By Susan A. Merkner
Hurricanes are not the only natural disaster your family should make plans for. Other disasters, such as a fires or floods, can strike at any time, often without much advance warning. A chemical spill on a nearby highway or train track could confine your family to the house or force an evacuation. Even a winter blizzard or tornado could cut off utilities for several days.
Families may be together at home, or separated by work or school, when an emergency arises. Being prepared ahead of time is the best defense when it comes to natural disasters, experts say.
House fires and flooding (natural or broken water pipes) are the most frequently encountered emergency situations faced by most families.
Experts say the two most important rules for handling a disaster are be organized and stay calm. Achieving those goals may be a bit easier if your family develops a safety plan and assembles a disaster supplies kit.
Although it¡¦s not easy to bring up worrisome topics with children, it¡¦s important that families create a plan of action in case of an emergency and discuss it ahead of time with youngsters. The following suggestions may help.
- Plan and practice an evacuation route with your family. Teach children to meet outside, at a neighbor's front-yard tree, for example, in case of a house fire, or at a location further away from home but safe in the event of flooding.
- Choose an out-of-town contact for everyone to call to say they are OK in case family members are separated. When local telephone service is knocked out, calling out of state still may be possible.
- Teach children to stay out of moving water. Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet and cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Post emergency phone numbers (911, contact people) at every phone.
- Know how to turn off water, gas and electrical utilities at home in case you must evacuate. Keep the necessary tools close to the cut-off valves and circuit box.
- Buy a fire extinguisher and make sure family members know how to use it properly.
- Keep smoke detectors functional by testing them monthly and replacing the batteries at least twice a year. Learn CPR and first aid and keep certifications up to date.
- Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage.
- Instruct children on what to do if they are at school or with friends elsewhere when an emergency arises.
Emergency officials recommend families stock their homes with six basics: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items. Keep the following materials in easy-to-carry containers, such as covered trashcans, plastic storage boxes, airtight plastic bags, backpacks or duffel bags. Make a master list of what you would need to grab in case of emergency.
- A three- to five-day supply of water (allow one to five gallons of water per person per day), stored in clean containers, such as soft drink bottles. Nursing mothers, children and ill adults will need more water. Allow extra for food preparation and sanitation. Change stored water every six months to keep it fresh. (Water Tip: if you have a food freezer, fill un-used space with 2-liter plastic soda bottles 3/4 filled with clean tap water. Once the contents freeze they will extend to useful life of the freezer if you loose power and also provide a source of drinking water.)
Baby food, prepared formula and bottles (if using), diapers, disposal bags, medications and other baby supplies.
Personal hygiene supplies: soap, toothpaste, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, insect repellent, sunscreen, vitamins, toilet paper, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses. Disposable cleaning cloths, such as baby wipes, can be used by the whole family in case bathing facilities are not available.
Waterproof container for important documents: Social Security cards, insurance policies, extra cash and traveler¡¦s checks, passports, bank account numbers, credit card information, inventory of valuable household goods, important telephone numbers, family records (birth, marriage, death certificates), immunization records, paper and pencils.
Emergency kit for your vehicle, with flares, booster cables, maps, tools, scissors, whistle, fire extinguisher, tarp or plastic sheeting, rope, duct tape.
Pet supplies, if needed, such as leash, cage, food, water, medications and immunization records.
Family photo albums and scrapbooks.
A three- to five-day supply of nonperishable food, such as ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables; canned juices; cereal; and high-energy foods, such as peanut butter, granola bars and trail mix. Include some comfort foods, such as hard candy, cookies, instant coffee and tea bags. Rotate stored food every six months.
If you plan to cook, include a manual can opener, cook stove or grill, extra propane or charcoal and lighter fluid, matches in a waterproof container or a butane lighter.
Paper plates, napkins, paper towels, plastic utensils, dishwashing detergent, hand soap, trash bags, food-storage bags.
Several day's worth of clean clothing, extra shoes and hats. Consider adding rubber boots or waders, sturdy shoes, rain gear and gloves. Keep stored clothes updated according to season. Include laundry detergent and coins.
First aid kit and manual (details available from the American Red Cross). Don't forget prescription medications and any other special medical needs.
Battery-powered radio, lantern, flashlights, clock or watch. Include extra bulbs and batteries. Replace emergency kit batteries at least once a year.
Water-purifying supplies, such as chlorine or iodine tables or unscented household chlorine bleach.
Sleeping bags or extra blankets; pillows.
Child's special "lovey" or stuffed toy. Games and books to keep children busy.
Susan A. Merkner is editor of Our Kids San Antonio, A United Parenting Publication.