BY EMILY BRUNS
ROCHELLE—Although it might not look like much of a “winter wonderland” outside, it is still relatively early in the winter season and anyone who lives in northern Illinois is well aware that weather in the area changes suddenly. Recent Western Illinois University “emergency and safety planning” graduate and Rochelle resident, Kurt Poliska, is sharing how residents can better protect themselves against unforeseen weather and other emergency threats with a 72-hour safety kit.
Poliska, who has dealt with times of stress overseas while fighting in Iraq, knows a thing or two about dangerous conditions. As an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University in 2008, Poliska went through his normal routine of classes and settled in Cole Hall for his afternoon class. The class commenced as usual until an unexpected and armed visitor arrived. Steven Kazmierczak, a former student, opened fire on the class, killing six and injuring more.
“I remember it was in the last 10 to 15 minutes of that class. He walked in on stage from the side door. He shot at instructors first and then into the crowd at us,” said Poliska.
Fortunately for Poliska, he escaped injury that day, but he said that the experience reminded him of being in Iraq and used running techniques he had learned to become less of an easy target for Kazmierczak’s stray bullets. He also said that this harrowing experience was one of the factors that inspired him to become further involved with safety matters today.
“It was a scary experience but I was also impressed with how fast officers at NIU took action. I think that schools made more thorough emergency plans after the Virginia Tech shootings.”
Unrelated to the shooting incident, Poliska left NIU and pursued his associate’s degree at Kishwaukee College. He then enrolled at Western Illinois University specifically for its emergency management program. He graduated in May and learned through safety courses including public health, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, law enforcement and others. He graduated in May and went back to NIU for an internship where he coordinated emergency planning systems.
As part of his internship duties, Poliska mapped out protocols for university staff and students to follow in the event of any given emergency. He mapped out emergency plans for situations such as extreme weather, fires in university buildings, terrorist situations and more.
Today, he works at the Byron station nuclear plant. Staying true to his degree in emergency, he is working on building his own 72-hour safety kit, which he says is important for everyone to have. The idea behind this kit, as developed by Federal Emergency Management Agency, is to ensure that each person in a residence have enough food, water and other necessary items that will help them survive as comfortable as possible for three days. FEMA recommends that people assemble kits well in advance of an emergency where electricity, water, gas, sewage treatment and phones may be cut off for days, weeks, or longer.
“The kit should be made to keep you comfortable up to FEMA’s recommended 72 hours. It’s a kit that should be helpful regardless of why you are trapped, be it loss of power, natural disasters or man-made technical disasters, pandemics and so on,” said Poliska.
Both Poliska and FEMA include similar items in their lists. Here is what they both suggested to pack in emergency kits:
Water, one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, and extra batteries for both
Flashlight and extra batteries
First Aid kit
Whistle to signal for help
Infant formula and diapers, if you have an infant
Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Dust mask or cotton t-shirt, to help filter the air
Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
Clothing and bedding for cold weather
A jacket or coat
A long sleeve shirt
A hat and gloves
A sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
In addition to these items, Poliska also noted that everyone should modify their kits to fit their personal needs, such as medications, hygiene products of choice and so on. He said that generators are also helpful, but only if they are outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and if there is enough gas to keep it running.
“It’s important to think of little things, like batteries, that will keep some of the storage items running.”
He also said that it is a good idea to keep mini kits in the car, as accidents are more likely in snowy and or icy conditions, which can leave someone stranded. Basics, such as water, toilet paper, packaged food, warm clothing and blankets, a signaling device and batteries are all recommended stowaway vehicle items.
On a final note, Poliska recommends that kits be stored inside rubber bins with lids to keep them safe.
“Also, be sure to store the kit where you would go if a tornado hit, because that would be the safest place in your house,” he said.
Poliska also noted that although kits are important to have now, it is helpful to build them gradually, starting with grabbing extra items from around the house.
So far his kit includes food, water, hygiene products, tools, warming layers, tarps, duct tape and rope.
Although there are many practical reasons to keep a safety kit, Poliska said that one reason rules them all.
“Personal preparedness. If a family is prepared and can take care of itself, it also helps the recovery effort, which starts and ends on a local leve,” he said. “Self-reliance and organization is important in a time of need.”