September is National Preparedness Month, and Texas AgriLife Extension Service is supporting national efforts to increase public awareness on how to prepare for and recover from an emergency or disaster.

The Department of Homeland Security designated September as National Preparedness Month, in large part because 9-11 falls in that month, said Janie Harris, a housing and environmental specialist for AgriLife Extension, an educational outreach component of the Texas A&M System.

"With this being National Preparedness Month and with the number of tropical storms and hurricanes that have been forming recently, now is a particularly appropriate time to emphasize preparing for the possibility of a natural or man-made disaster,” she said. “Plus, we want to remind Texans that our agency has a lot of free, objective information and publications to help them prepare for or recover from a disaster."

Harris said no-cost, public information is available through two AgriLife Extension-related websites, as well as through agency personnel located in county offices throughout the state.

The first of the websites is that of the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network, or Texas EDEN, at http://texashelp.tamu.edu. This site contains disaster preparation information on topics such as making a family escape plan, preparing a disaster supply kit, identifying shelter opportunities and locations, and taking precautions for home and office safety.

The second informational website is the AgriLife Extension Bookstore, http://agrilifebookstore.org. This site has publications addressing a variety of disaster-related issues including recovery safety, basic first aid, restoring home and belongings, financial recovery, and post-disaster food and water safety.

Many disaster and emergency related materials on these sites can be downloaded and printed free of charge, Harris said, and several are available in Spanish.

"We're an educational agency, and our main concern is to provide people with information they can use to help protect themselves, their families and their property," she said.

There are numerous considerations before, during and after an emergency or disaster, and each disaster has its own unique personality and set of challenges, Harris added.

"To prepare for an emergency or disaster, families should map out an evacuation plan ahead of time and practice it," she said. "They should also have an emergency kit for their home, office and each vehicle, and definitely should know where to go in case of an emergency.”

The evacuation plan should include escape routes, utility shut-off and safety information, family communication and how to protect important documents, Harris said.

"Most critical is to protect your family, then how to protect pets, documents and property."

Harris said an emergency kit should contain enough supplies to take care of the immediate family for at least three days. Some essential kit contents include water, non-perishable foods, a hand-operated can opener, mouth/nose protection masks, extra clothing, first-aid kit, gloves, blankets, toiletries, battery- or hand-powered flashlight, radio, spare batteries, garbage bags, medications and anti-bacterial cleaner or wipes.

“For more information on disaster preparedness, the AgriLife Extension and Texas Department of State Health Services publication ‘Preparing for the Unexpected’ can be downloaded free,” she said.

The publication is available in English or Spanish and can be found at the AgriLife Bookstore website. The publication identification number is B-6178 for the English-language version; B-6178S for the Spanish-language version.

She said people also need to be aware of safety issues that may occur when returning to a home or business after a disaster, such as structural damage or damage to electrical wires or gas lines and the risk of contaminated water.  AgriLife Extension has materials to address those concerns.

 “Millions of Texans are already familiar with our agency and their local AgriLife Extension office as a source for information and help on many quality-of-life issues,” he said. “We want to take this opportunity in support of National Preparedness Month to remind them that protecting themselves and their family from disaster is also a quality-of-life issue and that we can help.”

 paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu