BY COSHANDRA DILLARD
Disasters will happen, and when they do, everyone has to be prepared — not just first responders.
That was the message of Lt. General Russel L. Honore, a retired three-star general known for coordinating rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Honore emphasized individual preparedness and leadership at Northeast Texas Health District's emergency preparedness conference, which continues through Wednesday. Topics will include use of social media, mass fatality, disease surveillance and volunteering.
Disasters are unpredictable so emergency preparedness is critical.
"We hope that we will never have another disaster like Katrina, but we know that on any given day Mother Nature can break anything built by man," Honore said.
Honore said large emergency response efforts are more fluid when citizens are prepared.
He said everyone should have an evacuation plan for their homes and three to five days worth of food and water.
"Those who are responsible for responding are victims themselves," he said. "Being prepared is the most critical thing we can get in our culture. Be your own first responder."
He also recommends that people have a weather radio on hand in their bedroom. He said the death toll is more likely to rise when a disaster happens at night. "It could be the single most thing you can invest in that will save you and your family's lives," he said.
Those who are prepared are more likely to help others, he said, noting that more people are saved by their neighbors than by first responders. All citizens should know first aid, he added. In his observations, he said many police officers and even public health administrators don't know how to perform first aid.
"If I had it my way, it would be mandatory coming out of college," he said.
While everyone likes the idea of emergency preparedness, Honore noted, not everyone does it.
"I think we can do better, and the thing I think that can help you do better is leadership," he said.
IN EAST TEXAS
The Emergency Medical Task Force was created by the Texas Department of State Health Services in 2010 to provide networks of eight regionally based medical teams during disasters.
Victor Wells, EMTF program manager, said Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a catalyst for calling attention to improved emergency preparedness.
"That had a huge impact," he said. "We had to plan how we were going to prevent this from happening again."
Beth Powell, EMTF coordinator for Region 4, which covers East Texas counties, said the task force has agreements with EMS services, provides training for its leaders and coordinates with most area hospitals. When disasters such as the Moore, Okla. tornadoes and the West, Texas explosion happened, communities took a look at their response plans.
"It has created a great awareness and urgency for how important it is to maintain emergency preparedness," Powell said. "A lot of times we get lulled into thinking it's not going to happen here."
Russell Hopkins, director of public health emergency preparedness at NET Health, said Tyler officials are confident about the city's preparedness.
"Locally, we are ahead of the game," Hopkins said. "Outside of San Antonio, we are the only other medical shelter hub in the state." He said Tyler has an active volunteer base and shelters more people per capita during disasters than anywhere else in the state.