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Be Ready Alexandria: Not Just A Slogan

CERT volunteers receive praise for their dedication.

As if terrorism and a potential attack from terrorists wasn’t enough, now comes the threat of a pandemic flu outbreak. In 1918 the “Spanish flu” pandemic killed millions worldwide. Now another such potential pandemic has been added to the nation’s worry list. But, it was just one topic Saturday on the “Be Ready Alexandria” agenda.

During the first Alexandria Preparedness Day Expo staged at Market Square from 1 to 5 p.m. participants learned ways they can prepare for an emergency whether from a natural disaster or from terrorists. Throughout the afternoon attendees were briefed on such matters as CPR, preparing family members and pets, and what survival equipment should be on hand and accessible.

“Alexandria Preparedness Day is intended to give our residents, businesses, and other participants a chance to collectively learn how they can prepare for all types of emergencies. This Expo is designed to give them the opportunity to meet our first responders in person and get a hands-on feeling of what it is like to serve our city,” said Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris.

Kicking off the four-hour event at Market Square under the aegis of the Citizens Corps Council was City Councilman Ludwig Gaines who read a proclamation by City Council declaring Sept. 30, 2006 as “Be Ready Alexandria Day.” He specifically acknowledged the dedication of citizens who have volunteered to become part of the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).

“This proclamation captures the importance this City gives to emergency preparedness. Our City has the best emergency preparedness in the region. I want to share my heartfelt thanks for all you do,” Gaines told the CERT volunteers seated before him.

“When Katrina struck the Gulf Coast it was a devastating event that caused more than $81 billion in damage and killed more than 800 people. It is essential that all Alexandrians be prepared for disaster,” said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.

“My goal is to ensure that we all take the necessary steps to prepare ourselves and our families for any disaster at any time,” he said. He further urged others to follow his example of keeping an emergency kit in every room of their home and in their vehicles.

“Being ready is up to you. Be responsible, be prepared and be ready,” Euille urged the assembled audience.

“We are counting on you CERT volunteers to serve in your neighborhoods in case of any emergency. You are the first line of defense,” said Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper.

STAGED UNDER the umbrella of the Citizens Corps Council, Saturday’s event had four primary goals according to Francis Q. Hoang, Council chairman. They were: Public education and outreach; Volunteer coordination; Improving emergency communications; and Identifying areas for improvement.

“Planning for this event began in July. We felt we needed to bring more citizens into the process. We want to broaden our civic partnerships,” Hoang said.

As an element of National Preparedness Month, the event brought together such varied organizations as the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross, The Alexandria Salvation Army, HAM Radio Operators, Alexandria Neighborhood Watch, Boy Scout Troop 648, Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps, Animal Welfare League, along with a variety of City agencies and first responders.

Throughout the afternoon, citizens had the opportunity to participate in a series of discussions on various topics of emergency preparedness and to visit with representatives of the City departments and community organizations. One item of particular interest was the Alexandria Police Department’s armored vehicle.

With its heavy armor plate and ominous equipment it drew the attention of many attendees. “It allows us to deploy a team closer to the scene of a high risk incident. It can also be rigged with a bull horn to allow a negotiator to get closer in a hostage situation without being vulnerable,” said Police Officer Patrick Gittelsohn.

At the other end of the emergency preparedness display were the American Red Cross and Salvation Army vehicles used to bring aid and support to victims of disaster. In either case the mission of the day was, in the words of the Citizens Corps Council: “To make Alexandria safer through citizen participation.”