Shown from left, in the top row, are water, canned food with a can opener, a flashlight with extra batteries, a dust mask, a whistle, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit and a wrench. In the bottom row are garbage bags, moist towelettes and hand sanitizer, plastic sheeting with duct tape, a compass, matches in a waterproof container and money and important documents in a waterproof container.
Shown from left, in the top row, are water, canned food with a can opener, a flashlight with extra batteries, a dust mask, a whistle, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit and a wrench. In the bottom row are garbage bags, moist towelettes and hand sanitizer, plastic sheeting with duct tape, a compass, matches in a waterproof container and money and important documents in a waterproof container. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF Illustration , Carroll County Times)

For Americans living in the hurricane-prone Carolinas or tornado alleys of the Midwest, emergency warnings are frequent events that residents have learned to take seriously, spurring them to prepare against danger and damage when those warnings are issued.

But in an area like Central Maryland that sees fewer disasters, it is harder to convince the public of the need for personal emergency preparedness, said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

"One of the hardest things to do is to try and get people concerned enough to be prepared without keeping them in a state of panic, and that is a tough line to walk," McDonough said.

MEMA tries to issue its emergency preparedness outreach statements based on seasonal threats, such as hurricanes in early autumn and then transitioning into winter weather concerns - reminding residents about the importance of having an emergency supply kit, an evacuation plan and food and water to last for several days should there be a power outage.

The good part of the emergency preparation message in Central Maryland is that if you're ready for one kind of disaster, you're pretty much ready for them all, McDonough said.

"If you're prepared for hurricane season, you're prepared for thunderstorms, you're prepared for snowstorms; it's pretty much the same thing," he said. "It's not like living on the ocean where a hurricane provides a different set of things that you have to prepare for."

According to a survey conducted on behalf of Allstate Insurance in May, 62 percent of Americans admitted to not having an emergency or disaster kit, and 46 percent said they have not thought about or discussed an evacuation plan or meeting place away from the home for their families. Considering how many power outages the state has experienced, including several that lasted for more than 48 hours, it behooves all families to have a kit on hand for these types of situations, McDonough said.

Marianne Souders, emergency management planner for the county, said it is hard to evaluate how many Carroll residents have emergency kits or evaluation plans, but judging by the limited use of emergency shelters during weather-related emergency events, she believes it must be a high percentage.

"I believe that the people in Carroll County do take a fair amount of personal responsibility, are prepared and heed our warnings," she said. "People are always going to need some help and guidance, but I think we do really, really well. We have a very resilient community."

During Superstorm Sandy, 16 people used the county's emergency shelters, she said, the highest that she has ever seen, though the storm did cause power outages during a fairly cold spell.

Souders said the county tries to give residents the information they need to create an emergency preparedness kit, develop an evacuation or fire plan and an emergency communications plan at the annual Emergency Preparedness Expo in August.

"I think it's gotten bigger and better every year," Souders said of the event, which she estimated to have had more than 500 attendees this year.

At the expo, participants receive "Are You Ready?", a 28-page guide for residents on personal emergency preparedness that was developed by the Carroll County Citizens Corps Council. Residents can print themselves a copy of the guide on the county's website. In addition to assembling an emergency kit, Souders said she thinks it is essential for families to have a communications plan for emergencies.

"When something happens, your whole family may not be in the same place, so you need to let each other know, whether it's via cell phone or text or Facebook post, ways to notify you're family that you're OK," she said. "Another good thing to do is to have a phone number of a family member out of the county or out of the state, somewhere away from where we would be threatened, that they can all contact, and that would be like their liaison." Families should also have a pre-determined meeting place in the event that it is impossible to meet at their home after some sort of disaster. R. Carter Langston, news desk manager of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he encourages residents to visit ready.gov, an unparalleled resource for emergency preparedness tips and information.

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