by Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
We in Union County are fortunate to enjoy a relatively moderate climate. However, within the past couple of years we have experienced a series of extremes from destructive storms to heat waves, and that calls for a new level of awareness about preparing your household for weather-related emergencies.
The basics of planning ahead haven’t changed much over the years, such as keeping a supply of bottled water and nonperishable food in a handy spot along with a first aid kit.
There are also some useful new gadgets on the market, including portable radios and flashlights you can power by hand if the batteries run down.
One of the most effective things you can do is to keep informed about conditions before, during and after an extreme weather event, and this is where some significant changes have taken place.
Staying tuned in to your local television and radio broadcasts has always been important, and for many people that now means access to news on the go through laptop computers, netbooks and other portable devices.
For those of you who use a conventional telephone at home, Union County’s reverse 9-11 system automatically dials your home number to provide alerts about weather emergencies.
Mobile phone users can sign up to receive those alerts by text message from Union County’s First Alert system, by visiting ucfirstalert.org. There is no charge for this service if you are on your phone company’s free text plan.
You can also sign up at ucfirstalert.org to receive free alerts by email to your computer, smart phone and other electronic devices.
Checking the Union County home page at ucnj.org is another way to stay informed about local resources. For example, during the heat wave last summer we posted alerts at ucnj.org to keep residents up to date about high temperatures, and to provide information on places to cool off including local community centers, County swimming pools and spray parks.
The Union County Department of Public Safety also posts guidance on preparing for emergencies at ucnj.org.
For the many Union County residents with smart phones, the new Hurricane App from the Red Cross could prove useful for navigating a wide variety of weather events. Launched just last month, the Hurricane App provides up-to-the-minute information about local conditions and it enables users to stay in touch with family and friends through online social networks.
Among other features, the Hurricane App lets you broadcast an “I’m safe” message to your social network with the touch of a button.
The Hurricane App also provides information on Red Cross shelters along with guidance on creating a family emergency plan. More information is available at redcross.org.
One especially important thing to keep in mind is that by staying informed and planning ahead, you are performing a valuable community service. Your ability to help yourself can enable our first responders to focus more of their efforts on the elderly, the infirm and others who need may need an extra hand, helping us all to have a better chance of making it safely through, together.