Books lead to disaster preparation tour

The Pickets visited Shelby County Office of Preparedness.

From left, Hannah Pickett, mother Laura Pickett, and Rebekah Pickett got a tour of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness with help from Eugene Jones, Preparedness Officer.
Courtesy photo

The Shelby County Office of Preparedness recently welcomed two young Bartlett students to tour their facilities at 1075 Mullins Station Road in Memphis. Eugene Jones, Preparedness Officer, greeted sisters Rebekah Pickett, age 10, fourth grade, and Hannah Pickett, age 9, third grade, accompanied by their mother, Laura Pickett.

Jones led the family into the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which contains high-tech communication equipment, computers, microphones, and projection screens. Upon entering the EOC, Hannah exclaimed, "Wow, it’s like NASA!"

Jones explained the main function of an EOC: It is the main gathering place for emergency managers and the county’s decision-makers during a disaster. He demonstrated the Tennessee Department of Transportation live cameras, weather radar, location of river gauges, the Web EOC mission boards, and how all the municipalities can communicate with each other through Mondo boards.

The request from the Pickett sisters to learn about preparedness came from a homework assignment. Both are home-schooled and call themselves the "St. Arvin Girls School." They recently read, "The Long Winter," one of the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Rebekah explained that the prairie family in the book endured a harrowing seven-month blizzard in 1880. There was so little food and fuel and so much snow that the trains could not run to bring in supplies. The sisters wanted to know how they could prepare for such an experience should it happen here.

Jones sat with them and explained that children can prepare for blizzards like the prairie family as well as all hazards and threats that may occur in Shelby County. He suggested they start with a family discussion, buy a weather radio, and build a disaster kit. He told them to prepare for their cats, too. Jones told them to decide on a place to meet if they get separated. He talked to them about specific disasters such as earthquakes, and he demonstrated the "Drop, Cover and Hold" maneuver. When discussing tornado safety, Rebekah was concerned about not having a basement, but Jones said they could seek refuge in their center hallway at home. The reason for outdoor warning sirens near their home was also discussed.

After the EOC tour and disaster pep talk, the sisters took with them a bag full of FEMA brochures and the knowledge that, unlike the prairie family, they can prepare for any disaster that may happen in their home county.