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Speaker: Residents should take time to prepare for a disaster

Air National Guard Master Sgt. Lydia Gerardi talks during Friday’s presentation on disaster preparedness at the Saranac Lake Adult Center. (Enterprise photo — Galen Halasz)

SARANAC LAKE — You never know when disaster may strike, but people can always be prepared.

Thanks to Air National Guard Master Sgt. Lydia Gerardi’s disaster preparedness presentation at the Saranac Lake Adult Center on Friday, the 11 people in attendance walked away more prepared than ever.

Gerardi works with the Citizen Preparedness Corps, an organization that is part of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services that gives presentations all across New York state helping civilians know what to do to be ready for a disaster. Gerardi said she gives about 10 of these presentations every month in 14 different counties, from Schenectady and Schoharie to the Canadian border.

Gerardi identified different types of disasters, including natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes; human-caused disasters, such as violence and structural collapse; technological/cyber disasters, such as power plant failure and cyber incidents; and biological disasters, such as illnesses and contaminated food. She also explained how to prepare for, respond to and recover from these situations.

Gerardi said that preparedness is important because in a disaster scenario, safety and survival often depend on keeping a level head, being able to take necessary action in case first responders are overwhelmed and having essential resources stockpiled in case of a scarcity. With preparation can come reduced stress and being better equipped. She said to think what people can do every day to be a bit more prepared.

Air Nation Guard Master Sgt. Lydia Gerardi holds up a battery-free radio during Friday’s presentation on disaster preparedness at the Saranac Lake Adult Center. (Enterprise photo — Galen Halasz)

Gerardi suggested taking steps to be ready for each type of disaster people might face and having an evacuation plan. Escape routes should be identified and there should be two designated places to meet up with family members in an emergency, a primary one and a secondary one in case the first is compromised. She said to have an emergency communication plan so that someone can reach a person in case the person needs help, and to have an additional out-of-town contact who can update the person’s other contacts about their status in a situation where the person’s area might be affected by the disaster and they can’t waste time calling everyone themselves, while the out-of-town contact is completely safe and able to be their dispatch.

In terms of food storage, she said to have enough in the house at all times to last up to 10 days and to eat the older food first so that people aren’t at risk of having only expired food left in the house.

People should also make sure they have access to a gallon of water per person per day, even in the worst-case scenario.

Gerardi showed the audience different gear that can be helpful in disaster situations. The first item was a go bag for holding essential items during an evacuation. Each family member should have a go bag, she said. There should also be a large supply for the house, which can be centralized or spread throughout different rooms, along with the portable bag to take on the road.

Another item was a first aid kit, which she said should include a tourniquet, although most kits don’t come with one. She said to have gloves and goggles handy as well.

For trips into the wilderness, she prescribed a whistle and reflective band, vest, lightstick or other object to show signs of life for a forest ranger.

A doorstop could be helpful in a situation where people have to prop open a car door when rushing to load the vehicle for evacuation, or to prop a door closed when hiding from an assailant.

Other items were a flashlight, a liner to keep things dry, a foil blanket, drinking water, sustainment items such as protein bars, hygiene supplies, a cellphone charger, spare batteries, a multi-tool, duct tape and a container to keep important documents from being lost.

She also said to be prepared to provide for pets in an emergency as well, if possible without causing risk to the person.

Gerardi went over cyber security as well, such as people avoiding clicking links that seem suspicious or “too good to be true” and having 14-character minimum passwords with some non-letter characters to safeguard their accounts and information. People should also monitor their accounts to make sure nothing is amiss.

She suggested having New York Alert, because it will notify people of an emergency two hours sooner than Wireless Emergency Alerts, which is otherwise a similar system.

Having carbon monoxide detectors in every room was also important, she said.

Gerardi went over what to do in the aftermath of a disaster, such people taking an inventory of what supplies need replenishment, helping themselves or anyone else affected by the disaster who many need trauma support, notifying their contacts that they are OK and taking note of any damage that needs to be repaired. She also talked about ways to get involved in helping, such as AmeriCorps, the American Red Cross and the Community Emergency Response Team.

Before the presentation, Gerardi explained why disaster preparedness mattered to her.

“As a military member, I’ve helped with humanitarian missions, so I’ve seen the aftermath, the after-effect of Hurricane Irene when Schoharie Valley was really underwater. … People were really helpless,” she said. “They weren’t sure what to do, what direction to turn in.” Now she has a job where she can help people be ready “for not if but when disaster happens.”

Gerardi said the most important thing in order to be prepared is “knowing what’s available to you. There are a lot of free programs; there’s a lot of ways to get free supplies, and I think the most important piece is what shelter is closest to you if you need to leave your home. Especially for older adult citizens, not having those family members nearby to help them knowing where to go, what to bring with you.”

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