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Meet Emergency Expert Deborah Okoniewski

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

by Elizabeth Gracen:

I’ve known Deb Okoniewski for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that she told me about her passion and training for emergency prevention and disaster preparedness. Believe it or not, this is a passion of mine as well.

One of my writing partners, Adrienne Wilkinson, and I have written a guide called The Go-to-Gal’s Ultimate Emergency Organizer that we will be publishing through Flapper Press this year. When I realized that Deb was an emergency ‘guru,’ I took it as sign that I had to get her to share her knowledge with this site. So, please meet Deb O!

EG: Deb, welcome! I am thrilled that you are writing the FEELING SAFE IN A SHAKY WORLD blog for Flapper Press.

First up, I’m fascinated that you have spent a great deal of your life learning about emergency preparedness and serving your community as an emergency responder on a professional and volunteer basis. When did this passion begin for you? What attracts you to this field?

DO: I developed a passion for disaster preparedness and emergency first aid back in high school when I took a class through the Red Cross. I became a volunteer and assisted people in the community who were victims of sudden disasters such as a house fire. Over the years, I took additional training and became a shelter manager and Advanced First Aid and CPR instructor. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share that knowledge with other people.

I enjoy helping people and I think it is very important that we all be prepared in case of a disaster. As 2017 showed us, we had wildfires, hurricanes, massive flooding, and mudslides. Many people were not prepared to deal with these situations, despite the advance warnings. If sharing my knowledge helps ease the stress, all the better.

EG: In my lifetime, I’ve never felt as shaky as I do right now about security, safety, travel, and potential catastrophes in general. I’m sure it has to do with my slight addiction to checking the news all the time—which is almost always alarming—and the fact that I’m a mom. I know I’m not alone in feeling this sense of unease. Your blog will address the anxiety that we are feeling and help our readers implement some simple steps that create a sense of well-being that comes from knowing that they’ve taken the necessary steps to help them in case of an emergency or disaster. Can you briefly outline the subjects that your writing series will address?

DO: Building a family emergency action plan, how to put together 'go bags' for different situations, family radio service and communications, disaster psychology, basic first aid techniques, and dealing with an active shooter scenario are some of the topics I’d like to address. I am also open to suggestions from readers who would like information on specific topics.

EG: When my writing partner and I wrote our emergency prevention/disaster preparedness guide, we discovered a real disconnect between the fact that people really want to ‘feel’ safe, but the majority of them don’t want to take the time to actually prepare for potential emergencies or disasters. You have a long career dealing with these matters. Why do you think most people don’t take the time to prepare until it’s almost too late?

DO: I think a lot of people don’t like to think about catastrophes and being ready because they aren’t that common. Natural disasters are not a common occurrence, and the average person doesn’t realize that you may not have a lot of time to evacuate your home if a state of emergency is called. Some of it is procrastination and some of it is not wanting to think about what might happen.

EG: One of the things I discovered after we wrote the guide and created the Go To Gals UEO Decals was that it was relatively easy to sit down with my family and discuss a basic emergency plan, and it was super easy to fill out the UEO Decals that cover basic emergency contact information, pet alerts, and emergency utility shut off directions. For some reason, simply filling in the Decals and placing them in easy to locate places in our home (on the fridge, inside a cabinet door, etc.) made us feel better. Do you consider this enough prep work even if you can’t get any of the rest of it done?

DO: Taking the time to sit down and fill out the decals together is prep work because you are discussing the information on what to do in case of an emergency. It is information sharing with family members on what to do. That is the first step in making your plan.

EG: What are a few practical, easy to implement steps that anyone can take to set them on the road to peace of mind regarding potential emergencies and disasters?

DO: Start small and build. Make a list of emergency contact phone numbers for your family. Do you have an out-of-state contact that can be the point person? Do you know where the gas and water shut off valves are located? What kind of supplies do you have on hand in terms of food, water? Do you keep supplies in your vehicle in case you are stranded?

These are just a few questions to get you started thinking about being more prepared.

EG: Thank you, Deb, for sharing your knowledge. I look forward to your weekly tips and information about how to feel safe in a shaky world. Keep up the good work, and thank you for your service!

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