BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises families to make a Family Disaster Plan. A disaster may strike quickly and without warning. It can force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services –water, gas, electricity or telephones – were cut off? Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away.
Such events can be terrifying for adults, but they are traumatic for children if they don't know what to do. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan remind us how devastating and frightening a disaster can be, so now is a good time to prepare for a future catastrophic event.
Four important steps in a Family Disaster Plan include:
- learning what hazards may affect your community
- establishing a family communications plan
- creating an disaster supplies kit
- practice and maintain your plan
Begin your disaster plan by learning what hazard may affect your community. Decide what you would do, individually and as a unit, in each situation. Next steps include: posting emergency phone numbers, selecting an out-of-state family contact, and assembling disaster supplies kits for each member of your household, with items you may need in an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as a backpack, duffle bag, or covered trash container. Install smoke alarms on each level of your home. Finally, practice your Family Disaster Plan so that everyone will remember what to do when a disaster does occur.
Working with neighbors can save lives and property. Meet with them to plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster until help arrives. If you're a member of a neighborhood organization, such as a home association or crime watch group, introduce disaster preparedness as a new activity. Know your neighbors' special skills (e.g., medical, technical) and consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as disabled and elderly persons. Make plans for child care in case parents can't get home.
If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately. Listen to your battery-powered radio and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes. Take your disaster supplies kit. Lock your home. Use travel routes specified by local authorities don't use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous. If you're sure you have time: Shut off water, gas, and electricity before leaving, if instructed to do so. Make arrangements for your pets.
If you stay in your home, keep enough supplies to meet your needs for at least three days. Know where your disaster supplies kit is located and where the main electric fuse box, water service main, and natural gas main are located. Learn how and when to turn these utilities off. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Turn off the utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
When the danger is over, check for damage in your home. Use flashlights. Do not light matches or turn on electrical switches, if you suspect damage. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly. Shut off any other damaged utilities. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids immediately.
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