FORT SMITH — Emergency leaders in Arkansas and throughout the nation are shining a spotlight on one key message this month: Be prepared.

National Preparedness Month, observed for the past nine years in September, is intended to promote citizen readiness for all kinds of emergencies and disasters, including fires, floods and storms.

According to most experts, an emergency kit filled with three days’ worth of family supplies is an essential readiness tool.

Tommy Jackson, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said the kit should contain a gallon of water per day for each family member, as well as nonperishable food, toiletry articles, infant needs, prescription medication, flashlights and batteries.

"A rubber trash can that people can drop items in and cover up to protect from the weather makes a good kit," Jackson said. "And keep a mini version of the kit in your vehicle."

The main reason for a three-day kit is because it may take that long before first responders can reach everyone in a disaster-struck community.

"It’s good to be prepared even if you don’t have a disaster," he said. "We had a number of Arkansans without power because of (Hurricane) Isaac, and they could use their kits to get by until power was back on."

Jackson also recommended having a drill so everyone in the household knows how to get out in an emergency, and picking a place to meet if separated.

Dennis Gilstrap, director of the Crawford County Department of Emergency Management, recommends having a contact person out of state to provide a central point of communication.

Gilstrap said businesses should develop a "continuity of operations" plan so they can bounce back after a disaster.

"They need to know who’s in charge and get everybody cross-trained," he said.

Chad Stover, deputy spokesman for ADEM, said National Preparedness Month is intended to heighten the visibility of preparedness on the family and community level.

Rather than leave families and communities to figure out preparedness on their own, ADEM and the Arkansas Citizen Corps Program last year launched the Ready Arkansas website to offer guidance, he said.

The site includes instructions, links and downloadable forms and checklists to help guide users through the process of making an emergency plan and building an emergency kit.

To help Arkansans stay informed, Ready Arkansas this week will introduce Ready AR, a mobile application for Apple iOS and Android-powered phones and devices, Stover said. The app will include information about weather, road conditions, planning, preparedness and threat levels.


Wanda Freeman writes for the Times Record in Fort Smith