Now that the first Atlantic hurricane of 2014 has officially come and gone, here are some emergency planning pointers to help you prepare for a natural disaster in your area:
1. Know your enemy: Read up on the natural disasters that can affect your area and when they are most likely to occur. For those on the Atlantic coast, hurricane season has just begun (June 1st-November 30th). The Eastern Pacific hurricane season is already in full swing, having started in mid-May and projected to continue thru the end of November. Tornados are more likely to occur at certain times of the year, depending on where you live. For the southern states, late winter and early spring carry the highest tornado risk, while those living in the Midwest and Plains regions tend to see more tornado activity starting in the early spring and extending through the summer months. Some disasters, such as earthquakes, don’t have a season but are more likely to occur in certain areas of the country.
2. Plan your escape: Know how you and your family are going to react, should a natural disaster strike. Plan multiple escape routes from every room in the house and designate a safe meeting spot outside where everyone will gather in an emergency. Conduct a safety drill at least twice a year to practice your plan. Also map out your evacuation route and pinpoint the emergency shelters that are closest to your home.
3. Learn first aid: Make sure at least one person (preferably everyone) in the family knows basic first aid and CPR protocol. Learning how to safely operate an automated external defibrillator (AED) wouldn’t go amiss either. The American Red Cross offers first aid training programs throughout the country.
4. Stay informed and in touch: Know how you will stay apprised of the situation, via local radio and television stations, law enforcement officers and the NOAA channels. When a natural disaster strikes, traditional forms of communication can be compromised, so it’s also essential to make a family plan for communicating with each other, should someone become lost or separated from the group. Also think about how you will notify far-flung friends and relatives of your status during a disaster.
5. Secure important papers: This step should be taken well in advance of an emergency situation. Make copies of important documents, such as passports, wills, social security cards, deeds, insurance information, financial statements, driver’s licenses and prescription medication information, and store them in a safe place away from the home; perhaps in a safety deposit box or with a trusted friend or relative who lives in another area.
6. Don’t forget about Fido: Tragically, pets are often forgotten or left behind in the heat of an emergency situation. Planning ahead for how to transport and house the faithful family pet during an emergency is a simple step that can avoid this sad situation. When mapping your evacuation route, write down the names, locations and phone numbers of veterinarians and pet-friendly hotels along the way. It’s also important to think through how you’ll help Fido or Fluffy get out of the house during a disaster.
7. Prepare and maintain an emergency kit: Everyone should have an emergency kit at the ready that can enable them to survive on their own in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The Red Cross offers suggestions of some important items to include in an emergency kit:
- 3 days-worth of non-perishable food and water (one gallon per person, per day)
- 7 days-worth of prescription medication
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Hand-crank or battery-powered radio
- Extra clothing
- Manual can opener
- Cooking utensils
- Swiss Army knife (or other multi-purpose tool)
- Cell phone charger
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Extra set of house and car keys
- Family and emergency contact information
- Pet supplies and food
- Two-way radios
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
- Work gloves
Keeping your kit well-maintained is crucial. Monitor food expiration dates and periodically check to make sure the flashlight and radio especially are in good working order.
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