Preparedness and response to severe weather and local emergencies were two topics among many at Monroe County’s National Night Out event in Tomah Tuesday.
Darlene Pintarro, Monroe County Emergency Management coordinator, said emergency management isn’t something people typically think about until an event happens, which is why awareness opportunities like National Night Out are important.
“Monroe County was involved in the flooding from July of 2017, and it only affected certain townships within the county, but until it affects you, a lot of people just don’t think about it,” she said. “So getting out to events like this brings awareness ... that everyone should be prepared for whatever it is may happen.”
Emergency management covers anything from man-made disasters, such as active shooters and terrorist activities, to natural disasters like severe weather, Pintarro said.
The group Monroe County Skywarn focused on severe weather.
Paul Kastner, a member of Skywarn since 1986, said the group is a program through the National Weather Service that collects and reports instances of severe weather. Members of the program are trained and certified through NWS as storm spotters and taught what to look for in severe weather. They report their findings to NWS.
“You hear (the phrase) ‘when thunder roars, go indoors.’ Well, for most of us spotters when thunder roars, we’re outdoors,” he said. “We’re looking at the storms, trying to figure out where they’re going and how they’re going and we report directly to the National Weather Service. We do that throughout Monroe County.”
Awareness and understanding of severe weather are important, Kastner said. People need to be proactive and use the tools they have at their disposal to learn about what’s going on in their area and not sit idly by, he said.
“Even with all the communication stuff we have nowadays with your cell phone and whatever, you always hear, ‘well no one told me.’ Well the information’s out there, but you need to use the resources to get there,” he said. “You can use your cell phone, you can use a weather radio, you can watch your TV.”
People shouldn’t rely on emergency sirens, Kastner said. They are not meant to warn people in their homes of severe weather; they’re meant to inform those outside that they should be inside.
The siren is also not a tornado siren, it’s for severe weather — high winds, damaging hail, severe lightening, heavy rain, etc.
“They turn those sirens on then to tell people you ought to get indoors, something bad’s going to happen,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a tornado.”
Both Pintarro and Kastner stressed the importance of creating a three-day, emergency survival kit at home to include food, water, personal sanitation items and medications − anything someone would need in the event they’re stuck at home without power, electricity, gas or means of communication.
Kastner said people should think of it like going on a camping trip.
“You’re not going to see a store for three days, what are you going to take?” he said. “You’re going to take food, you’re going to take water, you’re going to take sanitation, underwear, you’re going to take that kind of stuff to last for three days.”
National Night Out is a good way to get this kind of information out to the public, Pintarro said.
“It’s a great outreach opportunity for all responding units,” she said. “It’s nice to see the little kids coming in ... it kind of puts the first responders, especially officers, in a down-to-earth kind of way to relate to the public.”
“It’s fantastic, especially for the younger people,” he said. “They don’t see a lot of police officers ... they don’t see a fireman unless he comes to the door putting out their house (fire), they don’t see the emergency responders ... they don’t get one-on-one time. So this is a way to put it all together where everyone can meet everyone. ... It’s neat.”
Attendee Stacy Gebczyk of Tomah appreciates that National Night Out teaches the community how to be safe.
“I think it’s great, that the whole community can come together and help everybody learn,” she said. “Anything that teaches my kid how to be safe, I really like it.”
It’s also a fun night out for families, Latesha Weiss of Tomah said.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s a good thing for the community, a good thing for everybody. I would just say to get the community together and see everybody smile, to learn new things about what’s around, because not everybody gets out and gets to see what’s available from the community.”