Emergency responders are trained to help others. We put the needs of others before the needs of our own. Quite often, we find ourselves rushing off to help others while leaving our own families potentially unprepared should an emergency develop in our absence. What can we do to assure that our families are well prepared while we are away from home?
Everyone in the emergency services knows the importance of plans and procedures. Our responses are based on general operating guidelines and protocols. Yet how many of us have family emergency plans in place to handle our own crisis or disaster situations? Now is the time to develop and practice your family emergency plan - before you need it! So let's get started by outlining the planning process.
Working together is the best way to develop a comprehensive plan and to achieve participation from every member of the family. Get everyone involved! Begin by establishing a list of all the hazards that could affect you (fire, severe weather, power outages, etc.) and what actions you should take for each one. For example, every family member should know what to do if there is a fire - how to get out of the structure, where to meet once safely outside, and how to call for help.
Create a plan for each potential hazard. Make sure every member of the household is familiar with the plan. Post emergency numbers near the phone and make sure that younger family members know how and when to call 911. Show family members where and how to turn off utilities like water, electricity and gas. Explain the procedures for safely controlling the utilities and when such actions should be taken. Teach them how it is done in case you are not at home to do it yourself!
Would you feel comfortable with your parent, sibling, spouse or older child operating a portable fire extinguisher (especially if you are not present to supervise)? If not, take the time now to teach them the safe and proper way to do so! Show the family how to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and develop a schedule for monthly home inspections. Make family emergency preparedness a family activity and get everyone involved!
Develop a communication component to your family emergency plan. Choose a location outside your neighborhood where everyone can meet in the event that you can't return home. This could be at the home of a friend or relative. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number. Then establish a contact point of out state. After a disaster it is often much easier to make out going long distance phone calls than it is to receive incoming calls. That way, family members (as well as other remote family and friends checking on your family's well being) can call one point of contact for information.
How will you and your family know if severe weather threatens or an evacuation has been ordered? Develop redundant warning and notification systems. An excellent means for all hazards notification is the use of a NOAA Weather/All Hazards Alert Radio. And with all the technological advances today, pagers and cell phone can be used for emergency notification. Local radio and television are also good sources for information and warnings. Remember not to rely on just one system for emergency notification and information.
Assemble an emergency supply kit. You should gather enough supplies to last at least three (3) days. Include items like water (1 gallon per person per day); non-perishable foods and special dietary provisions as necessary; flashlights with plenty of extra batteries; a first aid kit and medicines; a battery powered radio or TV; some small hand tools and personal hygiene supplies; extra clothing and bedding; and any special items (like baby food, prescriptions, etc.) that may be necessary. Keep your emergency supply kit sealed and ready to go. Check the supplies periodically and change food and water every six months.
And last but certainly not least