City of Bolivar Emergency Management Director Brent Watkins knows a thing or two about making plans for the best of days and the worst of days. In fact, his favorite saying is, “There’s no better time to prepare for tomorrow than today.”
With September as National Preparedness Month, Watkins said taking a little time to stockpile essential items and making plans for different scenarios when things are normal and calm helps individuals get through times when essential services, like power and water, are disrupted.
"Making a plan gives us something to fall back on," Watkins said. "It's like training for a sports team. Teams don't figure out what they're doing in the middle of a game. They practice ahead of time to prepare and plan for it during the week, so on Friday night, they have a plan in place. The coach and the team just implement the plan."
Watkins said while Polk County is particularly prone to flash flooding because of a high number of low-water crossings, it’s wise to plan for any number of possibilities.
"National Preparedness Month is about being prepared for any disaster that might strike, whether it's flooding or hurricanes, winter storms or blizzards," Watkins said. "It's really having a basic plan of preparedness on what to do when our normal is disrupted."
Watkins said certain steps will help area residents prepare efficiently for a multitude of events, because "most every disaster has some of the same components." He said it is important to stock essential items, like food and water.
"What FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) directs us to do is have a plan for the first 72 hours," Watkins said. "Have enough water, medications and basic non-perishable food for 72 hours. It's also important to have batteries and a battery-powered or solar radio so you can get information."
Each person in a household, Watkins said, needs one gallon of water per day.
Watkins also noted the importance of understanding each home's heating and cooling system and making alternate plans accordingly. He said homeowners should consider installing carbon monoxide detectors if they plan to use alternate heat sources.
People also need to make arrangements for reaching family members and loved ones if communication systems are down, Watkins said. He said some apps allow for people to "check in" with their families when phone lines are down or overwhelmed by an enormous number of calls.
Regardless of the method of communication, Watkins said it is important to make a plan.
"The worst thing is not knowing," he said. "If your loved ones don't know about you, and you don't know about your loved ones, all that is going to do is add stress and heighten the bad situation. If we know our family is safe, it takes everything down a level and gives peace in a chaotic situation."
To help facilitate communication in the face of an emergency, the City of Bolivar has set up a Rave Alert Smart911 System — an adaptive emergency alert system capable of reaching people via multiple platforms for various alerts.
While the alert system isn't meant to replace other traditional notification methods, like storm sirens and weather radios, Watkins said the city's system “is one more tool in the toolbox to alert citizens of emergency situations.”
“This is one more notification tool to utilize for the citizens,” he said.
While it’s geared toward Bolivar residents, Watkins said anyone who lives, works, visits or has loved ones in Bolivar can sign up for the system online at smart911.com/smart911/ref/reg.action?pa=Bolivar. People can also find a link to the Smart911 website on the City of Bolivar web page at bolivar.mo.us, Watkins said.
Watkins said short-term preparedness is up to individuals, but long-term planning lies on the shoulders of city and county leaders.
"The long-term plans, that's what we're here for," he said. "We are here to help manage the long-term needs and restore us back to our daily lives."
For more information about planning for emergency situations, Watkins recommended visiting ready.gov.