We all have some hard-earned experience, either directly or indirectly, to help understand the nature of a disaster. Whether man-made or natural, we’ve learned the aftermath of an event usually has wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts. We’ve observed Hurricane Katrina, and recently experienced Hurricane Irene, Super-Storm Sandy, the Halloween snowstorm, and a 40-inch blizzard. We’ve seen cars from neighboring states lined up at gasoline stations in our towns. We now know that full-scale mobilization and deployment of outside resources takes days. And many of us are now all too familiar with methodology used by electric utilities to prioritize and schedule the restoration of power.
Preparedness plans need to consider the possibility of in-place isolation for our families, including the possibility that family members may be dispersed and unable to return home. In the event of severe storms, that isolation could be for an extended period of time. Safety experts warn that we should be prepared to survive for 72 hours without assistance.
Seventy two hours is a long time when the basics of modern-living are unavailable. There are some readily apparent needs, such as food, water, light, medications, and the ability to cook. To develop a comprehensive plan, you should really think through what it will be like, who will need what, and how basic necessities will be provided.
While every family will have different needs, here is a list to help you get started:
- Extra clothing, including sturdy shoes and work gloves
- Cooking supplies: a small barbecue or camp stove and fuel; plates, and utensils
- Food: a large supply of canned and packaged goods; replace periodically to ensure freshness
- Manual can opener: Try it out if it’s unfamiliar
- Water: one gallon per person per day; replace periodically
- First aid kit: include prescription drugs; replace prior to expiration dates
- Sleeping bags or blankets
- Flashlights with batteries or other power source
- Portable radio with batteries or other power source
- Fire extinguisher with at least a rating of 1A10BC
- Large trash bags to keep supplies dry (and for trash)
- Liquid detergent, feminine and infant supplies, and toilet paper
Beyond the essentials, don’t forget to include items that will entertain the entire family. There isn’t likely to be any Swiss Family Robinson-esqe romance that turns this adversity into an adventure; boredom is the more likely outcome. If you have children, enlist their help in shopping for and storing these supplies. Older children should know where these items are stored.
Create and Practice Your Plan
Everyone in your household should know what to do after an emergency — and that means you need to put together a plan ahead of time.
- Map out and practice escape routes from your house.
- Establish a local, neighborhood rendezvous point.
- In the case of family-member dispersion, establish an out-of-neighborhood rendezvous point.
- Establish how to contact each other. Pick a third party outside of your geographic area to be a central telephone contact.
- Remember to check in promptly. While you may still have battery left on your cellphone, most cell towers will run out of battery power within a few hours of losing commercial power.
Other scenarios include the possibility of being evacuated from your home; either due to storm-related conditions, post-storm safety concerns, or damage to your home. While we tend to have advanced warning of potential storms in our area, there are scenarios where the need to evacuate might be sudden and immediate. Consider creating “go-kits” that contain the items you will need for an extended time away from home. Important papers, policies, and documents (as well as cash) should be a part of the kits, too.
Practice Your Plan
Your planning is not complete until everyone knows his or her part. Set time aside to talk about your disaster plan with the entire household. Hold a disaster drill at an unexpected time and see how everyone does.
If your child comes home from school with an assignment around disaster planning for his or her family, take it seriously. Involve the children, and use the opportunity to develop or improve your household plan.