Residents and emergency preparedness experts filled the Elbert County Fairgrounds in Kiowa on April 11 for an Emergency Preparedness Clinic hosted by the Elbert County Office of Emergency Management. Experts offered residents free advice on how to prepare for and deal with emergencies, like wildfires, that might force an evacuation.
“It's about preparedness,” said Brandon Lenderink, Elbert County's Emergency Management director. “What this involves is not only preparedness for individuals — building 72-hour kits for your homes — it involves preparations for animals and animal evacuations.”
A three-hour morning session featured experts from the Douglas County Animal Response Team and the Douglas-Elbert County Horse Council covering topics ranging from preparing and maintaining an animal go-bag prior to an emergency to clinics on horses identification, facility preparation and creating personal disaster kits.
At the end of his fire-mitigation class, Larkspur firefighter Randy Johnson showed a slide depicting a yard sign that said “Thank you firefighters.”
“Signs like that make us feel all warm and fuzzy,” Johnson said. “But if you really want to thank us, take care of your fire mitigation.”
A raffle followed the morning session, sending four winners to lunch with emergency items such as a wool blanket, a first-aid kit and the grand prize, a 72-hour food kit.
Following lunch, the group moved into one of the fairground's arenas for horse trainer Kia Jones' class that familiarized owners with techniques for working with their horses in unfamiliar situations and helping them understand how the animals respond to perceived threats.
“Horses don't worry about getting hurt like you and I do. Their level of fear is about dying,” Jones said. “They are prey animals and they don't think like us.”
Jones demonstrated how to recognize a horse's body language and when to move animals away from unfamiliar objects before they reach the threshold of fear where they might jump or bolt. Jones explained that the technique helps the animal gain trust in its handler and itself, which makes the technique useful when loading a fearful animal into a trailer during a stressful situation.
Lenderink hopes to expand the Emergency Preparedness Clinic in the years to come.
“It's partnerships that we're building. We have a dedicated group of volunteers in a committee that have been working for over two years with the emergency management office for the purpose of assisting in a disaster,” Lenderink said.
Members of the Elbert County Red Cross were also on hand to recruit volunteers as part of an ongoing effort to make the Elbert County Red Cross able to function on its own in the event that help is not available from outside the county during a widespread emergency.