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Fair Offers Insights into Being Prepared

Betty Cannon's parents have lived through the Depression, wars and tornadoes and as a result, always taught Cannon to "have a little in the cupboard."

Over the years, Cannon has learned the best items to keep packed away for an emergency, how to rotate stored food items or other things that have a limited shelf life, and what to grab if she should have to evacuate her home. It is all packed away in a pair of 72-hour kits she and her husband keep by the door of their ninth-floor apartment in the Rotonda. And just in case power is out and the elevators aren't working, the kits are outfitted with wheels.

"I've sort of tweaked it over the years," the McLean resident said. "If you are more prepared, you are more relaxed and can focus on what you need to do."

Cannon will share her secrets Saturday, Nov. 23, at the "Community Emergency Preparedness Fair: Homeland Security Begins at Home," sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2034 Great Falls St. in McLean. The free event will feature discussions on disaster planning and survival skills, self-defense against chemical and biological toxins, food storage and cooking, growing food in small spaces, water purification, creating 72-hour kits, communications, shelter, fuel alternatives, first aid and financial planning.

The fair begins at 9:45 a.m. and runs until 2 p.m. Small discussions and demonstrations on the various topics will be held every 20 minutes. Presentations will also be made in Spanish beginning at 12:40 p.m.

"I have a well in Great Falls. If the electricity goes out, how do I get water to drink?" said fair coordinator Robert Taylor, on reasons why the fair is important. "If the area has to be evacuated, how do we deal with it?"

Taylor said that after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, people are thinking more seriously about being prepared in case of another attack, but emergency preparedness can also apply to ice storms, hurricanes, floods, or even the loss of a job for a lengthy period of time or an extended illness.

"Say, just the power goes out for four days in an ice storm. … That could be life-threatening to some people," Taylor said.

TAYLOR, a Great Falls resident and physicist, said that for example, the San Francisco fire in the early 1900s left 300,000 people homeless. He also said that the Northern Virginia region is susceptible to hurricanes and ice storms. Being prepared, he said, could be as simple as purchasing the U.S. Army Survival Manual.

"If you go back and look at the history of the earth, there have always been times people were displaced," Taylor said. "We need to be better-prepared."

Cannon, along with Martina Moran of Arlington, will provide insight on 72-hour kits, emergency packs filled with three days’ worth of clothes, food, medicine and other supplies, for use if someone has to evacuate his home.

"Statistics show that during most emergencies, you have 20 minutes to evacuate," Cannon said. "That is not enough time frankly to pull together the survival essentials, let alone any family treasures that need to be saved. Seventy-two-hour kits are a way to think ahead for an emergency."

The kits, which are recommended by the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, can be purchased ready-made, usually from companies specializing in camping gear, and can contain ponchos, waterproof matches, emergency blankets, first-aid kits, a pop tent, small cooking ware and room for food, clothing, needed medicines, batteries, radio, water, petty cash, important documents such as contact information, blood type, health insurance and financial records, and even small games to fight off the boredom of being in a shelter.

People and families can also create their own personalized kits using a backpack. However, remember not to overpack. The kits have to be able to be carried, possibly down flights of stairs or over long distances in less than ideal conditions.

"Experts say that if someone is bilingual, they tend to forget their second language during a crisis and revert to their native language. So information in the kit needs to be in both languages," Cannon said. "Also have a family photo in the kit, so that if you get separated, you can take it to area hospitals and shelters."

When creating the kit, Cannon said to pack nonperishable food the family likes, or else it won't be eaten. In addition, try to avoid packing the so-called "space" food — foods that are dehydrated — because they could cause digestive problems if it is something the person is not used to eating on a regular basis.

Cannon said it is also important not to pack a kit, then put it away and wait for an emergency. Many items, including the food and batteries, have a limited shelf life.

"I put our kits near the door, but I do have to rotate the items," Cannon said. "I date the items and index them. I put the older items on top and rotate them out and use them."

She has also created a list, pinned to the outside of the kits, of the top five items to grab if she and her husband have to evacuate; items such as family treasures that cannot be replaced or things that are used daily, such as prescription medicines.

"There should be a kit for each person in the family, and as soon as the children are responsible enough, let them start adding more adult items to their kits," Cannon said. "Remember the kits are all the things you need temporarily to get you through three days."

ONCE A PERSON is told to evacuate and grabs his 72-hour kit, then what? Having a plan is important.

"From a military perspective, you always think about what could happen and know where you are going if it does," said retired Lt. Gen. James King.

The Fairfax resident will be leading a discussion on "Survival Skills in an Urban Setting." He said that during the time of a disaster, people often know to grab a flashlight but don't think to grab a map or even create a plan ahead of time to make sure they know where they are going or where they will meet if they are separated.

"Simple things like cold, heat, food. Add to that fatigue and boredom. These are things that you have to think of if you have to move during an emergency," King said. "It's meant to have people think."

King said it is important for people to know ahead of time where they can go and what they can take in case of an emergency. Some shelters, for example, do not allow pets.

"It behooves people to be prepared for anything that could happen," he said.