The contents of a sample emergency kit are displayed. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

Evanston Fire Department Division Captain Kimberly Kull and several colleagues from inside and outside city government presented information at an April 21 session to help residents prepare for seasonal weather hazards and combat the effects of climate change.

Some 40 people attended the meeting, held at the Evanston Public Library and virtually on Zoom. The presentation on spring weather risks was the first of five emergency preparedness sessions planned through January 2023.

The first point Kull made was that the evidence for climate change is irrefutable. She quoted a report from NASA that described the problem as “irreversible” and said it will “worsen in decades to come” because of human-caused carbon emissions that trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Climate change affects the weather in many ways, including the raging wildfires that have consumed swaths of California, severe drought conditions, warming oceans, a shrinking ice sheet, glacial retreats and a rising sea level. In this part of the Midwest, Kull said, the meteorological changes caused by the warming oceans lead to an increase in thunderstorms and rain, more lakefront flooding and more urban flooding.

Another hazard to prepare for in the Midwest is more wind events like microbursts, tornados and derechos (defined by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website as “fast-moving bands of thunderstorms with high winds”). Kull said that while the Midwest tornado season is generally considered to be March through August, every month of the year has recorded tornado activity. Most tornados strike between 3 and 9 p.m., prime time for those in school or commuting to or from an office.

Kull assured the group that Evanston has a 24-hour presence of police and fire Emergency Medical Technicians available to respond quickly if a disaster occurs, and nearby communities could send reinforcements within the hour.

But, she added, “The reality is the first responders are not going to be the people that have been trained every day to respond to people in the community.”

Regular folks going about their business who suddenly find themselves in an emergency are the community’s first line of defense, Kull said. “And that’s really why we’re here … to be able to make sure that the first responders, the real first responders in the community, can respond to protect themselves. To protect their families, and by extension their community.”

Many of the safety reminders shared at the meeting seem like common sense, but they bear repeating:

  • During thunderstorms, stay inside. Lightning is the No. 1 killer during severe storms. Lightning can also strike before the rain falls.
  • Seek shelter in a substantially constructed building and stay there for at least 30 minutes after a thunderstorm passes. Stay away from windows and keep doors closed. Avoid getting near any electrical equipment.
  • Get an inexpensive, battery-operated NOAA radio and tune in to hear the latest updates or listen to the Weather Channel. Most importantly, heed the warnings of professionals. A tornado “watch” means a tornado may be a possibility, but a “warning” means get in a safe place immediately. Don’t dawdle – grab your family, move to a space on a low floor without windows and wait until the danger has passed.
  • Don’t walk or drive in floodwaters: Humans can be swept away in six inches of water, cars in as little as 12 inches. Floodwaters might contain sewage, chemicals or hidden downed electrical wires, any of which could cause injury or death. Don’t allow children to “play” in floodwaters.
  • Plan your escape route with your family. Is there a relative or friend’s home you could meet at and stay for a few days if you had to evacuate from your home? If you are unable to escape, are you prepared to shelter in place for several days?
  • Keep emergency supplies of food, water and other essentials in your car. Make sure your car’s gas tank is full so if the roads are passable, you can leave.

Kull and Mario Tristan, Civilian Fire Planning Reviewer for the Fire Department, discussed how to assemble an emergency kit to use if power is out for a few days or possibly even a few weeks.

Tristan suggested including canned or freeze-dried food, toilet paper, sanitizing gels or wipes, plenty of water, an emergency first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, a water decontamination kit, prescription medicines, an extra pair of glasses if you wear prescription lenses and any other items needed for your family. Pets, babies, people with cognitive or mobility issues likely require special support.

Ike Ogbo, Director of Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department, spoke about the resources available to help the community whenever disaster strikes. “We have a Public Health Division responsible for COVID response, vaccinations, inspections and rehab,” Ogbo said. “We have a Community Services Division responsible for our youth and our senior services. And we have a Human Services Division in the department that is responsible for providing assistance and services to homeless individuals.” 

The assistance available through government programs and funding includes temporary housing, food, basic needs, temporary transportation and mortgage assistance. Those interested have to apply, but there are resources. There is also Community Relief, a program established in 2020 exclusively for undocumented residents. 

Here are some other actions recommended by experts at Thursday’s meeting:

  • Register online for EvanstonAlerts, the emergency notification system. If you need help registering, call 311.
  • Learn basic first aid. The American Red Cross offers a variety of classes and many are available online.
  • Volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps. Training is provided. The group welcomes medical and non-medical professionals who have an interest in serving in public health.
  • Remember the Evanston Public Library has resources available to learn more about emergency preparation. The library is also open to the public in order to cool down or warm up in excessively hot and cold weather, and anyone 16 years of age and older may borrow a portable Wi-Fi Hotspot.
  • Visit Ready.gov, a government-sponsored website, for a variety of free and downloadable disaster preparedness information.

Though preparing for the unknown can seem overwhelming, the experts advised picking an easy task or project and doing a little bit every day, registering for EvanstonAlerts, for example, or storing three days of emergency supplies.

The seminar on summer hazards is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 12 at the EPL Main Library and in Spanish at 6:30 p.m. May 19 (en español: 6:30 p.m. en el 19 de Mayo) at the Robert Crown Branch Library.

The seminar on fall hazards is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at the main library followed by winter hazards at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13, also at the main library. A seminar on financial preparedness is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2023, at the EPL.

The seminars will be taped and available on EPL’s YouTube channel.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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