With the proper planning, individuals, and families can increase their personal resiliency against disasters and other emergencies. Taking the time to become better informed of local hazards and risks helps you identify your safety gaps and develop an all-inclusive family disaster plan that will help save lives, property, and contribute to building stronger, more resilient communities. How will you prepare this month? Preparing can start with just one easy step.
September is National Preparedness Month, a reminder to prepare for emergency, disasters or other calamities. For those in states vulnerable to hurricanes, September 10 ranks as the statistical peak of the six-month hurricane season. Residents in hurricane-prone areas are strongly encouraged to begin or review their preparations now. Other communities may experience a range of disasters – wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes to terrorism and hazardous material release – it is important to prepare for all possible scenarios that could affect your community. A good plan will consider most any contingency.
Planning is a Four-Step Process
Step 1: Discuss with your family. Emergency and disaster plans are a household effort.
A simple step is just sitting down with your family to discuss and create an emergency plan. Identify potential risks or hazards and emergency scenarios in advance and incorporate them into your planning: How to escape your home if there is a fire or flood? Should you evacuate or could your home withstand the impacts of a severe storm, such as a hurricane? Everyone must be in on the what, how, and when.
Step 2: Consider specific needs in your household.
Gathering and confirming specific needs depends on your household composition and ages. Some may require medications or other specific assistance such as a wheelchair. Others must ensure medical equipment such as hearing aids or breathing devices remain available, have power, and are in good condition. Consideration of games, toys or reading materials for children is important if sheltering away from home. If there are pets, they will need to be included in evacuation plans to ensure that a shelter or hotel accepts pets as well as ensuring to have their food and medication on site. Addressing functional needs—physical or mental limitations—is critical. Assigning a household member to assist another with special needs, the young, or elderly may save a life during a disaster.
Step 3: Agree on how to communicate in an emergency or disaster.
Reaching a family member or friend to confirm their location or safety before, during or after a disaster event or emergency is important. Gather and share contact information ahead of time. Text is suggested rather than calling after a disaster due to anticipated connectivity issues in an impacted area – texting requires less bandwidth than a phone call. Whether a text or call is chosen, designate a family or friend in another city that everyone can check in with if people get separated. Also, think about how your family will reconnect if they are in separate locations when disaster strikes. Is there a pre-designated meeting point? Ensure that everyone know where it is and how best to get there from school, work or home.
Another critical communications element is receiving notifications from emergency managers, municipal officials, or weather services before, during, and after an event. Before a disaster, confirm numbers and alert systems services work. Make sure all members of your household have this information and clearly understand your emergency communication plan. Consider purchasing a NOAA weather radio.
For more on communications, including a communications form template, visit Create Your Family Emergency Communication Plan.
Step 4: Concur, communicate and practice the plan.
Concurrence and communication about the plan should be part of each step in disaster planning. It comes together with practicing the emergency plan as a final step.
- Plan Ahead for Disasters | Ready.gov provides extensive guidance, preparedness materials and interactive exercises for readiness and planning. Materials include a communications plan template, a family communications plan fillable card, warnings and alerts information and 12 ways to prepare. Planning has never been so easy!
Now more than ever, it’s critical to plan ahead given additional challenges faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on your locality and its COVID-19 risk, commonly used congregate shelters may not be an available option – follow local officials to ensure you have the latest guidance on available sheltering in the event you need to evacuate your home. Similarly, be prepared to adhere to COVID-19 safety precautions and ensure you can meet required protocols to maintain yours as well as others safety.
- Consult the Centers for Disease Control’s How to Protect Yourself and Others guidelines for more information about the disease and how to protect yourself from COVID-19.
Disaster planning should be a year-round activity requiring revisions and fine tuning as your household or other conditions change. A good family disaster plan builds safety, enhances mental and physical resiliency, and strengthens the whole community. It starts at home – are you in?