September is Emergency Preparedness Month, and reminds us to take the time to prepare for emergencies such as hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes or electrical outages. Knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why we asked 50-year EMS volunteer and 2018 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero, Michael Thompson, to outline the Essential Steps to Creating an Emergency Action Procedure for Your Home.
Step 1: Compile Essential Information
Begin by compiling the following information:
- A list of family members and ages (or birthdays), along with their special needs such as medical conditions and prescription
- A list of household pets, their description, and their location in the house
- A list of primary and secondary escape routes from every room. For example, write down a primary escape route (out the front door), as well as a secondary escape route (exit through the kitchen into the backyard). For small children, it may be helpful to draw simple maps of the house with arrows showing the exit. Please keep in mind the following:
- Bedrooms are often found on upper levels. Plan what to do if someone is in a bedroom and cannot leave by going downstairs. Consider purchasing window ladders that are stored in small cases until needed.
- Make sure that windows along escape routes can be easily opened. Older houses may have windows that are warped or have been painted shut.
- Distinguish when sheltering in place may be your best option. For some emergencies such as tornadoes, the best strategy is to stay inside. Choose a room to be your best “Shelter in Place” area. Ideally, this will be a small interior room with no windows on the lowest floor of your home.
- Designate a spot near your house, such as the mailbox, to be your place to assemble if an evacuation is necessary. Choose a secondary spot as well, such as a neighbor’s house, where everyone can meet if the primary place is unusable or not safe.
- Decide on a meeting place outside your neighborhood if it’s possible that your family could be in separate areas and unable to return home. For example, if cell service is out, and the road to your home is blocked, meet at your grandmother’s house.
- Identify the emergency procedures that will be followed by your children’s schools or day cares.
- List contact information for people and/or agencies you may need to contact during an emergency (in addition to 911). This may include schools, relatives, power companies, etc.
If you need additional guidelines to help you create your Family Emergency Action Plan, the American Red Cross also provides a helpful template.
Step 2: Make a Disaster Kit
Disaster kits should contain sufficient resources to support your family for a minimum of 72 hours. Store your supplies in air tight, water proof plastic bags inside a tote or duffel bag. Examples of disaster kits and included supplies can be found at Ready.gov.
Disaster Kit Checklist:
- Non-perishable food such as canned food, boxed or bagged goods (3 days worth)
- Bottled water (1 gallon per person per day)
- Important documents (see below)
- Can opener
- Infant formula/food (if relevant)
- Pet food and supplies (if relevant)
- Eating utensils
- Feminine hygiene products
- Wipes, Diapers (if relevant)
- Medicines and First Aid supplies
- Glasses/contacts & solution
- Trash bags
- Battery operated NOAA radio
- Duct tape
- Cell phone chargers
- Flashlights & batteries
- Extra cash and/or credit card
- Change of clothes
- Dust masks
- Plastic sheets
- Tool kit
- A copy of your Emergency Action Plan, which includes medical information
- Copies of government issued ID’s for all family members
- Copies of bank statements
- Copies of proof of residency, such as a utility bill
- Copies of insurance policies and cards
Step 3: Stay Alert!
One of the most important things in preparing for an emergency is to keep informed. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) allow cell phones to receive emergency notices about severe weather, AMBER alerts, and evacuation notices. Check with your provider to make sure you are receiving these notices. The Federal Communication Commission also provides a Consumer Guide that answers questions about this alert system.
You can also add local TV news and weather APPs to your phone so that you get emergency warning information. Look up your local Emergency Communication Center or Office of Emergency Management and see if there are additional geographically targeted emergency alert systems you can sign up for.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice!
Your family will need training in order for your plan to be effective. Practicing the plan is especially important for small children.
If you have young children, make sure to address their specific concerns – an emergency can be scary for anyone, especially kids! You can help your kids be prepared by discussing your Emergency Action Plan with them and practicing escape routes.
- TIP: Children also tend to hide during a fire; they often believe firefighters in turnout gear are scary. Teach them what to do during a fire and what a firefighter looks and sounds like. Websites like Safe Kids and verywellfamily have resources and activities to make these important exercises fun.
Step 5: Revise and Review
Keep your plan and your kit up-to-date. A good strategy is to update your plan and kit every 6 months when you change your smoke detector batteries. Check expiration dates on medications, batteries and food. Update any changes to prescription meds, phone numbers or documents.
Don’t forget to re-train! When you update your plan every 6 months, update and practice with your family.
- Consider what else would help your family in emergency situations that you are likeliest to encounter: a propane camping stove, propane heater or battery-operated fan or generator would be ideal during a prolonged power outage. Tailor your kit to your needs!
- Make sure you are prepared for the area you live in. Do you need to stock snow shovels or snake bite kits? If you live on a beach or island, know the emergency evacuation routes. If you live near a nuclear plant, know the emergency signal and what to do.
- Be sure you familiarize yourself with the safety precautions for any equipment and supplies you include in your kit.
- You may also want to keep a more condensed disaster kit in each car for travel.
- Recognize when to use what. For a house fire, you won’t use your kit because your one job is to get out of the house. For a tornado, you will immediately go to your shelter-in-place room. For other emergencies, you may have some notice: you usually know when a hurricane is due to hit. Your Emergency Action Plan should cover this.
Having the supplies you may need at hand, such as jugs of water, zip lock bags, tarps, etc. will be invaluable in case of an emergency. Following the steps above will ensure that you and your family are prepared in any emergency.
About the author: 2018 Hometown Hero, Michael Thompson, EMT, CIH, is a 50-year EMS volunteer with Southside Virginia Emergency Crew. He co-wrote this article along with his daughter, Heather Thompson, who is also an EMT.