Disaster Preparedness Tips for Families

With natural disasters being an ever present concern, we wanted to help bring to mind some things that could be helpful in the event of being caught in one.

Earthquake, floods, fires, and other similar events leave little time to think and act. The truth is, far too few of us are prepared for a major disaster, when taking a few simple measures would dramatically increase our chances of staying safe.

As a family-owned business with deep roots in the neighborhoods we serve, we’re committed to helping you and your family prepare as much as possible for an emergency. As part of that commitment, we offer you these suggestions on disaster preparedness. It focuses on the types of disasters that are most likely to occur in the western United States, and includes some basic facts along with essential steps for being prepared.

We hope this is helpful.

FAMILY EMERGENCY PLAN

In any type of disaster, the services we rely on, like water, telephone, electricity, and gas, could be cut off. You and your family members could be confined or, in the case of an earthquake or flood, forced to evacuate your neighborhood. These kinds of disruptions are unsettling, but knowing how to handle them in advance is your best assurance that you’ll be able to stay safe and calm and keep in touch with family members.

A family emergency plan is an important first step in preparing for any large-scale disruption. Having a family plan will ensure that everyone is coordinated and knowledgeable about staying safe. Here are some steps to get you started with your family plan:

Family Discussion

Hold a discussion with your family about the need to prepare for disasters. Explain to children that natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, and floods hold dangers, but preparing for them is the key to staying safe. A discussion, and having a plan, will also minimize your family members’ fear and anxiety in the event of an emergency.

Emergency Telephone Numbers

An emergency leaves little time to look up numbers. Be sure to post all emergency numbers in a place that everyone knows. These should include police, fire, ambulance, nearby friends, and your emergency contact (see below).

Family Contact

If phone service is disrupted in your area, you’ll need a contact who lives outside the affected vicinity -a relative or close friend- to act as a central point for receiving and dispatching messages. Family members can call your contact who can then relay your message to other family members. Be sure that everyone in your family knows your contact’s name, address, and phone number.

Where to Go

In a disaster situation, it’s typical that family members will be in different locations (school, work, etc.). As part of your plan, decide on two places to meet in case you must leave your home: one place should be outside, near your home, the other outside the neighborhood in the event that you must leave the area.

Learn about emergency shelter locations in your vicinity. Identify a friend or relative who can take you in if you must leave your home. Roads could be closed or blocked in a disaster. Plan an alternate escape route, and follow the directions of local officials, who will direct you to the safest route.

Turning Off Utilities

Part of your family discussion should include directions on how and when to shut off main switches and valves for water, gas, and electricity. Keep tools, such as a shut-off wrench, close to gas and water valves. Utilities should be turned off if you suspect a leak or damaged lines, or if the authorities instruct you to do so. Painting shut-off valves with a fluorescent color will make them easier to see.

Practice Your Plan

Practicing your family plan will help you instinctively take the right actions during an actual emergency. Review your plan periodically. Offer a prize to younger kids who accurately answer questions about evacuation, meeting places, phone numbers, and safety rules.

Insurance Coverage

Know if your insurance will cover your home and belongings in the event that they are damaged or ruined. Different rules apply depending on whether you own or rent your residence. Contact your insurance agent to be clear on what’s covered and what’s not.

EARTHQUAKE

The San Andreas Fault, which extends 800 miles through California, keeps everyone guessing when the next “big one” will hit. We don’t know the answer of course, but even a smaller quake (under a magnitude 7) can cause loss of life and major damage to property.

More people are injured or killed in earthquakes from falling or flying objects than from getting trapped inside a crumbling building. Taking some cautionary steps now will increase your chances of staying safe when an earthquake hits, as well as in the days following.

Here are some key preparations for an earthquake:

Survival Supplies

Since an earthquake can disrupt businesses as well as transportation routes, make sure you have enough supplies put away so that your family can sustain itself for several days after the quake. Here’s our “most essential” list of supplies for your emergency kit:

  • Three-day supply of food and water
  • Flashlights and/or lanterns (battery or solar)
  • Extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Emergency blankets
  • Personal hygiene items (toilet paper, soap, plastic garbage bags, etc.)
  • Basic tools (wrench, screw driver, hammer) and utensils (including a can opener)

Secure Heavy Objects

Secure heavy items that could fall and cause injury such as mirrors, bookshelves, decorative objects and the like. You can reduce the chance of injury from falling objects by getting down next to an interior wall and covering your head and neck with your arms (exterior walls are more likely to collapse and have windows that may break).

Duck and Cover

Identify sturdy places in your home that can provide cover. These places should be at a safe distance from windows, bookcases, and tall furniture. Crouching beneath heavy tables or against interior walls are examples of safe places. It is now regarded as unsafe to stand in a doorway or run outside.

Most experts agree that the best strategy in an earthquake is “Duck, cover, and hold on.” That is, drop where you are onto your hands and knees before the quake can knock you over; cover your head and neck with one arm and hand unless you are under a sturdy table; and hold on to the sheltering object until the shaking stops. If you are caught outside, use your arms and hands as a shield to protect your head.

Family Emergency Plan

Earthquakes can make roads impassable and disrupt lines of communication. Make sure your family has a disaster preparedness plan that specifies where to go and how to communicate (which we addressed earlier).

FIRE

Every year in the U.S., 4,000 people die in a fire. Most are victims of house fires. The most common causes of house fires are cooking, chemicals and gases (such as natural gas), electrical equipment or devices (such as space heaters), cigarettes, fireplaces, and candles.

Fortunately, most house fires are preventable. It takes just a few simple steps to prevent a fire and ensure that, if one does occur, your family knows how to respond. Here’s a checklist of the most important actions you can take to minimize the chances of a fire in your home:

Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers

Make sure that you have a smoke detector (alarm) on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Smoke detectors sense unusual amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can reduce by half your chances of dying in a fire. Test your smoke alarms at least once a month and replace batteries at least once a year.

Keep a small fire extinguisher in an easily accessible place. Make sure it is properly charged. Use the gauge or test button to check proper pressure. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacement or recharging your fire extinguishers.

Appliances

  • Keep space heaters at least three feet from any combustible material.
  • Always turn space heaters off when you leave the room.
  • Never leave a stove flame or element on if you step out of the kitchen.
  • Keep dishtowels, potholders, and other flammable objects safely away from your stove.
  • Avoid wearing loose-sleeved clothing (such as bathrobes) while cooking.
  • Avoid plugging multiple appliances into a single electrical socket.
  • Make sure all electrical outlets have cover plates so that wiring is not exposed.
  • Never use the oven or stove to heat your home.

Fireplaces, Candles, and Smoking

  • Keep a sturdy screen around fireplaces.
  • Keep candles at least a foot away from anything that can catch fire. Blow candles out when you leave the room
  • Store matches where children can’t get to them, and teach your kids to never play with matches or lighters.
  • Store gasoline in small quantities in a childproof container, and always keep the containers out of reach of children.
  • Never smoke in bed, or around flammable substances.

Practice a Fire Escape Plan

  • Review escape routes with your family. Identify two exits out of every room.
  • Have your kids practice feeling the door and doorknob to check if they are too hot. In addition, teach them to “get low and go” to avoid smoke inhalation.
  • Hold a family fire drill twice a year.

FLOOD

Floods happen in a variety of ways, most commonly when rivers and streams overflow their banks. Excessive rain, a ruptured dam or levee, or rapidly melting ice in the mountains can make a river rise quickly and spill over onto land.

In most floods, residents have ample time to evacuate. Flash floods are more dangerous. They happen quickly and with little warning, and can turn a babbling brook into a thundering wall of water that sweeps away everything in its path. The first step in safeguarding your family and home in a flood is to know your risk level.

Your risk is higher than average if:

  • Your home is near a river, lake, or ocean
  • Your home is situated in a low-lying area (consult a flood map or sea-level app if you’re unsure)
  • Your main floor is below the base flood elevation in your locality

Here are some steps that will enhance your chances of staying safe in a flood:

Evacuation Plan

Establish ahead of time if your area has evacuation routes and where they are. Identify shelters along the route. These might include the house of a friend or family member, a hotel, school, or an officially designated shelter. Many communities have designated emergency areas. Plan to leave the flood zone as soon as you receive an alert. Don’t wait.

Supplies

Keep the following emergency supplies on hand, anticipating that access to stores and vital systems might be disrupted:

  • Food and water for 3 days
  • Flashlights and/or lanterns
  • Extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Emergency blankets
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Basic tools and utensils including a can opener

Debris

Make sure gutters and drainage areas are clear of debris.

Barriers

If you live in a high-risk flood zone, consider safeguarding your home with removable flood barriers (also called surge barriers). These can range in type from absorbent “sock” coils to expandable stainless-steel barrier walls. An online search will give you options in both type and price.

Walls

If you have a basement, seal the walls with waterproofing compound to avoid seepage.

Flood Insurance

Check to see if your insurance covers flood damage (home insurance policies usually do NOT cover floods). One provider of flood insurance is the government’s National Flood Insurance Program. They’re at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.

KEEPING YOUR PETS SAFE

Your pet is part of the family and should be factored in as part of your disaster planning. Here are some essential actions to reduce the safety risk to your pet(s) in an emergency situation.

If you need to evacuate your home, take your pet with you. If this is not possible, research temporary shelters (such as kennels and veterinary clinics) and rescue organizations. Also consider friends and family members who can temporarily house your pet. Red Cross shelters do not allow animals, except for service dogs.

Along with their microchip implant, always keep a collar on your dog(s) and cat(s). In a disaster, pets can run away, and ID tags that include your name, address, and phone number (plus a secondary phone number in case your phone is out of service) can greatly increase your chances of recovering your friend.

Keep three to four weeks of pet food on hand in addition to your regular supply. Include chew toys, as these help reduce an animal’s stress in unfamiliar or confined circumstances. Also include enough water for a week. If water supplies become contaminated, both you and your pet should drink bottled or purified water.

Have several photos of your pet and keep them with your important documents. Your photos should highlight any distinguishing marks that would help someone identify your pet.

Knowing ahead of time where to take an injured animal can save its life. Identify a veterinarian in your vicinity that has a disaster plan to treat injured animals. Keep a backup supply of any long-term medication your pet is taking.

For cats: keep an assembled carrier (or “Evacsak”) on hand so you can transport your cat in an emergency. A small litter box and a water dish should be kept with your carrier.

For dogs:
keep a harness and leash handy at all times. Frightened dogs can easily slip out of a collar by bucking their heads. Also keep a chain and stake in the household to secure your dog should walls and fences fall down or become unstable in a disaster.