Bentonville Emergency Preparedness Fair readies families for disaster

Posted: September 24, 2017 at 1:03 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF William Crocker with Benton County’s Search and Rescue team explains rescue techniques Saturday at the Emergency Preparedness Fair in Bentonville. Aslee Bechdoldt (left) and Rodney Bechdoldt of Bentonville listen with their children Brooklyn, 6 and Lincoln, 2.

BENTONVILLE -- If disaster strikes, would your family be ready?

The annual Northwest Arkansas Emergency Preparedness Fair held Saturday asks that very question and tries to provide residents with as many tools and resources as possible in the event of natural disasters and man-made catastrophes.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Dustin Willmore demonstrates an emergency cook stove Saturday at the Emergency Essentials company booth during the ...

Tornado terms

Tornado Watch

• Tornadoes are possible. When there is a Watch, move close enough to a shelter or sturdy building to get there quickly in a few minutes if there is a Warning or if you see signs of a tornado approaching. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Tornado Warning

• A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

Source: Ready.gov

Outdoors options

Options if you’re outdoors when a tornado strikes:

• Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.

• Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.

In all situations:

• Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

• Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for protection in a sturdy building.

• Outdoor areas are not protected from flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Source: Ready.gov

"As you look at current events with recent storms with tornadoes and flooding, there's a need for preparedness," said Paul Van Slooten, second counselor in the stake presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Emergencies can be big or small, personal or widespread. This provides people with tools and knowledge to confidently respond."

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The church presented the fair on its grounds and hosted 50 groups that presented emergency preparation information through booths, activities and half-hour classes. The Bentonville Police Department, Benton County Health Department, Bentonville Fire Department and Army Corps of Engineers were among those partners.

Jessica Rix attended the fair for the first time with her husband and children ages 4 and 2 months. Rix heard about the event through her church.

"We're from California, so we're not used to the threat of tornadoes," Rix said. "We came because we want to take it seriously and use it as motivation."

Rix wanted to learn how to better prepare her family beyond buying a pre-made backpack with supplies of a blanket, nonperishables and a flashlight, which is their only safeguard now.

Van Slooten expected 2,000 people or more to attend the event, which offered free lunch and admission, grab-and-go emergency bags, car seat safety checks, interactive presentations by meteorologists, a blood drive and educational sessions.

"The fair was started as a way to give our friends throughout Northwest Arkansas the tools to prepare their families, neighborhoods and communities for disaster before it strikes," said Megan Stoker, who promoted the event.

Stoker said classes on what to do in the event of poison control, the need for self-defense, child health and safety, career changes and personal credit protection were new this year.

Ashley Zebley learned about children's safety, particularly around electricity and water, at the fair last year. She returned with her family Saturday to take more classes. Her husband came to participate in the blood drive.

"In the martial arts class, I learned some stuff," Zebley said. If someone confronted her, she said she would feel more confident in protecting herself.

"There are so many facets of preparedness," Van Slooten said. Among the church's core beliefs is a prioritization of being self reliant and helping your neighbor and emergency preparedness ties into that, he said. "If individuals can think about [those disasters] now and learn those steps, it will make a big difference."

Weather events such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are unlikely for Northwest Arkansas, but that doesn't mean the region is free of all natural disasters.

"We're going to take a look at all different types of threats that can impact the population," said Michael Waddle, deputy director of emergency management for Benton County. "We'll look at natural disasters as well as man-made ones and look at what is most likely to impact" the region.

Waddle cited severe winter weather that ices roads and cuts off utilities, the flooding in late April and the regular spring threat of tornadoes.

Waddle recommends residents who own a storm shelter register it with the county so search-and-rescue efforts can be quicker and more direct. If the shelter is directly below a garage, Waddle recommends not storing pesticides and paint cans within the garage in the event a weather event causes them to break and leak into the shelter.

"The most logical disasters are going to be extreme weather events like the flooding we experienced earlier this year or the ice storm around 2010," said Keith Foster, public information officer for the Rogers Police Department. "The response would depend on the size and scale of the disaster."

NW News on 09/24/2017