MEMA urges preparing during Hurricane Preparedness Week

Published 4:00 pm Friday, May 25, 2007

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Womack and Pearl River County Emergency Management Agency Director Bobby Strahan are worried especially about new residents of Pearl River County, should the area face another hurricane.

The two men were in Picayune on Thursday to discuss Hurricane Preparedness Week and the importance of preparing in advance for a hurricane.

Womack and Governor Haley Barbour announced last week that the week of May 20-26 has been designated as Hurricane Preparedness Week for Mississippi.

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Womack said Thursday that his greatest concern is for the people who are new to the area who have never experienced a hurricane or who have moved from coastal areas who think they may be safe because Pearl River County is further inland.

There are several decisions about hurricane preparedness that need to be made even before hurricane season begins, say Womack and Strahan.

The first decision that should be made is whether to stay in your home or to evacuate to another area. Once that decision has been made, a plan should be developed for carrying out that decision.

If the decision is made to stay in the home, a disaster kit should be put together and kept handy. Items to be kept in the kit should include bottled water, non-perishable food items, toiletries, radios, flashlights and batteries. Disaster kits also should include less commonly thought-of items such as diapers and baby supplies if a child will be in the home, cash, identification for all family members, and over-the-counter and prescription medicines. A disaster kit should contain at least three to five days worth of supplies.

If prescription medications are needed, go to the drugstore prior to the storm and try to get a 30-day supply, said Strahan.

“You have three to four days from the time a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico before it makes landfall,” said Womack. “You need to prepare as soon as the storm enters the Gulf.”

Some people can stay in their homes safely, Womack says, if their home is built to withstand high winds or if they have storm shelters at their homes.

Another option is to add a “safe room.” Such a room, if added when the home is built, can be done for $3,000 to $4,000, and consists of a large room with walls made of concrete blocks and rebar. The safe room is built directly on a slab and can be used as a closet or other small room for general purposes, says Womack. It is not necessary if the home is well-built, but it is safer to have one, says Strahan.

If the decision is made to evacuate, the decision should be made several days prior to the storm. Do not wait until the last minute, says Strahan, because emergency services stop assisting with evacuation about eight to 12 hours before the storm.

“Don’t think it will be easy to evacuate,” says Strahan.

If evacuating, take the time to call 911 and your local emergency management agency and let them know you are evacuating. If emergency services do not know you have evacuated and family calls after the storm looking for you, they put the name on a rescue list and it takes away valuable time from others in need, says Strahan.

Also, take time in advance to look up all available evacuation routes. Maps of designated major and alternate evacuation routes can be found on the Mississippi Department of Transportation website,, or the MEMA website,

Another good policy during the hurricane season is to “adopt-a-neighbor,” which is an idea Womack has been discussing with all the coastal county directors.

“If you know someone who needs help, help them out,” said Womack. Helping a neighbor could mean helping them with supplies, giving them a ride during evacuation, or letting them stay in your home.