Expo offers info on what to do before, after disasters strike

July 27, 2011
by Ruth Ingram

Betty Lee knows what she'd do if a tornado threatened her Jackson home.

"I'd go get in the bathtub," said Lee, 67.

She found out Tuesday that there's so much more to disaster preparedness: Gathering legal documents into a notebook or envelope, ready to grab and carry to safety, for one.

Being prepared also means making sure she knows how to recognize an unscrupulous contractor who wants to take her money, but not the wind-toppled trees in her yard.

"There's a lot of stuff here. You can get a lot of information," Lee's daughter, Jackson resident Kathy Jaynes, said as she ushered her mother through a Disaster Preparedness Exposition at the Jackson Medical Mall.

Sponsored by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the three-hour event gave metro-area senior citizens a plethora of handouts, phone numbers and personal contacts to help them navigate a disaster or crisis.

At least 300 circulated from booth to booth in the Medical Mall's conference room, packing tote bags with brochures and handouts from groups including the state Insurance Department and Department of Human Services, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, the Mississippi attorney general's office and the state Board of Contractors.

Although the event began at 10 a.m., "some of them were here at 9:15," said Paheadra Robinson, the center's consumer protection division director. "They are very adamant about getting the information.

"We want to make sure they get as much as possible to prepare for a disaster, and now is a good time," Robinson said. "It's fresh on people's minds. We've just had the tornadoes. We've just had the flooding, and we're in hurricane season."

It was a learning experience for Evelyn Marshall, 83, of Jackson.

"If you have a house but you don't have the title for it, it's hard to get any help," she said of signing up for government aid after a flood, tornado or fire. "And if I leave my house to one of my kids, I need to be sure I have the title, and to put one of their names on it."

Sharon Coleman, a consumer service specialist with the Department of Insurance, stood ready to give out brochures that included a checklist of things a person would need to have on hand before disaster strikes.

"If they ever have any questions about any type disaster - questions about homes, automobiles or any kind of property - they can call us," Coleman said.

Seniors' concerns Tuesday extended beyond a weather catastrophe, however.

Their worries include "transportation, funds for medical insurance ... and housing is always a huge issue," said Susan Hermes, program manager for adult work programs with the Department of Human Services.

"And, the biggest thing with seniors right now is educating themselves on how not to get scammed. They are so vulnerable," Hermes said.

Hinds County deputies and Jackson police officers circulated around the room, offering a listening ear and crime prevention tips.

Said Sheriff's Department Sgt. Lou Ann Jackson: "A lot of times, they don't know there are services out there that can protect them. We want to make sure we give them the tools to know we can help."

"I'm concerned about neighborhood watches because there's so much crime. It's sad," said Dorothie Cash, 64, of Jackson.

"And Social Security and all that mess .... You think it's bad now. It's going to really be bad later."

Cash said she and friends who spend their days at Jackson's T.L. Love Community Center learned a lot at the expo.

She's not shy about getting the information she needs to prepare for the worst.

"I do believe in picking up that phone," Cash said.