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When disaster strikes, only a share of the population is prepared to handle the disruption and react appropriately. About 50 New Lisbon fifth grade students can now count themselves among the informed.

Representatives for Student Tools for Emergency Planning, or STEP, spoke to students at New Lisbon schools March 11 on emergency preparedness and the importance of having a plan before the unexpected occurs.

“You’re going to be able to help your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors, people you care about,” said Crisis Communications Manager Lori Getter.

STEP was founded in 2011 and seen nearly 70,000 Wisconsin students participate in the program since then. 12,000 more are expected to participate this spring.

The presentation emphasized the importance of having a family communications plan so families can stay in touch if phone lines are down, and a family emergency kit so they will have necessary supplies in the case of emergency.

Getter doesn’t have to be dramatic, and could be as simple as slipping on an icy sidewalk.

“When something happens, everyone wants to go help each other out,” Getter said. “Emergencies can be handled locally.”

Getter made the presentation relatable by harkening back to an experience familiar to many of the students: the regional flooding of August 2018. By a show of hands, about half of the students indicated they knew someone whose home flooded.

Getter emphasized flooding was not the only disaster possible in the area. “Over the years in Juneau County, there’s been some big wildfires,” Getter said.

Haily Dudzinski, who participated in the program herself years ago, told students she keeps an emergency kit herself along with each member of her family.

“The emergency kit should last for about three days and have basic essentials in it,” Dudzinski said. “If you have pets, you don’t want to forget about t(them) because they also need these essentials.”

AT&T Regional Vice President of External Affairs Jim Jermain said the company has officials in Alabama right now, helping with the recovery process after a tornado blew through a part of the state.

The STEP program is being funded this year through a $7,000 contribution from AT&T Wisconsin and a $7,000 contribution from the Wisconsin Wireless Association.

“We have to restore our telephone lines or maybe our cell towers,” Jermain said. “We actually use drones in our network to recover service.” Jermain said drones were used in the 2017 Puerto Rico hurricane recovery.

Wisconsin Assembly Representative Tony Kurtz was also present at the event. “You guys are future leaders,” Kurtz told students. “You want to be prepared for these emergencies... my son did this program many years ago. And he actually learned some things, and called 911 one time.”

At the end of the presentation, students were each given a bag with a flashlight inside.

“It’s so important to understand what your role (is) in an emergency because you really can make a difference,” Kurtz said.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353

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Juneau County Star-Times reporter