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St. Clair Emergency Management Agency talks disaster readiness with O’Fallon residents

Ryan Whitaker (right) the Assistant Director of St. Clair 911 ETSB and Senior 911 IT Analyst Randy Randolph (left) pose for a picture after giving a presentation to the elder members of O’Fallon FUMC on the importance of emergency preparedness.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Kimberly Bennett)

O’FALLON – O’Fallon First United Methodist Church hosted its monthly Prime Timers: Lunch & Learn event, and the theme for March was Emergency Preparedness, prompted by the number of unexpected ice storms the county has been experiencing this past winter.

Bryan Whitaker, Assistant Director of 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) branch and his associate, Randy Randolph, Senior 911 IT Analyst, were guest speakers of the Lunch & Learn event, teaching the elderly on the importance of emergency preparedness.

“About 95 percent of any emergency is dealt with preparedness, and two percent deals with the actual emergency while three percent regards the aftermath,” Whitaker highlighted at the beginning of his presentation. Though sometimes emergencies cannot be predicted, he highly stressed that people should always come up with a plan for every possible emergency, no matter what it could be.

St. Clair County has the highest rank in Illinois for most recorded tornadoes since 1950, amounting to approximately 196 rotations, and of those rotations, from 2000 to 2014, there have been 75 tornadoes recorded within the county. The yearly average of tornadoes is 3, and on average, there is at least one fatality per year. Furthermore, the county sits near the New Madrid Seismic Zone and ranks 7th in the state for most recorded earthquakes since 1950, the most recent disaster being 2008, when most of Southern Illinois endured one caused by the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone with a magnitude of 5.4. From 1950 to 2010, there have also been roughly 1,300 floods, 10 blizzards, 55 ice storms and 44 droughts according to St. Clair data reports on USA.com. With so many natural disasters in St. Clair county, it is important to be prepared for anything, come what may.

“There are 96 tornado sirens the EMA has to govern in St. Clair County,” said Whitaker when broaching the subject of preparing for tornadoes. “At 10 a.m. every first Tuesday of the month, unless there is inclement weather, those sirens are tested. If you live near a siren and do not hear it when it’s tested, please inform the county. That’s why we have those tests,” he added after asking the audience how many of them live near a siren. Approximately half rose their hands.

Briefly, he recommended a few action plans for floods and earthquakes, but focused most of his time answering questions anybody might have had.

  • For those who do not have basements in their homes: Whitaker recommended for families to find a room without any windows and doors, preferably under the stairs, which is built to be the strongest structure of the home.
  • For those who need to seek out a shelter but do not want to leave behind their pets: “When storm shelters are open to the public, we also open up our animal shelters, too. Be sure to do research prior to any emergency requiring shelters so you know, beforehand, where to take your pet(s),” Whitaker replied.
  • Where weather radios can be purchased: “You can buy them at Schnucks, Walmart, ACE Hardware, and the like. It’s about a $50.00 purchase, but it’s a great investment. When tornado sirens go off in the county,” Whitaker explained, “you’ll be able to hear it in your home. You can also receive weather updates. I highly recommend listening to the county’s frequency even though you might not live in Belleville or Freeburg or Fairview Heights. A tornado can unexpectedly change directions so it’s important to be aware of anything happening within the local area.”

While most of the Q&A session focused on natural disasters, Whitaker and Randolph noted that it was just as important to be prepared for other emergencies – such as house fires, blackouts, and serious injuries – too. For house fires, families need to have an evacuation plan and pick a meeting spot so every family member is accounted for. If experiencing a blackout, Whitaker emphasized the importance of having enough food and water stored during its duration, and if during temperature extremes, he recommended having an alternative place to stay until the power returns. For serious injuries, if for whatever reason, an ambulance is delayed, have a first aid kit on hand and learn different life-saving procedures – i.e. first aid, CPR and the Heimlich maneuver – to comfort an injured person before an ambulance can arrive.

At the end of the session, Whitaker and Randolph handed out little guidebooks to encourage everybody to take the initiative and make emergency preparedness a priority in their lives.  For more information on Emergency Preparedness and St. Clair County emergency protocols, visit www.stclaircounty911.com.