Monday, July 31, 2006

How Will You Handle A Disaster?

I’ve been thinking a lot about disaster preparedness lately – largely due to the recent storms and the ensuing power outages that hit the St. Louis Metropolitan area. I couldn’t help wondering if we are adequately prepared for a big disaster. Not to sound pessimistic, but you never really know when you will find yourself in an emergency situation.

There are four steps to prepare for emergencies:
1) Make an emergency kit
2) Make a plan
3) Be informed
4) Get involved

Your emergency kit should sustain you for a minimum of three days. The following list of items is generic. Please add items as if they are necessary to your particular circumstance.

Water: one gallon per person per day
Non-perishable food such as canned food – don’t forget the manual can-opener!
Kitchen Items: Paper plates, cups, plastic utensils, foil, utility knife, sugar and salt
Hygiene and sanitary items: paper towels, moist wipes, plastic garbage bags with ties, soap, sanitary products, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, lip balm, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, insect repellant, disinfectant, plain chlorine bleach with a medicine dropper – sixteen drops per gallon of water can treat water in an emergency and nine drops per gallon of water will provide a disinfectant
Several flashlights and a portable, battery-operated radio: pack extra bulbs and batteries
First-aid kit complete with a first-aid manual and over-the counter medications, prescription glasses, contacts and solution, prescription medicines plus a small cooler if the medicine must be kept cold
Other Essential Items: whistle to signal for help, compass, pocketknife, small sewing kit, small A-B-C type fire extinguisher, matches in a waterproof container, small shovel, rope, local maps, important phone numbers, wrench and pliers to turn off utilities
Cash, change or traveler’s checks: ATMs may not be working
Extra clothes, rain gear and sturdy shoes that are season appropriate
Bedding and tent
Copies of keys and important papers
in a waterproof folder such as identification, insurance policies, medical insurance cards, medicine prescriptions, emergency plans, emergency manual and bank account records
Cell phone with extra batteries and car charger
Shelter-in-place supplies: dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct-tape
Entertainment: cards, games and books to help pass the time
If you have pets pack their food and extra water. Leashes and kennels will help control pets that may become unpredictable in a frightening situation.
If you have babies pack infant formula and diapers.
If you have children remember their favorite toys and stuffed animal will help keep them calm.

Most of the kit can be stored in large plastic bins along with a list of the kit’s contents. Make sure the kit is easy to access. Items such as prescription medicines and glasses can be added at the time of an emergency. Highlight the “to be added later” items on the list and write down their location. Don’t assume you will remember where anything is during an emergency when a million things will be racing through your mind.

Check the contents of the kit periodically. Avoid having food past its expiration date by periodically exchanging food from the kit with food from your pantry. Change the clothing and bedding to match the season. Ensure that everything in the kit is in good working order.

Planning is essential. Sit down with your family and discuss different kinds of emergencies and how you will handle them. If it is necessary to leave your house make sure you have an exit strategy and a place to meet. Keep a written copy of your plan with your emergency kit for ready-access, and review it frequently.

Several organizations provide preparedness information such as the American Red Cross (, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( and, of course, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ( It is worthwhile perusing theses web sites for detailed information on emergency preparedness.

Get involved in your community’s emergency preparation efforts. Take a first aid course. Discuss your community’s emergency plans with its officials and the school board. These steps will help your neighbors and build a more resilient community. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated September as National Preparedness Month as a time to promote emergency awareness.

Emergencies occur without warning and are inherently frightening. Do what you can now to eliminate panic, doubt and madly rushing around during an emergency. Planning and preparation can save lives and provide peace of mind. This is a great gift to yourself your family and community -- and a benefit of an organized life.