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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

HOW TO MAKE AN EMERGENCY PLAN

Potter County DES
This is the second in a series of articles designed to help Potter County citizens to prepare for emergencies. September is National Preparedness Month sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


Last week we thought about why we should prepare for emergency situations. The next question on everyone’s mind is “How do I start to prepare?” The most effective way to start any project is with a plan. Most people don’t have a plan for getting their family back together if they are separated by flooding or a blizzard. Even fewer know evacuation routes they should use for flooding or a large chemical spill from a traffic accident.

With budget problems at local, state, and federal levels, outside resources may not always be available to respond in case of an emergency. It is more important than ever to be prepared to be self-sufficient – to get through the event on your own. Having a three day supply of food and water in the house used to be called “Prepared”. Today, that is not enough.

Unexpected events require that you plan what you will do in advance. If you wait until the disaster strikes, there may not be time to decide what to do and take the necessary steps. If you wait until the snow storm is happening to decide you need to stock up on extra food, it will be too late. If you wait until your family is sick with the flu before preparing to treat them at home, you may be too sick yourself to go to the store for medicine.

Have a family meeting to discuss possible emergencies. List what types of emergencies might happen near your home, school, or workplace. Use common sense to decide what you can do to be ready for each type of emergency. Many of your preparations will be the same, regardless of the type of disaster. Other preparations will apply to only a few incidents, but could be the key to keeping you safe.

An important decision to make for each situation is whether you stay put or get away. You should have a plan for both possibilities. For instance, a normal winter storm can be handled by staying in place. But if that storm knocks out the power and you don’t have a non-electric heat source, you may need an alternate place to go. Talk about evacuating to friends, family or neighbors in several different directions so you have options in an emergency. This should include options well outside the danger area, such as at a relative’s home in another town.

Develop a family communications plan. Your plan should include contact information for family members, work, and school so you can be in contact in case of a local emergency. Also choose an “Out-of-Town” contact that all family members will call or email if separated by an emergency situation (it is often easier to call out-of-state during an emergency than within the affected area). Make sure each family member has a list of this contact information and has coins or a prepaid phone card to use in emergencies.

Your plan should include two meeting places. One meeting place should be near your home, such as a neighbor’s house, where you will all meet if you can’t meet at home. For instance, if your family had to evacuate your house from a fire, you could quickly verify that everyone had escaped if you all gathered at your pre-planned location. You should also have a place to meet which is outside your neighborhood in case your family is not together when disaster strikes and you cannot return home after an emergency. Flooding or a hazardous materials incident might make it necessary to meet at a nearby church or school.

In addition, plan for family members with disabilities and other special needs such as very young or elderly persons. If you live alone, arrange for a relative or neighbor to check on you in an emergency. Even a “simple” power outage can be a life-threatening event for a person dependent on life support equipment such as a home oxygen system. Develop a plan that includes an alternate power source for the equipment or relocating the person. Make a list of what supplies you need to keep on hand for caring for a young child. Don’t forget to update your list of any medications your family members need to take.

Uncertainty about the coming flu season means you should also plan for having family members home sick. Make a list of the over-the-counter medications you need to have on hand, as well as what types of food are best for flu patients. Don’t wait until the last minute to get these supplies. If you get sick, someone else will have to take care of you. Also make plans for social distancing requirements. If large gatherings, such as schools, church, or offices are closed due to a large number of illnesses, be ready to remain at home. In addition to your family doctor, the American Red Cross and Center for Disease Control (CDC) websites have valuable information about caring for flu patients at home. Get this information now and be ready for this fall and winter.

Another part of your emergency plan should include learning how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at main switches. Also, keep family records such as medical records, insurance and banking information and vital documents such as birth and marriage certificates, social security numbers and deeds in a safe deposit box or waterproof and fireproof container. Put these documents on the list of items you need to take in case of an evacuation.

Don’t forget to include your pets and livestock in your plan. They depend on you to prepare for them. From the resources listed below such as ready.gov or American Red Cross, pet owners can receive free emergency preparedness information on how to assemble a pet Emergency Supply Kit, develop a pet care buddy system and how to make plans in advance for their animals if they need to evacuate.

You should also have a plan for your business or workplace. Does your employer have an emergency plan? Do you know what it includes? If a weather emergency required you to remain at your place of work, do you have supplies to use for food, sanitation, even sleeping arrangements? Ready Business, an extension of the national Ready Campaign, is designed to help owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses prepare their employees, operations and assets in the event of an emergency. The Ready Business section of www.ready.gov contains vital information for businesses on how to get started preparing their business for their unique needs during an emergency.

There are many resources for information about emergency planning. Call 1-800-BE-READY (1-800-237-3239) and ask for a free brochure. Or use the Internet to go to www.ready.gov or www.fema.gov or www.redcross.org or www.citizencorps.gov. Or call FEMA at 1-800-480-2520. Or call the American Red Cross at 814-368-6197. Or call the Potter County Emergency Management Agency at 814-274-8900. All of these sources can help you get free, but valuable information on how to develop an emergency plan.

Be prepared to adapt this information to your personal circumstances. With these simple preparations, you can be ready for an emergency. Don’t delay, because you never know when the unexpected will happen. It is time to quit hoping you’re ready, and start being really READY. Next week’s topic: How to Prepare an Emergency Kit. Join us and be prepared.

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