Recent world events have made many of us reconsider what is important to us as well as reassessing our priorities. But preparing emergency and disaster plans can be overlooked as we get caught up with the day-to-day responsibilities of working and caring for our families. A good way to get started is to talk with family members about emergency or disaster situations so that when you are faced with a crisis everyone knows what they should do to get to safety. For example, if disaster suddenly strikes, do you know how you will get in contact with your family?
The first rule of thumb in preparing for an emergency is maintaining communication. Set up planning meetings with family members to discuss possible emergency situations and what role each person will assume to ensure that the family stays safe. Try to discuss as many different scenarios as possible and think about the following questions when devising your emergency plan with your family:
- If your phone service is disconnected, how will you get in contact with each other? Does everyone have a beeper? Will cell phones still work?
- If you are a parent, who will assume responsibility if you cannot get to your children? How will your surrogate know when to stand in for you? What information does your child's day care or school need to have in order to allow someone else to take responsibility for your child?
- Where are important papers such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, wills, insurance policies, stocks/bonds, contracts, deeds, social security cards, immunization and medical records, bank account numbers and credit cards kept?
What to Do to Prepare for an Emergency
It might be useful to first contact your local American Red Cross to find out what potential emergency situations may affect your community. The Red Cross can also provide you with additional information on preparing for emergency situations and disaster relief.
Learn the ways in which you would be alerted of an emergency situation outside of your home. Things to investigate include what the warning signals may sound like, what radio and/or TV stations you should listen to and where local shelters are located.
Create a Family Emergency Plan
Develop an Emergency Contact Card
Develop an emergency contact card that each family member carries at all times. It is also important to keep copies of your contact card at work, home and your child's school. This card should include information such as emergency meeting place, emergency point of contact (family or friend) outside of your immediate neighborhood to include name, address, phone number and email address, emergency point of contact of family or friend out-of-state to include name, address, phone number and email address. Make sure you inform the people on your list that they are your family's emergency point of contact. Ensure that family members, especially children, understand that they should contact your family's point of contact to let them know their whereabouts if you are separated from one another.
Establish a Meeting Place
When establishing your meeting place, ensure that each family member knows how to get to the designated meeting place. It is important to have a meeting place close to home within your neighborhood, such as in dealing with your home being on fire, as well as having a meeting place outside of your local community should you need to evacuate your immediate community area altogether.
If phone lines are down or the local circuits are jammed, it may be easier to contact your family's point of contact(s) in other states. Email may also serve to be the fastest way to communicate and can sometimes get through to others when phone lines cannot.
Determine Who Will be Responsible for Your Children in Your Absence
If your children attend daycare or school, you need to become familiar with the school's respective emergency plans. Talk with teachers and administrators about what they will do with the children in an emergency situation and how they will ensure their safety. Become involved in your child's school PTA or other parent organization and discuss emergency preparedness. It is essential that you update your children's school records to reflect the most accurate ways of getting in touch with you and to reflect what other caregivers besides you has permission to pick up your children in your absence. Outline a plan of communication with the caregivers that you designate for your children so that they know when they will be needed if you will be unable to contact your child's daycare or school directly.
Assemble Your Family's Disaster Supplies Kit
You will need to assemble supplies to care for your family during an emergency or disaster situation before a crisis occurs. Once there is an emergency situation, obtaining supplies and contacting local governments may be close to impossible depending on the type of emergency. Make sure you maintain your kit to ensure you have what you need at least every six months. It is essential that you ensure an adequate supply of water, food, shelter, first aid supplies, clothing, bedding, tools and other emergency items for each family member. As a general rule, you should try to plan on a supply for at least three days. The items in your family disaster supply kit should be stored in an easy to carry container such as backpacks, trashcans and/or duffle bags and all family members should have knowledge of where the kit is stored. It is also important to have a kit in your car should you become stranded on the road. Refer to www.redcross.org and www.fema.gov for checklists and more information on what to include in your disaster supplies kit.
Take Additional Measures to Accommodate Family Members with Special Needs
There may be additional items that infants and the elderly require to maintain their safety during an emergency situation. In determining the needs of infants, factor in additional supplies such as formula, and extra water, if mother is breastfeeding, as well as diapers, wipes, bottles, baby food and any medications. For the elderly, ensure that any prescription medications are included in a first aid kit and that any medical devices the person relies on are available. It may become necessary to address what special needs may be required to transport these groups to safety such as car seats, wheelchairs, etc. Remember to factor in plans for pets as well. Many shelters and hotels do not allow pets so you'll need to determine where they can go in an emergency.
As stated in the beginning of this article, it is essential that families communicate with each other about what to do in an emergency and develop a safety plan. It is imperative that the safety plan developed is practiced and maintained throughout the year to ensure that it will continue to meet the needs of your family in an emergency situation. Identifying community and other resources ahead of time will provide us with the best possible chance of maintaining our safety. Get to know your neighbors; become involved in your neighborhood community association, so that in an emergency situation, resources can be pooled together. Having resources and support in place will ensure that we feel prepared and hopefully keep us calm and collected in the face of danger, whatever that may be.