Be prepared. Those two words have always been ingrained in Shoji Ketchem's thinking. Maybe because he grew up in a military family and always had to be prepared to move. Or maybe they were reinforced by the Gulf War.
"I joined the Air Force so I could go to college on the GI Bill, and the next thing I knew, I was in the desert," Ketchem said.
When he and his wife lived in California, they always had to be ready for an earthquake.
"We grew together with that mentality," he said.
When his sons were old enough for Cub Scouts, he found himself reiterating those words "Be Prepared" to his den in Suwanee.
With that motto in mind, maybe that was why Ketchem was so affected by the graphic images he saw of Hurricane Katrina. Here were 25,000 people gathered together in the Astrodome seeking to find loved ones with hand held signs and sticky notes on the walls. He knew there had to be a better way to prepare households before a disaster strikes and gather them afterward.
Research revealed to him that when it comes to damages from natural disasters, Georgia is one of the top six states in the US hit by billion dollar natural disasters over the past 30 years. Even though there is a lot of information on emergency preparedness available to the public, eight out of 10 Georgians say they're unprepared to face natural calamities. "Most people are so busy with everyday life than to think about they would do in an emergency situation," Ketchem said.
One morning while reading a passage from the Book of Matthew -- a few verses about being prepared really struck him. So much so that it inspired him to create Noah's Ark and Co. Inc., a nonprofit organization to help people prepare for emergencies prior to a disaster and help gather loved ones afterwards.
On the Noah's Ark & Co. website (www.NoahsArk2010.org), people can create a free Customized Online Preparedness Plan (C.O.P.P.) with vital emergency information that lists two designated emergency contacts (DECs). These are generally close friends or relatives who live at least 100 miles away who are designated to manage information to help find your family in an emergency.
The COPP you create online is emailed to your DECs and also printed out and kept in a "grab-and-go" bag or 72 hour kit, should anyone need to evacuate their home.
Since it's a good bet cells phones will be down, evacuees would have to wait until they find a landline and then call the DECs to provide information about themselves and collect information about the rest of the family.
"I was in Cullman, Ala., with a small group of volunteers last weekend to continue with the clean up associated with the tornado that hit two weeks ago. I saw cell phone towers bent in half," Ketchem said, "and it reinforced the importance of having alternative means of communicating besides a cell phone."
Ketchem continued, "Even though there are dedicated and well-trained people out there to help families affected by a disaster, I feel more secure knowing my dad, as a DEC, will manage information and use available resources to help find me -- especially his grandkids."
Susan Larson is a free lance writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.