Would your family members know what to do if faced with a disaster? Thousands of families learned the answer to that question with the recent hurricane catastrophes.
"The biggest issue that we as first responders run into is that people fail to plan. Then things that could have been simple issues become big problems," said Scott Buchle, program manager for Penn State Health Life Lion EMS. The emergency service operates throughout south central Pennsylvania.
While hurricanes may be somewhat limited in their geographical impact, other types of disasters are far more common. Countless Americans live in areas prone to blizzards, wildfires, tornadoes or earthquakes. Even severe thunderstorms or ice storms can bring flash floods or widespread power outages.
Having a plan on what to do if faced with any of these disasters can save lives, as well as lower the amount of anxiety and unpreparedness that comes with a natural or man-made calamity.
If you live in an area where the weather can challenge your safety, you should have enough water, non-perishable food, medications and a medication list, battery backups, a generator and other supplies to get through 48 to 72 hours, Buchle said in a Penn State news release.
Research your neighborhood and find out how close fire and police stations are. Do you know in what direction you would need to go to find higher ground, where a tornado shelter is located or an emergency room? Is there a municipal building with a generator nearby?
Discuss and come up with a plan with your family the best way to respond during an emergency. Have a contact list of state and federal emergency agencies, and decide where you will meet up if separated.
You should also understand how your house is built and where you can go to be safe in case of flooding or a tornado. Many homes these days are “open concept” and don’t have sheltered inner rooms. Consider purchasing a tornado shelter if you live in areas prone to tornados.
"You also need to know who your emergency contacts are and the numbers," says Russell Knapp, supervisor of fire safety for the Penn State Health Medical Center campus.
What if you lose your cell phone – would you know the numbers off the top of your head? A laminated contact list that is in your wallet or purse is helpful to have when faced with an emergency.
It's also important to keep a current list of medications you take, the dosage, and how often you take each one, in case you have to seek safety in a shelter.
"You can give that [information] to people who can help you get the medicine you need," Buchle said.
People who use home medical equipment that requires electricity should consider what they would do if the power is out for several days. Plan ahead and if necessary have a generator and fuel on standby.
If you require medications that must be refrigerated, keep a cooler and ice packs on hand in case of power outages, these experts suggested.
Families with young children can also have a stash of diapers, formula, bottles, clean water and wipes ready to grab and run.
And don’t forget the pets. For many people, these animals are part of the family. Keep an adequate supply of pet food on hand and extra kitty litter.
In the middle of an emergency is not the time to try and find all these things. Have a separate location where your emergency supplies are located and in bags, ready to grab and leave with. Most of these supplies can be packed; medicines will need to be easily accessible.
Having an emergency plan that everyone is aware of in case of a disaster can help immensely when time is of the essence.