I recently moved to the Vancouver, Washington area with my wife and four kids. Accomplishing this feat alone was a full scale exercise in preparedness and planning. Honey? Where are the diapers and baby wipes? On a serious note, we’ve lived in disaster-prone areas in the past and have had to create emergency kits and store supplies. Once, while stationed in the Florida Keys, I loaded a 40 gallon plastic garbage can with instant noodles, soup cans, and extra water to last a week. I added flashlights, a NOAA weather radio and emergency blankets for good measure. Hurricanes were natural disasters we prepared for in advance.
Living on the West coast, my family and I have a new set of emergencies to prepare for.
Family preparedness can make a big difference in an emergency, whether that means knowing the location of your fire exits or agreeing on a single point of contact to touch base with when local communication channels break down. Preparing for potential natural disasters in advance can help to reassure children and strengthen family bonds. Although we all hope for the best and might think natural disasters won’t happen to us, preparing like they can is our best bet.
We’re all busy these days. But taking one day out of each week, for an hour or two, to prepare for a natural disaster really is in your best interest. Consider the following, allowing adequate time to think through each step of the process before making changes.
Family Communications Plan: This can be a one page document listing your family phone numbers, that everyone should carry, most of all children. Pick a relative or close family friend living in a distant city or state. That person should agree to act as the single source for everyone to call in to and report their status as safe. Local communications can be severely impacted during a major emergency, making this a good way for families impacted by disasters to know that their loved ones are safe.
Emergency supplies and egress: Assemble an emergency disaster kit and stock it with enough supplies to feed and protect family for a week or more. Help might not be able to get to you or your family for days and even then, disaster assistance and emergency response teams might not have the supplies you most need. An example of a disaster kit can be found at FEMA’s ready.gov website: http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
And don’t forget to practice regular fire drills and to practice egress routes in your home. Children should be included in these talks and activities too. Rehearsing with kids can make the activity fun and engages their natural curiosity.
Rehearse, train and talk it through: Once you have established escape routes and relocation routes and you and your family have a reliable communication plan in place, don’t just put in on a shelf. Take time to rehearse the plans, break out the supplies and talk about each item and walk evacuation routes. Here’s where the preparation takes on more of a training feel. I realize the kids might not want to spend the weekend playing Find the Fire Extinguisher, but a little practice goes a long way to building good preparedness habits.
Share: Now that you are a well-oiled family preparedness machine, take time to spread the word. The next time you’re at the neighborhood barbeque, why not share what you have learned? If a plan, check-list or cache of supplies works for you, share it with others. Not everyone has considered what to do in a major disaster.
Expand: Stay focused on improving your new preparedness habits. Again, don’t just make your emergency disaster kit and toss it in the bottom of the closet. Break it out and review the contents occasionally. Practice that fire escape route every other Wednesday night with your spouse and kids. Repetition builds routine and routine becomes habit. If you can locate your nearest safe haven or preassigned gathering point in an earthquake, flood or fire, as a family you increase your chances of survival that much more.
Preparedness is a personal choice. As a family, it’s worth your time to make a communications plan, build an emergency kit, practice escape and know who to call in the event of an emergency. Taking time to do the work now will inspire confidence in your family and build momentum towards a better prepared household. Start today.