I HEART OKLAHOMA– in a really big way! The nicest people live in a state which sustained some of the worst tragedy at the hands of “Mother Nature”. I first visited Oklahoma this past June, three weeks after the cities of Moore and Norman were devastated by EF5 tornados. I couldn’t believe what I saw then. It took my breath away to see so much in ruin. So many hearts broken. I was able to help meet with many at a conference during June and many of us talked for hours about where one can start with the healing process when your community is shaken. I know I left Oklahoma with much more than I brought with me. Which is why I was so pleased to have an opportunity this past week to return to beloved Oklahoma at the request of the Oklahoma School for the Deaf and the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. This time we discussed how to plan and prepare for any future disasters. From individuals to school teachers to bus drivers and to vocational and rehabilitation employees. Yes, it takes a village to keep our communities safe. When I presented yesterday to this amazing group of teachers, counselors, bus drivers and many others at OSD, I learned that despite having repeated disasters – their communities are not as prepared as they need to be. No shelter in place plans or preparations for many. No course of action for bus drivers on what to do during a major disaster or emergency with people who have special needs or deafness. No evacuation discussions with local emergency or First Responders to assist those with unique challenges, such as individuals in wheelchairs or who are Autistic. Not much of anything. These findings shocked the audience, but didn’t surprise me as Save the Children has Oklahoma (and many more states) listed as failing to have plans in place for disasters when it comes to serving families and those with disabilities. Sad. The participants left the session with some information, many with heavy hearts and I hope a “call for change”. I recognized the resiliency in their spirit. I had seen it before on the faces of many I had known go through the tragedy. I also know that there is physical and emotional healing occurring daily for them. I saw the physical when I drove back through Moore, Oklahoma and snapped photos in the very places I had been four months ago. Emotionally, people seemed less ‘raw’ and more able to seek help and make changes.
1- We learn how to help each other and be prepared with each and every disaster. Which is why RedCross.org , FEMA.org and many other sites now offer disaster templates and information for families, organizations and schools.
2- If you have a loved one who has special needs, please be sure to add to your readiness kits what they need. Including sweatshirts to block out sounds, sunglasses to make odd visual stimuli easier, mp3 player with ear phones, games, medicines and comfort objects. Be prepared for ALL in your family. Including FIDO who may need to come with you to a shelter. Have copies of your information on a flashdrive and hard copies made on your person. Include phone numbers of physicians, insurance agents, relatives and others. BRING FAMILY PHOTOS in case you are separated to help with reunification. 3- Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Disaster can happy any time, any place, to any person. 4.- I’ll do it tomorrow. This excuse won’t be good enough when the earthquake, tornado or act of terrorism happens tonight. 5- IDENTIFICATION is essential. Be sure to have proper ID on yourself and consider using ICE in your phone and on person- ID such as MediPal for those who cannot or are unable to communicate. 6- Ask for help after a disaster. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can impact anyone after a disaster. You don’t need to be the direct victim of an event to have PTSD. Seek help if you feel pervasively sad, can’t sleep or eat as usual, or a sense of doom that just won’t go away. 7- Be willing to help others. Be part of the solution. Be part of your local disaster plan. 8- PRACTICE your plan for evacuation and how to shelter in place BEFORE a disaster. SHAKEOUT.org is getting ready for a whole country earthquake practice drill. Below you will see photos taken last June 2013 and this last week from Moore, Oklahoma. Thank you for reading.