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Earth Matters: Are You Ready for the Big One?

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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by Susan Hellauer

Let’s face it, we’re getting accustomed to watching disasters, man-made or natural, happening to other people, playing out on our screens. Whether it’s a few miles or a continent away, we protect ourselves from panic and get on with our lives. It’s a form of magical thinking that says “not here, not now, not me.”

But human-accelerated climate change is catalyzing extreme weather everywhere, with a warmer atmosphere and ocean together pumping unprecedented moisture into mega storms. Houston, with its unchecked urban sprawl, has had three 500-year floods since 2015. That’s no meteorological blip.

Many of us live near sites of potential man-made disasters, like petroleum pipelines, crude oil-bearing “bomb trains,” chemical and nuclear power plants and other hazards. Many live with the threat of wildfires, floods,  landslides, and tornadoes, all of which can be intensified by climate change. Plenty of us—including my sane friends and relatives—choose to live on the west coast despite the real chance of catastrophic earthquakes.

And then, of course, there’s terrorism,with everything from knives to nukes.

disasster preparedness

FEMA encourages civilians to be trained in disaster response through their Community Emergency Response Team program. Citizen response at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (pictured) saved lives.

No person, no place, no government can be completely ready for every calamity. But maybe, with the sights and sounds of Hurricane Harvey’s biblical-proportion floods still fresh, it’s a good time to give yourself and your community a fighting chance to survive the unthinkable.

It’s really up to you

Disaster preparedness and response in Rockland County is directed from the Office of Fire & Emergency Services in Pomona. We spoke with Program Coordinator Nicholas Longo about the best way for residents to be ready to take care of themselves in a crisis until they can get out or get help.

Longo pointed out that, although Rockland has not been pummeled by nor’easters, blizzards and hurricanes like Floyd (1999), Irene (2011), and Sandy (2012), the county has learned valuable lessons from each one, improving protocols and continually acquiring better emergency equipment. His agency has also been upgrading emergency notification systems and social media sites to keep residents updated about conditions.

In a major emergency, you may be advised to flee, or stay sheltered in place for several days. In either case, you’ll need to rely on yourself for survival. Here are Nick Longo’s Fire & Emergency Services top ten takeaways for residents who want to be ready for anything:

Top 10 disaster tips

1. Know your hazards. Situational awareness is key to preparedness. Do you live within the ten-mile radius of Indian Point? Do you live or work near CSX freight trains, which carry hazardous materials, including highly combustible Bakken crude oil? Are you in a flood zone? Have there been brush fires near your home?

2. Keep enough food, water and other necessities to shelter in place at home for a couple of weeks. Have enough supplies on hand for all family members and pets. Buy snow shovels and perishables before the pre-storm shopping panic. Check for checklists and suggestions.

3. Build a go-kit. Coordinator Longo suggests a backpack for each family member. Besides the expected medications, prescriptions, food, water, flashlight and a change of clothes, his kit includes a crank radio, an extra cell phone and backup charger, a written list of phone numbers (in a waterproof bag with the phone), pencils, some rope, and duct tape, glow sticks, and a roll of toilet paper. “Make it now and put it aside for when you need it” he says. “Just do it.”

disaster preparedness

Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make a family emergency plan today. September is National Preparedness Month. Learn more at

4. Make an emergency meetup plan with your family and practice it, even if it just means walking to a friend’s porch in case of a fire. “Don’t just talk it, walk it.” Longo suggests making a family meeting place a half mile away from your neighborhood as well.

5. Use portable generators exactly in compliance with instructions, and never indoors or under any sort of covering—not even the porch or eaves of the house. Don’t overload their circuits, and never refill “hot.” Don’t create another disaster on top of the one that’s already going on.

6. On the road: keep some basic survival gear in your car, like a blanket, water, flashlight. Keep your gas tank above half full.

7. Make sure those who need help evacuating their homes, or taking care of themselves are listed with Rockland County Access & Functional Needs Registry and with local police. Ask a family member’s schools or assisted living residence what their evacuation plans are, and how often they hold drills.

8. Stay in touch. Register your phones now with the, as well as the county’s CodeRED voice notification system, and any town and village emergency callback systems. “Friend” the social media of these government entities as well as the county Office of Fire & Emergency Services—or know where to find them.

9. Practice. Practice. Practice. Drills are a regular part of business at the Office of Fire & Emergency Services, including twice-yearly Indian Point emergency drills, which are monitored by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Practice emergency procedures with your family often. Panic is not an option.

10. Finally, be a good neighbor now. Find out which of your neighbors might need some help. Keep a friendly eye on them now and check in with them in an emergency.

For more tips and ideas about disaster preparedness, Longo recommends

disaster preparedness

Teens from the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe participate in the first Tribal Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course in the state. Photo courtesy FEMA/Shari Brand

Masters of disaster

Why not go beyond survival, and be a hero to your family and your community?

Rockland County residents age 14 and older can be part of a reserve task force, mobilized at times of crisis or disaster to free up the county’s professional first responders.

Rockland Community Emergency Response Team (RCERT) is part of a nationwide FEMA program run in collaboration with the Rockland Office of Fire & Emergency Services and the Rockland County Youth Bureau, with support from the Rockland County Department of Health. More than 200 people have been trained so far, 17 of them fully certified as CERT responders, and 17 more to be ready by year’s end.

There are no special requirements for applicants, who can be certified after taking eight prescribed classes. Members set up and operate emergency shelters, hand out supplies, disseminate information, survey storm/disaster damage and conduct neighbor well-checks. They may also be called upon for crowd control, basic first aid, or search and rescue.

RCERT Members meet regularly to drill, train and administer the program. They also educate the community about disaster preparedness.

disaster preparedness

Red Cross shelter in Minor, N.D. Photo courtesy FEMA

Community residents who don’t wish to be certified can still take any of the eight CERT preparedness classes to educate themselves about disaster response and survival. “Education and emergency assistance are our primary missions,” says program coordinator Kathy Galione. “Our goal is to train as many county residents as possible about disaster preparedness and response – so that they’re safer, their families are safer and their communities are safer during times of crisis or disaster.”

To find out more about the RCERT program, call 845-708-7307 or request an application by e-mailing

Learn more:

  • disaster preparedness

    Members of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force One remove a survivr from floodwaters in a neighborhood impacted by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy FEMA

    Extensive information on preparing for disaster, whether you stay or go, can be found at
  • CNN editorial: “Now we have a moral duty to talk about climate change” (8/31/17)
  • Your child might attend a school inside the Indian Point evacuation zone, even if you live outside it. Find out where your child would be taken from this school reception list.
  • The Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona is accepting pets from the Hurricane Harvey flood zone and needs foster families to help these animals. The shelter is also seeking donations to help defray the costs.

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Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

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