From baseball size hail to flooding rains to high winds, wildfires and even tornadoes, Kansas has hard hit by major disasters this year. Severe weather events from May 4 through June 21 resulted in the declaration of major disaster areas in 43 of the state's 105 counties.
Disaster counties stretched from Atchison in the northeast, to Hodgeman in the southwest, and Sumner in the south central. The disaster designation, announced by President Obama in a July 20 White House news release, makes them eligible for federal aid.
While Kansans typically think of disasters in terms of the deadliest EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes that have wiped out whole towns, not all disasters come in the form of a major storm. In some ways, those that hit only one household or neighborhood, are even deadlier to their lonely victims.
The big storms that wipe out whole towns bring out emergency relief services such as the Red Cross, Mennonite Housing and even FEMA and the National Guard. Help pours in from across the country. Victims of home floods or fires face an equal personal disaster, though they get far less attention, and often, far less help.
Kansas State University Research and Extension has developed a way for Kansans and others to prepare. Prepare Kansas is an online challenge, now in its second year, which focuses on simple activities every week during September. A goal is to make it as easy as possible for individuals or families to complete each activity – and become better prepared.
This year, the activities focus on creating an emergency supply kit; assembling a "grab and go" kit for each family member (including pets); creating a communication plan; and practicing a fire drill. Each week will focus on different emergencies that can happen.
The program coincides with National Preparedness Month, designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"We've had such good response to this program. We look forward to working with past participants on new activities this year, as well as with Kansans who are new to extension programs," said Kansas State University associate professor Elizabeth Kiss.
Working step-by-step on each Prepare Kansas activity helps participants to be better prepared for emergencies, whether at home or at work. It can also spark discussions among families or co-workers about preparedness in general and the best ways to handle future disasters, Kiss said. By the end of September, participants will be more prepared for any emergencies, which can make recovery easier.
A Prepare Kansas blog is an ongoing resource available to anyone, whether they participate in the annual challenge or not. It addresses seasonal threats and other topics with links to more information.