Like the Boy Scouts, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in being prepared. But when they began planning their upcoming Emergency Preparedness Fair, a year ago, little did they know how timely it would actually be.
"As individuals and families, we take seriously the counsel we have received from our church leaders to be prepared in the event of an emergency [and] to become self-reliant," explained Steven Hilton, president of the church's Centreville Stake. "[And now], the recent calamities in the Gulf states serve as a sobering reminder of the need for personal and family preparedness."
The fair will be held Saturday, Oct. 29, from 1-4 p.m., inside the church gym at 14150 Upperridge Drive, behind the McDonald's, in Centreville. It's open to the public, and attendees do not have to belong to the church. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) will cut the ribbon signaling the start of the event.
There'll be a moonbounce, hot dogs, Sno Cones, cotton candy and popcorn for the kids, plus a fire engine to climb on, courtesy of Fire Station 17. And there'll be a wealth of valuable information for adults on how to ready themselves and their loved ones for emergencies.
Knowing that disaster can strike without warning, the church hopes to get people thinking about what they would do if, suddenly, they were without the basics, such as water, gas, electricity or telephones. Relief workers wouldn't be able to reach everyone right away, so people would have to depend on themselves and their prior preparations.
So the fair will feature a variety of booths and workshops with information and instruction on food and water storage, family communications and first aid. There'll be a demonstration of how to purify water for drinking and instructions on assembling a 72-hour survival kit. The American Red Cross bloodmobile will be on hand, too, for anyone wishing to donate blood.
The Centreville Stake includes Centreville, Clifton, Manassas, Manassas Park, Gainesville and Warrenton, and the fair is a stakewide effort. "You don't want to be the weak link in the community," said event spokeswoman Lori Egbers. "You want to be able to rely on yourself, rather than wait for the government to help. It's also for the good of your community so you can help others."
For example, she said, "You have to have a family plan of finding one another. Without a phone, you can't just place a call and say, 'Is my kid at that center?' And how would you reach relatives in different cities and states?"
As if in illustration, said Egbers, a recent Channel 4 TV news question of the day was, "Does your family have an emergency-preparedness plan?" She said 24 percent of those responding said yes and 73 percent said no.
Egbers said her family members all have hand-cranked radios that don't need batteries, and they and other Mormon families have one-year supplies of food and water. "The church teaches you that, one day, your food supply will save you," she said. "I remember my mom storing tuna fish in the cellar."
Also important is learning within what time frame each type of food must be used. And people with generators need to know about proper fuel storage. During the fair, the church will have 72-hour kits available to the community, and the event's corporate sponsor American Disposal Services of Manassas is providing nylon bags with zippers for these kits.
They're for use in case of evacuation and will come filled with emergency supplies; recipients will just have to add their own water. Inside will be nonperishable food items with a shelf life of at least five years — things that could sustain a person for 72 hours.
The items will include canned pasta, tuna, canned beans, crackers, raisins, beef jerky, granola bars and snack-size puddings and applesauce. All are things that could be eaten at room temperature, if necessary. However, this food must be eventually eaten and replaced. For instance, said Egbers, evaporated milk will go bad in about three years.
"And we'll pass out a list of other things that should be in the kit," she said. They include matches, candles, flashlights, batteries, battery-operated radio, blankets, water and personal-hygiene supplies such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, shampoo, etc.
"We'll also give people at the fair information on how to preserve meat and can fruits and vegetables for storage," said Egbers. "In a terrorist attack, you might be confined to your house and, this way, you'd have food and supplies. We want everyone to be equally strong and prepared, in the event of an emergency."
She noted that all of Revelations talks about signs of the times. "And with all these hurricanes, earthquakes and the tsunami happening, we know that natural disasters are only going to increase," said Egbers. "But we're not prophesying doomsday — just asking people to be prepared for emergencies."
She said Mormons strongly believe in being self-reliant, having a strong work ethic and not being a burden on the community. And this philosophy could also help others in a practical and tangible way.
"It's important to be prepared," said Egbers. "Even if people just take away one thing from this fair, it'll be valuable."