A step ahead of disaster

Published 10:21 am Saturday, August 8, 2009

We hear it on the evening news around this time every year as the end of summer nears. Our attention usually turns somewhere else and we tune out the anchor as she leads into the story, “It’s hurricane season once again and time to make sure your family is prepared.” While we know the importance of being prepared for a disaster, the demands of everyday life often take precedence over preparation. Yet, being well-equipped for a disaster can mean a less costly experience, both financially and emotionally for your family. The truth is Virginia residents face natural, technological, chemical and man-made hazards year-round that can potentially become disasters at a moment’s notice. However, many of us lack a plan that answers the simple questions: How will our family communicate during a crisis? What is the emergency plan for my children’s school or spouse’s workplace? What is our backup communication plan if phone lines are jammed? What is the local emergency broadcasting channel?

Being ready for disaster goes beyond making sure your smoke detectors work and that you have stash of non-perishable food handy. Achieving true emergency preparedness takes a cooperative effort between families, first responders, elected officials, and federal, state, and local governments.

Ready America (www.ready.gov/america) is a public service organization designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. Together with the Department of Homeland Security, the Ad Council, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ready America has developed a list of tools and resources to help your family be ready for emergencies. Taking these simple but important steps towards being fully prepared can make a big difference in the safety of your loved ones:

Develop a family emergency plan.

Your family may not be together when disaster strikes. Children could be at school, spouses at work or running errands, or teenagers out with their friends. It is important to plan how you will make contact with each other when disaster strikes. Because local phone systems experience high volumes of phone calls during a disaster, it may be a good idea to have an out-of-town relative or friend serve as the point of contact for your family. New technology also makes it easier to get in touch with family members quickly. Make sure each of your family members knows how to use services like text messaging. A simple message reading, “I’m OK” goes a long way in easing nerves until you are able to reach one another in person.

Subscribe to alert services.

Many communities have developed systems that will send text messages or emails alerting you to local emergencies or bad weather. Check the community information page to find ways that you can be alerted of emergency situations at http://www.ready.gov/america/local/index.html.

Create an emergency supply kit.

Ready America recommends including the following items in your emergency supply kit:

* One gallon of water per person per day for three days

* A three-day supply of non-perishable food. Also pack a manual can opener and eating utensils

* Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries

* Flashlight and extra batteries

* First aid kit

* Dust mask to help filter contaminated air

* Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

* Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities in your home

* Local maps

Homes with senior citizens should also include medications, medical records, and personal items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchair batteries and other appropriate supplies.

Stay informed.

Where you live has an impact on the types of emergencies you are most susceptible to. It is important to learn the appropriate way to respond to potential emergencies that can happen in your state, region and community. It is also a good idea to know the emergency plans that have been established by your community. Visit Ready America’s Community and State Information page at http://www.ready.gov/america/local/index.html to find resources on appropriate emergency preparedness in your community.