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Midwest Storms
Stacey Salmon stands in the tornado damaged home where his mother died in Joplin, Mo., Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Salmon sat with his mother's body for hours in the street until the funeral home could pick her up. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Mike Simons)

BLOOMINGTON — If a disaster struck Bloomington-Normal and damaged buildings to the level of this week’s tornado in Joplin, Mo., would McLean County residents be prepared to respond?

If results of a new survey are an accurate indication, probably not.

A survey conducted for the McLean County Health Department in April — with results released Tuesday — revealed that 60 percent of the 1,408 survey respondents thought they were prepared for an emergency.

But nearly 53 percent of respondents said they did not have an emergency plan.

“We have a lot of people in this county who think they are prepared but, obviously, they aren’t,” said Shay Simmons, the health department’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

Midwesterners have a tradition of supporting each other. “We respond well to emergencies in the Midwest,” said Curt Hawk, director of the McLean County Emergency Management Agency.

Most individuals and families believe they have an emergency response plan, but it’s not enough, he said.

For example, individuals and families should have a disaster kit with three days of supplies, a home evacuation plan and a protocol for keeping in contact if family members are separated, Hawk and Simmons said.

“There is the sense among people that ‘It won’t happen to me but, if it does, I’m ready,’” said Scott Vogel of the American Red Cross of the Heartland. In fact, the level of readiness varies among families.

“We tell people to be ready for when the bad does occur by making a plan, building a kit and being informed,” Vogel said.

When viewing images of areas affected by disasters, the first thought often is “What can I do to help?” Vogel said, adding that the next thought should be: “If that was my house, would my family and I be safe?”

The survey was developed by health department AmeriCorps volunteers in cooperation with representatives of Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing, was conducted by trained volunteers and verified as scientific and ethical by ISU’s institutional review board, Simmons said. Respondents were surveyed at stores, churches, businesses and online.

As a follow-up, the health department is using a $46,000 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant through the state of Illinois to conduct an educational outreach campaign. County residents are being urged to “Plan, Prepare and Protect” through public service announcements in various media.

A second survey in June will try to determine whether the outreach campaign has been successful. Results will be reported to the state, Simmons said.

In a major disaster, it could take emergency responders three days to get to a residence, Hawk said. “We want people to be their own first responders,” he said.

“The time to prepare for an emergency is not when it’s staring you in the face,” Simmons said.

Be prepared

Following are tips from experts on how to be prepared for emergencies:

Build a kit

Have a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water for each family member, medicines, sanitation and hygiene supplies, a first-aid kit, baby supplies if needed, matches, flashlight and extra batteries, a change of clothes, basic kitchen utensils, money, photocopies of identification and credit cards, pet supplies if needed and a whistle in case you are trapped in the basement.

Make a plan

Meet with family members and discuss how to respond in an emergency, including how to evacuate from your home, where you would meet if separated and an out-of-area emergency contact person. It may be easier to text or call long distance if local phone lines are overloaded. Have emergency contact information in writing or programmed into your cell phone.

Be informed

During an emergency, monitor local news media or NOAA Weather Radio.

Get more info

Among helpful websites are and

SOURCES: American Red Cross, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Curt Hawk, Shay Simmons, Scott Vogel


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