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Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Rob Callahan displays one of the gas masks he sells at Just in Time Survival, his preparedness business. He says an average household should have a 90-day supply of food, water and emergency supplies.

How prepared are you?

Half of Hoosier households aren’t; disaster readiness urged

Although he concedes some of his products are more for novelty, Callahan also sells dehydrated foods and survival plans.

It’s the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on the Eastern Seaboard in October 2012 that got Rob Callahan’s mind turning.

He watched people clamor for shelter and food in the wake of the storm’s aftermath, which caused more than $60 billion in damage and left more than 230 people dead.

The 45-year-old thought: What if something of that magnitude hit right here in Fort Wayne?

“I’ve always been an outdoorsy person,” Callahan said. “But if something like Hurricane Sandy happened in this town, I wasn’t prepared.”

That was then.

Today, Callahan runs Just In Time Survival, a business he created out of “a passionate hobby” that caters to those looking to stock up on their emergency preparedness needs.

He counsels those who come to him that they should be prepared for 90 days of survival.

To some, that might sound extreme.

But consider this:

A recent survey from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security found that more than half of Hoosier households are ill-prepared for a widespread emergency.

That means these lacking households did not have so much as three days’ worth of food and water, first aid supplies, extra medications or copies of hard-to-replace documents, according to the survey.

Now that the season of potential ice and snow is quickly approaching, officials with the Department of Homeland Security are trying to devise new ways to communicate the need for disaster preparedness.

And with disasters like Sandy a year in the past, some officials and experts warn that it’s easy to become complacent, to fall into thinking an emergency “can’t happen here.”

Sense of security

Experts in the field call them “focusing events.”

These are disasters or emergencies that make the news – either locally or nationally – that get people to begin thinking of what they’d do in such a situation.

The closer someone lives to where a disaster occurs, the more likely it might resonate with him or her.

Events like Hurricane Sandy might resonate with Americans – even those who aren’t subject to hurricanes – more so than an earthquake in Japan.

In the same way, a tornado in Van Wert or Kokomo might get people thinking about what they would do here.

“We talk about personalizing the emergency,” said Bernie Beier, director of the Allen County Homeland Security Department. “If it affects us, we think about it more. The more distance it is away from us, the quicker we distance ourselves from it.”

What state homeland security officials found in their recent survey may be the result of a rather tranquil existence, at least for many Midwesterners, as of late.

Up until last week, when tornadoes swept through parts of Illinois and Indiana, there had been few heavy storms or emergencies that saturated the media.

Reasons Hoosiers weren’t prepared for a disaster, according to the state’s survey, stemmed from being too busy to plan anything or thinking there wouldn’t be an emergency.

In fact, 87 percent of those questioned in that survey said they never experienced a widespread emergency.

“Disasters can happen any time and without much, if any, notice, and we are especially concerned about these survey results, with winter weather just around the corner,” state homeland security spokesman John Erickson said.

Even issues that were causing alarm for some throughout the country are beginning to take a back seat in the national consciousness, lulling many into a sense of security, Callahan said.

“Business has been good, but it’s slowed a little bit,” he said.

Need to be ready

For Beier, he plans to spend the next year finding new ways to get people into the mindset of being prepared.

He wants to re-engage the public about the need to be ready and to have adequate food and water on hand should something happen.

Beier wants to do more than just post information on his department’s website or put up a billboard. He wants to find ways to get people talking amongst themselves.

“To be relevant, this message has to be a part of the community’s conversation,” he said. “The dialogue shouldn’t be me telling you what to do, but me throwing the topic out there and letting the public run with it.”

He’s grappling with how to get that message out using social media. So far, with Twitter and other social media avenues, he’s seen his department have a little success. “None of them are exactly right, but all are useful,” Beier said.

As it turns out, communication with friends and others is a useful tool in disaster preparedness.

It’s important to not only be prepared for you and your family, Callahan said, but also have a network of friends or like-minded people available in case a disaster begins to stretch for long periods of time.

“You have to think about the worst-case disaster,” he said. “The government won’t always be there for you to rely on.”

While the state Homeland Security Department recommends people have three days’ worth of food and water, Beier was hesitant to put a specific quantity on how much of what people should have. Any list provided on the local or state homeland security website is a good one, but it should be used as a guideline.

Emergency plans should be reviewed by all members of a household, as well, Beier said.

Is that a hassle? A resounding yes, some Hoosiers say.

But then again, you never know.