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Fair prepares area families for disaster
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Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle shares fire readiness information with the community Sunday at the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids Personal and Family Emergency Preparedness Fair in Gainesville. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

Anyone traveling along E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville on Sunday could spot not one, but two helicopters parked in front of Brenau University’s East Campus.

The unusual sighting was part of the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids’ Personal and Family Emergency Preparedness Fair.

This imaginative center, known as INK, held the event to help children and parents be prepared in case disaster strikes.

The person in charge of one of the helicopters, Kurt Kjelgaard, represented Air Methods, the largest helicopter program in the U.S.

“We’re here displaying the aircraft, letting people take a look at it, see what we do,” Kjelgaard said.

The air ambulance company responds to disasters with medical assistance.

Also providing safety tips were the Hall County Animal Shelter, Safe Kids, American Red Cross and Hall County Emergency Management Services.

From showing parents how to safely buckle their children’s car seats to letting families climb into a helicopter, the activities provided many learning opportunities.

One organization hoping to educate families at the fair was American Red Cross Emergency Disaster Services. The group operates 23 units around the state that focus on serving communities after disasters, all free of charge.

“We’re passing out literature about our local services and then disaster services, specifically,” said the organization’s Maj. Jim Smith.

“We want to help people learn to prepare their families.”

The importance of knowing what to do as a family could be critical, since domestic disasters are the most common, he said.

“Almost all emergencies are at home,” he said. “So once we get (families) conscious of that and have a personal family plan, then we’re in good shape. We feel like we’re doing our job.”

Stationed alongside the Red Cross, Hall County Fire and Emergency Management Services also hoped to help people learn what preparation services it offers.

Beverley Walker of Hall County Fire Services handed out brochures and stickers to kids while talking with adults about how to respond to an emergency.

“We’re just talking to people, encouraging them to be prepared, to prepare a disaster kit, to sign up for our Citizen’s Alert Program ... all of those things you need to do in order to make sure that you’re prepared when emergencies happen,” Walker said.

Joining Walker was David Kimbrell, Hall County fire chief and emergency management director, who told attendees about the Citizen’s Alert Program.

The program is powered by Everbridge, an interactive communication and notification system.

“You sign up, and it’ll send you severe weather alerts, or we can push out alerts for boil water advisories, road closings (and) information on suspects,” Kimbrell said.

“You can have it sent to your home, your cellphone, your email (or) text message. (It’s a) really good system.”

The initial effort to have the fair came from the collaborated concept of Bill Wittel and the executive director of INK, Sheri Hooper. They decided the fair could bring together police and fire departments, who would bring their resources and transform the idea into reality.

“It’s been amazing how (Wittel has) been able to make it happen,” Hooper said.

She also said a committee was formed with more than 30 people who helped make the event possible.

Hooper said many positive responses came in even before Sunday.

“It has already been so successful before the doors opened today,” she said.

INK, the daily goal of which is to provide a fun and engaging learning experience through a lifelike “neighborhood” sponsored by community partners, decided to take a step further to ensure safety along with education to families.

Hooper said the hope at INK, with the help of more volunteers and vendors, is to make the event grow each year.

“It is wonderful that we are able to teach kids how to prepare in case of emergency.”

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