Disaster preparedness means knowing what type of disasters you might face and what to do in each situation. Living in Idaho? You probably don’t need to worry about hurricanes. California? Better be ready for an earthquake, but don’t overlook the chance of severe weather, fires or even an Ebola outbreak. Unfortunately, disaster can strike anywhere in the country. The American Red Cross has a list of possible disasters that may affect you at http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies
The following tips can help you prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
1. Learn your area’s evacuation routes and shelter locations.
While a hurricane is bearing down on your home or after a flash flood warning has been issued, is not the time to figure out where you will go. Evacuations are common and it will serve you well to know the details ahead of time. You should know all the escape routes from your home, including the more obscure ones, such as getting out of that ground-level window in your bathroom. If you have children, draw them a home fire escape plan and post it near their bedroom door. Plan a meeting spot for your family to regroup if you must evacuate your home. Pick one meeting location right outside your home and one outside the neighborhood in case you must leave the area. Decide ahead of time where you would go in case of an evacuation, whether it’s a friend or relative’s house or a Red Cross shelter.
2. Have an Emergency Go Kit and know how to use it.
You should have an Emergency Go Kit with some basic necessities. Necessities include food, water, basic first aid supplies, and other emergency equipment that you already have (such as flashlights, rope, lighter, knife and duct tape). The key is to have this kit assembled and ready to use in an easy-to-grab bag, not scattered all over your house. Make sure everything is in working order and items aren’t expired. Some kits are available for purchase pre-packed, but remember, if you don’t know how the items work, they could be useless. Don’t forget prescription medication and important documents, such as Social Security card, driver’s license, credit card, birth certificate, etc. Keep items near your kit so they are easy to grab. Ready.gov and RedCross.org have additional tips at the links below.
3. Keep an updated USB flash drive loaded with a copy of your important digital documents and family photos in your “Emergency Go Kit”.
Chances are if you need to evacuate your home, you may not have the time or space to grab your computer. It is advised to keep any important digital copies of documents you may need, along with any family photos and files you do not want to risk losing, on a USB flash drive in your go kit. Another option is to keep them on a secure online cloud storage system, (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc…) that you can access from another computer at a different location if needed.
4. Know how you’ll reconnect with people who matter to you.
If cell networks aren’t working, you don’t just need to worry about how your Netflix stream will be affected. Consider how you will contact your family or friends to let them know you’re safe. Figuring this out ahead of time can make everything much easier in a difficult situation. According to the America Red Cross, use an out-of-area emergency contact to have family members check in with, since it may be easier to make long distance calls. Everyone should also have a list of emergency contacts and local emergency numbers.
5. Remember those who may need special preparation.
Children, infants, seniors and those with disabilities may need special consideration while planning for an emergency. In an evacuation, remember to take any needed medication or special equipment. Talk with your neighbors about how you can help one another and check on each other in case of a disaster.
6. Learn what to do if you’re caught away from home.
Obviously, you may not always be at home when disaster strikes. In the case of an unexpected emergency, you should be prepared to react from different locations, including your workplace or car. As mentioned before, know your evacuation routes, communication plan and how you’ll receive emergency notifications. Have a plan for reconnecting with your children, who may be at school, daycare or after-school activities. Talk to your children’s schools about how they will communicate with families in case of an emergency, if they have a shelter-in-place plan, and where they will go if they have to evacuate.
7. Prepare for your pet’s needs.
If you need to evacuate, you should never leave your pet behind. Try to evacuate to a friend or family member’s house, as pets may not be allowed inside public shelters. Keep a pet emergency kit on hand with food and other important items. The ASPCA recommends microchipping pets so they can be identified and returned to you even without tags (or you may want to invest in a GPS tracker so you can find them yourself). The ASPCA has an app that helps you keep track of animal records required to board pets at an emergency shelter and has other helpful tips for a variety of situations.
8. Sign up for emergency alerts and know how officials will communicate with you during a disaster.
You can get emergency alerts on your cell phone if you haven’t disabled them already. The blaring noise overtaking the silent mode on your phone can be annoying, but this is probably the best way to be informed about emergencies. The emergency alert system also broadcasts over radio and television. NOAA weather radio can alert you if severe weather is expected – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tune into social media as well, but don’t rely on it exclusively, as you may lose internet connection.
9. Learn emergency skills that can always come in handy.
Knowing little things can make a huge difference, such as how to use a fire extinguisher or perform basic first aid. Get trained in CPR or the even simpler hands-only CPR, which could help save someone’s life when you least expect it. Learn how to shut off utilities in your house in case of a disaster that may damage gas, water or electrical lines.
10. Find out how to help your community during a disaster
Want to help out even more? Learn how you can be a community leader during a disaster or teach others how to be prepared. Various volunteer positions with local emergency response agencies or nonprofits are always needed.
Disaster can strike at any time, but by planning ahead we give our families the best chance of getting to safety.