Four Critical Steps In Creating Your Disaster Plan
1. Find Out Your Risks
Look at the history of disasters in your area and be aware of the types of business and manufacturing organizations that are located in your community. Be aware of major highways, railroads or airports that could be involved in hazardous transportation. Contact your local emergency management, civil defense office or the local Red Cross chapter and be prepared to take notes:
- Ask what types of disasters are most likely to happen and request information on how to prepare for each.
- Learn about your community’s warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them.
- Ask about animal care after disaster. Animals may not be allowed inside emergency shelters due to health regulations.
- Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed.
Next, find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children’s school, daycare center and other places where your family spends time.
2. Create Disaster Plan
Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of disasters such as fire, severe weather, industrial accidents or human threats to your children. Plan and explain the need to share responsibilities and safety as it involves a disaster. Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen and explain what to do in each case.
Be sure to pick two places to meet:
a) Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire.
b) Outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return to your home. Be sure everyone has memorized that address and phone number.
Next, ask an out-of-state friend to be your “family contact.” After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Other family members should know to call this person and tell them where they are. Again, be sure everyone has memorized your contact’s phone number and relatives know who that contact is as well.
Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets and be aware of others in your neighborhood that may need special assistance, such as the elderly or disabled.
Finally, complete the following checklist as a base to define your family’s plan.
• Post emergency telephone numbers by phones (fire, police, ambulance, etc.).
• Teach children how and when to call 911 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help.
• Show each family member how and when to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
• Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
• Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher and show them where it’s kept.
• Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms.
• Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit, (listed below).
• Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
• Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each major room.
• Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster.
• Make plans for childcare in case parents can’t get home or assign them a ‘safe house’ in your neighborhood where they can go.
3. Gather Emergency Supplies
There are six basics you should stock in your home: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, emergency supplies and special items. Keep enough of these supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Store these in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle bags or covered trash containers.
Place those supplies you’d most likely need for an instant evacuation in an easily carried container that is well marked and easily available. Suggested supplies for this are listed with an asterisk (*).
Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break, such as milk cartons or glass bottles. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more as well.
• Store one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food preparation/sanitation)*
• Keep at least a three-day supply of water for each person in your household.
Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno. Select food items that are compact and lightweight.
Include a selection of the following foods in your Disaster Supplies Kit:
• Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
• Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, store extra water)
• Staples such as sugar, salt, pepper
• High energy foods such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
• Foods for infants, elderly persons or persons on special diets
• Comfort/stress foods such as cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, lollipops, instant coffee, tea bags, etc.
First Aid Supplies
Assemble a first aid kit for your home and one for each car. A first aid kit* should include:
Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
2-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
Hypoallergenic adhesive tape
Triangular bandages (3)
2-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
Tongue blades (2)
Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
Assorted sizes of safety pins
Latex gloves (2 pair)
Aspirin or nonaspirin pain reliever
Antacid (for stomach upset)
Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison Control Center)
Contact your local American Red Cross chapter to obtain a basic first aid manual.
Clothing and Bedding
Include at least the following for each person:
One complete change of clothing
Sturdy shoes or work boots*
Hat and gloves
Blankets or sleeping bags*
Extra house and car keys*
Mess kits, or paper cups, plates
Battery-operated radio and extra batteries*
Flashlight and extra batteries*
Cash or traveler’s checks, change*
Non-electric can opener and utility knife*
Fire extinguisher: small canister type
Matches in a waterproof container
Plastic storage containers
Shut-off wrench, to turn off household gas, water
Map of the area (for locating shelters)
Toilet paper, towelettes*
Soap, liquid detergent*
Personal hygiene items*
Plastic garbage bags, (for personal sanitation)
Plastic bucket with tight lid
Household chlorine bleach
Remember family members with special needs, such as infants and the elderly or disabled persons.
Heart and high blood pressure medication
Contact lenses and supplies
Entertainment – games and books.
Important Family Documents
Keep these records in a waterproof, portable container:
• Will, insurance policies, 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 numbers
• Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)
4. Practice and Maintain Your Plan
Be sure to periodically quiz your children so they remember what to do. For young children conduct a fire and home evacuation drill.
• Check your home smoke and carbon monoxide detectors each month. (Change the batteries every year.)
• Replace stored emergency supplies every three months to assure freshness. (such as stored food or water)
• Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Final Suggestions And Reminders For A Disaster
• Store your kit in a convenient place known to all family members.
• Keep a smaller version of the Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car.
• Keep items in air-tight plastic bags.
• Change your stored water supply every six months so it stays fresh.
• Rotate your stored food every six months.
• Re-think your kit and family needs at least once a year. Replace batteries, update clothes, etc.
• Ask your physician or pharmacist about storing prescription medications.
Locate the main electric fuse box, water service main and natural gas main. Learn how and when to turn these utilities off. Teach all responsible family members. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves.
Remember, turn off the utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Working with neighbors can save lives and property. Meet with your neighbors to plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster until help arrives. If you’re a member of a neighborhood organization, such as a home association or crime watch group, introduce disaster preparedness as a new activity. Know your neighbors’ special skills (e.g., medical, technical) and consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as disabled and elderly persons. Make plans for childcare in case parents can’t get home.
Evacuate immediately if told to do so:
• Listen to your battery-powered radio and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.
• Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
• Take your family disaster supplies kit
• Lock your home.
• Use travel routes specified by local authorities – don’t use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.
If you’re sure you have time:
• Shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving, if instructed to do so.
• Post a note telling others when you left and where you are going.
• Make arrangements for your pets.
If Disaster Strikes
• Remain calm and patient. Put your plan into action.
• Check for injuries, give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
• Listen to your battery powered radio for news and instructions. (Evacuate, if advised to do so. Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.)
• Check for damage in your home:
– Use flashlights (do not light matches or turn on electrical switches, if you suspect damage).
– Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards.
– Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or even suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.
– Shut off any other damaged utilities.
– Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids immediately.
The threat to our lives from natural and human risks can be sudden and devastating, our best defense is to be ready to respond to these incidents as quickly and calmly as possible. All families, wherever they live, should have their own family disaster plan.
Keith A. Baker is a manager within RSM McGladrey’s large projects group and has spent the last two years in the Middle East. He specializes in security, risk, business continuity and training. He has recently returned to the U.S. and can be reached at Keith_Baker@rsmi.com.