Do You Have A Family Emergency Plan?
We have seen and heard about a lot of natural and man-made disasters recently. Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Florence, and the California wildfires, just to name a few. Some of them were on the news, while others may have hit a little closer to home. For us, that was Hurricane Sandy. If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to come up with a family emergency plan. If you already have one in place, take a few minutes to review it and make sure everything is still up to date and ready to use.
Step 1 – Be Aware of The Emergencies You May Be Facing
Start by figuring out and making a list of the natural emergencies and disasters you may be facing in your area. Preparing for a tornado is very different from preparing for a hurricane, an earth quake or a major snow storm. Be aware of the types of emergencies you may encounter and then read up on how to best prepare for each them. This information will become the basis for your family emergency plan. We’ll talk about this a little more in just a bit.
We had a fire at our home last year. It was in the middle of the night and so I was able to wake the kids and we got out together. However, if it were during the day and we’d been in different parts of the house, we would have known what to do.
Step 2 – Find A Safe Spot in The House
If you are going to wait out a disaster or emergency in your home, it’s a good time to find a designated safe spot. When the unexpected hits, you don’t want to get overwhelmed and make a bad decision under stress. Think about the safest place now and make sure everyone in your household is aware of what and where that safe spot is. You can even stash a little emergency kit with a flashlight, emergency radio, and food and water in the spot just in case. How and where that place is will vary from home to home and emergency to emergency. Refer to your list and research from step one to make an educated decision.
Step 3 – Declare A Safe Meeting Spot Should You Be Required To Leave
Some natural disasters and man-made emergencies will require you to evacuate. It’s a good idea to come up with safe meeting spots well ahead of time. Meeting up with a relative who lives further inland for example is a good plan when a hurricane is approaching.
Decide on a meeting spot and make sure each family member, including your children, knows where to meet up. You never know when disaster strikes and who may be where. If your kids are staying over a friend’s house or are at school, you want to make sure they know where to meet up with you if there is no way of getting them before you leave.
Step 4 – Keep Emergency Contact Info on You at All Times
Speaking of getting separated in an emergency, you never know what may happen, so it’s a good idea to keep contact info on you at all times. This should include any and all cell phone numbers of immediate family, along with landline numbers for friends or relatives who live further away and who may be able to act as intermediaries.
If you have small children who may not have cell phones, make sure they have your cell phone number memorized. If you were to get separated, you would want them to be able to call you as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to exchange email addresses. Make sure you use web-based emails that can be accessed from anywhere. During the hours after 9/11 it was almost impossible to make a phone call.
I was in Chicago at the time and worked downtown. They were trying to have us evacuated and I wanted to let y parents know. I wasn’t able to get through to my parents until the next day.
Same thing happened during the blackout in New York City. Since we didn’t have power for a few days, I had to find a pay phone to check-in each day (which was surprisingly hard in 2003).
Email became a way to communicate with phone lines overloaded. Text messaging may be another option when calls don’t go through.
Step 5 – Food, Water, And Medical Provisions
Last but not least it’s good to have some emergency rations on hand. Keep enough clean water, food and any medication you may need around to last for a few days. By then emergency personal should hopefully have gotten to you. Again, the types of supplies and how long you should provision for will vary from family to family and emergency to emergency. Do what you can to be prepared.
Be Prepared for Natural Disasters in Your Area
Natural disasters appear in all parts of the world, and no matter where you live, chances are that you will encounter several of them throughout your lifetime. Depending on where you live, they may happen, or at least threaten your home much more frequently. It’s easy to see why it is important to be prepared for them.
The first thing you need to know is what type of emergencies and disasters you can expect in your area. We can all be affected by fire and winter storms that shut down roads and power are likely across the country as well.
Back in 2014, we were part of the snowpocalypse ice storm in Birmingham, AL. We got notice about 20 minutes before the snow started to pick up the kids. We left immediately to pick them up. Something that should have been a 30-minute round-trip took almost 4 hours. Unfortunately, there were others who were not able to make it home that day and spent the night in their cars.
From there it depends on where you live. Your town may be prone to flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoon, or earthquakes. Do your homework, watch the news, talk to your neighbors and figure out what natural disasters you should prepare for. A great source for information is your local government, particularly emergency services. Many will not only be able to make you aware of any dangers, but also have brochures, plans, and other resources that will help you prepare for any eventuality.
Once you know what natural disasters you can expect where you live, it’s time to learn how to best respond to them. Will you likely wait things out in your home, or will you be required to evacuate? Are there emergency shelters or evacuation routes you should be aware of?
Once you have the basics down, figure out a plan for securing your home, yard and vehicles depending on the disaster. What can you do to make sure your property has the best possible chance to come out of the disaster undamaged? If you’re in an area prone to flooding, having sand bags on hand can be invaluable. Again, what you need will greatly depend on where you live and what natural disaster you can expect.
Having a good emergency kit that includes food, water, medication, first aid kit, flash light, radio and a few tools is a good idea. Every household should have a kit that’s kept in good order and is easy to reach in an emergency.
Make sure you are aware of the potential threats as early as possible so you can prepare. Set up alerts on your phone, sign up for local emergency preparedness emails, and keep an eye on the news and social media if you think there is a potential for a disaster. The earlier you know the better you can react and prepare. Listen to local authorities and don’t hesitate to evacuate should the need arise. Things can be replaced, people can’t.
Creating A Basic Emergency Kit
Do you have a basic emergency kit? Governments around the world are encouraging their citizens to be prepared in light of more frequent disasters, both natural and man-made. Your basic kit should include everything you need to ensure your survival for several days or until help arrives.
One of the first things that will get you into trouble in any type of disaster or emergency is dehydration. Make sure you have safe drinking water for several days stored. A good alternative or addition is a small water filtration system you can use on unsafe water sources to extend drinking water.
Food and Accessories
Next, it’s good to have at least some emergency food rations. This is particularly important if you have small children, pregnant or nursing women, elderly, or anyone with diabetes or low blood sugar in your family. They can make it even fewer days or hours with food than you can. Keep some easy, ready to eat food on hand like granola bars, nuts, and canned foods. Make sure you have any tools or accessories you need to open the food containers and utensils to eat with.
Focus on food items that won’t perish quickly and that can be eaten cold in a pinch. Chances are power will be out and you’ll have no way to cook or heat the food you’ll be eating.
Radio, Flash Light, and Cellphone
Next, let’s talk about small electronics, or electric, hand-cranked devices. You want to be able to get the information you need and see where you’re going. A good flashlight with long battery life is a must, as is a small weather radio. This can be battery operated or hand-cranked. If you’re using battery operated devices having a spare set of batteries in your kit is always a good idea.
Last but not least, when disaster strikes, grab your phone and charger, if possible. You want to be able to get in touch with loved once as soon as possible.
First Aid Kit
A small first aid kit that includes bandages, alcohol wipes, Band-Aids, scissors and some basic pain meds is another must have. Make sure it also includes any medication you take regularly. If you have family members with severe allergies, antihistamines, or even an epi-pen may be an important and potentially life-saving addition.
There are various tools that may come in handy in an emergency. A good knife is a must and can come in handy in a variety of different ways. A wrench or pair of pliers is handy if you need to turn of utilities in an emergency. Last but not least, consider adding a whistle and flashing light or emergency flares to your tool kit so you are able to alert rescuers to your location.
Food and Water Storage In Case Of Emergency
When disaster strikes it may take some time for rescue personnel to get to you. If there are large power outages because of damaged power lines and the likes, it could be quite some time before you are able to hit the grocery store again. For those times, it is crucial to have enough food and water stored to get through the tough times.
Access to clean drinking water should be your first priority. Keep a supply of at least one gallon of water per family member per day on hand. At the very minimum you want to have a 3 day supply on hand along with a water filtration system that allow you to turn unsafe or potentially contaminated water sources into drinking water. While water has a fairly long shelf-life, it’s a good idea to replace it regularly. Use the water as needed throughout your regular family life and replace it with fresh water. Keeping a few clean plastic or glass gallon jugs around and regularly refilling them with fresh water is a good idea. You can use the unused emergency drinking water to water plants or cook with.
Next it’s time to think about food. FEMA recommends a supply to last for up to two weeks if you’re preparing for a natural disaster. At first glance, this may seem like a lot of food, but most of it should consist of items you use regularly. Consider building up a well-stocked pantry and storing additional food supplies in your freezer. You will continue to use these foods and replenish them, working on the first in, first out system. Dry rice, canned or dry beans, and various canned goods are good staple items with long shelf lives to keep around.
If two weeks’ worth of food sounds too overwhelming or isn’t possible because you simply don’t have the room to store the food, start building up a supply that will last you three to five days. Hopefully emergency services will be able to reach you by then with basic water and food rations.
When disaster strikes and the power goes out, you want to start by consuming any fresh food in the fridge. Start eating anything that you know will spoil quickly. Don’t open your freezer at this point. Food will safely stay frozen and cold in a closed freezer for at least 3 days. Once you’ve consumed everything from your fridge, start eating what’s in the freezer. Save shelf-stable foods for last.
It is also helpful to have tools and strategies in place to cook food during a power outage. Camping and grilling gear will come in very handy here. Make sure you have all the supplies you need and your equipment is in good condition. Don’t forget about pots, pans and other cooking utensils you may need. As a last resort the things you picked up in your Boy Scout or Girl Scout days about cooking over a fire may come in handy as well.
Keeping Important Documents Safe and Secure
We hope and pray that nothing will happen to our home, but it’s a good idea to be prepared “just in case”. You likely have insurance on your home and many material things in your house can be easily replaced should disaster strike. Other things like photos and important documents can be hard or impossible to replace. Missing documents can make it harder to rebuild after disaster strikes. That’s why it is a good idea to keep them safe and secure.
Invest In A Fire Safe
A good fire safe will survive a lot of damage. Invest in a quality one for any documents you want to keep at home. You can get a fairly small box that can be stashed away in a closet or cabinet. Make sure both you and your spouse know where the safe is kept and has a key to open it.
Get A Bank Deposit Box
You may also want to rent a bank deposit box and store important documents, or notarized copies of them there. This will come in handy when you need the information on the documents (i.e. your insurance policy number), or you need to replace documents that didn’t survive a home emergency.
Make Physical Copies
It’s amazing how much easier it is to get a replacement passport or birth certificate if you have a copy of the original. That’s why it’s helpful to make these paper copies and keep them in a secure offsite location (like a bank deposit box). You could also keep them at a family member’s home. Make sure the copies are stored safely to avoid issues like identity theft.
Make Digital Copies And Store Them Online
Last but not least, go ahead and scan the documents or take pictures of them with your phone and store them on a secure online server. Places like Deposit Box, or even Google Photo will store quite a bit of information for you free of charge. Since your document scans are living in the cloud, you can easily access them from anywhere with your phone or a borrowed computer. This also makes it easy to email them off to insurance agents, or government officials to get replacement documents made.
Spend a little time this week to sort through your most important documents and get your paperwork in order. It won’t take you long to scan them, take pictures of them, and/or make photo copies. The little work you’re doing now to be prepared will potentially safe you a lot of headache down the road.
Make it a point to revisit your documents every 6 months to make sure everything is up to date and in order. Once the original setup is done, it will be much easier to keep up with it. You’ll likely only need to change out one or two document copies a year.