I remember the derrecho last June. I was stuck at the house. The fuel gauge in my truck said fumes, and the power was out. The situation I found myself in was very thought provoking.
There was no threat to my safety or wellbeing, but the sensation of being in post-Katrina Mississippi came flooding back to mind. The ability to drive to the grocery store for a few last-minute items was no longer an option. The only information available was via rumor. Complacency is an easy state to slip into: "It could never happen here or to me." But it can.
This is the first article in a series of four filled with suggestions on how to keep your family safe by thinking ahead to the "what ifs" in life. If you lose power for a week or more and can't get out, what will you do? What would you do if you were at work, your children were at school and a disaster occurred? If your home were to catch fire in the night, does everyone know two ways out? Do you have a meeting place so you can make sure that everyone is safe? Having a plan can mean the difference between your family's survival or not.
The absolute goal is to keep your family safe. Things can and do go wrong. Hurricane Katrina is a prime example of what can go wrong. On the Mississippi gulf coast, 65,380 houses were gone (we called it slabbed) or destroyed. There was no food, water or shelter. Government response was not immediate. If you find yourself in dire circumstances for three to 10 days or more, can you keep your family safe, fed and sheltered?
A family safety plan is relatively easy to make. If everyone in your family group is involved in the planning they will know what to do. Discuss what potential problems you need a plan for. In this area, flooding and mudslides are considered, as are severe winter storms. Is your home in an area that floods? What if we have a very dry summer, lightning strikes and causes a significant wildfire? What if we have an earthquake?
We must each have a plan. Make a list of everyone in your family group, including Fido and Fluffy. If Aunt Blanch lives down the road and she needs assistance in her day-to-day activities, she will need your help. Plan for her needs as well.
Do your children go to school or day care? Does your job require your presence in times of emergency? Who will care for your family while you are at work if your family must evacuate, if it is in the middle of the night, if it is for longer or for different hours than you would normally work? How will you communicate with each other? If you are not together when disaster strikes, do you have a designated place to meet?
Most disasters have several things in common. Communication systems failure is one, and it is a huge issue. Cell phone networks can go down or be jammed with high call volumes. Long-distance calls may go through when local calls will not. One option may be to have an out-of-area contact that family members and loved ones can contact for status updates.
Everyone that your safety plan covers should have a list of emergency contact information that they carry as a wallet card. Younger children can have this information attached to their school bag.
Pick two places to meet. One place should be outside of your home in case of a fire. You may not be able to get home, so the other should be outside of your neighborhood. If your family is scattered and you can't get home, a central, agreed-upon meeting place could save the day. This information should also be on your wallet cards. If you are home and must evacuate, write a note and call your out-of-area contact with information that others might need if they are concerned about you.
For those of us with children, their safety is paramount. Do you know the schools' emergency protocols?
Will school busses take them home? Will the school keep them until parents can get them? A good backup plan is to have someone you trust pick up your children. Make sure the school has a list of persons authorized to pick up your children. Another suggestion is to have a "code" word that this person can use with your child. This word will allow your child to feel safe with them. Include these resources and their contact information on your wallet cards. It is so difficult to look up numbers when you are stressed and approaching overload.
How will you know if the Office of Emergency Management has issued a warning or order for evacuation? In a true emergency "I wish I had known" is not a good thing. Make sure your family is informed. The OEM issues warnings through the Nixle program, which is free and delivers text messages to your cell phone or email. To sign up for this service, just go to Nixle on the internet or utilize Facebook and visit the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management page.
The goal is to have a plan in place, so if you get a message requiring a response, you and your loved ones are ready to handle the problem.
In future articles, we will look at suggestions for what you might need if you stay home.
We will also look at what you will need to take if you have to go a shelter. We will have additional information available at the Hooked on Fishing Not On Drugs event at the Elkins High School gym Saturday and Sunday, or you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.