» What you can do to prepare
The first step is to find out what can happen. Once you determine the events possible and their potential in your community, it is important that you discuss them with your family or household. Develop a disaster plan together.
Create an emergency communications plan.
Choose an out-of-town contact your family or household will call or e-mail to check on each other should a disaster occur. Your selected contact should live far enough away that they would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event, and they should know that they are the chosen contact. Make sure every household member has that contact’s, and each other’s, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers (home, work, pager and cell). Leave these contact numbers at your children’s schools, if you have children, and at your workplace. Your family should know that if telephones are not working, they need to be patient and try again later or try e-mail. Many people flood the telephone lines when emergencies happen but e-mail can sometimes get through when calls don’t.
Establish a meeting place
Having a predetermined meeting place away from your home will save time and minimize confusion should your home be affected or the area evacuated. You may even want to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Be sure to include any pets in these plans, since pets are not permitted in shelters and some hotels will not accept them.
Assemble a disaster supplies kit
If you need to evacuate your home or are asked to “shelter in place,” having some essential supplies on hand will make you and your family more comfortable. Prepare a disaster supplies kit in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffel bag or small plastic trash can. Include “special needs” items for any member of your household (infant formula or items for people with disabilities or older people), first aid supplies (including prescription medications), a chance of clothing for each household member, a sleeping bag or bedroll for each, a battery powered radio or television and extra batteries, food, bottled water and tools. It is also a good idea to include some cash and copies of important family documents (birth certificates, passports and licenses) in your kit.
Copies of essential documents, like powers of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, life insurance beneficiary designations and a copy of your will, should also be kept in a safe location outside your home. A safe deposit box or the home of a friend or family member who lives out of town is a good choice.
Check your child’s school emergency plan
Remain calm and be patient
Follow the advice of local emergency officials
Listen to your radio or television for news and instructions
If the disaster occurs near you, check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
If the disaster occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fire hazards and other household hazards. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get everyone outside quickly.
Shut off any other damaged utilities.
Confine or secure your pets.
Call your family contact- do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
You need to know if they will keep children at school until a parent or designated adult can pick them up or send them home on their own. Be sure that the school has updated information about how to reach parents and responsible caregivers to arrange for pickup. And, ask what type of authorization the school may require to release a child to someone you designate, if you are not able to pick up your child. During times of emergency the school may be overwhelmed with calls.
If Disaster Strikes
For more information on putting together a disaster plan, request a copy of the brochure titled Your Family Disaster Plan (A4466) from your local American Red Cross chapter. You may also want to request a copy of Before Disaster Strikes…. How to Make Sure You’re Financially Prepared (A5075) for specific information on what you can do now to protect your assets.