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Preparing for an emergency can be like eating an elephant. Many people feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.

Layton officials understand the importance of helping city residents prepare for emergencies. The city recently held a preparedness fair lined with how-to booths and instructional information in the hope that residents walked away from the fair with an understanding of the importance of being prepared.

"We all know we are supposed to be ready, but to be ready we need to learn practical things we can put into place rather than just looking at this as an overwhelming task," said Jim Mason, Layton's assistant city manager, who was in charge of the event.

The good news, Mason added, is that many people are inadvertently preparing themselves for emergencies by doing such everyday things as buying camping gear, having a barbecue grill and stocking up their pantries with sale items. He said consumers may not be aware that their tent can come in handy during an emergency, or that charcoal briquettes are a great resource for generating heat to stay warm.

The main focus of this year's event was family emergency preparedness and safety awareness. Families at the event learned about planning a place to meet in the event of an emergency and about the firefighters, police officers and other safety personnel who would be available to help them.

Mason said good planning is key to being prepared for emergency situations.

"For example," he said, "a family needs to sit down and decide they will all meet at the oak tree across the street, so they can account for everyone in case they need to send firefighters in for a member of the family."

Veterinarian Scott Maxfield, who was selling emergency packs for pets at the fair, said pets should be integral part of people's plans. Each pet package he sold included a 72-hour kit, first-aid kit, food, water, an emergency blanket, a collapsible water bowl, a leash and other necessary items.

"We see a lot of the pets that come into the clinic with the emergencies around, and I know that people are not thinking about their pets all the time," Maxfield lamented.

It's equally important to have a plan in place in the event of major earthquakes and other community-wide disasters - catastrophes that could make the freeway impassable, among other things. Experts at the preparedness fair said parents also need to maintain phone contacts in Utah and out of state in the event of an emergency.

The fair boosted public awareness about the fact that the community is divided up into districts and neighborhoods, and informed fair-goers about the plans that have been set in place for neighbors and businesses in the event of an emergency.

Annie Quon, who works for the Citizen Core Council and is in charge of organizing and maintaining the districts in Layton, knows the importance of neighborhood preparedness.

"After 9/11 and Katrina, they realized the first responders couldn't get there for a couple of weeks, so Citizen Core helps citizens do what is necessary to help themselves in emergencies," said Quon.

Some participants at the fair were inspired to go home and work toward being better prepared.

"Even though we have emergency water barrels at home, we don't have water in them yet, so I plan to fill them up this weekend as a result of coming to this fair," said Winnie Killpack.

The city can be assured that the fair motivated at least one family to bite into the elephant of preparing without feeling too overwhelmed.