Disaster can 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.
Four Steps to Safety
1. Find Out What Could Happen to You
- Contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management office before a disaster occurs — be prepared to take notes.
- Ask what types of disasters are most likely to happen. Request information on how to prepare for each.
- Learn about your community’s warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them.
- Ask about animal care after a disaster. Animals are not allowed inside emergency shelters because of health regulations.
- Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed.
- Find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children’s school or day care center, and other places where your family spends time.
2. Create a Disaster Plan
- Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team.
- Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.
- Pick two places to meet: (1) Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire. (2) Outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home. Everyone must know the address and phone number.
- Ask an out-of-state friend to be your “family contact.” After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know your contact’s phone number.
- Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.
3. Complete This Home Hazard Hunt Checklist
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections.
- Fasten shelves securely.
- Place large, heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Hang pictures and mirrors away from beds.
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Secure water heater. Strap to wall studs.
- Repair cracks in ceilings or foundations.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products away from heat sources.
- Place oily polishing rags or waste in covered metal cans.
- Clean and repair chimneys, flue pipes, vent connectors, and gas vents.
- Quiz your kids every six months or so.
- Conduct fire and emergency evacuations.
- Replace stored water and stored food every six months.
- Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
- Working with neighbors can save lives and property. Meet with your neighbors 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.
4. If Disaster Strikes
- Remain calm and patient. Put your plan into action.
- Check for injuries.
- Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
- Listen to your battery-powered radio for news and instructions.
- 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. You will need a professional to turn gas back on.
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids immediately.
- Remember to confine or secure your pets.
- Remember to call your family contact — do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
- Remember to check on your neighbors, especially elderly or disabled persons.
- Remember to make sure you have an adequate water supply in case service is cut off.
- Remember to stay away from downed power lines.
- To get copies of American Red Cross community disaster education materials, contact your local Red Cross chapter.