Preparing for a Disaster

Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. What would you do if basic services - water, gas, electricity or telephones were cut off? Families can cope with disaster by preparing in advance and working together as a team. Knowing what to do is your best defense and your responsibility. Follow these steps for disaster preparedness.

Find out what could happen. Your local emergency management office, safety council or Red Cross chapter can offer information on what types of disasters are most likely to happen. Learn about your community's warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them. Ask about animal care after a disaster. Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed. Find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or day care center, and other places where your family spends time.
Create a disaster plan. Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disasters. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. Pick two places to meet: right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire; and outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Everyone must know your contact's phone number. Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.
Cover all your ground. Post emergency telephone numbers by your telephone. Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help. Show each family member how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity. Check if you have adequate insurance coverage. Get first aid and CPR training, including training from the fire department for each family member on how to use an ABC-type fire extinguisher. Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each room. Practice and maintain your plan by conducting frequent evacuations. Replace stored water and food every six months. Test and recharge your fire extinguisher according to manufacturer's instructions. Test your smoke detectors monthly and charge the batteries at least annually.
Keep emergency supplies in your home. Assemble emergency supplies to meet your needs for at least three days. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags, or covered trash containers. Usual supplies are, but not limited to: water, extra clothing, a first aid kit (including prescription medications), battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, extra set of car keys, sanitation supplies, a credit card, cash or traveler's checks, and special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members. Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Keep a smaller first aid kit in the trunk of your car.
Familiarize yourself with the utilities. Locate the main electric fuse box, water service main, and natural gas main. Learn how and when to turn these utilities off. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Remember, turn off the utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
If disaster strikes, put your plan into action. Remain calm and patient and give first aid and get help for seriously injured people. Listen to your battery-powered radio and evacuate if instructed to do so. Check for damage in your home using a flashlight. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids immediately.