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									This article is reprinted from the May/June 2006 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine.

Emergency Preparedness and You
By Lise Hamlin

Emergency preparedness isn’t just for the professionals anymore. Knowing what you

need to do to prepare yourself and your family for any emergency helps provide a safer

environment for yourself, your family and your community.

       Lise Hamlin, expert in this area, who also has a hearing loss, has provided an

article packed with practical information.

       Emergency situations face us everyday, or so it seems. They are in the headlines

of the newspaper you open in the morning before you go to work: stories about Katrina

evacuees, revised airline screening guidelines, and the latest terror threat. And there they

are again on the 11 o’clock news in stories about the latest house fires and car crashes.

       Yet emergency preparedness information -- what we need to do to prepare for an

emergency -- seems to be nowhere. You’ll hear all about the worst events before you’ll

find out what to do about them. So, where do you get the information you need?

       Information about emergency preparedness is actually easy to find. It’s on the

websites of the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency

(FEMA) and your county or city emergency planning offices. You just need to know

where to look.

Why Prepare?

       After Hurricane Katrina everyone became acutely aware about the need to

prepare. There was even a name for it: the “Katrina effect.” People who hadn’t

considered planning for an emergency started building their own emergency kits, making

their own plans.

       But now that the news of the devastating hurricanes are off the front pages,

memory fades and we go back to our daily lives. Emergencies are the last thing we want

to think about.

       In the last two years it’s seemed as if the world suffered one natural disaster after

another. The hurricane season of 2004 came upon us with Hurricanes Charley, Frances,

Jeanne, Ivan, a total of 12 major storms including seven hurricanes between late July and

early October. Then, on December 26, 2004, one of the largest earthquakes in recorded

history (measuring nine on the Richter Scale), struck just off Sumatra, Indonesia, causing

massive tsunamis that reached shores as far away as Africa. Over 200,000 people were

killed and the livelihoods of millions were destroyed in over 10 countries. People are still

recovering from that disaster.

       Then came the hurricane season of 2005. It was the most active hurricane season

in recorded history, shattering records for the number of tropical storms (26) of which 14

became hurricanes, and forcing forecasters to turn to Greek letters to name storms for the

first time. Hurricane Katrina caused over 1,700 deaths, displaced more people in the

United States than any event since the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl days and

caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.

       Hurricane Stan’s immense devastation in Central America left 800 dead, and one

million people were affected by floods, mudslides, and damaged or destroyed bridges.

And in October 2005 the devastating earthquake in Pakistan near Kashmir killed some

38,000 people, injured 60,000 and left 3.3 million homeless. With all those natural

disasters resulting in devastation for individuals and communities, and many more across

the world that we didn’t hear about, you would be forgiven if you thought that no one had

considered emergency planning and response efforts until last year.

A Short History of Emergency Preparedness

       Actually, emergency planning and response has been around for a long time.

FEMA dates the recent history of federal efforts in disaster relief to the Congressional

Act of 1803. This act was in response to a fire that did extensive damage in Portsmouth,

New Hampshire. Recovery efforts were an extraordinary burden to the local community

and state resources, so Portsmouth’s citizens sought -- and gained -- federal relief.

       In the century that followed the Portsmouth fire, ad hoc legislation was passed

more than 100 times in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other natural

disasters. The 1960s and early 1970s brought massive disasters requiring major federal

response and recovery operations: Hurricane Carla struck in 1962, Hurricane Betsy in

1965, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The Alaskan Earthquake

hit in 1964 and the San Fernando Earthquake rocked Southern California in 1971. These

events served to focus attention on the issue of natural disasters and brought about

increased legislation.

       FEMA was created when President Carter’s 1979 executive order merged many

of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into one agency. Today, FEMA is one of

four major branches of the Department of Homeland Security. About 2,500 full-time

employees in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate are supplemented

by more than 5,000 stand-by disaster reservists. (FEMA,

How to Prepare

        So, you may not need to know why to prepare, but do you know how to prepare?

It’s not all that difficult.

Get Informed

        FEMA, your local emergency managers, and volunteer organizations such as the

Red Cross are constantly working to provide information and education so you can

prepare for an emergency. Emergency responders will do everything in their power to get

to the emergency site as quickly as they can. But there will always be some time between

the start of an emergency and the arrival of professional help. The bottom line is that you

are ultimately responsible for your own well-being.

        Emergency preparedness is a matter of finding out what you need to do to take

care of yourself, whether for the few minutes or the few days you’re on your own.

        Preparedness experts tell us to be prepared, we must be informed. I live in

Rockville, Maryland. I don’t stay up at night worrying about earthquakes. When I

checked into it, I found that there was a greater risk of earthquakes than I thought:

according to the U.S. Geological Survey, there have been significant earthquakes in

nearby Virginia as well as in Maryland in the 1800s, and more modest earthquakes more

recently. In fact, earthquakes pose a risk to Americans in 39 states.

        I still don’t stay up at night, but knowing the risk allows me to decide how to

prepare. Most of my friends living in California already know what to do if an earthquake

occurs. If you live in Maine, you’ll probably be prepared for winter storms. If you live in

Florida, you’ll be sure to learn all you can about preparing for hurricanes. And Dorothy is

not the only one in Kansas (and Texas and Oklahoma and, yes, even Maryland) worried

about tornadoes.

       Check out earthquake hazards by state: Tornado FAQs

Make a Plan

       Once you understand which events are most likely to unfold in your neck of the

woods, you can make your own emergency plan. Make sure you plan both for “sheltering

in place” that is, staying where you are, and for evacuating. You need to make simple

plans, like how to get out of your house in case of fire, and where your family needs to

meet nearby. And then you’ll also need to figure out where you’ll go if you need to

evacuate out of the area or to a shelter with your family.

       You should also have handy the phone number of an out of town friend or relative

in case your family is separated: we learned on 9/11 that local phone calls had trouble

connecting because the lines were jammed, but that out of town phone calls and email got

through. And don’t forget to let your contact person know to expect a call in an


       If you have young children, you’ll want to be sure your plan includes the school’s

emergency planning: how will the school let you know there is an emergency? Do you

have a back up person to pick up your child in case you can’t and does your child know

who that person is? Have you spoken to your children about what happens if you can’t

reach them or the school “locks down”?

        When Hurricane Katrina hit, many people had to evacuate quickly, leaving their

pets behind. Most had no idea they would have to leave their pets alone so long, causing

them enormous emotional distress. In fact, some people refused to leave town without

their pets, sometimes putting their own lives at risk. You don’t have to be in that position.

The Humane Society works with the Red Cross to provide tips on how to include your

pets in your emergency preparedness plans. (Humane Society:

        What if you depend on a hearing dog or other service animal? Shelters are

required by law to accommodate service animals. However, during Hurricane Katrina, we

learned that several people were forced to leave their service animals behind. Even

communities that are Americans with Disabilities (ADA) compliant often forget to

prepare their shelters for service animals.

        Prepare now by contacting your local office of emergency preparedness to find

out whether they have considered making plans to accept service animals in emergency

shelters and, if not, advocate for a policy that will include your pet in your city’s or

county’s sheltering plans.

        After you make a plan for your household, don’t forget to practice those plans.

You remember school fire drills. Kids think they’re just a good excuse for a break from

schoolwork. What kids don’t know is that practicing is the best way to prepare for the

real thing.

        Drills are just as important for your own family in your own home as they are in

school. They’ll help you discover what works and what doesn’t work in the emergency

plans you’ve made. Do you have two exits from each room? If you don’t do you know

what you’d do? Do your children know what to do? If you need to meet away from home,

does everyone in the family know where to meet?

       Studies show that people who plan and practice their plans are the best equipped

to handle emergencies when (not if) they happen. In an emergency, we all want to be sure

the people we love are safe. Don’t wait for the real thing to find out how prepared you


       For more about plans, visit FEMA (, Red Cross

(, and your local county or city emergency planning websites.

Emergency Kits

       Studies show that fully two-thirds of the residents of New Orleans left in town

after Hurricane Katrina made landfall did not leave because they were disabled or took

care of someone who was disabled. But many others were able to leave in enough time to

find shelter from the storm.

       If you must leave town in a rush, would you be able to grab all the things you

need quickly? If you had enough warning, you might be able to assemble what you need.

But with some disasters, like earthquakes or tornadoes, there simply is not enough time to

assemble everything you need to take care of yourself for 72 hours or more.

       Emergency kits, sometimes called “Go Kits,” are one way to provide you with the

essentials: food, water, first aid. Most kits are carried in a backpack or other portable

carrying case. Emergency preparedness officials tell us to include a radio in our kits so

we will be able to get the information we need about the emergency as it unfolds. I don’t

need to tell you that if you are hard of hearing or deaf, that could be a problem.

        Check in advance to see if you own or can purchase a radio that is compatible

with neckloop or headset that works for you. If you can’t understand the radio, find an

alternative that does work for you. That might mean checking the Internet or the

television, as long as the power is on, or if you have a back up power supply. It might

mean having on hand a PDA or a pager. As a last resort, it might mean keeping a radio in

your emergency kit so another family member, a friend or a neighbor will be able to

listen in for you.

        You also need a way to ensure that you will have access to phones. After Katrina,

a co-worker of a deaf woman from New Orleans was looking frantically for her friend.

As it turns out, her friend had safely evacuated to a hotel out of town. Unfortunately, that

hotel did not have a TTY (sound familiar?) so she could let her friends know she was

fine. It was weeks after the event before her co-worker found her. If the missing woman

had a portable TTY, she might have been found faster.

        If you can use them, you should also consider bringing your cell phone and a

power supply. Smart phones now make it easy to get text messages when a voice call

can’t go through. But don’t forget the charger or better yet, a converter that will allow

you to charge your phone from the car battery.

        In my kit, I not only have a text enabled cell phone, portable TTY and phone

amplifier, but I also carry an old hearing aid as a back up, hearing aid batteries, a personal

assistive listening device, spare pair of eyeglasses (I can’t hear if I can’t see!), a notepad

and pen. If you have a portable captioned television (with an adaptor so it can be powered

up in the car), that’s a big help.

       I now own an emergency radio that receives an AM/FM signal as well as NOAA

weather radio stations, and the audio portion of broadcast TV stations. In an emergency,

it can be hand cranked to power the radio battery or a cell phone, and it has a flashlight

and siren. You can find those through Yahoo’s Internet shopping and at retail stores such

as Radio Shack, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and Circuit City. There are several different

versions of the hand-cranked radio that can give you what you need; so be sure to

investigate to see which model suits your needs.

       Don’t forget to include important documents in your kit. If you need to leave your

home in a hurry because of fire or evacuation, you won’t have time to search for those

important papers you need. If you are concerned about leaving copies of your important

papers in your go kit, consider keeping them in a strong box near where you keep your


How Do I Do All that?

       Gathering all this equipment might seem like a huge task, more than you want to

think about. In fact, when I was starting my own kit, I felt intimidated: would I be able to

create a good emergency kit? Would I forget the one thing I really, really needed?

       To help me get started, I looked on the Red Cross website. They do provide good

information and they even sell kits. However, I knew I needed to include Hearing

Assistive Technology (HAT), that I already had items like a flashlight, and that I might

not be able to use their radio. I also began to realize that I didn’t need to make my kit

overnight. I could search for those items I felt I needed in my own kit and build it at my

own rate without spending a fortune on things I didn’t need. I have that kit now, and it’s

still a work in progress. My only problem is that it’s beginning to be so heavy I’m

considering getting wheels for it!

       Every kit is a personal kit, built to take care of your own needs. Do you require

special medications? Can you get your doctor to write a prescription for a back up supply

of medication? Do you need your medications refrigerated? Do you have other health or

mobility issues you must accommodate? If you plan in advance, you’ll be more likely to

succeed in getting your needs taken care of in an emergency.

Emergency Alerts and Communication Devices

       So, now you have a plan and a kit. If there is an emergency, you’re prepared. But

how do you find out when there is an emergency and learn more as the event is


NOAA Weather Radios

       One way to get word of an emergency is by owning a NOAA Weather Radio. The

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Radio

(NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations that broadcast continuous weather

information directly from a nearby National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts

National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24

hours a day, and will turn on automatically when there is an emergency. Those broadcasts

can’t be picked up by your typical AM/FM radio: you need a Weather Radio to do that.

       There are several different models of NOAA Weather Radios on the market, built

and supplied by private industry. Some models of the NOAA radios provide a brief text

message regarding the alert and have a port to connect an external strobe light and/or

pillow vibrator. We are excited to learn that the next advance in technology will bring us

a full text version of NOAA weather radio in the near future, perhaps two to three years

from now. When that happens we will be able to read the whole NOAA report as it is

broadcasted audibly, and be much more able to make informed decisions about what to

do in an emergency.

       For a complete description on the NOAA weather radio, read the article

“Emergency Warnings Saves Lives” by Ken Putkovich in the march/April issue of

Hearing Loss magazine.

Text Alerts

       NOAA weather radios are great, but local emergency managers know that they

are not in everyone’s household. Broadcast television is nearly universally available, so

public information officers depend on them to get the word out. After the broadcasters

receive official word about the emergency, the message should be scrolled on the screen.

        For example, you might see: “hurricane warning” or “flash flood warning” along

with the counties that are affected. The broadcaster may decide to interrupt programming

to provide additional information either from government authorities or from their own

reporting. If the broadcaster does that, the audio portion of the programming presenting

critical information must also be provided visually. The broadcaster may do that via real-

time captioning, crawls or scrolls, even using a whiteboard if there is no other way to

display the information.

       The method is not important, what is important is to get the critical information

out visually so that you and I will understand what the emergency is and what we can do

to ensure our safety and the safety of our loved ones. In addition, the video portion of the

programming that presents emergency alerts must be accompanied by a tone to alert

people with low vision.

        Broadcast television isn’t the only source of good information. Local news

stations and newspapers also provide alerts via the Internet. You can simply log onto the

news stations’ websites or sign up for emergency alerts that will be sent directly to your

email address.

        In some communities, the local Office of Emergency Management sends out text

alerts. Those alerts are typically free of charge, and can be sent to your computer, PDA,

pager, or text enabled cell phone. Communities that have that capability send out

messages regarding local road closings, water main breaks, and accidents as well as

weather and terrorist events.

        If your community does not have the local text alerts, there is a service that

provides text alerts nationwide called the Emergency Email Network. It’s also free, but is

supported by advertising. It will send out alerts on severe weather, AMBER alerts and

Homeland Security events, but will not cover such local events as accidents and road

closings. (

“Reverse 9-1-1” Systems

        In addition to text alerts, some communities have chosen another way to get the

word out about emergencies: they send a short, recorded message via phone. Many of

those “reverse 9-1-1” kinds of systems (where the emergency office calls you instead of

your calling them) are compatible with TTYs and even repeat the message so that

someone who is hard of hearing has an opportunity to hear what she or he missed the first


          However, as it stands now, several of the systems are sold with TTY

compatibility as an add-on, an extra expense on top of the basic package. So, unless your

community knows the need for TTY compatibility and accessibility, managers may chose

to provide your community with a less expensive system that doesn’t include TTY


Electronic Billboards or Highway Signs

          When an AMBER Alert is flashed across the country, it often is displayed on

highway electronic boards. Those boards have the capability of providing other needed

messages, and, depending on the policy of your community, might also display other

kinds of emergency alerts.

Other Public Places

          Different versions of electronic boards are also available in airports, bus and train

terminals and in subways and commuter rail stations. Only a few of those systems are set

up to provide real-time emergency messages, although several systems have the capacity

to do so.

          In Atlanta, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is the

first subway station in the nation to carry televisions in the rail cars. Those televisions are

connected to newscasts that are captioned. Boston is considering a similar system that

may be rolled out this year.

          More information about emergency alerting can be found in Community

Emergency Preparedness Information Network’s (CEPIN) Are You Ready newsletter for

November 2005 at

Fire Safety

       It was no accident that a major fire in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was the

impetus for Americans’ first federal legislation in response to an emergency. Towns in

the 1800s didn’t look the way they do today. Early buildings in Portsmouth, like those of

most colonial settlements, were largely of wood frame construction. There were no

building codes to make sure chimneys were built properly.

       Serious fires were common. (City of Portsmouth, In the case of the great Chicago

fire of 1871 (blamed on poor Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but it wasn’t her fault after all!), even

the river didn’t escape: it was so polluted with oil and grease that it caught fire too. The

threat of fire was a persistent hazard confronting Americans.

       Today, fire kills 3,700 and injures more than 20,000 Americans each year.

Firefighters pay a high price for this terrible fire record as well; approximately 100

firefighters die in the line of duty each year. Direct property losses due to fire reach

almost $11 billion a year. According to the U.S. Fire Safety Administration, in fully two-

thirds of these fires, smoke alarms are missing or not working.


       If you are hard of hearing or deaf, you need to take special precautions to ensure

that you get the alert you need in the event of a fire. In an excellent article by Mark Ross,

Ph.D., and Dana Mulvany in the September/October 2003 issue of the Hearing Loss

magazine, the problems and solutions for smoke alarms for people who are hard of

hearing were explored.

       Since that time, Combustion Science & Engineering conducted research that was

supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. That study revealed that

visual strobe lights are in fact the least effective way of waking people up: only 34

percent, of people in the study who were hard of hearing and only 57 percent of people

who were deaf woke up with strobe alarms.

       It probably won’t surprise you to learn that people wake up much more

effectively with tactile alarms: 100 percent of people in the study who were tested with

tactile alarms woke up successfully, regardless of whether they had a hearing loss or not,

or the degree of their hearing loss.

       The study also looked at providing low-frequency alarms. 80% of hard of hearing

people and 100 percent of hearing people woke with low-frequency alarms. As reported

in the November/December 2005 issue of Hearing Loss magazine, the Hearing Loss

Association of America has presented suggestions to the United States Access Board to

research improving the standards for audible and visual fire and carbon monoxide alarms

to make them safer for people with hearing loss.

       Another alternative is a home fire sprinkler system. Those systems can contain

and may even stop a fire in less time than it takes for the fire department to arrive.

According to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, installing both a smoke alarm and a

home fire sprinkler system reduces your risk of dying in a home fire by 82 percent.


       Some communities have begun to require home sprinkler systems in new

construction, and provide tax incentives to homeowners retrofitting their homes with

sprinkler systems.

Helping Yourself, Helping Others

       While you may have considered the fact that being prepared can help you and

your family, you might not have considered that being prepared also helps your

community. Think of it: if more people had been able to evacuate prior to Hurricane

Katrina, the emergency responders would have been freed up to help more of the people

left behind.

       If you want to do more to help your community, there are ways to do that.

Considering your experience in hearing loss, there could be a real need for your expertise.

Citizen Corps

       After 9/1l, there was an outpouring of concerned citizens who wanted to

volunteer, to help wherever they were needed. We saw that again in the aftermath of

Hurricane Katrina. The Citizen Corps was created to provide a mechanism to put

volunteers to work, and to help train volunteers prior to a disaster. (Citizen Corps,

       Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), the Fire Corps, Medical

Reserve Corps, Neighborhood Watch Programs, and Volunteers in Police Service

(VIPS), are all part of the Citizen Corps program. Getting involved with one of these

teams gives you the training you need to provide help to others in an emergency. The

CERT program requires volunteers to complete a course of 20 hours or more that

includes training in CPR, first aid, search and rescue techniques, and disaster


       In Maryland, I requested and received accommodations so I could take the course

with other residents of the county. When I finished my CERT training, my classmates

and I were given a groovy green backpack with a CERT hard hat, tools and green

reflective CERT vest. When an emergency happens in the county my graduating

classmates and I will be able to provide backup support if it’s needed.

         During Katrina, not only did the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)

come to the aid of evacuees with their Hear2Care project, we found that interpreters,

audiologists and simply people who had experience in hearing loss volunteered to help

evacuees lost in the system. Audiologist Max McCarthy in Texas helped evacuees by

providing dry aid kits, repair of hearing aids, even replacement of hearing aids.

         Announcements in huge shelters often came over the public address system,

simply because shelter managers had no idea that there were people who could not hear

or understand the announcements. Interpreters scrambled to ensure that deaf evacuees

didn’t miss out on debit cards, FEMA registration, even inoculations. We heard stories of

HLAA Chapter members who simply provided hearing aid batteries to people who

needed those.

         Ann, who volunteered after Katrina in the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana,


         “My experience has raised my awareness of the great need for the hard of hearing

and disabled communities to get very active in working closely now with local, State and

National Red Cross and United Way agencies in raising awareness on how they can best

serve the needs of the hearing impaired communities before disaster strikes again. We

must get involved!” (NVRC,

        People involved with HLAA Chapters have unique experience and expertise that

can be extremely valuable during an emergency. The best way to get involved is to get

CERT or Red Cross training well in advance of an emergency, so that you’ll be on the list

of people called up when the emergency hits. Otherwise, you could be frustrated in your

attempts to volunteer, even when your help is sorely needed.


        When I was growing up, emergency preparedness was about civil defense drills,

bomb shelters and survival training. I don’t know anyone with a bomb shelter these days,

but we still recognize the advantages of learning to take care of yourself and your family.

It’s not all that difficult; it doesn’t need to be all that expensive. But it does take some

time and thought to plan the best way to prepare for an emergency. You can do it. And in

the process you can help your family, your friends and your community too.

Lise Hamlin is the Regional Emergency Preparedness Specialist for the Community
Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN) working out of the Northern
Virginia Resource Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC).
       CEPIN, under a grant from the US Department of Homeland Security to TDI, is
currently developing an emergency preparedness training program for and by for people
with hearing loss and emergency responders. NVRC empowers deaf and hard of hearing
individuals and their families through education, advocacy and community involvement.
Ms. Hamlin lives in Rockville, Maryland, and is an HLAA member and former Board of
Trustees member.

Lise Hamlin
Regional Emergency Preparedness Specialist
3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130
Fairfax, VA 22030
FAX: 703/352-9058


Basic Emergency Kit: A Plan for Three Days
Check food and water every few months for expiration dates; check to see that the
extra clothing is appropriate for the season

Water: plan one gallon per day per person
Food: food that lasts a while such as nuts, dried fruit, canned tuna, peanut butter, and a
can opener if needed.
First Aid Kit
Flashlight and extra batteries
Radio and extra batteries
Sanitation: moist towelettes, toilet paper, heavy duty garbage bags
Whistle (to signal for help)
Extra clothing
Extra shoes
Cash and coins. Don’t forget the cash as ATMs may not be working!
Specific needs: medications, infant formula and diapers, pets/service animal food, water
medical supplies, veterinary records, picture

Items for People Who are Hard of Hearing of Deaf

PDA, pager, text-enabled cell phone, batteries and charger for the car
Portable TTY and/or external phone amplifier and batteries
Personal assistive listening device, neckloop or headset and batteries
Extra hearing aids or cochlear implant processor and batteries
Portable captioned TV and batteries and/or car adaptor

If you need to leave in an emergency, you don’t want to have to search for important
papers. However, identity theft is a concern. We suggest keeping a strong box near your
Go Kit with copies of the following items:

Insurance policies (health, car, home)
Deeds and property records
Immunization records
Birth and marriage certificates
Driver’s license
Social security card
Bank and credit card accounts
Stocks and bonds

Copies of your audiogram, as well as the make and model of your hearing aid and/or
cochlear implant


Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN)

Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC) or

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

National Weather Service

National Weather Service NOAA Weather Radio

Tornado FAQs

Humane Society

American Red Cross

Emergency E-mail Network

Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network’s (CEPIN) Are You Ready
newsletter for November 2005

U.S. Fire Administration (USFA)


Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition

Citizen Corps


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