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Preparation is key to survive disaster
Health advice
A large hurricane bears down on Florida. - photo by NOAA photo
We all want to believe nothing catastrophe will happen to our family and that we’ll always be able to observe any type of disaster from a safe distance — hopefully from the television or a computer — but this obviously won’t be true for everyone and it just makes good sense to be prepared.
Not being prepared will add significantly to the trauma of an already terrible experience.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m in a hurry I forget things. I hosted a luncheon at my home recently and remembered, after everyone was eating, I never finished decorating the food table and all those neat little things I bought to showcase the theme were still in their containers. Not a really big deal that day, but some events require more crucial planning.
Have you given any thought to where you would go if you had to leave your home and this area in a disaster situation? Do you have an emergency supply kit and a family evacuation plan? Do you stay informed of local conditions during the hurricane and tornado seasons? If you responded “no” for any of these, you definitely need to change some priorities and begin working on this now because this year’s hurricane season has started with a bang and there’s still two months left.

Family disaster plan

The first thing you need to do is to create a family disaster plan. It really doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, simple plans are best because they are easier to remember. Get the family together and explain the possible dangers that could occur and then talk about how to prepare and respond if one of these should happen.

Make simple checklists of steps you can take. Start with less evasive situations, such as the best location in your home if you need to find quick shelter. Select two possible meeting places, just in case everyone is separated when a disaster occurs and you must leave your home. One place could be right outside the house for emergencies, such as a house fire. The other should be outside the area, in case you have to evacuate. Make sure everyone knows the address, city and phone number of this place. Choose a friend or family member in another area to act as the contact person. This might also be at your evacuation meeting place. It is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call in a disaster area. If they need to, family members can call the contact and let them know where they are and that person can connect everyone  — especially if local calls are restricted.

Escape routes
Plan escape routes out of each room in your home. And learn about shelter locations and escape routes that could take the family to your desired meeting place in another area. While you might want to plan several escape routes in case certain roads are blocked or closed, it’s also important to follow the advice of officials during evacuation situations. They can direct you to the safest route and let you know when roads are blocked or if one route might put you in further danger. Make sure everyone — even your child — has the phone number for the meeting place. Post it by the home phone and add it to your cell phones. You don’t want to waste time looking for it when you’re in a panic to leave.

This is an excellent time to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage on your home and its contents. If you rent, you might want to buy renters’ insurance as your landlord’s insurance will not protect your personal property. It only protects their building. Renters’ insurance is usually relatively inexpensive (about $15 a month) and covers a renter’s property if it is damaged or stolen. Remember, homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood losses.

Smoke alarms

Install or check smoke alarms in all levels of your home, especially near bedrooms. Use the test button to test your smoke alarms once a month and replace batteries at least once a year, if they are battery-powered. Replace the complete smoke alarm unit every 10 years as smoke alarms become less sensitive over time.

Buy A-B-C fire extinguishers and make sure all adults know how to use them without having to stop and read the instructions. Ensure fire extinguishers are properly charged as they will not work properly if they aren’t. Use the gauge or test the button to check proper pressure and follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacement or recharging.

Family, friends, pets

Consider family, neighbors or friends who don’t have transportation and who might need your help. Plan what you will do with pets if you can’t take them with you. Put the phone number of your prearranged pet shelter with your disaster supplies. Remember, most disaster shelters will not take pets. Make sure you have a collar, leash and proof of vaccinations for all pets. Veterinarian records are required by some locations before they will allow you to board your pets. If your pet is lost, identification and a photograph will help officials return it to you. Make a list if there are special items you need to include for these additions and, when possible, add these items to your emergency supply kit ahead of time.

You might also wish to make a visual or written record of all of your household possessions. Include model and serial numbers. This list will help prove the value of possessions if they are damaged or destroyed. Store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box, and you might want to carry one with your personal records.

Additional measures

Walk around the outside of your home checking for large dead branches in trees or plants that might serve as a missile in high winds. Cut them back and remove them from your property as well as any other unnecessary equipment or items you’ve been planning to discard.

Emergency supply kit

Use the list below as a guide to create an emergency supply kit. Put items in easy-to-carry containers and label them clearly. Covered trash containers, camping backpacks, a duffel bag or a cargo container that will fit on the roof of your vehicle could be used to hold these supplies. When possible, keep a smaller version of this kit in your car for other emergencies and times when you can’t make it back home.
• Water for drinking and sanitation: You will need one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. It is recommended you purchase commercially bottled water. If you prepare your own, do not use old plastic or cardboard milk or juice containers as sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Untreated water can be used by following the directions for chlorine bleach listed below.
• Three-day supply of non-perishable food: Avoid foods that make you thirsty and require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content are recommended. Other options may be ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, canned juice, milk and soup (if powdered, store extra water); high-energy foods, such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars and trail mix; comfort foods, such as hard candy, sweetened cereals, candy bars and cookies; instant coffee, tea bags and foods for infants, elderly persons, or persons on special diets, if necessary. Include a manual can opener for canned items and cooking fuel or sterno if you must heat something. Another item that might come in handy is a utility knife and you will want to carry extra plastic storage containers or plastic seal bags for leftovers.
• Radios and flashlights: Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with a Tone Alert feature is recommended. Include extra batteries for both. Don’t forget flashlights and extra batteries
• First aid kit: You’ll need a first aid kit, manual or emergency reference material, such as those found on The kit should include: sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes; assorted sizes of safety pins; cleansing agent/soap; latex gloves; sunscreen; two-inch sterile gauze pads; four-inch sterile gauze pads; triangular bandages; nonprescription drugs such as aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, laxative and vitamins; two-inch sterile roller bandages; three-inch sterile roller bandages; scissors; tweezers; needle; pre-moistened towels; antiseptic.; thermometer; tongue depressor blades; and tubes of petroleum jelly and antibiotic cream.
• Whistle or horn to signal for help.
• Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape provide a shelter place should the need arise.
• Garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
• Place wenches or pliers (to turn off house utilities) and a list of things to check off before leaving your home on top of your emergency supply kit
• Local maps and phone numbers of your place of destination and people you’ve promised to call.
• Prescription medications, monitoring equipment and glasses. It also wouldn’t hurt to take a first aid and CPR course.
• Infant formula and diapers
• Pet food and extra water for your pet
• Important family documents (copies of insurance policies, identification, will, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds, passports, social security cards, immunization records, bank account numbers, credit card account numbers and companies, inventory of valuable household goods, important telephone and contact numbers), family records (birth, marriage, death certificates) and bank account records) in a waterproof, portable container.
• Cash or traveler’s checks and change
• Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you are going to a shelter.
• At least one complete change of clothing and foot wear for each person as well as rain gear. Slip a small sewing kit with a needle and thread in a pocket or shoe.
• Household disinfectant or chlorine bleach and medicine dropper - When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
• Fire extinguisher and signal flare
• Matches in a waterproof container
• Personal hygiene and sanitation items (toilet paper, prepackaged moist towels; soap, hand sanitizer, liquid detergent; feminine supplies; personal items such as shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, comb and brush, lip balm).
• Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
• Paper and pencil
• Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Keep your emergency supply kit ready and in good condition by:
Changing stored food and water supplies every six months - July and January are good months. Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in the front. Check expiration dates and write the date you last checked it on a piece of tape and apply to the container.
Keep the kit and canned foods in a dry place where the temperature is cool.
Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers to protect from pests and to extend shelf life. When possible, keep like items in airtight plastic bags — you could use the bags later for leftovers or opened supplies.
Re-thinking your needs every year and update your kit as your family needs change.

If local officials do not ask you to leave, or if you have time to protect your property before you go, use the following checklist to do so.
• Bring pets inside and keep them confined to one room if possible.
• Put your emergency disaster kit by the door you would leave by should you need to evacuate.
• Check for potential hazards and bring objects that may fly around and damage property inside. This includes lawn furniture, trash cans, children’s toys, garden equipment, clotheslines and hanging plants.  
• Leave trees and shrubs alone. If you have not already cut away dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs, don’t worry with it now because rubbish collection services will not have time before the storm to pick anything up and they’ll just become missiles in the wind.
• Turn off utilities - electricity should be turned off at the main fuse or breaker and water can be turned off at the main valve near the street. Leave natural gas on unless local officials have advised otherwise but turn off propane gas service. Propane tanks can be a real hazard as they often become dislodged in disasters.
• Cover the outside of all windows if high winds are expected. Use shutters that are rated to provide significant protection from windblown debris, or fit plywood coverings over all windows. Houses do not explode due to air pressure differences - the damage occurs when wind gets inside a home through a broken window, door or damaged roof. Using tape on windows is not recommended; it will not prevent     windows from breaking and may be a waste of your time.
• Consider using sand bags to keep water away from your home if flooding is expected. It takes two people about one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, giving you a wall one foot high and 20 feet long.  Materials needed include sand, burlap or plastic bags, shovels, strong helpers, and plenty of time to place them properly.
• Move objects that may get damaged by wind or water to safer areas of your home. Move television sets, computers, stereo and electronic equipment, and easily moveable appliances like a microwave oven to higher levels of your home and away from windows. Wrap them in plastic bags, sheets, blankets or burlap.
• If you will be staying in your home, make sure you have the basics: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies and any special items like extra prescriptions, sources of light and a full tank of gas in your car.  Keep attuned to the news and be ready to leave if advised to do so.
• If you must leave, lock up you home and secure it as you normally would when leaving for long periods
Information for this article came from the US Department of Homeland Security, the American Red Cross Web site, the FEMA Web site and the Web site  from the National Disaster Education Coalition.
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