Planning for Emergencies.It’s midnight and all should be well — except it isn’t. There’s a fire in your house. What are you to do? If you had made a family emergency plan, you would know what to do and would be able to execute your plan to deal with the emergency. September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, a reminder to all of us that being aware of our risks and making emergency plans can help us to deal with emergencies effectively.
The first step in planning for emergencies is to assess your risks, which could include fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, snow/ice storms, extreme heat, tornadoes or tsunamis.
In addition to a specific risk, you also need to consider the unique needs of your family. Do you have older teenagers who could possibly fend for themselves, or younger children who will be totally dependent on your guidance? Do any family members have special needs? This may include a chronic illness that requires special equipment or medication; decreased mobility that calls for a wheelchair; ventilator/oxygen dependence; a decreased ability to communicate due to age, developmental or mental health issues, hearing or visual impairment.
Once you have assessed your risks, you can start to plan to address your needs in an emergency, taking into consideration your particular home design and construction. You can prioritize your risks in order to develop plans that are most germane to your family. You may want to hold a family meeting so that all family members can participate in the plan formulation. Brainstorming can allow family members to suggest items for a go bag or emergency supply container, as well as mention items of particular importance to a family member (such as toys or activities for the children, toys for the pets, books and reading materials, etc). Having a plan and communicating it to family members can help decrease anxiety in the event of an emergency. If anyone in the family has special needs you may want to include a notebook, thumb drive or other source of medical information in your emergency kit.
Communication is important across all risks. How will you contact family members if an emergency occurs when the family is not together? In this technological age, cell phones, computers and mobile devices can play a role. Communication with neighbors and friends can also be helpful. Having contact information for someone outside your area is advised. Be sure family members know how to reach the outside contact. You should be aware of the emergency plans for your child’s school or daycare and ask how the plan will be implemented. Many times alerts are broadcast on TV or radio. Many communities also have a reverse 911 call service that will contact you in a community emergency. If you lose power, you may want to consider using your car radio to monitor alerts or use a battery or crank power radio.
Be aware of and explore your community resources before an emergency occurs. Where are the shelters in your area if you need to relocate? Do they accept pets? If not, what kind of arrangements can be made for them? Where would you go for food, water, showers and medical care if these services were needed?
Emergency management planners advise that if you need to shelter in place, you should have enough food, water and medications for each family member and pet for at least three days. In some situations emergency responders may not be able to reach you for three days. In other instances you may be advised to evacuate your home. In that case having an emergency go bag or emergency supply case will help decrease the time needed to prepare for evacuation. An emergency supply container should include nonperishable food and water, emergency medical supplies, a battery-operated radio, contact or medical information, a change of clothes, hygiene items, toilet paper and any other items your family deems necessary. A smaller version of the supply container would be a personal go bag for each person, which could be kept in the car, on your boat, at your work desk, etc. Accumulating supplies may seem daunting, but if you make a list and gradually purchase supplies it will seem more manageable.
Once you have developed your emergency plan, practice it. Have a drill to evacuate your house, try to contact each family member and call your outside contact. When you practice the plan you may realize it needs to be revised. This can also occur after an emergency. All family members should be aware of the plan and have input into its formulation and revision, depending upon their age and development.
While discussing or practicing the plan, be positive and be aware that being calm and prepared can help decrease distress in an emergency. It is still necessary to monitor family members for signs of stress that may be related to discussing an emergency or being in an emergency. This can vary for each person depending on age, personality and exposure to/ reaction to past emergencies. If stress is a concerning issue, you may want to contact your health care provider for guidance.
Consider other emergency preparation methods, such as taking a CPR or first aid course, participating in emergency drills in your community or volunteering to participate in emergency planning. During September you may want to plan some family activities related to preparedness such as having children draw pictures or make posters related to emergencies, review the family emergency plans with family members or take advantage of other resources available to help you prepare for emergencies.
By assessing your risks, making and practicing an emergency plan and exploring resources in your community or on the web, you will be better prepared to deal with an emergency.
Christina F. Rickenback, MSN, CPNP, APRN, is a PNP at Wildwood Pediatrics in Essex, CT. She is also a member of the Children in Disasters Special Interest Group at NAPNAP.