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GEMA, Barrow officials stress preparedness in tumultuous times

WINDER -- In the wake of Hurricane Irene and the spring's punishing tornadoes, Barrow officials are teaming up with state-level emergency experts to deliver a simple message:

When disasters strike, you are your own best first responder.

Recent studies by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency show that half of all Georgians believe they have a duty to help each other when challenges like severe storms, extreme heat, crippling freezes, wildfires and tornadoes strike.

Yet those same studies show only 13 percent of Georgians are fully prepared. Eight out of 10 Georgians admit that preparation, planning and emergency supplies will help them handle a large-scale disaster, yet only one in 10 has taken the necessary steps toward personal preparedness.

That's data that GEMA director Charley English called disheartening.

"Clearly, we have work to do," English said.

English teamed with Chief Dennis Merrifield of Barrow County Emergency Services recently to stress citizen preparedness into the second half of 2011.

"There's no telling what Mother Nature has in store for the remainder of 2011," English said. "Only one certainty exists being prepared is your best defense against the unexpected."

Since GEMA and the Georgia Department of Public Health launched the emergency preparedness campaign, Ready Georgia, thousands of residents have logged onto ready.ga.gov to create a Ready Profile, giving them access to tailored checklists of emergency supplies and customized emergency plans, English said.

The majority of Georgians say they have a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit and a three-day supply of nonperishable food. About half have made a list of emergency numbers for family members and safely stored important documents.

Statistics are in favor of those who are prepared with even the basics, English said.

"By taking this initiative, those Georgians prove to be twice as likely to be prepared for a largescale emergency as others," English said. "They are twice as likely to be able to reconnect with loved ones if separated during a disaster. They are twice as likely to know their risk for flooding. They are twice as likely to survive potentially deadly storms."