A year ago, the state launched "codeReady,'' a pioneering emergency-preparedness website to help Minnesotans build a family disaster communications plan and a well-equipped stockpile of supplies.
A year later, a few more Minnesotans are prepared. But plenty are not. Fewer than 10,000 used the website to tailor a supply list for their families. More troubling, just 3,700 built a plan designating a family point person for disaster communications and a gathering place if home is unreachable.
That's unfortunate. If ever there was a year illustrating the need to plan for the unthinkable, 2007 was it in Minnesota. Two disasters on an unprecedented scale struck in short order: the Interstate 35W bridge collapse on Aug. 1, then a few weeks later, the mind-blowing rainfall that took less than 24 hours to turn the state's southeast corner into a lake.
In each case, families across the state could have benefited by the advance planning the website walks users through. When the bridge collapsed, many families did not have communication plans and scrambled to find out if loved ones were OK, relying sometimes on already overwhelmed public safety officials. In southeast Minnesota, the rapid evacuation forced by flash flooding prompted many residents to leave without critical supplies, such as prescription medications, or any idea of where they would go. "It's always hard to be awakened at 3 a.m. and told that you have to leave, but it might be just a little bit easier if you've given it some thought and preparation,'' said Tim Turnbull, Hennepin County's director of emergency preparedness.
After Y2K hype, there's some skepticism about campaigns like codeReady. Federal officials were the butt of jokes from Leno and Letterman after they urged citizens several years ago to stock up on shrink wrap and duct tape. Emergency preparedness came to mean being paranoid.
CodeReady doesn't suggest that it's time to build a bunker in the backyard. Being ready for flooding or tornadoes is about protecting your family. These are practical, inexpensive steps every Minnesotan should take. Although not everyone will stockpile supplies, a family disaster communications plan is vital. The codeReady website, which is free, easily guides users through a series of questions. The entire process takes about 20 to 30 minutes. At the end, users can print off multiple copies of emergency contacts, supply lists and local public safety info.
After $500,000 from the state to get the program running, codeReady now relies on federal homeland security money and is a partnership between state and county agencies, as well as private organizations. Right now, the program's distinctive blue-and-green billboards are popping back up around the metro -- just in time for the state's severe weather season. Minnesotans are fortunate to have a tool like codeReady at their fingertips. The few minutes needed to log on and plan ahead is time well-spent.