The headlines, and the photos, are heartbreaking — Afghan refugees flee from Taliban takeover, Californians race from yet another wildfire that has destroyed everything familiar, people in Tennessee and elsewhere flooded out of their homes, Haiti suffers another earthquake.
Disaster piled on top of disaster, often seeming to outstrip our ability to react and repair.
Various faith-based verses tell us that God never gives you more than you can handle, but that can be mystifying to the California family who lost their home to a wildfire again, or the family sweeping out their flooded house, and everything in it.
We can wring our hands and turn to the federal government for relief, relief that involves a lot of paperwork to qualify, and a lot of waiting to get what you need.
That fire or flood most likely destroyed the deed to your home, your tax returns, and just about anything else that proved ownership.
In Afghanistan and Haiti, whatever documents might have existed may have been destroyed on purpose for protection, or buried under tons of concrete.
In nearly any kind of disaster, the first call is not to the state or federal government. They don’t answer 911 across the river or in Richmond.
That emergency call is answered by local government agencies — a dispatch center that sends appropriate local fire or police first responders who can assess the situation and call for additional local, and sometimes regional, resources, if needed.
In Northern Virginia, localities operate under mutual aid agreements that reduce or eliminate many of the bureaucratic entanglements that can waste time when immediacy is the watchword.
Emergency personnel train regularly for such eventualities. Perhaps the most renowned is Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1).
A canine squad was deployed to the Florida condominium collapse, and a larger group, about 60 people plus supplies and emergency equipment, is working in Haiti, hoping to rescue anyone still alive in the collapsed buildings, but ready to perform sad recovery services, too.
VATF-1 may have Virginia in its name, but nearly all of the members are Fairfax County employees, assigned to local fire stations.
The federal government may reimburse their costs and overtime, but there is no reimbursement for time away from family and community.
Harkening to those faith-based verses, there are some things we can do for ourselves that can help handle the stress that comes with adversity.
The Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management has helpful information about putting together an emergency kit for home and vehicle.
A gallon-size, resealable plastic bag can hold copies of driver’s licenses, insurance policies (including health insurance), marriage licenses and divorce papers, credit card numbers, phone numbers for family and friends contacts, and your Covid-19 vaccination cards!
Take photos of all the same information on your cell phone and back it up.
Don’t forget to put some cash in the resealable plastic bag.
In the event of a power outage, ATMs won’t work.
Neither will gas pumps, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your fuel gauge.
Don’t be one of those drivers who waits until the last minute to gas up in advance of a hurricane.
We can’t always avoid disaster, but we can plan, prepare, and practice for one.
Guides to help you plan for emergencies are available at online.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]