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Whether wildfire, flood, earthquake, blizzard, or disease outbreak, disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. The question, is how prepared are you?

To promote emergency awareness, Lewis and Clark County and the Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) collaborated on Saturday to host a free family emergency preparedness fair at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds. The event was scheduled to coincide with September being National Preparedness Month.

“Every individual has a role in emergency preparedness, and we want to give people the tools to be prepared,” said Gayle Shirley, communications and systems improvement manager for Lewis and Clark Public Health and one of the fair organizers.

Saturday’s event featured more than 30 vendors teaching attendees about how to prepare for disasters.

“We tried to make the event as open as possible and include anyone who wanted to participate and felt like they had something to offer,” said Shirley. “There is something for everyone.”

Vendors included members of the Helena police and fire departments, local Boy Scout Troops, search and rescue, public health, American Red Cross, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office, and many more. All had tips and information to share with fair attendees.

Representatives from Lewis and Clark Public Health handed out booklets with tips on items like guarding against mold after a flood and surviving during a power outage.

The Lewis and Clark County Water Quality Protection District reminded attendees that a person needs at least one gallon of water a day on hand during an emergency. If necessary, boiling water for one minute or adding a few drops of liquid bleach or water purification tablets to water will decontaminate it and make it safe for drinking.

Debra Satler, a volunteer with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (AACR), along with her chocolate lab, Beluga, discussed how the organization provides comfort and encouragement through animal-assisted support to individuals affected by crisis and disasters.

“We bring comfort and joy to people who have survived the unexpected,” said Satler.

Boy Scouts from Troop 214 were just outside the main fairgrounds building demonstrating how to start a fire and stressing the importance of including flint and steel in all emergency preparedness kits.

To ensure the event was family-friendly and engaged kids, the event also included a “passport to preparedness” activity that Shirley was instrumental in organizing.

“The passport to preparedness was a big hit during the event in March,” shared Shirley.

During the fair, kids were given a small “passport” when they arrived and could go around the fair collecting a sticker or stamp as they stopped at each exhibit. When the kids left, they presented their passport to get their own “disaster kit,” which included kid-friendly information and other goodies, including a bottle of water, flashlight, snack, and coloring book.

Shirley explained that the hope behind the passport activity was that it would start a conversation within families at home about preparing for emergencies.

Of all the information given out at the fair, one of the most basic but essential pieces of advice given by most vendors was to make sure and have supplies on hand.

“People should be ready to spend three days on their own after a disaster until emergency services have their resources gathered,” said Shirley.

Reese Martin, coordinator for Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services, likewise recommended that families prepare a three-day kit of necessary supplies to sustain them. Martin stressed including basic items like one gallon of water per person per day for three days, food, a flashlight, a wrench to turn off utilities, and cold weather clothing.

“If we have a prepared community, it better allows emergency services time to coordinate efforts and gather resources,” said Martin.

Along with a kit of supplies, Shirley recommended families develop an emergency communication plan that details emergency meeting places, important contact numbers, evacuation routes, and more. Shirley explained that wildfire season, for example, is a time that people are often caught unprepared and don’t know what to take with them if evacuated.

“But people don’t have to be caught unaware,” said Shirley.

Shirley explained that the first emergency preparedness event was held in Helena earlier this year in March, which some 300 people attended. After the extensive flooding of 2018 in the Helena area, there was a heightened need and interest for information on how to prepare for future disasters.

“We hope to make this an annual event,” said Shirley.

For those who were unable to attend the fair, Shirley recommends people visit ready.gov, which offers information on all types of hazards and how people can prepare for them.

“We hope people go home and understand their personal responsibility in emergencies as well as gain an awareness of key players in the community and resources they can utilize,” said Shirley.

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