Emergency Preparedness: Having a Plan

When a disaster is on the way or strikes with short notice, so much of our success to get through it safely is based on the plan we put in place before it happens.   We all have different natural or man-made disasters we can face. Some of that is a function of geography, like this map shows. Some can be a function of things like our proximity to power plants, chemical manufacturing, or places that just have some inherent risk.

from rethinkstormshelters.com

from rethinkstormshelters.com

We can’t always put a plan in place knowing that something may be coming our way, but with many disasters, such as hurricanes, winter storms, flooding, spreading wildfires, etc. we may have some time to react and put our plans in motion.  And those plans often revolve around one big question:

Should I stay or should I go?

evac sign

The question of whether or not to leave your home and evacuate if something is headed your way is an enormous one.  Sometimes, it isn’t a question; it’s a mandate.  When the warnings come to say that you must evacuate, there is no room for debate.   In fact, if you wait that long, you may find yourself with fewer options on where to go and how to get there. Either way, having a plan is crucial.  In order to build yours, start by thinking through these questions:

  • Where will you go?

  • How will you get there?

  • What do you need to do before you leave?

  • What do you bring with you?

Where will you go?

  • If the decision to evacuate is made while you’re not home and together with your family, make sure there is a plan for you to meet up. Where, when, and how will you connect?  This is something that should be thought about long before you need it.

  • Depending on the nature of the disaster, you’ll need to think about just how far away you need to go in order to be safe and wait through it.  It may be an emergency shelter in your own town, or you may be further away in the same state, or it may be much further away than that.

  • Think through what options may exist: friends and family in other places or hotels will be the obvious choices.  Call ahead to make sure that you can be accommodated.

  • If you have pets, you need to be aware of whether or not your destination is going to be able to host your pet, as well. If not, think through what kind of other arrangements are available for your pet.

How will you get there?

  • Do you have a car?  Will you need one? Is public transportation your only option?

  • Learn the escape routes from your neighborhood. Assume the ones that are awful in normal rush hour traffic will be even worse, so plan for plenty of time, patience, and, ideally, alternatives. The route you have in mind may not be the best one to get you to your destination.

  • If you have children and they are in school, what will be the plan when it comes to those children?  Are you picking them up? Is someone else?  Make sure you know the school’s procedure for picking up children when concerning situations are pending.

What do you do before you leave?

  • Smart phones can receive Wireless Emergency Alerts  to be sent to you. (For iPhones, find it at the bottom under Notifications). Turn it on.  Also consider downloading apps that help with emergency communication.

  • Make sure your gas tank is full.  This is best to do when you first get wind of a disaster coming; waiting to the last minute may leave you without supplies available.

  • Charge your phones, and bring car and wall chargers with you

  • Reach out to your Emergency Contact.  You should have someone located in a city not close to your area of danger who knows where you’re at, where you’re heading, and how you’re getting there. That person can stay in touch with others who will want to know the same information, rather than you having to spend time updating multiple people.

  • Access your cash, credit cards and checkbooks to bring with you.

  • Make sure your computer is backed up to somewhere secure

  • Lock up the windows and doors, turn off the utilities, unplug the appliances (you might consider leaving on the refrigerator and freezer, and set to the coolest temperature you can)

  • If flooding is a possibility, review the items on the floors to make sure you’ve removed valuable items higher.

  • If there are items on your lawn that could move around in winds and rain, bring them inside and secure them

  • Take pictures of the rooms in your home before you leave, for insurance purposes.

What do you bring with you?

  • Your emergency kit

  • Maps of your escape route, paper versions.  Don’t rely on having access to the internet or your phone.

  • Contact information for family

  • Insurance policies and contact information

  • Health insurance cards, medical history lists, prescription list, and medication

  • ID, passport, copies of important identification documents if you don’t have the original versions on hand. Make sure you have proof of residency with you (in case you need it upon returning back to your neighborhood and home)

  • Food, drink and water that you can access in the car (as opposed to the supplies you’ll need and pack in your emergency kit)

There are many resources to help you learn more about what kinds of peril you might face, and how you can be best prepared.  Some sites to check out:

FLASH: The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.  This site allows you to look up by state or by danger to learn more about how to be prepared.

FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency. The informative site helps not only to prepare for the hypothetical, but to get information during an actual emergency.

Make A Plan:  Another FEMA site, geared specifically towards building your plan. 

72Hours.org: Created by the government of San Francisco, this is a dynamic site that is geared towards educating people about earthquakes, but it is relevant to many disasters.



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