By Michael Campbell News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – A brisk wind on a chilly Saturday morning didn’t keep dozens of Prince George residents from taking a few hours to learn how to be better prepared when disaster strikes during the yearly “Survivor Day” event hosted by county’s local emergency planning committee.
With J.E.J. Moore Middle serving as the host for last weekend’s event, nearly 20 vendors turned the school’s cafeteria into a central hub for residents to link up with local agencies, area businesses and get hands-on with safety equipment, all while getting tips about how to create their own emergency kit, proper generator usage, and a host of other topics.
For Prince George LEPC chairman Tim Blumenschine, organizing the event for its third year allows for the committee and its members to show people that disasters don’t just come in the form of thunderstorms and hurricanes and they can happen anytime.
“It is important for us to get the public involved in understanding different ways they can be prepared for a variety of disasters and emergencies,” he explained as he manned a table discussing outdoor fire safety. “We covered things from power outages, active shooter situations, fires, and the things you may run into during any kind of disasters, be it tornadoes to human-caused disasters.”
When the LEPC isn’t hosting events like “Survivor Day,” they are tasked with supporting emergency planning for chemical hazards and to aid with emergency preparedness beyond those types of situations, including natural disasters and industrial emergencies, including power failures, along with chemical or nuclear incidents.
Over the past several months, Blumenschine said the LEPC has taken part in several events aimed at helping residents be better prepared when disaster strikes, such as teaming with the Red Cross as part of their “Stop the Bleed program,” which is part of a nationwide campaign to help empower people to act fast to save lives until appropriate medical care arrives.
“Our primary goal is to educate citizens and work in conjunction with our local businesses, government and citizens,” he said, with the county’s LEPC being comprised of a diverse mix of local and state agencies, along with area businesses.
A second initiative spearheaded by the group helped put the idea of being ready for emergencies into the minds of the county’s younger residents as the LEPC worked with the local Red Cross on a pillowcase project that allowed for the county’s fourth graders to learn how to create their own mini emergency kit and understand what to do in an emergency, with Prince George’s LEPC opting to focus on fire safety.
“We taught them that the most critical thing is to get out of their house as quickly as possible,” Prince George LEPC vice-chair Debbie Blankenship explained, who, along with four other trainers, spent last week at the county’s five elementary schools teaching fourth graders about fire safety and response.
When reflecting on their time in the schools, Blankenship said she noticed a majority of students didn’t know key things about responding to a fire emergency at their home.
“Most of them were not aware of any escape plan inside their home,” she remarked. “Many of them didn’t have a meeting point outside their home. They know how to do it at school through doing fire drills. They understand that there is a meeting point and that the teacher was going to account for the students but, it never crossed their mind to do that at home.”
During the five-day course, which culminated in the students being able to create their own mini-kits inside pillowcases they decorated, Blankenship said this was all about sparking a conversation when the children left school and got home.
“The goal was to ‘learn, practice, share,’” she stated. “We wanted to teach them something new, practice it with them, and then have them share it with their family.”
“What we are teaching through these lessons is foundational. We live in an environment today where anything can happen,” Blankenship remarked. “And it’s not just natural disasters, it’s truly any type of disaster.”
Blankenship, who also serves as project manager for the county’s Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, said Prince George’s LEPC was “the only LEPC in the region” to take on the challenge of teaching young people in schools about emergency preparedness in such a hands-on way. Through their efforts, the county’s LEPC is now setting the example for neighboring localities.
“Nobody else did this,” she said. “Now other localities are calling us to have their people trained on how to do this because, in the beginning, they said it was too hard to do. We just proved them wrong and the kids truly enjoyed the experience.”
After setting a goal of teaching over 460 students across the county with successful results, Blankenship said the program will return next school year.
“The big message we gave them was that they need to go home and work with their families to have an emergency plan set up,” she said. “Now, in a fire, we told the kids to leave their kits and take nothing with them, just get out. But, if they know they are going to have to evacuate their homes, they can take a few personal belongings, like a blanket, some water, a personal item, a pen and pad, things like that.”
With outreach events like “Survivor Day” and the school pillowcase program, Blumenschine said the response from the community for the committee’s efforts is positive and the support is visible inside the walls of J.E.J. Moore last Saturday.
“This was our biggest event to date and, out of all of the Richmond area, with pre-registered participants, we were second in the area, only behind Chesterfield,” their chairman noted. “This event is definitely growing and we are getting great support from our partners in the business community and the county.”
Those interested in learning more about the Prince George LEPC can visit the county’s website at http://princegeorgeva.org or attend their bi-monthly meetings at the county’s emergency operations center at 6520 Laurel Springs Road.
According to the group, their next scheduled meeting is Thursday, Mar. 16 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by their next meeting date of Thursday, May. 18 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing