Emergencies such as terrorism, fire, power outages, floods, tornadoes or other natural disasters can happen anywhere to anyone. Would you know what to do if you were forced to evacuate your neighborhood or confined to your home? What would you do if basic services - water, gas, electricity or telephones - were cut off? Relief workers and local officials will be on the scene after a disaster, but everyone cannot be reached right away. You could have help in hours, or it may take days. Are you prepared to take care of yourself until help arrives?
We can all cope with disaster by preparing in advance. We can't control all the emergencies that might occur in our lives, but we can be ready to face them by knowing what to do and taking action by preparing.
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY THE RISKS
Look around where you live. Are hazardous materials produced, stored or transported near you? Do you leave in a flood zone? Are earthquakes possible?
Community warning signals. If your community has warning signals, find out what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them.
Find out about community disaster plans. Learn about disaster plans at your workplace, your children's/grandchildren's school or other places where you or your family spend time.
STEP TWO: CREATE YOUR OWN EMERGENCY/DISASTER PLAN
Discuss with your family, the types of disasters and emergencies that are most likely to happen and what to do in each case.
Plan how your household would stay in contact if you were separated. Identify two meeting places: the first near your home, in case of sudden emergency like fire; the second away from your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.
Ask an out-of-town friend or relative to be your contact to call and say you are OK. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone should know this person's phone number and cell number if they have one.
Make sure everyone in your household knows how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity at the main switches. Consult your local utilities if you have questions. Also important is knowing where your fire extinguishers are and how to use them.
Take a first aid and CPR class.
Review all insurance policies before disaster strikes. Make sure policies are current and be sure they meet your needs. When you have six feet of water in your living room is not the time to find out you do not have flood insurance.
Keep a small amount of cash or travelers checks at home in a safe place - where you can grab it quickly in case of evacuation. Many times during disasters banks aren't open and ATM machines don't work.
Keep an old fashioned land-line phone at home (one that's not dependent on electricity)
Consider ways that you can help neighbors who may need special assistance, such as the elderly or disabled.
Prepare a grab-and-go case. Organize your important legal, financial and insurance papers into a file that you can grab if you need to leave your home. Include copies of prescriptions, social security cards and a copy of your driver's license. Have a backup - you may not even have the opportunity to escape with important items. Leave copies of important items in a safe deposit box or with a trusted friend or relative; however, don't leave anything in a safety deposit box that you will need in an emergency (such as powers of attorney or health care directives), as a safe-deposit box will not be accessible 24 hours a day.
Inventory home possessions. Make a visual or written record of your possessions to help you claim losses in the event of damage. After a major disaster, most homeowners are simply not able to remember all their belongings for an insurance claim. Remember to store this information somewhere secure, other than in your home.
Stock emergency supplies for home and assemble a disaster supplies kit in the event you need to evacuate. In a major disaster you may need to survive on your own for three days or more. Assemble a disaster kit with items you may need in an evacuation; store these items in easy to carry containers such as duffel bag or backpack. Include: One gallon water per person each day, canned or packaged non-perishable food, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, manual can opener, toiletries, blankets or sleeping bags, prescription medications, special items for infants, elderly or disabled, and copies of important documents in waterproof containers.
You might consider keeping a smaller disaster kit in your car or office in case you are unable to return home.
STEP THREE: REVIEW YOUR PLAN REGULARLY
You should re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your household changes.
You will need to change the food and water supplies every six months. Be sure to write the date you store it on all containers.
Check with your pharmacist about storing prescription medications. Be sure to store them to meet instructions on the label and to keep stored medication up to date.
As your life changes, be sure to keep your important document file up to date.
None of us can predict what will happen, but there are simple things we can all do to prepare for an emergency or natural disaster. With a little planning, you can be better prepared for the unexpected.
Ann Areida-Hintz is the senior services coordinator at Hutchins Street Square. She can be reached at 333-6891.
First published: Friday, May 26, 2006