September is National Preparedness Month here in the U.S., a reminder that we should all have plans and provisions in place in case of a natural disaster or emergency that affects our area. This year’s theme is: Prepared, not scared. I like the sentiment behind this statement because my intention with this month’s series of posts is not to scare you with the what ifs, but for you to be prepared and therefore less scared if you find yourself in one of those “what if” situations. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you my tips and suggestions for building your Go-Bag in case of evacuation, your Home Emergency Kit for times when you need to shelter in place, and your Car Emergency Kit in case you are stranded or have a roadside emergency.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what to put in your kits (we’ll get into specifics in the subsequent posts this month), here are a few of the most practical tips I have learned from first responders, insurance officials, and from my own experiences working in the survival industry, living in parts of the country where earthquakes, blizzards, fires, and floods are common, and from having to evacuate my own home due to fire.
1. Make a Plan
If you live alone, just write it down to help you commit it to memory – what to grab and where to go. Then, pick a friend or family member in a nearby town and let them know that their home is your destination in an emergency, so they’ll know to watch out for you. If you live with other family members or roommates, have a dinnertime discussion to determine a meeting point for everyone in case you aren’t home or together when a disaster occurs – FEMA has this helpful worksheet you can fill out as a family and leave on the fridge as a reminder.
2. Telecommunicate Smarter
In emergencies, phone lines often jam up and getting calls through is difficult. Texting is more reliable, but it can also be easier to place a call to someone out of the affected area, so you should choose an out-of-state relative who everyone in your family knows to call and check-in safe, and who can be a communication point for all of you. (Choose your relative who is most reliable at answering their phone).
3. Tell Each Other Your Most Important Item
There’s a chance you won’t be home when a disaster happens but someone else might be. Have a discussion to communicate everyone’s very most treasured item so if there is time before evacuating, the person at home can grab what is cherished most for their family members.
4. Document everything. Today.
Take photos of every room and the contents of every closet then send them to a friend or make sure they are backed up to a cloud service. I can tell you from experience, trying to remember all of your belongings when making a list for insurance is impossible. If you haven’t done this and you are given time to evacuate in an emergency, have one person be in charge of packing belongings while the other walks through the house and takes a quick video of all the contents and state of your home.
5. Grab the Hampers
This is a very simple but practical tip, if you are given time to evacuate and are unsure what to pack just throw the clothes from everyone’s hampers in a bag. You know those are ones that currently fit and no one cares about slightly smelly clothes in an emergency.
6. Learn Alternate Ways To Use Your Appliances
If you need to shelter at home and have a wood burning fireplace, you’re in business for warmth and cooking. If you have a gas fireplace, you’ll have a heat source, but if the power’s out and it requires a switch you might think you’re out of luck. However, most gas fireplaces have either an igniter bypass to the switch, or a box that you can put batteries in to turn it on. Look into this before an emergency situation so you’ll know how it works. If you have a generator, do not use it in the house or garage. Generators emit high levels of carbon monoxide and have led to many post-disaster injuries and deaths – check out this article by Consumer Reports for generator safety tips. Always have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in your home as well.
7. Strengthen Your Community Ties
Communities that are organized and well connected are able to respond better and recover more quickly from disasters. Get to know your neighbors and keep phone lists so you can notify each other if something is happening or to contact anyone who may be unaccounted for. Online communities like Facebook Groups and NextDoor are a great resource for branching out within your neighborhood.
8. Mental and Emotional Survival are Important Too
Experiencing a disaster can be even more devastating to your mental health than to your physical. If you are a parent, your mental state can greatly affect how your children cope and heal as well. Here are some helpful resources if you have been through a disaster situation:
For Children/Parents: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohsepr/children-and-families
9. Be Informed
Ready.Gov is a National Public Service campaign designed to “educate and empower the American People to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies, including natural and manmade disasters.” This page in particular has action plans for handling most every type of disaster you can think of – from tornadoes and flooding to nuclear explosions and space weather. So, my recommendation, if you’re an anxious person, don’t go down this rabbit hole. And even if you’re not, only click on the ones you’re genuinely concerned about, or you might become an anxious person.
10. Look for the Helpers
In times of disaster it is easy to focus on what is scary, and often fears of increased crime are greatly exaggerated. The truth is though, more often than not, disasters bring communities together and strangers go to great lengths to help one another. So, when you’re feeling scared, think back on the wise lessons of Mr. Rogers who once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And if you are safe and able to reach out to someone in need, be that helper.
Communities are stronger together. Please help our online community by providing your own tips and suggestions of how to prepare for emergency situations in the comments section below.