On Day 6 of our Challenge, we’re focusing on creating an Emergency Plan. Well, think of it as Emergency PlanS, with an “s”. You might have to leave. You might have to stay in place. You need to think through both, right?
Emergency plans need to consider a number of factors. But the three most important parts are “How long will I have to act?“, “Will I stay or will I go?” and “How long must our plan last us?” As a result, this one is going to be one of the longer posts of the challenge.
You will have differences in warning time, based on the type of disaster you might face (you thought through some of this in Phase 1: Assess Your Risk), but we, of course, can’t see the future and make guarantees about what will come our way. Think through some of the “How long will I have to act?” part, by type of event:
- If your house is on fire, you get out immediately, going only for people or pets in the home.
- If a tornado siren is blaring, you get to your shelter or your sheltering plan as soon as you possibly can. The average warning time in the US is 13 minutes, but that isn’t a guarantee.
- An earthquake has little or no warning, allowing for a few seconds for reaction time.
- A tsunami may have some warning signs (like a recent earthquake), but also may be sudden.
- Some disasters have more warning signs that they are coming, and you may have hours or even days to prepare, but you don’t know yet how you may be impacted: hurricane, blizzard, ice storm, flooding, wildfire, etc.
Warning periods are about how quickly you may have to take action, but the action itself, and your duration of displacement or need for self-sufficiency can vary, too. Some general guidelines for self-sufficiency are of course not promises for how long you’ll need to be on your own, but good for planning and charting out your needs. There are several scenarios for you to think through, all of which drive different planning. Here are a few combinations of stay, go, and how long you should plan for some self-sufficiency:
- Immediate evacuation, like a house fire, impacting only your home, duration, tbd.
- Stay at home, shelter-in-place, no services, 3-10 days
- Stay at work, shelter-in-place, no services, 3 days
- Leave your home, with temporary outdoor refuge (camping), 3-5 days
- Stranded in a car, or live out of your car, 3 days
- Evacuate to a community shelter, impacting your neighborhood, 3 days
- Evacuate entire zone, with travel at a distance (by car, by public transportation, by foot?), duration, tbd.
As you begin to think of all of these, with pen and paper or fingertips and keyboard, start to imagine what your options are, and what you’d face for each. We’re going to focus on specific supplies and emergency kits in Phase 3, but in this challenge we’re focusing on where you’ll be, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll need to do as that moment arrives.
Let’s start with the key question of a plan: Am I staying, or am I going?
If you have to leave:
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 it out. 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?
Know your escape routes from your home. This is understanding the exits you have throughout your house, in the event of a fire, for instance. How would you get out of each room in your home if you had to quickly?
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.
Do you have a car? Will you need one? Is public transportation your only option?
- If it is during the work day, and you and a household member are separated, how does this impact your planning?
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?
Your own plan should be tailored to your situation, but here are some points to keep in mind as you design yours:
Make sure your gas tank is full. This is best to do when you first get news of a disaster coming, like a blizzard or a hurricane; waiting to the last minute may leave you without easy access to gasoline available.
Charge your phones, and bring car and wall chargers with you.
Reach out to your Emergency Contacts on your Communication Plan (Day 7 Challenge). 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.
Gather your Emergency Kit / Evacuation Bag (We’ll talk about this in Phase 3).
Access your cash, credit cards, checkbooks to bring with you. (We’ll talk about cash storage next week, too).
- If you have a portable fireproof safe and you have time to take it, take it. If you have a safe deposit box at a bank somewhere, have the key easy to bring with you. (We’ll discuss information / document management later in the Challenge.)
You may want to bring your laptop computer and charger.
Lock up the windows and doors, unplug the appliances (you might consider leaving the refrigerator and freezer running, and set to the coolest temperature you can). Turn off utilities such as air conditioning or heat. You may be taking more drastic measures, depending on the warning time and the type of hazard, such as turning off the utilities or boarding up windows.
If flooding is a possibility, review the items on the floors to make sure you’ve removed valuable that must come with you or moved ones you won’t take to higher ground (think photo albums – you probably won’t take them with you, but you’re hopeful to return to them unharmed).
If there are items on your lawn that could move around in winds and rain, bring them inside and secure them. With a hurricane, you might have time to move patio furniture inside (or put them inside your in ground pool, if you have one). With a tornado, you probably don’t have the time to do that, and should let that go.
What do you bring with you?
Your emergency kit (we will get to this in Phase 3)
Maps of your escape route, paper versions. Don’t rely on having access to the internet or your phone.
Your complete Communication plan / contact information for your family
Important paperwork, such as insurance policies, personal documents and identification, health insurance cards, medical history lists, prescription list, etc. (We’ll review information and documents in a later step).
Critical medication for all members in the house.
Food and water that you can access in the car (in addition to the supplies you’ll need and pack in your emergency kit)
If you can stay at home or have to shelter-in-place:
Where will you be?
Your Shelter-in-Place plan may be specific to the type of disaster you’re facing.
If you’re in a zone which is known for tornadoes, you may already have a shelter or basement on your property. Make certain this shelter NEVER has any restricted access, or has things piled on the stairs or in the hallway. Otherwise, you’re going to make your way to the center-most room in the home, on the lowest floor possible, maybe a closet or a bathroom, as far away from windows as possible, crouching down low to the floor.
- If you’re in a zone which is subject to earthquakes (remember: 42 states in the US have some risk for earthquakes. Recommended earthquake protection is the “Drop, Cover, Hold On” method, Drop to your hands and knees, cover your head and neck, and crawl under a sturdy desk or table if one is nearby, covering your head while you do. If no shelter furniture is nearby, go to an interior wall, near low-lying furniture. Hold onto your shelter furniture until the shaking stops. Why is the recommended approach? Biggest risks to you are are from moving around or falling items. Did you know that it is NOT recommended to go into a doorway during an earthquake?? This was from when homes were older, or even made of adobe. and the doorway may have been the strongest part of your home. Most buildings today are much stronger than the doorway.
What do you do to prepare?
Your own plan should be tailored to your situation, but here are some points to keep in mind as you design yours:
- If you have time to prepare (hurricane, blizzard, expected rains that could lead to flooding), you’ll take on efforts to secure your home, but not at the peril of securing the lives in your home. As soon as you can, be sure that people and pets are indoor and safe.
- Minimize the utility usage, shut off air conditioning, keep the refrigerator and freezer closed as much as you can (you may consider setting up a cooler with ice for some food storage that you establish before the storm so that you don’t have to access the freezer or fridge if you lose power.)
- Access your water supply. If you are preparing for a hurricane, fill up your bathtub so that you will have access to water for washing if your water supply is impacted.
- If you have time to prepare, charge your phones. Have your phone with you so that you can contact others or be contacted.
- If your Communication plan needs to be activated, do this. Reach out to your contacts to let them know where you are and that you are safe.
As I said at the top of this post, this one is a long one and one of the most complex ones we’ll take on in this challenge. It’s also a great challenge to collaborate on with others, either people who face similar risks, or people who can help you think outside of your normal view of what’s around you. Reach out to someone else to work on this one together.
- Chart out the disasters for which you are most at risk, and determine your answers to “How long will I have to act?” “Will I stay or will I go?” and “How long must our plan last us?”
- Begin to fill out for yourself the key aspects to your plan for each scenario: Where will we be, what must we do to prepare, what will we need with us? Have it written down to review with someone else who can help you think through what you may be missing.
Join in the conversation over at the Clever Girl Organizing Challenge Facebook Group to learn from and to teach others as we all take on the Let’s Get Prepared! Challenge!
Reminder: Our goal here is to take steps towards improvement. The content in these posts is designed to inspire thinking, not fear.