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Rural residents benefit from emergency planning

Rural residents benefit from emergency planning

Rural disaster wind damage

The resource guide can help rural residents, businesses and communities impacted by disasters and support long-term planning and recovery efforts.

Every emergency preparedness kit is just as different as the family who compiles it, says Red Cross regional communications manager Drew Brown, based in Peoria, Illinois.

There are, of course, the basics that every kit requires, and then you tailor it to your family “including the four-legged members,” she said.

When it comes to disasters, this time of year, she encourages people to think about fire prevention as the weather changes and temperatures fall. The American Red Cross of Illinois is called upon most often to assist in house fires, she said. She recommends making a plan of what to do in case of fire as well as ensuring your home has working smoke detectors.

The American Red Cross of Illinois serves more than 12 million people in 88 counties across Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, Brown said. Last year for example, it helped 9,135 people affected by 1,832 local disasters.

Red Cross information is among the resources Derrick Appell, board president of Altona, a Knox County village in western Illinois, uses to compile tips about emergency preparedness to post on his village’s website every September during National Disaster Preparedness Month.

His community also takes other actions to be prepared, including applying for and winning a USDA Rural Development community facility grant of $18,300. It is helping the community get an emergency siren so warnings can be heard in all parts of the town. Altona also got two handheld radios to improve communication.

For Molly Hammond, the memory of an F3 tornado striking the village of Gifford in 2013 remains fresh in her mind. Her parents lived there at that time. It influences the Illinois acting state director of USDA’s Rural Development when her agency helps communities navigate preparedness and recovery from disasters.

That tornado, which struck both Champaign and Vermilion counties, destroyed homes, businesses and damaged a school eight years ago. Both the water tower and the water plant were demolished. Along with Rural Development funding, insurance and other grants helped get Gifford’s water tower and water plant functioning again as the village embarked on recovery.

To help rural communities like these, Hammond’s department of the USDA put together a new resource guide in September for those seeking disaster resiliency and recovery assistance. It is available at

The resource guide outlines Rural Development programs and services that can help rural residents, businesses and communities impacted by disasters and support long-term planning and recovery efforts, Hammond said.

It is focused in four areas: housing assistance and community and economic development planning; infrastructure and equipment financing; industry, entrepreneurship and local business development; and education and training, she said.

During the pandemic, funding helped in most of these areas, including with remote learning and telemedicine. In rural communities, when a specialist can’t immediately be present when a resident is experiencing a stroke, telemedicine gives local doctors access to the experts, as well as helping individuals get medical information they need, Hammond said.

Parts of the COVID Relief package, including Emergency Rural Healthcare grants, help rural hospitals, ambulances and health centers meet the needs in many communities, she said.

Griggsville, a community in western Illinois bordering Iowa, recently benefitted from a community facility grant which helped solve two problems.

The rural town of about 1,300 got a grant which helped buy about 32 breathing apparatus bottles for firefighters which cost about $32,000 in total. It is something firefighters use every time they respond to a fire, said Griggsville Fire Chief Larry Bradshaw.

The breathing apparatuses they had passed their 15 years of service date by a few months, and the cost to replace them was more than the community could afford. The grant paid 75% of the cost and the community covered the rest, Bradshaw said.

Grants also made the work of firefighters easier in another way. In the past, during an emergency with a power outage, Griggsville firefighters would have to climb on top of the firetruck to heave the giant garage door open to get the truck out before responding to the emergency. A grant helped the community buy a generator so they can open the door and get the firetruck moving quickly, Bradshaw said.

“We are pretty happy about that,” the fire chief said.

What to do, where to go

Derecho, fires, floods and tornadoes all too often strike rural communities and farms in the Midwest. Such events, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, remind people how important it is to be prepared for disasters.

There are many resources available to help people complete these tasks. Here are a few that can help in your planning:

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days. Being prepared means having your own food, water and other supplies.

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