Disaster Preparation

Red Cross officials in Southern Maryland say the devastation of the Gulf Coast by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should remind area families to have a plan in place to keep in touch with loved ones during emergencies.

Mike Zabko, head of the Southern Maryland Red Cross chapter, said families should create a communication plan now.

"The necessity for such a plan was underscored three weeks ago during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," Zabko said in a statement. "After that storm hit, the American Red Cross received thousands of phone calls from people seeking loved ones. Although many families have since been reunited, we urge those in potentially affected areas to create a family communication plan."

He emphasized that one call or e-mail message is often all it takes.

"If you are in the path of a hurricane, reach out to those that care about you before it strikes and let them know what your plans are, where you expect to be going, when you are leaving and how they can stay in contact with you," Zabko said. "By designating one person outside the affected area that you will stay in contact with, others can call this person to check on your well-being."

Zabko said the Red Cross recommends for people who plan to evacuate an area but want to maintain contact with loved ones inside the affected area:

* Plan ahead for the possibility of becoming separated from family and friends.

* Because local phone lines may be out of service or overloaded after a disaster, it's often easier to call out of the area.

* Designate a single out-of-town contact that each family or household member can call or e-mail should a disaster occur. The selected contact should live far enough away that he or she would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event. The contact should be aware of being chosen.

* Anyone who might check on a family member's well-being should have the phone number for the contact person, and family members should have each other's phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

* Many people overwhelm telephone lines during emergencies. Sometimes e-mails or text messages are able to go through when calls cannot.

For people who plan to evacuate but hope to stay in touch with loved ones outside the affected area:

* Make an emergency contact list.

* Write down contact information, including name, home, work and cell phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Include the out-of-town contact's information as well.

* Make a card with the contact information on it and copy the card for each family member to carry in the event of an emergency.

* Call family and friends before a disaster strikes to let them know your plans and as soon as possible after disaster strikes to let them know where you are and how you are doing.

For more information about disaster preparations, visit www.redcross.org.

Health Services

The Calvert County Health Department is asking people who have evacuated to Calvert to contact the agency for help with health needs.

The department can be reached at 410-535-5400 or by visiting its offices at 975 Solomons Island Rd. N. in Prince Frederick.

Officials said in a statement that the agency can assist with access to health care for those who are without insurance or funds to pay for such services.

Rebuilding in the Gulf

Christmas in April St. Mary's County donated $25,000 in the days after Hurricane Katrina to the Rebuilding Together With Christmas in April affiliates in the affected areas.

The donation will assist affiliates in New Orleans; Gulfport, Miss.; and Miami.

Mary Ann Chasen, executive director of the St. Mary's chapter, said in a statement that the New Orleans affiliate had been preparing for a major milestone before the hurricane: repairing its 1,000th house.

"Not only will that group have to begin its volunteer work from the ground up," she said, "but even the executive director of the New Orleans program is now homeless."