We live in precarious times; a time when disaster preparations are an important responsibility which cannot be overlooked. Emergency situations have become almost commonplace. It used to be that workplace violence, school shootings, terrorist attacks and natural disasters were rare occurrences. But those times are in the past. Businesses now provide seminars on workplace violence; training employees to recognize the signs of imminent danger. School children today must be prepared for terrorist attacks; both domestic and foreign. Airplane pilots are trained for combat. And citizens across the country and the oceans must be alert for Mother Nature’s next angry assault.
An emergency situation can arise in an instant, without warning. It could arrive in the form of a natural disaster, a human caused event, or as the result of an accident. When disaster strikes, you could have only moments to prepare. Some events occur without warning and only permit seconds for preparation. It is at these times when a person or a family will need to rely on whatever supplies are on hand to get through the event. Depending on the severity and the extent of the emergency, access to services and supplies may be severely limited. Advanced preparations may determine who and the conditions under which a family survives.
There are two factors essential for surviving an emergency, a plan and supplies. Advanced planning serves an important function. Having a plan eliminates some of the confusion and panic that arise during an emergency. The stress of an emergency situation is not conducive to practical thinking. Planning takes into consideration these issues and limits the potential for poor judgment and detrimental actions. Those affected by the incident know what is expected of them and what function they serve. Once the various responsibilities are assigned, each person can practice their specific role to prepare in the event an emergency does arise.
Developing a Plan
There are certain factors which should be taken into consideration when developing your plan. You have to remember that the course of action taken will depend on the present danger. Certain precautions which are necessary in the event of one emergency may be dangerous in the face of another. The plan should be simple; easy to remember, easy to follow through. The elements which need to be addressed in order of priority are safety, supplies, and then communication. Address each type of potential situation which is likely to occur; fire, storms, earthquake, domestic or foreign terrorist attack.
Certain natural disasters are more prevalent in specific areas. You should develop a plan which addresses these emergencies first. Southeastern coastal regions in the United States are subjected to hurricanes. The states located in the central United States between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains are often referred to as Tornado Alley. These areas are prone to the highest number of tornados of dangerous strength. Earthquakes, flooding and volcanic eruptions are all natural disasters which generally occur in specific regions of the country. If you are uncertain of which of these disasters are intrinsic to your area, the information can be found on your local website or by contacting the local government in the area.
Lightning Storms: Lightning is extremely dangerous. It is responsible for at least one thousand injuries and 100 deaths in the US each year. Lightning is ranked the #2 weather killer. The odds of being struck by lightning are a mere 300,000 to 1, the odds greater than the chances of winning the lottery. Lightning storms are generally short in duration. All individuals should seek shelter from the storm and remain inside until it has passed. For safety purposes, avoid using electronic equipment connected to outside wires and/or poles.
A lightening storm is an example of a limited, threat of short duration. This type of incident would not require significant planning. But it can strike quickly and you should know in advance what needs to be done to ensure your safety. It is of even more importance to institute a general plan for more serious emergencies to avoid injury or even death. Some may arrive with minimal notice and others with no notice at all. Fortunately, some arrive after substantial forewarning, several hours to several days.
Fire: The main goal in a fire should be the safe escape of the household. Do not stop to gather mementos or valuables. Your family will mourn the loss of your health or life more than the material items lost to a fire. As smoke is the element of most imminent danger during a fire, everyone should be instructed to stay low to the ground to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes. Each room should have an assigned exit. And a meeting place should be designated outside of the home where everyone can be easily accounted.
Hurricanes and tornadoes: Both hurricanes and tornadoes are powerful storms which have the potential to cause substantial damage and loss of life. Generally local authorities will determine whether an evacuation is possible and/or necessary in the face of a hurricane. Evacuations are scheduled well in advance of the storms arrival. If you are offered the option of sheltering in place, you will need to prepare your home for the onslaught and collect supplies for the duration of the storm. Be prepared for the likelihood of power loss.
Tornadoes generally come with very little warning, though warning systems have improved the efficiency and accuracy of this process. These deadly cyclonic storms guarantee the devastation and destruction of anything in its path. It is critical to find safe shelter immediately. If you are in a vehicle, you should exit it immediately and find a low lying area in which to lay with your head down and covered by your arms for protection until the tornado passes. If you are in a building with a basement, go immediately to the innermost area of the basement and avoid areas near windows. In a building without a basement, you should find the innermost area of the building away from any windows or outside walls if possible.
General Disaster Plan
A basic disaster plan should be developed for every family. The Department of Homeland Security recommends completing a card detailing the plan for each family member to carry with them at all times. The card should include the specific details of the plan, emergency contact name and an out of state contact name, a neighborhood meeting place and number, and any other important detail worthy of notation. You can download a template of these cards developed by the agency to complete and print.
A separate plan should be developed for each place where family members spend significant time; school, work, or daycares are examples. Since you may not be permitted to dictate what actions are taken at one or all of these places, ask what the policies in place are. Make sure you are familiar with the plan and the methods of communications which will be in place. Many schools will lock the doors and windows during an emergency in an effort to protect the children inside.
Prepare your home to withstand the effects of a disaster. Your home should be able to safely withstand the stress and strain caused by the elements. Consult with a professional if you are not confident your home would safely endure the burden. Your home should be bolted to its foundation. Light fixtures should be braced to prevent them from falling. Appliances should be secured to the wall and floors. Gas appliances, pipes or lines pose a significant fire hazard. Falling debris or appliances, especially those of substantial weight, can cause an explosion or release toxic and flammable gas fumes into the air. Wiring, pipes, and connections should be kept in good condition. Replace your gas lines on gas appliances with flexible pipes if they are not already fitted with them. Doing so will limit their chance of breaking.
Once you are confident you have secured your home structurally, there are important measures which must be carried out within to maintain the safety of the home and those inside. Disaster and emergency preparedness experts recommend you keep glass and breakable items, large or heavy items, and household chemicals in latched, lower cabinets. Bleach and ammonia should never, under any circumstances, be stored in the same cabinet. If the two chemicals mix it will create a deadly, toxic gas. Tools should be kept in accessible places near valves which may need to be shut off such as the water and gas. Certain emergencies could contaminate the area water supply. Shutting off the water valve will keep the contaminated water from reaching the clean water already in your home. You will need to conserve the supply. Shutting of the gas can limit the potential for an explosion or gas leak.
Though the supplies needed may vary based on the specific circumstance, there are certain items which are standard survival requirements that may be gathered in advance. Having supplies on hand will eliminate a portion of the stress suffered during an emergency situation. Since there is no way to know in advance where you will be when an emergency occurs, you should have supplies stored in the places you spend the majority of your time. For most people, supplies should be stored at home, work, and in the car. The supplies collected should be enough to last for three days time. Keep in mind you could be isolated during an emergency and have no way to replenish your supplies or to communicate with anyone outside of your immediate surroundings. Also, you could be without power or utilities. Supplies should be gathered with this understanding.
Recommended supplies for home:
- First aid kit containing: first aid manual, aspirin and ibuprofen, supply of prescription medications taken regularly, bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, cortisone ointment, vinyl gloves, hand sanitizing gel and wipes, single use thermometers (no glass or mercury), tweezers, penlight, sterile suture and scissors, adhesive strips, forceps, ear loop masks.
Note: The more items assembled in the first aid kit, the better. There really isn’t any way to know what you will need in an emergency. Having these standard items will allow an injured person to receive first aid.
- Container of non-chlorinated bleach. This may be needed for a variety of reasons which includes sanitizing water. To sanitize water, add a couple of drops of the bleach per quart of water.
- One gallon of water per person for each day. A minimum three day supply should be stored; but it is recommended to store up to a seven day supply. Each person requires at least a half gallon of water each day. Experts do not recommend rationing water as it is essential to sustaining life. If you choose to store water in plastic bottles, the bottles will need to be sanitized to prevent bacteria from breeding. Also, the bottles of water should be rotated every six months. Write the expiration date on a piece of tape to stick to each bottle. Commercial water bottles will not need to be sanitized before storage.
- Sanitizing water bottles: Avoid using plastic milk containers and the like. The 2 liter containers used for bottling soda is ideal. Pour a teaspoon of non-chlorinated bleach mixed with a quart of water into the bottle and swish it around so that the bleach reaches all the surfaces. The cap should also be treated. Do not touch the inside of the cap, of the rim, or of the bottle once the bottle is treated to prevent recontamination.
- Three day or more supply of non-perishable food per person. Select only ready to eat foods. You may not have any means to heat or cook the food. Additionally, you do not want to have to use your limited water supply for food preparation.
- Canned goods are best. Protect the cans from moisture and rust by storing them in zip lock bags. Choose canned foods low in sodium with moisture content. Sodium will dehydrate you, increasing the need for water.
- MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) can also be purchased for your survival supplies. These foods are complete meals in a tiny package. You can find them in certain sporting good supply stores or on the internet. Some sites offer a number of package deals. Meal packages are available offering three to seven day supplies with three meals for each day. You can choose packages for a single person or for two. Families may need to purchase additional packages to ensure enough food is available for all family members.
- Freeze dried and dehydrated foods are another option. The drawback with these is that they require water for preparation. If you store these types of foods, make sure to store additional supplies of water to compensate for what will be needed for the food.
- Pet foods should also be included with your food supply for your animals.
- Manual can opener. You will not be able to open canned foods without it.
- An outdoor grill or camp stove for cooking, if possible. Store at least 40 pounds of charcoal and two or three cans of starter fluid for a charcoal grill or two 20 pound propane containers for a propane grill or stove.
- Water proof matches and several lighters
- Aluminum foil, sharp knife, plastic utensils, cooking pot
- Flashlights, spare bulb and replacement batteries. LED flashlights are preferable.
- Battery powered radio and replacement batteries. Survival radios are best. These are often built with solar cells which can recharge the unit or with a crank handle for the same purpose. This could be the only form of communication you will have access to and receive information from.
- Hand/feet warming packets
- A blanket or sleeping bag for each person in the household
- Tent. In the event that your home is inhabitable, a tent can be used for shelter with the additional benefit of being mobile.
- Bug spray
- Tools may be necessary for a multitude of reasons. Store a multi functional pocket knife, duct tape, nylon rope, plastic tarp, adjustable wrench, and crow bar. If possible, a portable generator will provide power for essential appliances in your home like the refrigerator.
- Sanitation items should also be included. Feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, garbage bags, premoistened towelettes, liquid soap, toothbrush and paste, gallon of disinfectant
- For comfort, playing cards, books, a toy of special value for each child.
Recommended supplies for the car:
- First aid kit with all of the same supplies advised for home. In addition to those items the kit for the car should include flares
- EZ Towel packet contains 50 soft bio-degradable towels which are condensed into tablets the size of a tea light candle. A couple of drops of water will make it grow. These are cheap, only cost about $9 for the bag of 50.
- Travel hygiene kit
- Tools: can opener, screw driver, sharp knife, wrench, bottle opener, compass, wire stripper, camping utensil knife
- Hand and foot warmers
- Blankets- emergency blankets and sleeping bags can be purchased for less than two dollars from an outdoor supply store.
- Rain ponchos
- A three day supply of MRE food and water
- Eating utensils
- All purpose liquid cleaner
- Leather gloves
- Fuel gel. A box of these packets only costs around one dollar and contains three packets. These packets contain a gel which can be squeezed onto the ground and lit with a match. The flame will only last a maximum of 15 minutes, but it allows enough time to boil water if necessary.
- Water filtering kit or disinfecting tablets for treating water
- Map of the area
- Booster cables
- Bug spray
Certain supplies should be updated and rotated every six months. MRE have a shelf life of 5 years but can be used longer if kept at moderate to cool temperatures. These meals do not necessarily expire; they just won’t taste as fresh. Perishable items such as food (unless it is MRE) and water should be rotated. Keep in mind specific needs of family members which may need to be addressed in the face of an emergency. Medical issues such as diabetes will require additional supplies. Check on important items like matches, also. Keep all supplies in a water proof container.
Preparing your family for a disaster is important. Though you hope never to be in a position to implement your disaster plan, it is vital that you have one and all family members are familiar with it. Organizations like the Red Cross offer courses teaching basic first aid skills and CPR techniques. Knowing these skills could mean the difference between life and death. Show everyone in the household how and where to turn off the gas, the electricity, and the water in the house. It is important that everyone is instructed how to safely perform these procedures. And keep your supplies in an easily accessible and safe place in both your home and car. Keep copies of important information in with your supplies; insurance papers, copies of birth certificates and social security cards for all family members.
The better prepared you are in the event an emergency situation occurs the less stressful it will be for you and your family. Preparation will allow you to have some semblance of control over the conditions in which you must endure. Once an emergency arises, it could be too late to gather supplies for your family’s comforts and needs. Though it is unpleasant to consider the possibilities and their implications, it will be even worse to deal with them without any preparation. Be responsible. Be prepared.