We all want to believe that nothing catastrophic will happen to our family and that we’ll always be able to observe any type of disaster from a safe distance - hopefully from the television or a computer - but this obviously won’t be true for everyone and it just makes good sense to be prepared. Not being so will add significantly to the trauma of an already terrible experience.
I don’t know about you but if I’m in a hurry, I forget things. I held a luncheon at my home recently and remembered after everyone was eating that I never finished decorating the food table and all those neat little things I bought to showcase the theme were still in their containers. Not a really big deal that day, but some events require more crucial planning.
Have you given any thought to where you would go if you had to leave your home and this area in a disaster situation? Do you have an Emergency Supply Kit and a family evacuation plan? Do you stay informed of local conditions during Hurricane and Tornado Season?
If you responded NO for any of these, you definitely need to change some priorities and begin working on this now because this season has started with a bang! And we still have two months left in the hurricane season.
The very first thing you need to do is create a family disaster plan and it really doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, simple plans are best because they are easier to remember. Get the family together and explain the possible dangers that could occur and then talk about how to prepare and to respond if one of these should happen.
Make simple checklists of steps you can take and start with less evasive situations such as the best location in your home if you need to find quick shelter. Then select two possible meeting places just in case everyone is not together when a disaster occurs and you must leave your home. One place could be right outside the house for emergencies such as a house fire and the other should be outside the area in case you have to evacuate. Make sure everyone knows the address, city and phone number of this place. Choose a friend or family member in another area to act as the contact person - this might also be at your evacuation meeting place. It is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call in a disaster area. If they need to, family members can call the contact and let them know where they are and that person can connect everyone - especially if local calls are restricted.
Plan escape routes out of each room in your home and learn about shelter locations and escape routes that could take the family to your desired meeting place in another area. While you might want to plan several escape routes in case certain roads are blocked or closed, it’s also important to follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They can direct you to the safest route and let you know when roads are blocked or if one route might put you in further danger. Make sure everyone - even your child - has the phone number for the meeting place, post it by the home phone and add to cell phones. You don’t want to waste time looking for it when you’re in a panic to leave.
This is an excellent time to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage on your home and its contents. If you rent, you might want to buy renter’s insurance as your landlord’s insurance will not protect your personal property - it only protects their building. Renters’ insurance is usually relatively inexpensive (around $15 a month) and covers a renter’s property if it is damaged or stolen. Remember, homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood losses.
Install or check smoke alarms in all levels of your home, especially near bedrooms. Use the test button to test your smoke alarms once a month and replace batteries at least once a year, if they are battery-powered. Replace the complete smoke alarm unit every 10 years as smoke alarms become less sensitive over time.
Buy A-B-C fire extinguishers and make sure all adults know how to use them without having to stop and read the instructions. Ensure that fire extinguishers are properly charged as they will not work properly if they aren’t. Use the gauge or test the button to check proper pressure and follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacement or recharging.
Consider family, neighbors or friends who don’t have transportation and who might need your help. Plan what you will do with pets if you can’t take them with you. Put the phone number of your prearranged pet shelter you’re your disaster supplies. Remember, most disaster shelters will not take pets.
Make sure you have a collar, leash, and proof of vaccinations for all pets. Veterinarian records are required by some locations before they will allow you to board your pets. If your pet is lost, identification and a photograph will help officials return it to you. Make a list if there are special items you need to include for these additions and, when possible, add these items to your emergency supply kit ahead of time.
You might also wish to make a visual or written record of all of your household possessions. Include model and serial numbers. This list will help prove the value of possessions if they are damaged or destroyed. Store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box, and you might want to carry one with your personal records.
Walk around the outside of your home checking for large dead branches in trees or plants that might serve as a missile in high winds. Cut them back and remove them from your property as well as any other unnecessary equipment or items you’ve been planning to discard.
Use the list below as a guide to create an Emergency Supply Kit. Put items in easy-to-carry containers and label them clearly. Covered trash containers, camping backpacks, a duffel bag or a cargo container that will fit on the roof of your vehicle could be used to hold these supplies. When possible, keep a smaller version of this kit in your car for other emergencies and times when you can’t make it back home.
- Water for drinking and sanitation - one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. It is recommended that you purchase commercially bottled water but if you prepare your own do not use old plastic or cardboard milk or juice containers as sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Untreated water can be used by following the directions for chlorine bleach listed below.
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food - avoid foods that make you thirsty and that require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation. Salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content are recommended. Other options may be ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, canned juice, milk, and soup (if powdered, store extra water); high-energy foods, such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, and trail mix; comfort foods, such as hard candy, sweetened cereals, candy bars, and cookies; instant coffee, tea bags and foods for infants, elderly persons, or persons on special diets, if necessary.
Include a manual can opener for canned items and cooking fuel or sterno if you must heat something. Another item that might come in handy is a utility knife and you will want to carry extra plastic storage containers or plastic seal bags for leftovers.
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with a Tone Alert feature. Include extra batteries for both.
- Flashlight and extra batteries.
- First aid kit, manual or emergency reference material such as is found on www.ready.gov. The kit should include: sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes; assorted sizes of safety pins; cleansing agent/soap; latex gloves; sunscreen; 2-inch sterile gauze pads; 4-inch sterile gauze pads; triangular bandages; nonprescription drugs such as aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, laxative and vitamins; 2-inch sterile roller bandages; 3-inch sterile roller bandages; scissors; tweezers; needle; pre-moistened towels; antiseptic; thermometer; tongue depressor blades; and tubes of petroleum jelly and antibiotic cream.
- Whistle or horn to signal for help.
- Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape provide a shelter place should the need arise.
- Garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
- Place wrenches or pliers (to turn off house utilities) and a list of things to check off before leaving your home on top of your emergency supply kit.
- Local maps and phone numbers of your place of destination and people you’ve promised to call.
- Prescription medications, monitoring equipment and glasses. It also wouldn’t hurt to take a first aid and CPR course.
- Infant formula and diapers.
- Pet food and extra water for your pet.
- Important family documents (such as copies of insurance policies, identification, will, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds, passports, social security cards, immunization records, bank account numbers, credit card account numbers and companies, inventory of valuable household goods, important telephone and contact numbers, family records (birth, marriage, death certificates) and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container.