Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, hear from an emergency management and communications expert. And our Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Find out what it takes to be prepared for all kinds of disasters, fires, storms, a public health crisis and more. Hear about the available resources to help you create a plan and feel confident that if something happens, you are ready to keep yourself and your family safe.
Announcer [00:00:26] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed [00:00:36] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host. Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. When disaster strikes, remembering what to do, where to go and what to bring, all of that can be overwhelming. So now is the time to get prepared. September marks National Preparedness Month, and we're happy to have with us two Johnson County experts on this topic. Steve and Trent, thanks for joining us. And if you can, start by introducing yourselves and your role with the county. And we'll start with Trent.
Trent Pittman [00:01:04] Hello, everybody. My name's Trent Pitman. I'm with Johnson County Emergency Management Communications. I'm the Assistant Director of Community Preparedness, which rolls in a bunch of responsibilities, such as the public information officer for our department, training and exercise, as well as volunteer management.
Steve Mayhew [00:01:23] My name is Steve Mayhew. I'm the Preparedness Program Manager at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Theresa Freed [00:01:28] Thank you guys for being here, sir. And if you can talk to us a little bit about what National Preparedness Month is and why it's important.
Trent Pittman [00:01:35] Yeah. You know, National Preparedness Month is something that we work with every September. It was first coordinated in 2004 to encourage citizens and businesses to prepare for all hazards and all types of emergencies and disasters that they could encounter in their location.
Theresa Freed [00:01:56] All right. And can we talk a little bit more about what kinds of disasters are there? Right. I know that there are plenty of things that just kind of instantly come to mind, but probably some of those lesser known disasters, too, that we need to be prepared for.
Trent Pittman [00:02:09] You know, we actually monitor and rank on a semiannual basis, a Threat and Hazards Index, where we monitor over 20 different hazards that could affect Johnson County at any given point. Primarily, we focus on those ones that are higher on that list. And this area, some of the ones we tend to focus on are severe weather as well as tornadoes, winter weather and ice storms. And, you know, this is 2020, in fact. So we're we're dealing with some of the ones that are a little bit further down on this list as well.
Theresa Freed [00:02:44] Yeah, it's certainly been an unusual year. And, you know, just talking about severe weather, it seems like it's been pretty mild this year compared to previous years. I don't remember having to run to the basement too often.
Trent Pittman [00:02:54] Yeah. In fact, as of right now, we are tied for the lowest number of tornadoes in the state of Kansas that we've ever had and I believe are sitting at 13 confirmed tornadoes in the entire state of Kansas for 2020. So it seems like Mother Nature has cut us a little bit of a break this year while we focus on other more important hazards right now.
Theresa Freed [00:03:19] Yeah, that's right. And we'll talk a little bit more about that in a bit. So, you know, when you think about preparedness, you think about those tornado drills and fire drills that the schools do. But making a plan is an important step, not just for the schools, but also for our own families. In addition to that, you also have to have some supplies ready. So can you talk a little bit about what it takes to build a kit to be ready for disaster?
Trent Pittman [00:03:44] In Johnson County, we like to encourage everyone to make a plan, gather supplies and get connected. Specifically when looking at supplies, we try to take a different approach, the number of communities around instead of focusing on building a kit and try to make sure you have all those supplies in a designated bag or designated box. We try to encourage you. Just make sure you have those supplies on hand in case you need them for an emergency. We like to group them into three different categories of essential, useful and personal. Those essential items that we encourage everyone to have this essential supplies include making sure you have three days of water that is one gallon of water per person per day, having some sort of basic first aid kit or basic first aid supplies on hand, making sure you have a flashlight with an extra set of batteries or at least a rotating set of batteries in that flashlight, as well as having some sort of limited nonperishable food supply that could that could be as complicated as meals ready to eat for groups if you want to go all in and get that level of preparedness. Now, it could also include just having nonperishable and granola bars and rotating that supply. A direct preparedness kit. Instead of buying a designated supply of food and putting it in a bag and then having to replenish that supply every every six months, one year or even every two years for some of those longer items. Making sure you have nonperishable food on hand that you could that you could use is one cost saving measure that that we encourage everyone to have. So making sure that when those granola bars or those protein bars are about to expire, that you could rotate them through your your personal snack drawer or your snack supply and then replenishing those, making sure you always have fresh stuff on hand. As far as useful items, that includes items such as having some extra cash on hand, maybe a battery powered cell phone charger. You know, we we encouraged everyone to always have battery powered radios and extra sets of batteries and hand crank radios, in fact, you know. But in today's world, making sure you have a battery powered cell phone charger is, you know, just as high. It's kind of that 21st century version of that old hand crank radio, as well as having important documentation, insurance, Social Security cards, making sure you have all those important documents socked away safely is important. And then finally, we encourage everyone you know to make sure you have those personal supplies on hand that you'll need following a disaster that includes hygiene items, as well as in making sure you have some amount of extra medication, prescriptions on hand in case you're not able to make it to the pharmacy to replenish some of those vital supplies at any given time. And then lastly, just encouraging you to think of Fido or maybe the cat, making sure you have some some emergency supply items for them as well.
Theresa Freed [00:06:48] And when you talk about all those emergency supplies, it sounds like a lot of stuff. But to put that in your car, you put that in your closet by a door or what do you do with it?
Trent Pittman [00:06:58] It's really up to individual preference, you know. And one way to look these and it is, you know, once you look at this, these items, it can seem overwhelming, can seem like a lot of things that you have to have on hand. But one thing that you can do to help make this a little bit more manageable is just to make sure you have some of those essential supplies maybe stocked away in a basement or in a closet, making sure that water, first aid kit, flashlight have a designated location. A lot of those other items, you know, some of that food supply and some of those useful items can be located in a different part of your house. And then, you know, making sure you just have extra hygiene items around your house or your apartment is just a way to make sure you're prepared. You don't necessarily have to have them all in one big location. And you brought up a great point, especially around these parts of the country, making sure you have items available in your car. For those for those long distance road trips that you can do is incredibly important throughout the winter. And, you know, those can vary based on what conditions you're at. You know, it's that you always want to make sure that in the winter you have certain supplies in your vehicle, that's a car charger for your cell phone as well as some some warm clothes or maybe that's a thick blanket it that you could put your trunk. But when you're going on a long road trip to maybe you're visiting an extended family and you're taking that road trip this year instead of flying on a plane, making sure you have water and extra food just in case in case you get stuck on the side of the road. Or you need to wait out that snow plow for a few hours in western Kansas or wait for the highway to open back up, making sure you have those snacks on hand. Those aren't necessarily things you'll want to leave in your car when you're just driving around town. That water could freeze and leak everywhere when it unfreezes. But those are items that you can add in, as well as those basic supplies such as that car charger and warm clothes, you know. And if you're going somewhere remote where you might not have a cell phone charger, where there's not a whole lot of traffic, that's when you can take that preparedness kit in your car up to another level, making sure that instead of maybe just a handful of hours for comfort supplies, that you actually have those supplies on hand in case you have to wait out assistance for multiple hours.
Theresa Freed [00:09:20] And we had a in our neighborhood recently a fire, a house fire. And so I keep thinking, you know, what would I do in that situation? And I think about, you know, all the important papers that I have tucked away. And I'd probably want to grab them. But my first priority would be getting my family out safely. So are there things that you should do, maybe keep some of those documents electronic, so that you can access them maybe from your phone or your computer when you get to safety?
Trent Pittman [00:09:48] Yeah, yeah. You know, it often seems like, you know, after the family's accounted for, that first thing we're grabbing is that cell phone and making sure you have your your insurance information saved in your phone is just a is a great way to make sure you you likely have that with you. You know, there are other options are making sure those documents are either in a bag that you can grab just second nature, maybe it's tucked in just in there in the closet in your room that you can just grab it and go, or even including those items in a in a fireproof safe of sorts.
Theresa Freed [00:10:22] All right. That's some great advice. And so after you've created your plan, the next step probably is to talk to your kids about what that plan is and where those those important items are. So how do you prepare kids for disaster without scaring them? Because I know you've got kids and it's an important step in this process.
Trent Pittman [00:10:40] Yeah. You know, kids feed off that energy that that adults, those adults are putting off when they're talking to them about different and tough subjects. And just making sure you have honest and open conversations that are age appropriate with the kids is it's it's incredibly important that can start off young kids. And that kindergarten like preschool age group is being prepared for those kids is as simple as memorize mom or dad's cell phone numbers, making sure that if they're ever separated and you're talking with law enforcement officers or teachers, that they have that that phone number memorized as soon as possible for being able to contact them. You know, as they get older, that progresses into making sure that you have something as simple as a fire escape plan where, you know, you're you're kindergartener, first grader or second grader, you know, and then making sure that, you know, if they have to get out of the house, if your not immediately right there beside them, they could do it on their own. And they know where to go. And making sure that that neighbor or that location that you're sending them is aware that they're coming is is most definitely part of it. And they know that progresses all the way up to making sure that your teenager who's driving to school has those emergency supplies in their car with them in case in case they need to use them.
Theresa Freed [00:11:59] All right. Again, great information there. And we're going to move on to Steve. So when it comes to public health, preparedness has taken on a new meeting this year. I'm sure. So can you talk a little bit about what what the public health preparedness means?
Steve Mayhew [00:12:13] Yeah, absolutely. So health departments all across the country have been have had preparedness programs since 2001 after the anthrax attacks. And so health departments all over been focused on public health preparedness for a long time now. Initially, when people think about public health preparedness, they think about things like anthrax attacks or like pandemics. But really, you could go down the entire list that Trent mentioned of all the different hazards. And what we really try to focus on are the health outcomes. And so how do we make sure that people are able to stay healthy after disaster? What are the health impacts of disasters? And then what can we focus on in terms of making sure that people are as resilient as possible? So you can think about that in the context of people with preexisting conditions. And so Trent mentioned medications and things like that. A lot of times those conditions can be exacerbated by disasters. And so we just try to take all that into account to make sure that individuals and communities can remain as healthy as possible during and after a disaster.
Theresa Freed [00:13:13] And you mentioned that a pandemic is as part of that equation, I guess. Can you talk about how that's played out here in Johnson County?
Steve Mayhew [00:13:21] Pandemics, obviously a little bit different than the disasters we typically think of in Kansas. Severe weather and tornadoes and things like that. Where a tornado is, you know, very sudden, very quick, it comes in. The damage is done and then it's it's gone and you start to recover. A pandemic obviously can last months and longer. And so it really takes a different sort of perspective to look at a pandemic. When you think about the long haul versus the short, immediate impacts of other types of disasters. Then I don't wanna say the nice thing. But one of the opportunities there is that with a pandemic, so a tornado happens, you can't do anything to stop it or slow it down or mitigate it. It's going to come in and it's going to have that effect. But with a pandemic, because it stretched out over such a long period of time, there are a number of things that we can do to sort of reduce the impact of the disease on the community, things like social distancing, wearing masks, trying to do do good hand hand hygiene and all those other recommendations that health departments have made. And then in addition to to those things, you can really look at sort of the list that Trent went through already in terms of being prepared for pandemics. And think about, you know, if you make a kit for three days with food and water and things, for if the power goes out or if you're stuck at home. Think about that in the context of if you're asked to quarantine at home for two weeks because you've been exposed to the virus. And so you can take some of those same principles and just look at them through that sort of longer term scope.
Theresa Freed [00:14:48] I think, you know, people don't like to think about this possibility. But if you did get sick, you know, I've talked to a few people who they're concerned with. If they went on a ventilator, you know, does my spouse or my loved one have the information that I need to share with them? So can you talk about how families can prepare if if someone gets severely sick?
Steve Mayhew [00:15:10] Yeah. So that's definitely a really good point to bring up. Obviously, we don't like to think about worst case scenario, but it's super important to do that and to talk to your family and your loved ones about what their wishes are, what your wishes are, how you want things to be handled. Let them, know a trusted person, let them know where all the important, important documentation you have is where all the information they would need should something happen, let them know where to find that and what you want them to do. It's also important to think about, you know, it's not just this severe illness you want to think about, but what would you do if you were diagnosed with even asymptomatic COVID-19? Do you have a plan to isolate from your family within your house if you have the space to do that? That's great. If not, try to think about other things that you would do to try to protect your loved ones. And lastly, if you think you may have COVID-19 or you think that you may have been exposed to somebody, we are still offering free testing here at the health department in Olathe, you just go online, make an appointment. It just takes a few minutes to have the test done. And the results have been coming back in just a couple of days. And so that resource is available to residents as well.
Theresa Freed [00:16:19] All right. And of course, we'll have a link to how to to get an appointment to go get a test. It's a very quick process, an easy process with fairly quick results there, which, you know, once you have that information, it can be empowering, at least, you know, if if you're sick or not and what you can do about that. So you mentioned some of the other public health issues that you guys are looking at all the time. And so obviously, we're in the middle of a pandemic. So there's a huge focus on that. But can you talk about some of the other health related disasters or emergencies that that you guys address and what the public needs to know about that?
Steve Mayhew [00:16:54] Sure. So right off the bat, I mentioned that the preparedness program was created because of the anthrax attacks. And so we look at things like bioterrorism and how would we get medication to every resident of Johnson County within 48 hours? That's one of the plans that we have to have. And it's certainly a very large undertaking. The other one that's a little bit, you know, probably more likely to happen would be pandemic flu. And we're coming into flu season now, and so obviously we have the flu every year. And when they we're talking about people are talking about the next big public health threat was going to be we thought it would be pandemic flu. Turns out it was COVID-19. But we still like to encourage people as we get into flu season to go get your flu shot. It protects you. It protects the people around you. It won't help you with COVID-19. But if it protects you from the flu and keeps the stress off of the hospitals, if fewer people get sick and need to seek that care, it'll be better for our community overall. Again, I would say that the pandemic is sort of a we're playing the long game with that and so strongly encourage everybody to, you know, obviously focus on your own personal safety. But think about it in the greater context of all of the steps that you take to protect yourself, like wearing a mask and social distancing are also protecting those around you. And so really just trying to harness that that social responsibility to your community and everyone around you is going to be what gets us through this pandemic and out on the other side.
Theresa Freed [00:18:23] All right. Thank you so much. And thank you guys for being here. You can find much more information about preparedness on jocogov.org. And you can also learn more about the national campaign at ready.gov. Thanks for listening.
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