Ideas for National Preparedness Month
By Jim Cobb
After the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) sponsored designating September as National Preparedness Month. Throughout the month, DHS (Department of Homeland Security), the American Red Cross, and many other groups and agencies will be promoting disaster readiness. The sad fact is that a significant portion of the population in the United States isn’t prepared to weather much more than perhaps a power outage of a few hours, let alone any sort of crisis that might last a few days or more.
Despite stereotypes and misguided media hype, the goal isn’t to turn the populace into a bunch of heavily-armed folks wearing tin foil hats and fearing the end of the world. Instead, the focus is on being better prepared for rather common emergencies, such as severe weather, earthquakes, and even disruptions in utility services. These types of disasters happen every day across the country.
By encouraging people to stockpile some supplies and learn a few skills, we can make far better use of our emergency service resources. For example, if more people had the foresight to have food and supplies on hand, there would be fewer cars on the roads during extremely bad weather, as people wouldn’t need to make those last minute runs to the grocery store. Fewer people on the roads would mean fewer accidents requiring the services of paramedics, firefighters and other emergency workers.
This year, make an effort to observe or celebrate National Preparedness Month. Here are a few suggestions on ways you can do just that.
ASSEMBLE AN EMERGENCY KIT FOR THE HOME
Your home emergency kit should have, at a minimum, food, bottled water, basic first aid supplies, a working flashlight with extra batteries, and perhaps a crank powered radio. While many of us already have this stuff at home, it is important to know where to find it all in a hurry. To that end, consider putting it in a tote, duffel bag, or some other container and keeping that in a closet for safekeeping. Family members need to understand that the items in the tote are off limits and only to be used in a true emergency. Spare batteries, for example, are not to be “borrowed” for a video game controller.
If you already have such a kit, take some time to disassemble it and inspect the contents thoroughly. Check the expiration dates on batteries and food and make sure the seals are tight on containers. Rotate out anything that is nearing expiration so you can use it before it goes bad.
WINTERIZE YOUR VEHICLES
In many parts of the country, September is still fairly warm and sunny. Snow and bitter cold seem far off. However, winter will be here before you know it. Take advantage of the nice weather now to change the oil, rotate your tires, top off all fluid levels, have your battery checked, and perform all of those other maintenance chores. If you can’t do it yourself, take the vehicle in and have it checked over by a trusted mechanic.
While you’re at it, put together an emergency kit for the car. In the event you end up stranded for a while, you’ll want some snacks, water, a charger for your cell phone and a blanket. Consider putting together a set of basic tools, too, such as wrenches, screwdrivers, a hammer, pliers, and other odds and ends. Even if you don’t know how to perform repairs, a Good Samaritan might stop by and he or she could use the tools to get you back on the road. As you’re stocking your trunk with supplies, be sure to check the pressure in your spare tire and ensure you have a working jack along with it.
PRACTICE A FEW DRILLS
Remember when you were in school and fire drills were the height of excitement? They were a fun way to break up a boring day, that’s for sure. But, obviously, that’s not why those drills were done. The reason we drill for emergencies is because practice makes perfect. Drilling and practice helps our bodies to recognize what needs to happen, even if the brain is freezing in panic.
This month, consider doing a fire drill. Make sure each family member knows the route they should take to evacuate the house, then practice it a few times. Designate a meeting place in the yard or at a neighbor’s house so you’re able to do a head count and make sure everyone made it out okay. Remember to plan for at least two ways to exit any room, if at all possible, in the event that a blazing fire blocks the normal path. Doors should be felt before opening. If they are hot, leave them closed.
If you’re feeling ambitious, do a power outage drill. Turn off the juice at the circuit breaker box for a day or two and see how everyone fares. It is up to you how realistic you want to be with this drill. Many people choose to leave the power flowing to their major appliances like refrigerators and just pretend those things are off limits.
Drills like these allow you to discover the holes in your plans and take steps to fix them before those holes become serious problems for you and your family.
MAKE SURE YOUR PETS ARE READY FOR EMERGENCIES
For each of your pets, you should have extra food and water, as well as a supply of medications if applicable. I also highly recommend taking a photo of you with your pet and keeping this photo saved somewhere you can access it easily if needed. This photo will go a long way toward proving your ownership of the pet should you and Fido become separated. While you’re at it, ask your veterinarian for a copy of your pet’s immunization record. Keep this with your emergency supplies. Should push come to shove and you need to visit a community emergency shelter, if they allow pets they will certainly want to see proof the animal is vaccinated.
Make sure you have a collar and leash for your pets, too, even if you don’t normally use them on a daily basis. A muzzle may also be a necessity in a community emergency shelter. What you might consider doing is, well in advance of a crisis, check into local motels and find out which ones are pet-friendly. Doing so may give you a leg up should you need to find a place to stay for a night or two.
START A NEIGHBORHOOD MUTUAL AID GROUP
Most have heard of neighborhood watch programs. They are great things and most police departments will be happy to help you set one up in your area. However, think bigger and think beyond just watching for burglars. For example, in the event of severe weather, have some sort of schedule set up or at least an agreement among neighbors to check on those who might need some extra help, such as the elderly or disabled. Know how to get in touch with your neighbors quickly should the need arise. Swap cell numbers and email addresses. The people who live next door don’t need to be your best friends, but they certainly should not be strangers.
Some neighborhoods have gone so far as to create groups on social media sites like Facebook in order to stay in touch with one another. While that’s certainly an option, I’m just old-fashioned enough to think perhaps face-to-face conversations should still happen from time to time.
TAKE A CLASS
You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-camouflage survivalist to want to learn some basic survival and emergency skills. Check with your local Red Cross about first aid and CPR classes. Another great resource for all sorts of learning is your local library. Many libraries routinely offer classes in all sorts of things, taught by local experts and instructors. The best part is that most of these classes are free to attend. Take advantage of them when you can. If you don’t see any classes offered that relate to emergency planning, ask the library about setting something up.
One more resource is your nearest parks and recreation department. Most such departments offer classes in a wide range of topics throughout the year. There is typically a fee involved but it is normally rather low. A great benefit to attending these sorts of classes is being able to network with others who have similar interests.
How you decide to observe National Preparedness Month is up to you. What is important is that you take the time now, as well as throughout the year, to plan ahead for life’s little, and not so little, curve balls.
Disaster and “end of the world” fiction has always been fairly popular, but in recent years the genre has absolutely exploded. Novels and other stories allow us to learn from the mistakes of others as well as help us to brainstorm solutions to our own situations. If you’re not much of a recreational reader, consider stopping in at the library and inquiring about audiobooks. Some libraries even have audiobooks on small MP3 players rather than compact disk.
A FEW TITLES I WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMEND:
• One Second After by William R. Forstchen
• Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca
• Ashfall by Mike Mullin
• The Rule of Three by Eric Walters