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Apr. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Because you just never know.

That's the impetus for an emergency preparedness backpack project being offered through the local office of the American Red Cross.

Following severe weather in 2009 that caught area residents off-guard, the Senior Backpack Program, founded through a grant from the United Way, was established to distribute 300 emergency preparedness backpacks annually to vulnerable seniors citizens.

"In 2009, the whole eastern half of the country had this terrible ice storm and out of that, we discovered how many people really were in need. People had no power, they couldn't get in and out of their homes because of fallen tree limbs or they wouldn't go to shelters because of special needs or pets in the home," said Marilyn Meade, emergency services specialist with the American Red Cross. "We saw a real need among those who are most vulnerable -- children, seniors, people with medical emergencies."

Out of that experience, the Red Cross created a backpack program to distribute supplies individuals might need in the event of a emergency such as flashlights, batteries, water, a small supply of food, toiletries, portable radios and first aid kits. The supplies are packed inside 300 backpacks and distributed to senior centers in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason and Lawrence County, Ohio.

"The senior centers are responsible for distributing them to their most vunerable seniors," Meade said. "The contents of the backpack are intended to give people an start on an emergency kit that they can add to, and can also be used to store personal papers and medications in one location, in the event they have to evacuate."

Meade said individuals and families who are not eligible for the Senior Backpack Program should still work to create their own emergency preparedness kits at home, referencing an event such as June 2012's derecho that evolved quickly and left Tri-State residents without power and needed supplies for a few days up to more than a week.

"Create a disaster plan with your family and try to anticipate what you would do in the event of an emergency. Stock enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days, and make sure you have access to some kind of radio to pick up an emergency station and emergency weather," Meade said. "These events are usually unexpected and you just never know. We're really making a push for everyone to be as well-prepared as possible."

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.