Where will you or your family be when a disaster strikes? You could be anywhere – at work, at school or in the car. How will you find each other? Will you know if your children are safe?
Emergencies and disasters can strike quickly and without warning and can force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services - water, gas, electricity or telephones - were cut off?
Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away.
You can cope with disaster by preparing in advance and by working with your family as a team. Follow the steps below to be prepared:
Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility. Read on to learn how to prepare for a disaster below.
1. GET INFORMED
Contact your local emergency management office or local American Red Cross Chapter to gather the information you will need to create a plan.
Community Hazards – Ask about the specific natural and man-made hazards that threaten your community (e.g. hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, refineries, power plants, etc.) and about your risk from those hazards.
Community Disaster Plans – Learn about community response plans, evacuation plans, and designated emergency shelters. Ask about the emergency plans and procedures that exist in places you and your family spend time such as places of employment, schools, and child care centers. If you do not own a vehicle or drive, find out in advance what your community’s plans are for evacuating those without private transportation.
Community Warning Systems – Find out how local authorities will warn you of a pending disaster and how they will provide information to your during and after a disaster. Learn about NOAA Weather Radio and its alerting capabilities (www.noaa.gov). What are the local emergency stations (radio & television) and check to see if your emergency radio picks up that frequency.
2. MAKE A PLAN
Meet with your family members – Review the information you’ve gathered and explain the dangers to children and work with them as a team to prepare your family. Include caregivers in your meeting and planning efforts.
Choose an “out-of-town” contact – Ask an out-of-town friend or relative to be your contact. Following a disaster, family members should contact this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know the contact’s phone numbers. You may also want to give your contact person other important information such as a list of your medications, insurance policy numbers, copies of other important documents.
Decide where to meet – In the event of an emergency, you may become separated from family members. Choose a place right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire. Choose a location outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home.
Complete a family communication plan – Your plan should include contact information for family members, work and school. Your plan should also include information for your out-of-town contact, meeting locations and emergency services. Teach your children how to call emergency phone numbers and when it is appropriate to do so. Be sure each family member has a copy of your communication plan and post it near your telephone for use in an emergency.
Escape routes & safe places – In a fire or other emergency, you may need to evacuate on a moment’s notice. Be ready to get out fast. Be sure everyone knows the best escape routes out of your house as well as where the safe places are in your home for each type of disaster (i.e. if a tornado approaches, go to the basement or the lowest floor of your home or an interior room or closet with no windows).
Draw a floor plan of your home and show the locations of doors, windows, stairways, large furniture, your disaster supplies kit, fire extinguisher, smoke alarms, collapsible ladders, first-aid kits, and utility shut-off points. Indicate at least two escape routes from each room. If someone uses a wheelchair, make all exits from your home wheelchair accessible. Practice emergency evacuation drills at least two times a year.
Plan for those with disabilities & other special needs – Keep support items in a designated place, so they can be found quickly. For those who have home-health caregivers, particularly those who are bed-bound, it is essential to have an alternate plan if the caregiver cannot make it to you. Provide the power company with a list of all power-dependent life support equipment required by family members. Have a plan that includes an alternate power source for the equipment or relocating the person.
Plan for your pets – Take your pets with you if you evacuate but be aware that pets (other than service animals) are usually not permitted in emergency public shelters for health reasons. Prepare a list of family, friends, boarding facilities, veterinarians, and “pet-friendly” hotels that could shelter your pets in an emergency.
Action Items – Things to do Before a Disaster
Utilities – Know how and when to turn off water, gas and electricity at the main switches or valves and share this information with your family and caregivers. Keep gas shut-off and water shut-off tools you will need near the shut-off valves. Turn off utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged, you suspect a leak or if local officials instruct you to do so. (Note – Do not actually turn the gas off unless necessary as only a qualified professional can turn it back on.)
Fire Extinguisher – Be sure everyone knows how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and where they are kept.
Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms – Install them on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Individuals with sensory disabilities should get ones with strobe lights and vibrating pads.
Insurance Coverage – Check if you have adequate insurance coverage. Homeowners insurance does not cover flood or earthquake damage and may not provide full coverage for other hazards.
First Aid/CPR & AED (Automated External Defibrillation) – Take American Red Cross first aid and CPR/AED classes. Red Cross courses can accommodate people with disabilities.
Inventory Home Possessions – Make a record of your possessions to help you claim reimbursement in case of loss or damage. Store this information in a safe deposit box or other secure (flood/fire safe) location to ensure the records survive a disaster. Inventory Software and/or Inventory Specialists are available to assist you in this task.
Vital Records & Documents – Vital family records and other important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, wills, deeds, and financial, insurance and immunization records should be kept in a safe deposit box or other safe location.
Reduce Home Hazards– In a disaster, ordinary items in the home can cause injury and damage. Take these steps to reduce your risk.
- Have a professional repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections.
- Place large, heavy objects on lower shelves and hang pictures and mirrors away from beds.
- Use furniture straps or special picture hooks to secure tall cabinets, bookshelves, large appliances (water heater, furnace & refrigerator), mirrors, shelves, large picture frames, and light fixtures to wall studs. Quake waxes and gels can be used to secure fragile objects to shelves or tables.
- Repair cracks in ceilings and foundations.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products away from heat sources.
- Place oily rags or waste in covered metal cans and dispose of them according to local regulations.
- Have a professional clean & repair chimneys, flue pipes, connectors, and gas vents.
Other Considerations – Tie a pair of shoes with a flashlight in it to the bedpost of each occupant so that it can easily be found in the dark or if furniture is shifted.
3. ASSEMBLE A DISASTER SUPPLIES KIT
In the event you need to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you, you probably will not have time to shop or search for the supplies you and your family will need. Every household should assemble a disaster supplies kit and keep it up to date. A great option is our prepackaged 72-hour family emergency kit.
This kit is a collection of basic items a family would probably need to stay safe and more comfortable during and after a disaster. It should be stored in a portable container(s) as close as possible to the exit door. Review the contents at least annually or as your family needs change. Also, consider having emergency supplies in each vehicle and at your place of employment.
- 3 day supply of nonperishable food & manual can opener.
- 3 day supply of water (one gallon of water per person, per day).
- Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries.
- Flashlight and extra batteries.
- First aid kit and manual.
- Sanitation and hygiene items (hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, and toilet paper).
- Waterproof matches.
- Extra clothing and blankets.
- Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils.
- Photocopies of identification and credit cards.
- Cash and coins (smaller denominations).
- Special needs items such as prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solution, and hearing aid batteries.
- Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles and pacifiers.
- Tools, pet supplies, a map of the local area, and other items to meet you unique family needs.
If you live in a cold climate, you must think about warmth. It is possible that you will not have heat during or after a disaster. Think about your clothing and bedding needs. Be sure to include one set of the following for each person:
- Jacket or coat.
- Long pants and long sleeve shirt.
- Sturdy shoes.
- Hat, mittens, and scarf.
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket.
Supplies for your vehicle include:
- Flashlight, extra batteries, and maps.
- First aid kit and manual.
- White distress flag.
- Tire repair kit, booster/jumper cables, pump, and flares.
- Water and non-perishable foods.
- Seasonal supplies: Winter – blanket, hat mittens, shovel, sand, tire chains, windshield scraper, florescent distress flag; Summer – sunscreen lotion (SPF 15 or greater), shade items (umbrella, wide-brimmed hat, etc).
4. MAINTAIN YOUR PLAN AND KIT
Quiz – Review your plan every six months and quiz your family about what to do.
Drill – Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills on a regular basis with your family.
Restock – Check food supplies for expiration dates and discard.
Test – Read the indicator on your fire extinguisher(s) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to recharge. Test your smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at lease once a year. Replace alarms every 10 years.