By Dean Berenbaum, resource manager, Emergency Services
September is National Preparedness Month — although there’s a key word missing in that name: disaster. It’s not a fun subject, so maybe that’s better marketing, but I personally get a certain satisfaction from preparing for disaster.
I’m not a disaster junkie, or a survivalist, or even a major worrier, but I do think about how I would like my family and pets to be situated if something bad happens. I like being prepared. It gives me confidence to know that I have some important things already taken care of. And if it never happens, that’s good, right?
But prepare for what? All sorts of things — like earthquakes, hurricanes or overturned tankers carrying methyl-ethyl-whatever — can disrupt life. Lots of people think, “It can’t happen here,” and where most of us live, it’s easy to feel safe. Our firefighters, police and ambulance teams do a great job handling the incidents thrown at them every day.
In a major disaster, however, routine calls are no longer the priority because most emergency resources are sent to the scene. No town or metropolitan area has a huge reserve of firefighters, police and paramedics just sitting around, waiting for the sky to fall. Off-duty responders and reserves would be called up and other agencies would send reinforcements, but it would take a while to coordinate people and resources, hand out assignments and get information on all of the affected areas. That’s why they call it a disaster.
What does this mean for you? It may mean that 911 will be swamped. Your cell phone may not have service. After a blizzard, flood or tornado, rescuers may not have clear roads to reach you.
Under some conditions, you may be told to evacuate the area — in just a few minutes. Can you quickly grab a bag containing the necessary basics? That’s a “72-Hour Kit,” or as preparedness junkies like to call it, a bug-out bag. If you have pets or livestock, you should also make an emergency plan for them. And in the event of evacuation, take your pets with you; it may be longer than you think before you get back home.
In some circumstances, it may be necessary to stay at home and ride out the disaster. Be prepared to rough it. The power and heat could be out. Water or sewer service could be cut. These will all get fixed eventually, but it will take some time. You are basically on your own for maybe an hour, maybe a day, maybe a few days, depending on what happened.
In these cases, you are your family’s first responder. The more prepared you are, the more effective and confident you’ll be. Confidence comes with taking action to be ready before an emergency happens. And studies have shown that confident people do better in disasters.
When preparing an emergency supply kit, it’s best to think first about the basics of survival: a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, water and food (for pets, too!), and a way to keep warm. How about a tool to shut off the gas and water if the pipes are broken? Your family’s medications and important paperwork in a waterproof container? An airline crate, bowls and leashes so you can bring your pet along if you have to evacuate? How about spending a couple of nights learning first aid and CPR?
After making sure you and your family are safe, go check on your neighbors (hoping they have prepared, too). Pretty soon you’ll find yourself becoming a resource rather than a statistic. That’s a pretty good feeling, especially in a disaster.
Learn about American Humane Association’s Emergency Services trainings for people who want to help animals in the aftermath of disasters.