Georgia website or the mobile app. A Ready profile will help you create a plan and list of supplies tailored to you and your family.
  2. Download the mobile app: In addition to helping you create a Ready profile, the mobile app has a Ready supplies checklist, maps with shelter locations, weather alerts, and a number of other helpful features.
  3. Make a family communication plan: Use your new Ready profile to create a family communication plan. This will make sure everyone in your home knows where to go and what to do if you are separated when an emergency occurs.
  4. Stock up on non-perishable groceries: While you’re at the grocery store, take some time to stock up on emergency supplies like non-perishable food, water, batteries, first aid and other key items. If you want a detailed list, use your new Ready profile.
  5. Get a NOAA weather radio: NOAA weather radios are the best way to stay informed about potential emergency situations so you will never be caught off guard.
  6. Make copies of important documents: During an emergency, you may not be able to secure your most important documents, like identification, insurance certificates and bank account records. Make copies of these items and put them in a waterproof, portable container with your emergency supplies so you won’t be left without them.
  7. Pack some supplies for your pet: While you’re getting your supplies ready, don’t forget the needs of your pet. Pack some extra food, medicine and toys for your furry companions.
  8. Locate the safest place in your home: Everyone in your family should know where to go if you have to take refuge during a tornado. The best locations are small, interior rooms at the lowest level of your home. Cellars and basements are ideal. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.
  9. Winterize your car: This time of year, it’s important to be prepared in case you get stranded in winter weather. Pack a mobile Ready kit with food, water, a flashlight, batteries, blankets, an ice scraper and cat litter or sand to help with traction on ice. Don’t forget to keep a mobile charger for your phone as well.
  10. Help kids get prepared: With the kids home from school, it’s a great time of year to make sure your children know what to do and where to go during disasters. Ready Georgia even has some online games to help, plus additional resources in the teacher/parent toolkit.
  11. Set up an out of town contact: Some situations may require you to evacuate, and it’s important to know where you will go. Give a trusted family member or friend who lives outside of town a call and see if they are willing to be your go-to location in the event of an emergency.
  12. Relax: Knowing that you’re prepared for whatever may come in 2014 feels good. Enjoy your new peace of mind and spend your new year relaxing. You’ve earned it!
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Ice_stormDespite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, December is National Stress Free Family Holidays Month. Stress can diminish your holiday shopping productivity, slow down the tree trimming and turn even the merriest of spirits into a real Grinch.

Stress often stems from being unprepared. ”What am I going to buy for my boss?” “What am I going to give to the neighbor who just surprised me with a batch of homemade cookies?” “Does winter break really start next week? What am I going to do with the kids?” During the holidays a lack of preparation can send your stress levels through the roof.

Once you’ve checked that last gift off your list, don’t forget that this time of year is also an important time to be prepared for winter weather and other emergencies. According to the National Weather Service, some of the coldest periods this winter are expected throughout December. Typical chilly temperatures and precipitation are expected to occur in January; however, in early February it appears we’ll have more active cold air moving in across the state. Winter weather doesn’t always aline with predictions, though, so it’s best to prepare now.

To help keep you from becoming a stressed-out Scrooge this season, we have compiled a list of several ways to prepare for holiday emergencies and cold weather.

  • Keep a NOAA weather radio on hand, and make sure to stay weather-aware and listen to the latest alerts concerning winter weather.
  • While you’re out doing your holiday shopping, make sure you get any supplies necessary to replenish your Ready kit.
  • If you plan on traveling, keep extra blankets and rock salt or kitty litter in the trunk. If roads are icy, avoid driving.
  • Keep warm on wintry days by weather-proofing your house with weather stripping around doors and windows to ensure proper home insulation. Allow faucets to drip during cold weather to prevent freezing.
  • If you have a lighted Christmas tree, make sure you turn the lights off before you leave the house or go to sleep. These lights can get very hot and become a fire hazard if left unattended.
  • No matter how cold it gets, never use a stove or oven to heat your house. Prepare safe alternative sources of heat. Even a gas or oil furnace needs electricity to operate, so if you have a fireplace or wood stove as an alternative heat source, be sure you have enough wood. Also, never bring portable generators, camp stoves or grills into the home; they should be kept outside and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and vents.

We hope you take the time to follow these steps and ensure a happy and safe holiday for you and yours!

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ThanksgivingThanksgiving is a wonderful holiday with a rich tradition in America that dates back to some of our earliest founders. Many of the things we take for granted today, from fresh food to warm homes, were ongoing challenges for the Pilgrims. Situations we experience only during emergencies were faced by the Pilgrims every day, and there are some good things to learn from their preparation.

Preparing For the Cold

The Pilgrim Way: When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in December 1620, they were unprepared for the extreme cold of New England. Their first order of business was to build shelter as quickly as possible, but that took time, and many were initially forced to live in tents or dugouts. Because of these insufficient shelters, many of the original settlers suffered from exposure and illness during their first American winter.

The 21st Century Way: Today many of us take shelter and warmth for granted, but it’s important to be prepared for cold weather in case you lose power or get stranded. Prepare safe alternative sources of heat. Even a gas or oil furnace needs electricity to operate, so if you have a fireplace or wood stove, be sure you have enough wood. Also, never bring portable generators, camp stoves or grills into the home; they should be kept outside and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and vents. Pack some extra blankets in your Ready kit. If you’re expecting a freeze, allow your faucets to drip to prevent pipe damage. Finally, winterize your vehicle in case you get stuck in some bad weather.

Preparing Your Food

The Pilgrim Way: The Pilgrims didn’t have supermarkets and refrigerators, so they had to learn how to acquire food and preserve it. Food was a struggle in the early months because of the harsh winter and their unfamiliarity with the land. However, by the following fall, the Pilgrims had produced enough food through farming, gathering and hunting that they were able to throw a three-day feast at the First Thanksgiving and store up their surplus for the winter.

The 21st Century Way: Today we can drive to the grocery store if we need food, but after a disaster, we may not be able to drive anywhere. Like the Pilgrims, it’s important to store non-perishable foods and water in a safe place in your home in case of emergencies. Thankfully, instead of an entire season’s worth of food, experts today recommend putting away three days’ worth of food and water for your family. If you really want to get into the Pilgrim spirit, include some jerky in there and some canned corn and beans as well.

Preparing For Medical Emergencies

The Pilgrim Way: About half of the original group of colonists from the Mayflower died in the first year, mostly from infectious diseases caused by unsanitary conditions and exposure to the wet and cold. The first common house the Pilgrims built was turned into a hospital to deal with the infirm, because they knew these were the people who needed the care.  Sadly, medicine was still pretty primitive at the time, and their capabilities were limited.

The 21st Century Way: One thing to be thankful for this year is modern medicine. What we can handle with simple pills today would seem almost miraculous to the Pilgrims. This is why it’s important to pack a first aid kit and extra prescriptions in your Ready kit. It’s also a good idea to keep copies of your medical documents in a watertight container.

For those who may need extra assistance during emergencies, such as older residents and those with special needs, create a support network of people who may be able to help in these types of situations. Just like the Pilgrims, we need to make sure our first priority is caring for those who need it most.

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Holding Hands with Elderly PatientEach year, more Americans are caring for a loved one with a chronic condition or disability.  There are as many as 90 million family caregivers in the U.S. today. While administering daily care is extremely important, caregivers must also take steps to help those they care for be prepared for unexpected emergencies. We recently sat down for a question and answer session with Evelyn McFarlane, a caregiver in Georgia, and asked her to tell us how she recommends preparing loved ones for emergencies.

Evelyn is a registered nurse who received special training from the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta to care for her sister, Joan. Joan is a quadriplegic and she relies on help from Evelyn and other caregivers for all daily activities.

Q: Evelyn, how do care for your sister each day?

A: Our day begins with stretching exercises. When in bed, she has to be turned every two hours to prevent skin breakdown. She gets very stiff if left in the same position for a long period of time, then I bathe, dress and feed her. Most days she is placed in her wheelchair, and she goes to therapy two days a week. I make sure her room is kept clean, and I handle the cooking, laundry and shopping. Joan sings in the church choir, so I take her to rehearsals.

Q: Based on your experience, what steps would you recommend Georgia caregivers take to ensure that their loved ones are prepared for emergencies?

A: Keep emergency contact numbers for doctors, the hospital, and close relatives and friends in your Ready kit. Also, keep important documents such as patient directives in a water-tight plastic bag.

Q: Are there any steps specific to Joan’s situation that you take to ensure she’s ready for the unexpected? 

A: I’ve made sure that Joan has a phone with all important contact information that she can control with voice commands.  The other caregivers and I are all educated on how to use this phone, in case Joan needs help operating it.

Following her injury, Joan became a motivational speaker, and now inspires others through her story of survival.

As recommended, make sure you have a designated Ready kit for the one you care for, and make sure it is filled with all medications, supplies phone numbers and documents you would need in the event of a disaster. For more information on preparing Georgians with access or functional needs, visit ready.ga.gov.

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