Gadsden/Etowah EMA shares preparedness tips


Photo: Emergency Management Specialist Breonna Cole (left) and EMA Director Deborah Gaither (right) stand in the Gadsden/Etowah Emergency Management Agency control room on September 12. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)


By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

In honor of National Preparedness Month this September, Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency is conducting a preparedness and safety campaign.

“Everybody, if you think about it, has a part in preparedness,” said Gadsden/Etowah EMA Director Deborah Gaither. “The citizens’ part is their responsibility, and we want to educate them and give them everything they need to be able to do it.”

Gaither explained that in the midst of natural disasters and other widespread emergencies, first responders are often overwhelmed, so the time to prepare is on a “blue-sky day.”

“Preparedness is about having all of that worked out beforehand, before the disaster happens,” said Emergency Management Specialist Breonna Cole. “When you’re put under a tornado watch or the day that they tell you there’s a possibility of severe weather, that’s too late.”

According Cole, there are four key steps to household preparedness: have a plan; make a kit; watch the warnings; find your safe place.

Establishing a plan goes “a step further” than checking smoke detectors and other basic safety practices, Cole said. Families should discuss multiple scenarios and establish a meeting place in case of being separated during an emergency.

Practicing that plan once it is decided is just as vital.

“You always have to practice it beforehand because in the throes of an emergency, it goes out the window if you haven’t practiced it,” Gaither said. “If the kids and everybody don’t know where to go, then it’s kind of chaos.”

This process also includes preparing a disaster supply kit, which should contain items like water, non-perishable food, a weather radio, a flashlight and a whistle. According to Cole, a helmet is also a must.

“Some of your worst injuries are head-related,” she said. “Everybody either has a baseball helmet or a bicycle helmet, or you can go buy a bicycle helmet for under $20.”

For a full list of supplies, visit

Cole said the kit should be easily accessible and, if possible, already placed in the designated shelter or safe room.

Cole encouraged citizens to include a NOAA weather radio, which GECEMA will program for free, in their supply kits. It is important to have multiple ways to access emergency alerts, she said. Keeping informed during a disaster can be lifesaving.

According to Cole, a designated safe place can be a room in one’s home, a neighbor’s basement or a storm shelter. Shelter Etowah is available to those without a safe space to find a designated shelter nearby. It can be accessed at or via the Gadsden/Etowah EMA app, available on Apple App and Google Play stores.

Also on the app is emergency alert channel Alert Etowah, as well as access to local tower cameras and weather stations.

Cole said community involvement is also invaluable in an emergency.

“Sometimes you have to step in and be the first responder,” Cole said. “You have to take responsibility for yourself and your family until first responders are able to give you that help.”

She stressed that citizens should never attempt replace first responders, merely shelter themselves as well as possible and check on their neighbors, enabling medical and safety professionals to first assist those in immediate danger.

Community Emergency Response Team, a program under EMA, offers training that individuals “a basic knowledge of how to take care of things until first responders arrive.”

Cole and Gaither have both weathered numerous emergencies at EMA.

“I equate it to playing sports because I played sports in high school,” Cole said. “You get nerves before a big game. It’s kind of like the same thing. You get a little nervous because you know it’s a severe weather day. Something might (happen); something might not. Then you start playing the game and all your nerves go out the window, and you’re just on autopilot. And all of that is to be attributed to planning and exercise and training.”

Gaither agreed.

“It comes back to you quick and you go, ‘OK, I know what to do,’” she said.

Though emergency management is a high-stress field, both said they find purpose in their work.

“I really think if you are a caring person, (if) you find yourself concerned for the safety of others, that you’re a person for this job,” Gaither said. “It takes a special called individual to be able to do the job. I think God puts us all here for a certain reason. This must have been mine.”

“Etowah County is — that’s my home,” Cole said. “It’s where I’ve been my entire life. Not only is my immediate family here, but the people I go to church with and the people I went to school with. It’s my family — the whole county. And I wouldn’t want to do anything other than help them in any way that I could.”

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