For the last year, emergency preparedness was one of those things on my to do list, but I never got it together to actually make our emergency kit (go kit) or to even learn what to do. After attending 2 emergency preparedness meetings (1 class was mandatory to continue in the CERT program), I finally signed up to take the official classes to become a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member.
What will you do in an emergency? How will you know your family and loved ones are safe? How will you handle the situation?
A great website to learn how you can get prepared is from 72hours.org
Make a Plan
Making a plan is the first step in getting prepared. It’s important for you to know who, what, where, when. Who will you want to know is safe, what will you do or where will you go, and when will you do or go where. Know where your main shelter is closest to your home and/or office. If an emergency happens, where will you tell your family to go – particularly your children. Most local phone lines will be down or only available to emergency personnel (police, fire, etc). Have an out of state contact that you and your family/loved ones can call. It is more likely that long distance will still be available. Also, texts have a better chance of being available. If you have an out of state contact, you can still find out who is safe and where they are. If you have a place you’ve designated as an emergency location, everyone can reconvene there and you will be able to reconnect with your family/loved ones quicker. Make sure to add any pets, etc in your emergency plan.
Also, plan what you will do if you are home and an emergency occurs. How will you get your family out the quickest. If you have children, it’s vital to also teaching them how they will get out as quickly as possible. My son is 4. There is no way he can open his window (let along reach to climb out) in an emergency. My husband and I will have to get him or have him come to us. Because of this, we have to plan accordingly.
Know your home and utilities
Know your home and where all of your utilities are: gas, water, and electric. Know how to turn them off. This is vital.
Take a walk around your house. Really look at it. What are hazards? Any trees that hang precariously over your home that could come down during earthquake, storm, etc? Any utility lines above your home/property that could come down? What if an earthquake, storm, etc hit – what would most likely be damaged? Are they preventable? Really think about this as you look at your home. If there are things that you can’t prevent now, you will know what to check immediately after a disaster does strike.
If something happens, you should know how to turn on and off all your utilities. Don’t expect someone to show up immediately to shut off your water if a water pipe bursts and starts flooding your house. Or if an electric line breaks – you need to know how to shut this off, so sparks don’t cause a fire in your home. If you live an apartment building, they should have an emergency plan – ask them what it is or where your utilities are, so you can take care of your place.
FYI: if you turn off your gas, your utility company HAS to be the one to turn it back on. So don’t turn it off unless there is a reason. To know if your gas is leaking- smell, listen, and see: smell for gas, listen to hear if gas is “hissing” and see if your meter is spinning rapidly (the dial will spin quickly or if you have a smart meter the digital numbers will be changing rapidly). Have a wrench tied to your meter. In an emergency, the last thing you want to do is rummage through your tools to look for one that will turn your gas off. I was able to buy a sturdy wrench (that even came with a zip tie and can turn off gas and water) for $5.99 at the hardware store. Also, try turning the valve slightly (again, don’t turn it completely off – just a little to make sure it can turn). Often, no ones touched the valves for so long they are practically rusted open and impossible to turn off.
The Go kit was one of the things that I thought about the longest. It should be, it’s your only chance to pack the things you may end up having if an emergency strikes.
Here’s a list of items you might consider for a kit from Ready.gov
I wanted our go kits to be practical, easy to carry/move, and have essentials (plus, a few comfort items). We try to eat very healthy. If you are in an emergency situation, your stress level is extremely high, you may have injuries, or your body is in a weakened state. Most emergency foods/drinks are heavy on preservatives and additives to keep it from going bad for long periods of time, but having bad, highly synthetic food will only increase your chance of illness. Sure, if it’s all we had to eat, I wouldn’t hesitate feeding this to my family, but this is not how we eat day to day and the food alone may end up causing us issues because we’re just not used to it to begin with. I took a look at the foods we do eat and found the ones that would last long term (at least 6 months, preferably a year) and started with those: homemade granola, homemade beef jerky, dried fruit and veggies, rice, beans, corn (popcorn can also be ground into flour and is a whole grain), energy bars that are organic, etc. I also found camping/backpackers food that were organic and preservative free. It’s definitely doable, if you look hard enough. Note: rice and beans are last resort, as they use a lot of water – which will be valuable during an emergency, but I still packed a little as a last resort.
Have at least 2 Go kits – 3 is even better.
1 kit will be by your bedside or easy to get to if a disaster strikes when you are sleeping. I’m in CA, so imagine an earthquake; I’m groggy, in my pj’s and I need to grab my family and get out of the house. I won’t have time to rummage around for my supplies. Having a backpack full of “stuff” is my best bet to get us out as quick as possible. I have shoes, clothes, minor medical supplies, and at least 1 day of food (plus a set of clothes for each of my kids). My husband has his own kit. If you had any medication, glasses, etc – you should have an extra set in this kit.
1 kit is in your car. You may not be home when disaster strikes. Or the disaster might happen when you are in your car. This kit is similar to the bedside kit.
1 kit is your “big” kit. This kit has at least 3 days worth of anything you might need. The best suggestion for this kit was to have it in a rolling garbage can that has a tight lid. Store this on the side of your house (preferably not visible to others or in direct sunlight). This is your real kit for emergencies.
Even in my small kits, I included a small ziplock bag full of legos for my son and a small doll for my daughter. They take up minimal space, but will be a huge comfort to both of them. My daughter is 16 months old. There is no way she would be able to walk long distances, so I added a wrap so I could bundle her to me (or my husband) but still have my hands free. I bought 5 yrds of a thin, lightweight, durable fabric and cut it in half (so it’s approx. 27″ wide). In an emergency, the fabric will be a cheap version of a Moby style wrap. Plus, I can always use the fabric as bandages or for warmth, if absolutely necessary. It cost me $10 and has multiple uses. I also used travel vacuum bags for all of our clothes. These are the bags that you can roll to squeeze the air out of to reduce space.
One of the biggest things stressed to me was to have a whistle. I have it on my key chain. If something were to happen and I needed people to know where to find me, I could only scream for so long – but could use a whistle for a lot longer and a whistle is louder and easier to hear.
Also, try to always have at least a 1/2 tank of gas at all times. You never know when you may have to evacuate an area. A friend of mine had to evacuate when Katrina hit. All the gas stations ran out of gas. She was lucky enough that they could siphon gas from one car to fill the other, in able to leave town and get far enough away.
Making a plan, knowing your home and utilities, and preparing your go kits are all things you can do immediately. These simple things may save your life or someone you love.
If all of this is making you realize you are woefully unprepared or you realize that if an emergency occurs and you want to be able to take action – than CERT may be for you. I am the type of person that would have to know what happens next and how do I make sure myself and my family know what to do. CERT gave me the information, tools, and knowledge to be better prepared.