Emergency Preparedness: Avoiding Disaster
Among the saddest sights of any disaster is the suffering of those most vulnerable – the elderly, disabled, children and pets. Though hurricanes typically offer some warning, many disasters such as a fire or an earthquake can strike quickly and with little or no warning. A well thought out plan that is rehearsed on a regular basis can save lives and prevent neighborhood and community chaos.
Have you ever thought about what you might do if you lost water, power, gas and telephone? Knowing what to do is your best protection AND your responsibility. The first step in developing an Emergency Preparedness Plan is to assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit that you may need in the event of an evacuation. The kit should contain enough supplies to meet your family’s needs for at least three days.
• A three day supply of water (one gallon of water per person per day) and food that won’t spoil.
• One change of clothing and footwear per person, and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
• A first aid kit that contains your family’s prescription drugs and other necessary medications.
• Emergency tools including a battery-operated radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
• An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler’s checks.
• Sanitation supplies.
• Special items for infant, disabled or elderly family members.
• An extra pair of glasses.
Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as back packs, duffle bags or covered trash containers. In addition, keep important family documents in a waterproof container and keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car.
The next step in developing an Emergency Preparedness Plan is to create a Disaster Plan. Meet with all of the members of your family to discuss why you need to prepare for a disaster. Everyone needs to be aware of the various types of disasters that can strike your area and how to react in the case of each potential event. Pay special care to explain the dangers of fire, severe weather and earthquakes to children. Chances are good that some of this information has been shared with them at school, but they should know exactly what do to should disaster strike while they are home. The most effective Disaster Plan shares responsibilities and calls for each of the family members to work as a team.
• Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen and what to do in the case of each.
• Select two places to meet. The first should be at a designated spot (a tree or other prominent landmark) right outside your home in the case of fire or another sudden emergency. The second should be at a designated location outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home. Keep in mind that everyone must know the address and telephone number. It’s a good idea to make up cards that contain this information that can be kept in a wallet or handbag.
• Ask and out-of-state friend to be your “family contact.” After a disaster it is frequently easier to call long distance. In the event of a disaster, every family member should call this person to tell them where they are. Every family member must know your contact’s phone number.
• Discuss what to do in the event of an evacuation, including how to take care of your pets.
In the case of an earthquake, most damage and destruction is caused by fire that results from broken gas lines and downed power lines. Much of this damage can be prevented by shutting off utilities as soon as humanly possible after disaster strikes.
• Locate the main electric service box, the water main shut off valve and the gas main shut off valve.
• Learn how and when to turn these utilities off and teach all responsible family members how to perform this task.
• Keep a shut off wrench (or other necessary tools) near gas and water shut off valves.
• Turn off the utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on to be sure that conditions are safe.
There are several steps that you can take that will help you and your family to protect your home and be prepared in the event of an emergency.
• Post emergency telephone numbers by all telephones (fire, police, ambulance, etc.)
• Teach children how and when to call 911 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help.
• Check to make sure that you have adequate insurance coverage.
• Familiarize family members with fire extinguisher locations and teach them how to use a fire extinguisher using the PASS method. Pull the pin; Aim at the base of the flames; Squeeze the trigger; and Sweep back and forth along the flames.
• Install smoke detectors on every level of your home, in all bedrooms and at all common halls outside of sleeping areas. Consider installing new state-of-the-art interconnected wireless smoke detectors. When one goes off, all go off; this will wake a parent to save a deep-sleeping child.
• Conduct a home hazard hunt. During a disaster, ordinary objects in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall, break or cause a fire (such as a water heater or bookshelf that can fall) is a home hazard.
• Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
• Determine the best escape routes from your home. There should be at least two ways out of each room.
• Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster.
September is National Preparedness Month. It’s a great time to get a kit, make a plan, be informed and get involved. For more information on what to do before, during and after a disaster, visit www.redcross.org and www.ready.gov.
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