As Florence churns, officials urge disaster preparedness

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Hurricane Florence is set to be the first major storm in the Atlantic season and forecasts show it could affect North Carolina, so officials are urging residents to take part in National Preparedness Month and get ready now.

“A little preparation and planning now can pay big dividends when disaster strikes,” said N.C. Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “Have a plan for your family, make sure everyone knows the plan and gather basic supplies in your emergency kit.”

September is usually the height of hurricane season for North Carolina and the region doesn’t have a good track record with regard to storms with “F” names considering the devastation wrought by Hurricane Fran in 1996 as well as Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Wilson County Emergency Management Director Gordon Deno said planning and preparations are crucial even if a storm was not on the horizon.

“Preparedness should be a part of people’s everyday life,” he said. “It is not just about hurricanes because anything could happen.

“If power goes out for an extended period of time, how will you handle it?”

Putting together an emergency plan that includes where to meet loved ones, how to get in touch with others, evacuation plans and what to do with pets should be in place and practiced on a regular basis, so it is one less thing residents have to think about when disaster strikes.

Putting together an emergency supply kit that includes medication, food, water, hygiene items and more for at least three days for all people and pets is recommended. Other essentials include a weather radio, flashlights, extra batteries, important documents and first aid supplies. Community Preparedness Coordinator Rodney Dancy reminds residents to replace items every three months if stored in a shed or garage or every six months for climate-controlled environments.

“The easiest way to ensure your supplies are fresh is get into the habit of putting new supplies behind the old stuff, so when you want to eat something, you eat the older stuff first,” Deno said.

In the event of an evacuation, pet owners should make sure to have vaccination records as well as all supplies for animals. This storm season, though, Wilson has a new asset in the form of an 18-foot climate-controlled trailer that houses 22 animals dubbed the Critter Camper, which will be on display this weekend at a bazaar and car show at Black Creek United Methodist Church, 200 Church St., from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds from the car show go to The Maggie Society, which will be using the trailer to house rescue pets available for adoption.

Deno said the county previously assembled crates at a smaller area shelter in the event of evacuations, but the trailer was purchased along with seven others in the region with Department of Homeland Security grants. In August, the county spent $649 for 243 Sign to wrap all four sides of it and the trailer will debut at the church event, but will be used for a variety of functions — evacuations, for law enforcement in the event of animal hoarders or by rescue groups such as The Maggie Society for events — locally as well as regionally in the future.

“The cool part about it is if we need to set up the trailer for hurricane events, The Maggie Society has said they’ll be happy to help and take care of the critters,” Deno said. “Everyone we’ve talked to about it has been positive about having it available for disaster settings, but also to support rescue groups without brick-and-mortar facilities.”

In the event of a deployment, though, Deno said disaster response will take priority over animal adoption fairs. Deno and others will be at the event Saturday to remind folks to prepare for emergencies for two- and four-legged loved ones.

In 2017, North Carolina experienced 30 tornadoes, 548 severe thunderstorms with high winds, 102 hailstorms, 104 floods and winter storms that caused power outages and dangerous driving conditions. And while Hurricane Matthew caused local damage back in 2016, there are some still working to replace property damaged in the disaster, so officials urged preparation and adequate insurance coverage ­— including separate flood insurance policies — for all residents to make disaster recovery easier.

There also are resources such as the Code Red emergency notification system ­— that residents can sign up for by visiting tinyurl.com/ybcfn9mf — as well as ReadyNC.org and the ReadyNC mobile app.

“Preparedness is like auto insurance,” said Dancy. “You might not use it every day, but it pays to be prepared and expect the unexpected.”

For more information about local resources, visit www.wilson-co.com/departments/emergency-management/.