I don’t have a disaster plan. I live in a tornado and wildfire prone part of Texas, but I’ve never really worried about it. I mean, I can just grab my stuff and go, right?
Well, not so much. I’ve been looking at FEMA’s suggestions for preparing your family for an emergency, and I realized how much extra stuff needs to be coordinated in my situation. I mean, I have four adults living in the same house, as well as local family members to worry about.
That said, I’ve been brainstorming the things we need and how to go about getting them. I don’t know anyone who’s actually a prepared person (seriously, I don’t think a single person in my life right now has a plan), so I’m flying blind here.
Step One: Emergency Kit
Most emergency plans start with an emergency kit. These vary in content and purpose, but the idea is similar. You want to have quick access to important safety and survival items, as well as some food and drink for the family. Items I’d include would be:
- First aid kit – I’d like to get one that’s a little above basic. I’m thinking wrist/ankle braces and other equipment should be included, considering the knee and wrist problems of my family members. Also, we’ll have some basic first aid certification in our group, so it’d be nice to have stuff to work with if needed.
- Pen and paper – This is just important period. To leave notes, make notes, and share contact information in a severe emergency. I’d want all paper items to be in a Ziploc (maybe even a double) to avoid water damage; Texas does get rain, occasionally.
- Flashlights – Obviously, we need to see. I’d probably include candles as well, at least tealights, so that we could have immobile light. Having lived for a few days without electricity before, I can say that candles go a long way toward lighting a room at night.
- Radio – Having a radio would just help to keep up with the current situation. I’d need to tape a note to it about the correct station for emergency updates, and I’d love to find a hand-crank one to avoid extra batteries.
- Batteries – For the flashlights and radio.
- Matches in waterproof container – For the candles and to light fires if needed.
- Non-perishable foods – I’d consider items with [a] a long shelf life, [b] high calorie content, and [c] no allergy issues. While I’m not focused on hardcore preparedness (having a month of food for a family of four), I’d like to know we could take off and not starve between points A and B.
- Bottled water – Same as the food. I’m thinking of buying a case of bottled water to toss on top of my emergency kit, just to have it there and accessible. Technically it can expire due to the plastic, but overall water is water and it’d be better than nothing. Besides, I can always keep checking on its date (or set a reminder a month out) to switch out “expired” water with new stock.
- Entertainment (games or something to be used without electricity) – This was on FEMA’s list, and I almost didn’t include it. However, when you’re stressed out and dislocated by an emergency, it’s good to take your mind off things for a while. If there’s no electricity, you want something everyone can do that’s off grid. We have board games nobody plays right now, but they’d easily get played if we were without electricity.
- Tent/Camp Equipment – This depends on the emergency. Honestly, we’ll probably keep our emergency kit near the same storage area as our tents and other camping equipment. If the situation requires them AND we have space in our vehicles, then we’ll grab them just in case.
Step Two: Grab-And-Go List
My problem with a lot of the FEMA advice is the lack of realism. For example, I can’t afford to get extra Singulair (allergy medicine) just to have it sit in my emergency kit. I also don’t have enough extra blankets or clothes to pack them up ahead of time. Instead, I’d like to make a checklist in our emergency binder (see first bullet point) to go through on our way out.
- Emergency Binder – This is a biggy. I’d like to make an emergency binder containing our birth certificates, insurance paperwork (health, house, and car), social security cards, emergency numbers (in case cell phones die), designated meeting locations (and maps thereof), and a copy of our emergency plan. Right now, our important documents are spread out and disorganized (think kinda-filed status, meaning they’re shoved in the same drawer). I might go home and make this today, since I have the extra stuff to do so. Of course, you’re supposed to do waterproof stuff to protect it all; I think I can just tape shut some page protectors and call it groovy.
- Prescriptions/glasses – Everyone would be responsible for grabbing all of their medications and glasses/braces/canes. It’d go faster for us as individual adults, and most of us carry part or all of our prescriptions on hand anyway.
- Hygiene items – We each have our own toothpastes and bathrooms. This is where I’d tell everyone to grab their toothbrush, toothpaste (though that can be shared), and deodorant. I’m thinking I can actually pack castile soap bars, a tube of generic toothpaste, a hairbrush, and extra toothbrushes just in case.
- Blankets (per person) – I’d have everyone grab their bedding for use, since we don’t have extras. Again, it’s faster to do it as individuals.
- Clothes (per person) – I’d tell everyone to grab their clothes. The idea is to get three days worth, according to FEMA. I’d go for pants (jeans preferably, since they’re sturdier), a couple shirts, jacket, a few pairs of socks and undies, and weather-appropriate add-ins. We have a bunch of reusable grocery bags, so I’d tell everyone to pack a bag full (minus the jacket).
- Cell phone and charger – Since we all use our cell phones daily, we’d have to go grab our chargers and verify we have our cells on the way out the door. Thankfully, most of our phones use the same cord; that means we only need one cord, technically.
- Cash – On our way out of the area, we’d need to stop by the first accessible ATM to grab cash. With electricity issues, a debit card can become useless. This might be something you send one person to do while everyone else packs, just to ensure we beat the rush of other evacuators.
- Gas – If possible (depending on the emergency), it’s a good idea to fill the gas tank completely. We might have to travel far, or we might not have access to a gas station again for a while.
Step Three: Emergency Plan
An emergency plan is the what, where, when, who, and how part of emergency preparedness. With so many people to coordinate, it helps to be on the same page. We all work in different places and at different times, and we’d need to communicate and find each other in the event of a disaster.
Who – We’d need to do a head count. If there was a big emergency (as in, evacuation is happening), then we need to know who’s home, who’s at work, and who’s out of the danger zone. Texting would be key to rapidly verify everyone is okay. We’d also need to know just who was considered part of our unit; for example, are we including anyone’s parents in our plans?
What – We’d need to verify what’s going on. If there’s a minor emergency, we can all meet at home and gather up supplies (i.e. severe storms, tornado warnings). If there were a larger emergency that included evacuation, we’d need to have a meeting place planned that was safely outside of the danger zone. If anyone were closer to that meeting place than home, they’d need to head there and wait.
When – We’d need to know when an emergency is big enough to trigger our emergency plan. For example, a bad flurry of snow on top of icy roads here in Texas would be a minor emergency; we’d just plan a shelter-in-place until conditions improved. If a wildfire was raging through our town, though, we’d clearly need to leave in a safe direction.
Where & How – Where will we meet in a serious emergency? I’d like to designate locations about 45-60 minutes from our town in each direction, just in case we’re heading away from danger (i.e. wildfires, floods, etc.). If we’re stuck walking, where are we going to meet? How are we going to determine which direction to head? Sometimes it will be obvious (i.e. a wildfire is approaching from the south), but other times it may be less so (i.e. Fort Hood is being bombed by alien invaders, so the attack is from above).
Step Four: Refresh
The last step is kind of important. We’d need to refresh everyone’s memory of this plan once in a while (every few months?). It doesn’t help to have a plan and then forget how it goes, especially for anyone who’s not at home and has to travel to a meeting place.
I only started really thinking about this whole thing when I realized the laundry list of people I’d want to stay connected to in an emergency. There’s my household, plus their parents in the local area, plus a couple close family friends (who are basically family anyway), plus pets. It’s just a huge group to expect to just get organized and out the door in minutes.
Do you have a plan?