Emergencies can happen anywhere, any time. They come in the form of natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, which destroy structures and ravage communities. And there are everyday emergencies, too, man-made errors and domestic accidents that are less catastrophic and life-threatening than natural disasters but equally as frightening and stressful. Power outages, gas leaks, broken water mains, house fires and flooded basements all are emergencies that require family and community preparedness. The only way to prepare for the unknown is to have a comprehensive emergency plan in place. Does your family know what to do in the event of a major storm like a hurricane, tornado or severe blizzard? How well would they handle a flood, fire or a violent outbreak?
Here’s how to create an emergency preparedness plan to keep the whole family and neighborhood safe.
Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), most Americans are unprepared to cope with an emergency or disaster. One of the biggest stressors during an emergency is not knowing whether family members are safe or not, so it’s important to know how to contact one another and reconnect if you’re separated. Before an emergency happens, sit down with your family and discuss the following:
- Emergency alerts and warnings
- What is the shelter plan?
- What is the evacuation route?
It’s important to collect contact information for your family, such as numbers and addresses for work places, schools, daycare providers, hospitals, police, etc. Have the members of your family carry this information with them on a wallet-sized card. If you live in an apartment building or high-rise, have all site-specific emergency plans posted and review it with your family frequently. The Red Cross suggests identifying responsibilities for each member of the household and to practice as many elements of the plan as possible. Social media and neighborhood safety networks are a good way to stay informed and updated if any emergencies are taking place in your community.
Build an Emergency Supply Kit
In order to be ready for any type of “what if” scenario, it is important to have basic emergencies supplies on hand. FEMA recommends having water and food for at least three days (72 hours). It also suggests that you have two emergency supply kits – one at home, and a smaller, portable kit in a vehicle in case you are forced to evacuate your home during an emergency. Basic emergencies supplies include the following:
- Water, one gallon per person for at least three days
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Battery powered or hand crank radio
- Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Local maps
- Can opener for food
- Garbage bags and plastic ties for sanitation
- Emergency kits should also include items unique to your family, such as medications, eyeglasses, pet food and diapers/baby formula
Resources to Help with Relief and Rebuilding Efforts
While every disaster is a chance to better prepare for the next one, clean up and rebuilding often leads to an insurance maze that takes time and patience to navigate. Nevertheless, Federal and State Relief is available to individuals, communities and small businesses. FEMA provides disaster assistance to individuals and families whose losses are not covered by insurance, and the U.S. Small Business Association provides disaster loans for homes and businesses. Disaster and non-profit organizations play a vital role in the recovery process, from building new homes to designing medical clinics. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Open Architecture Collaborative and Relief International coordinate volunteer teams and provide a wide range of technical skills and construction expertise.
Fraud is common after emergencies and natural disasters. While home repair and clean up fraud are particularly widespread, others forms of disaster fraud include contractor and vendor fraud, price gouging, property insurance fraud, forgery and charitable solicitations. By 2011, the Disaster Fraud Force Task had charged 1,439 people for crimes committed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Wilma and Rita. According to Elizabeth Hausler Strand, a civil engineer and CEO of Build Change, it’s important to get homeowners to be partners in the rebuilding process, and to make sure they use local materials and labor, so the community will buy into the idea of more resilient building. Sadly, there’s no universal blueprint for recovery. The process of rebuilding is unique to each country, state and community, and it varies depending on the type of natural disaster or emergency.
Create a family communication plan. Build an emergency supply kit. Stay informed. By taking these simple steps, you will be better prepared to respond to potential emergencies, whether it’s a natural disaster, violent attack or a more everyday emergency like a power outage or broken water main. Neighborhood safety begins at home. If you start planning today, you will be safer tomorrow.