This past week was Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Mississippi and Union County Emergency Management Director Curt Clayton offered some easy tips anyone can make use of.
We are in a fairly high tornado risk area, have experienced a few ice storms and see thunderstorms with high winds often. Any of these can cause power interruptions and something like the 1994 ice storm left much of the area incapacitated for up to a month.
“You need to be prepared at your homes,” he told those present at the museum program.
Clayton said one of the handiest items to have is a one-gallon plastic ice cream tub. “They make perfect sealed containers,” he said.
Clayton recommends having something many people don’t think about: cleaning supplies. “You may need to clean and there may be mold,” he said, concerning after any disaster. “Rubber gloves, bleach, a scouring pad for mold.”
“You should also have dry clothes,” he continued. “A gallon zip lock bag or a vacuum bag should have a shirt, pants, underwear.”
Batteries for your devices should be stored in one of the containers as well, he said.
“You should change the batteries in your bucket once a year, when you change the batteries in your smoke detector,” Clayton said. You can set up such a kit for maybe $20, he said.
Some food should be ready that doesn’t need preparation, something like Vienna sausage.
Living in town may give some a false sense of security concerning the need for preparations, according to Clayton.
“You may think, well, somebody is gonna come help me,” he said. “Yea, but not right then.”
“We will be there in the morning, but you need to be prepared for the first 12 hours,” he said.
Your ice cream buckets should be good preparation for either natural or man-made disasters, and Clayton said another obvious need is medication. “Have it where you can get to it,” he said. “Have a list of what you take in your kit for first responders (in case you are unable to communicate that to them).”
Clayton said local officials are as prepared as they can be, doing training, exercises and simulations throughout the year.
“The state comes in every year and we have to do a county-wide plan,” he said. They prepare for man-made disaster, natural disaster, bio disasters and other events.
Clayton’s office has more responsibilities than some people realize.
“I work with FEMA to get money back in the county,” he said. For instance, this past year the county spent $350,000 on culverts after flooding. That money can be reimbursed but it is not automatic; a lot of bureaucracy is involved.
“I work with the Department of Environmental Quality in regard to hazard materials,” he continued, and that area is broader than most realize. “Two drops of diesel fuel on the interstate is hazmat,” he said.
He also deals with garbage dumps in the county, and seeing they are cleaned up.
There is a connection with the Mississippi Department of Health as well. “Medicine in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes,” he said. “We have to set up PODS (points of distribution) at churches or other areas throughout the county in case of pandemics.” Those locations remain confidential as a security measure.
Clayton keeps up with possible storms through special secure radio and email connections with the National Weather Service and has radar and internet availability in his truck. “I am out in the weather,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite parts of the job. If there is a tornado warning that’s right where I want to be.”
Clayton is a certified search and rescue instructor and said the team here is one of the highest-rated in the state, often called in by other counties.
The emergency management office even, rarely, deals with plane crashes. “We have have three in the county,” he said. “Two were only rough landings.” The third was a 10-passenger jet that went down this past year.
The search was hampered by heavy rain and tornado warnings but searchers did find the crash site where most of the debris was the size of a water bottle.
Clayton has a tracking dog that can be used for a missing person or a fugitive, and he also is a certified man hunt instructor. “You don’t look for a person; you look for where a person has been,” he said. “A rolled log, broken branch, turtle shell flipped over.”
Although Clayton is a one-man department, he works with all county and city agencies. He noted that even though nearly all of the fire department personnel are volunteers, “They probably train more than any agency in the state.”
Local personnel are trained in less common techniques such as rope rescue, trench rescue and swift water rescue.
Clayton got his start in emergency response in 1992 thanks to Carroll Thompson, he said. Clayton has served as chief for the Southeast Union County Volunteer Fire Department. He also served under Joe Bryant and was interim EMA director after Hal Sanders. In addition to being county director he works with Homeland Security, MEMA, FEMA and other emergency agencies.Emergency Management, hints, New Albany, preparedness, Union County