Citizens in Magnolia and the surrounding area have experienced some serious emergency situations in the past few years. These included floods, wildfires and hurricanes, most notably the Tri-County Fire of 2011 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, both of which affected hundreds of residents and their properties. There are some critical steps that residents can take to help themselves and their neighbors in case of another disaster, and two organizations want to help be sure that happens.
This month, the U.S. Forestry Service is sending out surveys about evacuation actions taken during the Tri-County (or Riley Road) fire to Magnolia residents that will be used to build a better understanding of how to encourage people to evacuate in similar situations nation-wide. Also, the East Montgomery County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) just completed an Emergency Preparedness Fair, complete with disaster simulation, in an effort to inform the community about best practices for handling local disasters.
The efforts of both organizations are aimed at one common goal - making people safer in an emergency.
The U.S. Forestry survey is being mailed to a random sampling of 1,500 Magnolia residents and includes questions about whether or not they evacuated during the wildfire, and the reasons behind that decision. The survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete and will provide valuable information that will be used to develop public education programs.
"We want everyone who receives a survey to return it," said Sarah McCaffery, a U.S. Forestry research social scientist in charge of the survey. "The more people that respond can help us be more confident about our education perspectives."
Magnolia Fire Chief Gary Vincent agrees that those who receive a survey should fill it out and return it.
"This survey is a great value to the American fire service as we learn from past incidents and prepare for future events," Vincent said. "It's important to capture the data that Magnolia-area residents can provide because of their unique experiences during the 2011 fire."
Jimmy Williams, Montgomery County Fire Marshall, wants all residents to formulate a fire preparedness plan just like the ones people have for hurricane preparedness. In addition, he would like everyone to sign up for the Montgomery County Code Red system, which worked well in the 2011 fire, so they can stay informed in such a situation.
"Code Red provides phone notifications to residents if their area is facing an emergency, and it worked well to launch evacuations during the 2011 fire," Williams said. "Our area could face another fire any time we have dry conditions."
Learn more about Montgomery County Code Red at www.mc911.org.
Emergency preparedness is also becoming a focus in the area.
On May 4, the East 1488 Community Association and East 1488 CERT organizations sponsored their annual Emergency Preparedness Fair at the Home Depot on 1488. There were several booths that residents could visit for information, which included preparing a 72-hour kit to meet the needs of their family in a total shut-down emergency, providing for pets if they have to evacuate, making their homes less susceptible to wildfire, and preparing for emergency contact methods to be able to reach family members during an emergency.
The Montgomery County Search and Rescue organization was on hand to explain that the various types of services they provide.
"We often are called upon to help subdivisions create evacuation plans before an emergency occurs," Search and Rescue vice president J. Carter Miller, Jr., said. "You'd be surprised how fast that becomes an issue if the one or two street entrances are blocked during an incident."
CERT team president/team leader Cindy Burks was encouraging people to sign up for the free CERT classes this fall.
"They will learn everything they need to be able to formulate and execute a community incident action plan, which could save lives in a disaster," she said.
Burks felt the highlight of this fair was the disaster simulation, which will likely be repeated next year.
She also mentioned that CERT members and other organizations are available to speak to community associations and civic clubs about disaster preparedness. Burks stressed there are three important steps people should take to make them better prepared in an emergency: get a 72-hour kit, make a plan and stay informed.
The national CERT program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.
Although there is a CERT program on the east end of FM 1488, there is not one on the west side, so the team is looking for volunteers to start one.
To learn more about local CERT information, visit www.e1488cert.org. To become a CERT member or sign up for CERT training, visit the website: http://www.mctx