Disasters, whether natural (hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, for example) or man-made (i.e. fires, nuclear accidents, or terrorist attacks) can strike at any time, whether we're ready for them or not. Even with advance warning, a disaster can be overwhelming, and it's not always possible to communicate with family members who may be at work or school when an emergency strikes. A little planning and practice before you're in danger can help you and your family survive even the worst disasters.
- Determine what disasters your area is susceptible to. If you live in Kansas, you don't need to prepare for a hurricane, but you'd better be ready for tornadoes. While some disasters, such as fire, can happen anywhere, the hazards you might encounter vary widely from place to place. Check with your local emergency management or civil defense office, Red Cross chapter, or the National Weather Service to get an idea of what emergencies you should prepare for.
- Find out what you should do in case a disaster strikes. The organizations above will likely be able to advise you what to do in an emergency. They may be able to provide you with evacuation maps and information about local warning systems and emergency plans. If you can't get all the information you need from officials, research your local hazards on your own. Figure out, for example, what preparations you should make for a tornado or hurricane (you can find information on many disaster situations right here on wikiHow) and how to survive if you're caught in a disaster, and determine the best evacuation routes on your own if need be. Remember, when push comes to shove, it's your responsibility to ensure your family is well prepared.
- Pick a meeting spot and a way to get in contact with your family members. There's a good chance that all your family members won't be in the same place when disaster strikes, so it's important to have a predetermined rendezvous point. Choose a spot that will likely be safe and that is well away from your neighborhood, as you might not be able to make it back to your home. In addition designate a friend or relative as a contact person that you, your spouse, and your children can call if you can't meet up. In order to minimize the chance that the contact person will also be affected by the disaster, choose someone who lives in a distant town or in a different state. Make sure that all your family members have the contact person's phone number with them at all times.
- Discuss disaster scenarios with your family and make sure everyone knows what to do in all the likely emergency scenarios. It's important to educate yourself on how to respond to likely hazards, but what happens to your family if they are away from you or if you're killed or injured? It's not enough for one person in the family to know what to do--everybody should know the plan.
- Fix potential hazards in your home. Once you've identified potential disaster scenarios, thoroughly inspect your house and try to make it as safe as possible. Here are just a few examples:
- Every home should have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Test smoke detectors at least once a month, and replace their batteries yearly or as needed. Fire extinguishers should be recharged according to the manufacturer's instructions, and family members should learn how to use them. Everyone should also know how to escape the house in the event of a fire.
- If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you wouldn't want a tall, heavy bookcase sitting right next to the baby's crib, as it could be knocked over in a quake.
- If you live near woods with the possibility of forest fires, you should clear your property of brush and high grass to create a buffer zone between your home and the fire.
- Teach your family basic life-saving techniques. Everyone who can learn CPR and first aid should take a certification class and keep their certification current. Adults and older children should know how to turn off gas, electricity and water if the house is damaged, and everyone should know how to detect a gas leak. Emergency numbers should be posted near phones, and even small children should be taught how to call 9-1-1 or the corresponding emergency number in your country.
- Assemble a disaster kit. Be prepared for emergencies with at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and potable water, prescription medications, first aid supplies, and other things you might need if you have no utilities and no way to purchase supplies. Keep a smaller kit in the trunk of your car. See the related wikiHow for more details on building a disaster kit.
- Practice your plan. Practice makes perfect, and in a life-or-death situation, you want to respond perfectly. Periodically go over your emergency plans with your family, and update them as needed. Quiz and drill your family on important safety concepts.
- If your workplace, school, or town hasn't developed an emergency plan, take the initiative to start planning one. Go to meetings of local officials and request assistance, and collaborate with your neighbors and coworkers to help make your whole community safer.
- It is a good idea to pick two or three emergency contacts, one who lives outside of your local area code in addition to one who lives within and also someone who can receive text messages. In major disasters one can often call a number outside your area code but not within. In extreme cases, people have had to rely on text messaging when phone lines and towers were decimated in the disaster. After Hurricane Katrina cell phones were just about useless to make calls in the affected areas, but they saved many lives and helped reunite families thanks to their text messaging capabilities that survived.
- Besides the resources mentioned above, you might also want to check with your insurance company for ways to make your house safer. Insurers have an interest in minimizing the risk of injury or damage to your home in the event of a disaster, so they will usually be happy to provide you with information. Many insurance policies also require certain precautions in order for a loss to be covered.
- Be serious about your emergency planning, but be careful not to irrationally frighten children or to become obsessed with disaster yourself. Planning makes you safer, and it should make you and your family feel safer, too.
- If you are having difficulty with any of these steps, there are many resources on the internet to assist in this process. Check out these sites: Ready.gov, operated by the US Department of Homeland Security and Prepare.org, operated by the American Red Cross.