Disasters happen without warning. Preparation is the key to your family’s success in any emergency. If you have a pre-disaster plan, you can reduce the stress and anxiety of any situation, especially for small children and older adults. Find out from your local government how you will be notified for each kind of disaster, natural or man-made. Also, check with your local schools and workplaces for their emergency plans. Many communities broadcast via emergency radio or tv. Some locations rely on a telephone call and others rely on door-to-door notification. If your community has an emergency alert system, get signed up to participate.
In case your family is not together when a disaster strikes, how will you contact one another? Complete a contact card for each family member. These should be kept handy in a wallet, purse, or backpack. Set up a friend or relative who lives out of your area for everyone to contact to let family members know they are safe. Send a copy to school with your children for the school to keep on file. More on this later.
Depending on the nature of the emergency, you and your family may need to provide food, water and shelter among other things away from your home. Prepare a detailed plan including emergency flight bags, often known as Bug-Out-Bags or 72 hour kits. Put together one for each member of the family.
In addition to the items to eat and drink, shelter will be a major need during an emergency. Be sure to acquire a tent, a ground tarp and sleeping bags or mats and astronaut blankets. Some of these may not fit in your back pack and will need to be carried separately. Remember you should only plan to carry 20 – 25% of your body weight to move safely without exhaustion. Physical fitness should also be part of your emergency plan.
Learn how to shut off all utilities to prevent further damage to your home. All your family members should know where to locate these cut-offs and how to work them.
Electricity – Locate your electricity circuit box. To turn off the power, flip the main circuit breaker pair, usually located at the top of the panel, to the OFF position. When you open the electrical panel, make sure there are no exposed electical wires except for an exposed solid copper ground wire. A protective panel should conceal all wiring – only the breakers or fuses should be visible.
Water – Water quickly becomes critical during a disaster. Make sure everyone knows where to find the water line coming into your home and how to completely shut off the valve. This valve should be checked periodically to make sure it is not corroded. If so, replace it. Broken water lines in the community can contaminate the water supply to your house. Shut off the water supply until you learn that it is safe to drink. Broken lines in your house can quickly flood and ruin everything. Locate indoor valves under sinks or at toilets as well. The main line at the street requires a special tool.
Natural Gas – Natural gas explosions are responsible for many fires following disasters. All houses with natural gas have a shut-off valve. If you smell gas (it’s actually a special odor indicator) or hear a hissing noise, first DO NOT turn on or off any electrical switches. Next open a window and get everyone out quickly. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. Never attempt to turn the gas back on yourself. A qualified professional must do that.
Billie Nicholson, editor