September is National Preparedness Month, and it starts this weekend. I tend to think that being prepared for emergencies is a year-round activity, but in the spirit of supporting the national observance, we have this week’s column.

There is a hole in our emergency preparations in my immediate area, something brought home to me back on Aug. 21 during an area-wide tornado warning. Despite New Bethlehem’s fire whistle blowing for a long time, a lot of people weren’t aware of the danger. Now that the Cold War-era nuke-alert siren has been taken offline, you can’t hear the remaining whistle at the fire hall if you live across the creek.

On the other hand, you probably can’t hear either of them if you happen to be indoors unless you live close by. They were intended to warn people on the street to take shelter. That’s it.

By the way, don’t ignore a prolonged blaring of the siren. I think back to watching John Kundick’s video of the 1996 flood, and the fire whistle made a spooky soundtrack to the devastation in progress. Shrugging and saying, “Huh. I wonder what that’s all about,” is not a plan.

I’m not one to whine about life not being fair. I can work to improve my community, but the ultimate responsibility for my personal safety belongs to me. Last year, I invested $45 in a NOAA all-hazards radio and signed up for emergency alerts on my cell phone.

I have no excuse for being assassinated in my sleep by a tornado or a flash flood now.

That got me thinking. I received advance warning, which gave me enough time to call my family and my landlady and advise them to seek shelter in their bathrooms. Elderly folks often have trouble walking, and so a bathroom is a better choice than risking a tumble down the basement steps.

There was no time to do much of anything except slapping up a Facebook post while pulling on my shoes and heading out to do some storm spotting. Things got a little busy, watching the sky, preparing to call 911 if a tornado touched down and having the weather service on speed dial. There was no time to call anyone else.

After it was all over, I had a chance to talk to DeeDee Donine who had just brought our elderly neighbor back from a doctor’s appointment. They didn’t know anything about the warning until they got home and turned on the television.

County and municipal budgets are tight, which is a vast understatement. There aren’t enough funds to make a fancy state-of-the-art alert system possible, one that everyone can receive.

But there are ways to keep our families and neighbors informed. Our regional fire departments post National Weather Service warnings on social media. If you don’t have Internet access at home, you can sign up for alerts on your cell phone, and it’s free of charge.

Over here in Armstrong County, you can sign up for emergency alerts on the county’s public safety website. Here is a link to the page: armcodps.onthealert.com/.

To my knowledge, Clarion County does not offer this service. I may be wrong, and I would love to find out that I am. Residents are advised to tune in to one of a handful of local radio stations for information.

If you hear or see an alert that something wicked this way comes, why not pick up the phone and call an unaware neighbor? We are, after all, our brothers’ keepers.

I pondered this overnight last week and thought of a possible solution. Putting together a phone chain to alert neighbors to danger is not the worst idea I have ever had. I may not have time to do it myself while standing out in the rain, but you could do it.

Fortunately, most of the time these warnings come to nothing. Your friends and family might think that you’re some kind of a nut for worrying them like that. But it’s far better to worry before something bad happens than afterward.

I believe in the power of prayer, but I learned in Sunday school about Joseph’s dream of the seven fat and the seven lean cattle. Let’s not forget about the wise and the foolish virgins, and Noah’s building an ark while his neighbors made fun of him.

The fact is, bad things happen to good people all the time. People fall, get cancer, wreck their cars. We are not immune to floods, ice and wind.

You have probably heard or seen the public-safety slogan “See something, say something.” This is useful for reporting human trafficking, armed intruders and crime in general. Why not use it when severe weather threatens our homes and towns?

See something. Say something. It’s pretty simple, and you might save some lives.

[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]

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