Natural Disaster: Is Your Family Prepared? Follow these emergency plan tips for you and your spouse that can prevent even more tragedy. BY APRIL Y. PENNINGTON
Disasters are no new predicament, but when the recent catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami fill every media outlet and pervade our conscious, it begs the question: Are you and your spouse prepared for a disaster?
News coverage eventually quells on allayed disasters, but donít let your guard down, even if the only flames youíre currently engulfed in are the ones fanned by passion with your significant other. Another disaster will inevitably strike. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that this season alone, which spans from June 1 to November 30, eight storms may reach hurricane levels. Four to six of those hurricanes could reach a Category 3 or beyond. Earthquakes, tsunamis and numerous other devastations often cannot be predicted, so we must own up to our mortality and the vulnerability that lies in the unexpected and plan for the unpredictable.
If you havenít yet put a solid disaster plan together with your spouse, youíre not alone. According to a recent Red Cross poll, seven of 10 respondents were only somewhat prepared, with 69 percent not even committed to a meeting place to reunite with family members. The rest of the numbers are fairly bleak. The numbers reveal that 59 to 73 percent had no emergency contact, plan for their pets, specific evacuation plan nor had practiced their family disaster plan. That being said, 52 percent of Americans do have a disaster supplies kit, an increase from 45 percent last year.
Morley Ivers, President of American Family Safety (AFS), which distributes emergency survival products and education materials to families and businesses, says establishing a plan for emergencies should be a top priority. Two things Ivers recommends are creating a family communication plan and having the necessary supplies. The AFS site has a free printable family communication plan form developed by the Department of Homeland Security. Once completed, youíll hold all the information for you and your spouse, covering everything from emergency contacts to your petís vet. Be sure to print out at least two copies. "Taking a couple of minutes in the middle of all the bliss to communicate and fill out this information will relieve one of the greatest stressesónot knowing where your family is," says Ivers.
An agreed upon meeting spot is vital for you and your spouse, says Ivers, whoís wife knows where to meet him if something happens. And if you have children, discuss who will be in charge of picking them up from school. Depending on your geography, you should meet in an area least susceptible to a natural disaster. If your region is flooding, head to higher ground. With an earthquake, open outside areas like parks are good, but make sure there are no large buildings nearby that may crumble. Ivers says a lot of times local communication will be down, so establishing who your out-of-state contact is will allow that person to be your "communication hub." This enables you to let the person know you are safe and relay any message to your spouse, who can do the same.
To protect yourself at and away from home, itís sufficed to say that you will need: food, water, a radio, a flashlight and a first aid kit. AFS has Department of Homeland Security approved 72-hour Emergency Preparedness Kits, among several others tailored to specific disasters. Kits may also have extra essentials like gloves, a mask, a utility wrench and thermal blankets. You may want to consider not only keeping one in the home, but one in the car and maybe your office. You could assemble these on your own (do the math though, it may be more economic to get a kit), but Ivers warns that both bottled water and canned foods have a shelf life, with the latter often high in sodium, increasing thirst. AFS does offer water and food rations certified by the US Coast Guards that have a five-year shelf life, some competitors do as well.
Ivers may be promoting his business, but being caught in the 2003 Northeast blackout spurred his launch of AFS. "I was stuck with no batteries for my flashlight and no food," recalls Ivers. "It was an absolute mess." With greater consequences at the hands of an even bigger catastrophe, the chaos and confusion without a plan in place can only elevate the devastation for you. Says Ivers, "Itís all about responsibility and planning ahead of time. Itís a lot less complicated than it needs to be."