By Allyson Pope, American Red Cross AmeriCorps Member
Remember those fire drills that you had in school that got you out of doing classwork? Or the tornado drills where you crouched in the hallway with a textbook over your head? I never really understood the point of those drills until I was sitting at school and it was no longer a drill. Knowing what to do in a fire or any other disaster can save your life.
September is National Preparedness Month. For the American Red Cross, that means encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to prepare for a disaster. A disaster can strike at any moment and that is why the Red Cross reminds people to make sure they are prepared. The three actions that everybody should take to be prepared are: Get a Kit, Make a Plan, and Be Informed.
If there was a disaster, like an earthquake, and your entire family was split up, would you know how to get into contact with them and find them? Preparing ahead of time, for what you would do if you were separated from your family during an emergency, is one step for making a plan.
In order to make a plan, families should meet together to discuss their disaster plan. You should have a plan for every place that you spend a majority of your time. For me, I have a plan for my apartment, workplace, and for my school - and my plan is different for each place. You can download a template of a Family Disaster Plan in English and in Spanish at the American Red Cross web site.
The first part of your plan should be having two designated meeting places. One should be outside of your home and one outside of your neighborhood. If there was a disaster like a fire, you would want to meet somewhere close to your home. My roommates meet at our mailbox because it is far enough away from our apartment and it is easy to get to. A meeting place outside of your home will help in the event of a disaster because it will let you know who got out of the home safely. It also means that you will not be spending time looking for everybody that has already gotten out of your home.
Your family should also pick a meeting place outside of your neighborhood. In most disasters, it will affect more than just our home. It might affect an entire community. If you were asked to evacuate your home and could not return for any other reason, you would want a meeting place that you could meet your family. Luckily for me, my two roommates also work at the Red Cross. Our outside of our neighborhood meeting place is at the Red Cross office. When you pick a meeting place that is outside of your neighborhood, make sure you know how to get there easily.
An out-of-area emergency contact person will help you get into contact with your family. If there was an earthquake that affected the St. Louis area, one of the first things we might try is to get into contact with our family and friends. The phone lines could be overloaded or out of service. When this happens, it is often easier to get a phone call connected to someone out of the affected area than it is to get connected to someone locally. For this reason, we want somebody to stay in contact with our family that is reliable and out of the St. Louis area. The person could be our key communication as our family tries to get back together. Texting is another great way to get into contact with people in the disaster affected area. Text messages will stay in your phone until they are able to be sent. Have your emergency contact information in your phone and written down in multiple places like your refrigerator and in your disaster kit. Here is a template for an emergency contact card.
Make sure you know how to evacuate your home and your neighborhood in a disaster. You want to decide where you will go and how you will get there. Disaster drills are not just for schools or workplaces. They should also be done at home, especially if you have any kids. Practice how you would get out of each room and how to get out of your house. When we practice a fire drill in our apartment, we take turns on who is in charge. The person in charge will pick when they will turn on the smoke alarm. Try to practice at all times of the day. You should practice a fire drill when people are asleep, so you can be sure everybody will wake up to the smoke detector going off. Earthquake and tornado drills should also be practiced.
If you have any pets, make sure to include them in your plan. Know what pet-friendly hotels and shelters are along your evacuation route. After you complete your disaster plan with your family, you should keep it somewhere that you will remember, just like your emergency preparedness kit. Check your disaster plan every six months and make sure that it does not need to be updated. To encourage people to “Make a Plan” during National Preparedness Month, the American Red Cross is sponsoring a prize drawing for a new iPad. To enter, download the Family Disaster Plan template, complete it, share it with your friends and family and enter the contest here.
The American Red Cross is part of the “All Ready” campaign, a unified effort among emergency preparedness experts in the bi-state region that focuses on the importance of individual preparedness. The campaign encourages the three critical steps of preparedness: Make a plan, Get a kit, Be informed.