Task force talks preparedness for emergencies, disasters



In the age of smart phones, people rely on apps for everything, more and more even for emergency preparedness.

The monthly meeting of the Liberty Hill Critical Incident Task Force focused on a number of digital applications available to help residents and organizations be ready for emergencies.

Aubury Holmes, with Williamson County Office of Emergency Management, shared a pair of digital tools for making sure families are ready if disaster strikes, and to get all the information needed to react and stay safe.

The Wilco Ready mobile application allows families to create a plan that everyone can share easily and from anywhere.

“It is basically a preparedness app that you download on your cell phone,” Holmes said. “It gives you an opportunity to make a plan, for you and your family. It allows you to do a lot of different things you wouldn’t normally think you could do to get yourself ready.”

The app can be downloaded from either iTunes or Google Play by searching for Wilco Ready. Once the free app is downloaded, users answer five basic questions about their family and loved ones.

It asks about the number of people in the household, pets, predesignated emergency meeting locations, out of town contacts and contact information for everyone in the family.

“Based off of that information you can come up with a really decent plan,” he said, adding that it will include information about any special needs for individuals in the family. “That’s really for you to start thinking about what you need because there are things that come with that. It gets you thinking beyond getting in the car and leaving. (Leaving is) fine, but what if someone is on oxygen or there is something they need power and this kind of helps you start to realize those issues.”

By having set meeting locations in case family members can’t get home, much of the difficulty in an emergency is removed.

“Let’s say you’re at home, or your kids are at home and you’re someplace else and something happens, this allows you to set up predesignated areas to meet,” Holmes said. “You can put in the address of that location and it will map it for you. One of the biggest issues we’ve had recently in these situations has been reuniting of families. They get separated and don’t have a plan to get reunited, so this helps you plan some of that out in advance.”

The application will also send out pre-planned messages and offers safety tips, mapping services and lists of area services people may need in case of an emergency, all mapped from a current location.

“If you are looking for an animal shelter or an EMS station or fire station, things you may need that are close to you, this maps your way to them as well,” Holmes said.

Warn Central Texas is a program put together by the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) to alert residents of emergencies in their area.

“This is used in a 10-county region and it is a notification system we can use to get out to the masses,” Holmes said. “This can be evacuations, emergency information in general, life safety instructions and even shelter in place notifications.”

To sign up for notifications, visit warncentraltexas.org and register. Signing up requires establishing a username and password, then inputing addresses and phone numbers for alerts. There is also a mobile app available.

“This is an easy way for us to get information out to people about things that happen,” Holmes said. “You can add as many lines as you want and have multiple addresses to receive warnings for.”

In addition to making sure there is a family plan for emergencies, and a way to keep updated through notifications, Holmes said it is important to keep well-stocked with supplies.

“How can I be ready? How can I be prepared in case we are not able to leave our house?” he said. “Most of us don’t think about having supplies together just in case you need to leave in a hurry. The rule of thumb is to be 72 hours self-sustaining, meaning enough food and water for everyone in your house.”

That means having one gallon of water per person per day, flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, tools, maps, chargers, trash bags and toiletries.

Preparedness doesn’t stop with emergencies and disasters, but also includes being ready to respond in a medical emergency.

Jim Persons, the Williamson County EMS Outreach Education Coordinator, outlined the classes offered through the county, as well as information on mobile apps that also help get quick aid to those in need.

County EMS offers CPR classes for certification, but also an abbreviated compressions-only course called Take 10 CPR.

“It is a free course, it is a short course,” Persons said. “It is very quick but it is very effective and is based on the standards that have come out through the research by the American Heart Association, American Red Cross and others. It is based in research and it is effective.”

The Take 10 CPR course gives more people the basic training needed to render aid in the event someone is in cardiac arrest. Persons said the statistics for full recovery for those who suffer cardia arrest are not good, but there is evidence that those numbers can change.

“We need folks to do bystander CPR,” he said. “The national average for resuscitation for people who had a cardiac arrest, when the heart stops outside of a hospital, is about 7 to 10 percent. That’s the national average, it’s not good.”

He said in Williamson County in 2016 it was 11 percent with a bystander assist rate of about 30 percent.

“When you look at other areas in the United States, like Seattle, Washington, their bystander CPR rate is 60 to 70 percent,” he said. “Their survival rate approaches 50 percent. We need to get numbers up like that, and the way that we’re doing it is through educating the public on CPR and getting them to perform CPR.”

Lifesaving aid is as simple as chest compressions in many instances.

“If you do chest compressions on someone, you can circulate oxygenated blood through their body for as long as eight minutes,” Persons said. “By that time, EMS is there and they’re taking over.”

Putting smart phones to work to help save lives, the PulsePoint application can be downloaded on a phone and allow trained individuals to be alerted to nearby cardiac arrest emergencies.

“PulsePoint is a program Williamson County EMS put in place about a year ago,” Persons said. “What it does is it connects our dispatch computers with your smart phone.”

When a cardiac arrest emergency call comes in and is determined to be in a public place, an alert goes out through the app to participants within 750 feet of the victim. It gives the location of the victim and location of the closest Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Persons said only 20 percent of all calls for cardiac arrest are in a public place, but that lives have been saved through the program.

The final class Persons shared was Stop the Bleed, which came out of a national initiative after Sandy Hook, when 20 children and six adults were shot in a school in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

The goal of the program is to teach people how to provide initial response to stop uncontrolled bleeding in emergency situations.

The class is about two hours long, and Persons said it can be very intense, but critical in life-saving situations.

“All of the techniques we teach in the class are research-based, they are effective and all things the public can do,” he said. “It is a little bit intense. There are three or four slides that are graphic. We do not dwell on them, and try to warn people they’re coming up, but it has to be shown because in order to be able to take care of people with those injuries you have to see what that injury is going to look like.”

It covers topics such as applying direct pressure, use of tourniquets and wound packing.

Groups, businesses or organizations interested in any classes offered through Williamson County EMS can reach Persons through the EMS webpage on wilco.org or by e-mail at