By their very nature, disasters are both unexpected and catastrophic. Hurricanes level coastal regions, tornadoes turn rural communities upside down, and earthquakes decimate urban infrastructure—often with very little warning. In addition to these acts of nature, instances of domestic and international terrorism threaten our security like never before. We don’t mention these calamities to frighten you; we mention them to urge you into action.
September is National Preparedness Month—a reasonable reminder for all of us to take a few simple, necessary steps toward developing a plan of action in the event of an emergency. In doing so, we must also equip ourselves and our families with the proper provisions, making preparedness a two-fold operation.
Making a Plan
While our brave police, fire, and rescue servicepersons do their utmost to keep us safe, disaster preparedness begins at home. It’s important that we all develop a sound plan and that everyone in the home knows exactly what to do in case of an emergency. According to the Department of Homeland Security, every family plan should include the following:
- How everyone will get to a safe place
- How everyone will contact one another
- How everyone will physically get back to one another
- What everyone will do in different situations
- How family pets will be cared for
- How to safely shut down utilities
Establishing and maintaining consistent and effective lines of communication is paramount in any disaster preparedness plan. Every family member should have a physical copy of contact information for immediate and extended family, neighbors, friends, schools, and hospitals, as well as police and fire departments. If possible, this contact information should include email addresses in addition to any mobile and landline phone numbers.
Everyone should know precisely where to go and how to get there when disaster strikes. Pick a meeting spot, draw a clear map, and choose the safest routes to get there. Close friends, family members, neighbors, etc. should all know where emergency supplies are kept and who to contact if the power goes out. Also, if anyone in your emergency network is disabled or has certain assistance needs, make sure that your plan includes strategies for helping them reach a safe location.
Once you have a plan in place, it’s wise to stage a few actual drills so that everyone knows exactly what to do if the unexpected happens. Emergencies invoke chaos and panic, so it’s important that your loved ones know how to proceed on memory alone. Your children will likely groan and roll their eyes, but a few muttered complaints are well worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have your specific plan memorized and are able to execute it.
Just as important as having a carefully considered and routinely practiced disaster plan is creating supply kits and placing them in areas that are easy to access. Every family should have at least two of these placed in sections of the home that would likely be accessible should there be significant physical damage to the structure. They should also be kept in areas that receive adequate natural light in case the power goes out. It’s probably wise to keep one kit on the main level of your home and one in the basement, garage, or shed near a window.
One great suggestion offered by Ready.gov is to take an inventory before stocking your emergency kit. Take into account those items you will need to accommodate your health, safety, and autonomy over the course of roughly one week. Don’t rush this process; consider your physical needs—such as food, water, and clothing—as well as navigation tools, like shovels and flashlights. Throughout your normal daily routine, take note of the essentials that you take for granted, and build your inventory as each item comes to mind.
At the very least, your kit should include the following:
- One gallon of water per person per day. You’ll need at least this amount for drinking, hygiene, and sanitation purposes.
- Non-perishable (canned or boxed) food for the entire family and a can opener to open them. These foods should be high in protein to help maintain muscle and endurance.
- Multi-vitamins containing Vitamins A, B Complex, C, D, E, and K.
- At least enough flashlights for each member of the family and enough batteries to last one week.
- Two first-aid kits
- A loud whistle or bullhorn and a set of functional flares
- A set of basic tools, including a hammer, screwdriver, and pliers
- Back-up cell phone chargers
- Local, state, and national maps
- Matches and a fire extinguisher
If your family network includes individuals with medical conditions or disabilities, make sure that your kit is equipped with any medicines or medical devices they might need. If you have small children, include diapers and formula. For pets, stock food, extra water, and any medications they require. Lastly, create copies of important documents, such as birth certificates, passports, medical records, and prescriptions, and store them in water-proof baggies. You’ll also want to keep traveler’s checks and bank information on hand.
Hope for the Best; Prepare for the Worst
Most of us feel relatively safe in our daily lives, but our personal and national security can be challenged when we least expect it. We urge you to take emergency preparation seriously and to use the month of September—National Preparedness Month—to educate your family and friends regarding disaster awareness and to put a plan in place should the unthinkable happen.
Being prepared isn’t about having a sense of paranoia or morbid speculation; it’s about hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. Formulate a plan, build emergency kits, and enjoy your life secure in the knowledge that you and your loved ones are well-prepared for an event that we all hope will never arise.
Basic disaster supplies kit. (2014, June 10). Ready.gov. Retrieved from http://www.ready.gov/kit
Individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. (2015, August 10). Ready.gov. Retrieved from http://www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs
NOAA. (2014, May 6). National Preparedness Month: What you can do. Weather-Ready Nation. Retrieved from http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/prep.html#.VclJNbe074l