Preparing For An Emergency
Emergency events can occur quickly and without warning. Planning for any emergency requires considering all likely scenarios.
If you are able to stay at home, electricity, water, heat, air conditioning, telephone service and transportation could be disrupted or lost for a considerable amount of time. Most emergency management planners suggest having enough food, water, medications and other essentials on hand to last your family for three to five days for weather-related events, for example. In other types of emergencies, you may have to evacuate your home or community. In any case, it is important to develop a household emergency preparedness plan that includes:
~An emergency preparedness kit.
~An escape plan that includes at least two emergency meeting places. Pick one right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as fire. Pick at least one other place outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home.
~An emergency communications plan. Choose an out-of-town person to be your contact point for family members to call if you are separated. Make sure everyone has contact information including phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
~Information about school and workplace emergency plans.
Your Emergency Kit
The basic items that should be stored in your home are water, food, first-aid supplies, an ABC fire extinguisher, clothing and bedding, tools, emergency supplies and specialty items. Keep the items that you would most likely need at home in one easy-to-carry container such as a trash can, plastic storage container, camping backpack or duffel bag. Store it in a convenient place, and put a smaller version in your car. Keep items in airtight plastic bags. Remember to change the stored water and rotate the food supplies every six months (place dates on containers). Check the supplies and re-think your needs every year. Consult your physician or pharmacist about
storing prescription medications, and maintain a list of your prescription needs.
Purchase bottled water, or store tap water in clean, airtight plastic containers. Avoid
containers that will decompose or break, such as glass bottles. Plan for one gallon of
water per person per day.Water should be stored in a cool, dark place with the date
labeled on the container. Having some water purification tablets on hand could be
useful in the event of an extended water service outage.
Store a three- to five-day supply of nonperishable food per person. Foods should
require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking, and little or no water. Examples
include: ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables; canned or boxed juices,
milk and soup; condiments such as sugar, salt and pepper; high-energy food like
peanut butter, jelly, low-sodium crackers, granola bars and trail mix; vitamins; foods
for infants or persons on special diets; cookies; hard candy; instant coffee and
sweetened cereals. Bulk food items such as wheat, powdered milk, corn and soybeans
can be stored for long periods of time.
Assemble a first-aid kit for your home and each vehicle. Items should include sterile
adhesive bandages in assorted sizes, gauze pads, hypoallergenic adhesive tape,
triangular bandages, sterile gauze roll bandages, Ace bandages, scissors, tweezers,
needle, moistened towelettes, antiseptic, thermometer, tongue depressors, tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant, safety pins, cleansing soap, latex gloves and sunscreen. Other items include aspirin or other
pain medication, antidiarrhea medication, Syrup of Ipecac, activated charcoal (in case of poisoning), antacids and laxatives.
Tools and Supplies
Keep the following items handy for all-around use: battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries of assorted sizes (check
shelf life before purchasing), duct tape, aluminum foil, rope, bow saw, mess kits or paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, cash
(include change) and/or traveler's checks, nonelectric can opener and utility knife, small ABC fire extinguisher, tube tent, pliers,
adjustable wrench, compass, waterproof matches, plastic storage containers, signal flares, paper and pencil or pen, needles
and thread, medicine dropper, whistle, plastic sheeting and local map. For sanitation, pack toilet paper, soap and liquid detergent,
feminine supplies, plastic garbage bags with ties, a plastic bucket and lid, disinfectant and household chlorine bleach.
Clothing and Bedding
Assemble one or two complete changes of clothing per person, sturdy shoes or work boots, rain gear, blankets or sleeping
bags, hat and gloves, thermal underwear and sunglasses.
Babies-formula, diapers, bottles, powdered milk and medication.
Adults-medications, prescriptions, denture needs, eyeglasses and/or contact lenses and related supplies, personal hygiene
Entertainment-games, books and several quiet toys for children.
Important Family Documents-wills, insurance policies, bank account numbers, contracts, deeds, passports, stocks and bonds,
immunization records, important phone numbers, credit card accounts, Social Security cards and other personal family records.
Equipment-NOAA weather radio.
Emergency Planning For Pets
Emergency planning is for all members of the family, including pets. With the exception of service animals, most shelters do
not accept pets. Prepare a list of kennels, friends or family members who may be able to care for your pet in an emergency. If
you plan to place your pet in a kennel, make sure that the facility meets all requirements for long-term care and has an adequate
disaster plan itself. If your family must relocate to a shelter or other site and there is no place for your pet to go, as a
last resort, confine your pet to a specific room in the house and provide plenty of food and water to sustain the animal while
you are away. Put together a basic disaster kit for your pets to take with you in case you must leave your residence quickly.
Recommended items include:
_ An airline-approved carrier for each dog, cat or other pets
_ ID with photo, vaccination records, registrations, special needs list,
sufficient medicines, collar and a muzzle/leash.
_ An extra supply of pet food
_ Plenty of clean water.
_ Bowls (disposable containers if you must leave your residence),
manual can opener, kitchen trash bags, bleach (disinfectant and
water purification), blankets, towels, paper towels and other
waste disposal supplies.
For more information on emergency preparedness for pets,
call the Humane Society of the United States at 202-452-1100
or visit their Web site at www.hsus.org.
Household And Financial Preparations
Whether you own your home or rent, there are many things you can do to protect your home and possessions. You can
increase your safety and reduce your insurance costs by:
_ Installing safety equipment such as smoke alarms and carbon
monoxide alarms to alert you to potentially deadly conditions.
_ Securing large or heavy items that could fall and cause damage
_ Covering windows, turning off utilities, or moving possessions
to a safer location if you have adequate warning of
something like a hurricane or flood.
_ Having your house inspected by a building inspector or
architect to find out what structural improvements could
prevent or reduce major damage from disasters.
_ Conducting an inventory of your household possessions to
help you catalog what you own for insurance purposes if
those possessions are damaged or destroyed and to provide
documentation for tax deductions you claim for your losses.
Make a visual or written record of your possessions. Include
photographs of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles. Get
professional appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork, or
other items that are difficult to value. Update the appraisals
every two to three years.
Even with adequate time to prepare for a disaster, you still may suffer significant,
unavoidable damage to your property. That's when insurance for renters or homeowners
can be a big help. Yet, many people affected by recent disasters have been underinsured
-or worse-not insured at all. Homeowner's insurance often doesn't cover
floods and some other major disasters. Make sure you buy the insurance you may
need to protect against the perils you may face.
_ Making copies of receipts and canceled checks for more valuable items.
_ Keeping the originals of all important financial and family
documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, wills,
deeds, tax returns, insurance policies, and stock and bond
certificates in a safe place. Store copies elsewhere. You'll
need accessible records for tax and insurance purposes.
_ Photographing the exterior of your home. Include the landscaping-
that big tree in the front yard may not be insurable,
but it does increase the value of your property for tax
_ Updating your inventory list annually and putting a copy in a
_ Buying insurance.
Business Preparedness For Business
Businesses are just as vulnerable to emergency situations as individuals. Business owners should develop emergency plans
for the sake of their employees as well as the survival of their businesses.
Emergency planning includes:
_ Maintaining a list of emergency numbers of employees so their families
can be contacted if necessary.
_ Having a plan in place to evacuate staff and customers quickly and
safely. The plan should include a designated meeting place outside the
_ Practicing the plan with staff.
_ Backing up computer data regularly and storing it offsite.
_ Purchasing ample insurance coverage to minimize losses.
_ Identifying crucial business operations and developing plans to ensure
their continuation in the event of an emergency.
_ Ensuring local police have up to date emergency contact information
for key personnel.
Employees need to know what to do in an emergency. The time to think
about what you need to do in the event of a disruption to your business is
before you face a crisis. Your employees depend on you now for direction
and leadership. They will depend on you even more should there be an
National Homeland Security Advisory systems have been put into place to
provide a quick and comprehensive way to provide information on warnings and actual
events involving terrorist acts that may occur. Five threat conditions have been identified.
Each condition is assigned a specific color and includes a description of the category
as well as information on specific actions citizens should take. Threat conditions
can be assigned to a specific geographic area or they may be set for the entire Nation.
When officials announce a specific alert the appropriate safety instructions for the situation
will be given to citizens.
State and local health departments also are preparing for terrorist events. Working
under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, health officials have implemented
an enhanced disease surveillance system to rapidly identify any unusual disease
events that may be occurring in the state. State and local health departments are
working closely with agencies and organizations locally and across the state to develop
coordinated response plans for various situations. In case of an attack, pertinent health
information would be provided to the public via mass media.
Reporting Suspicious Activity
Occasionally, the federal government may call for a heightened state of alert on the part of local law enforcement and residents.
When the police go to a higher state of alert, they may add extra patrols in various locations, increase staffing, carry
extra protective equipment and maintain more frequent communication with federal, state and other local law enforcement
agencies. Residents should also increase their awareness of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to the
police. Many people fail to act because they are not sure if what they are observing is worth reporting. When in doubt, call the
police immediately. Don't lose precious time discussing the event with friends and neighbors first. Types of activity that residents
should report include people, vehicles, or circumstances that appear unusual or out of place, such as:
_ A stranger around your neighborhood or a strange vehicle parked in your neighborhood for a long period of time.
_ Someone looking into houses or vehicles.
_ Recurring appearances of strange vehicles in the neighborhood.
_ Someone tampering with the electrical, gas, water, or sewer system
without an identifiable company vehicle and uniform.
_ An unusually large amount of traffic coming to a house or apartment
_ Houses or buildings where extreme security measures seem to
have been taken.
_ Houses or buildings where no owner or primary renter is apparent,
and no home activities-yard work, painting, maintenance,
etc.-seem to go on.
_ Strange odors coming from around houses or buildings.
_ Door-to-door solicitors without solicitor permits, or any stranger
knocking at doors.
_ Persons standing around, possibly acting as lookouts.
If you suspect a crime is being or is about to be committed, call 911. Do not panic and do not put yourself at risk. If the activity
simply appears suspicious, call the police non-emergency number and describe the activity in detail. You need not
give your name in either case. However, if you want a police officer to contact you, be prepared to give your name, address
and telephone number, and ask that the officer contact you. This information is kept confidential.
Terrorism is a broad term that describes the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal
laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among
the public and to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism. The effects of terrorism can
include a significant number of casualties, structural damage to buildings, and disruptions in basic services such as electricity,
water supply, public transportation, communications and healthcare.
You can prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other crises:
_ Be alert and aware of the surrounding area. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no warning.
_ Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do
not leave luggage unattended.
_ Learn where emergency exits are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building, subway or congested public area
in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
_ Notice your immediate surroundings. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion.
A major chemical or biological emergency can happen when hazardous amounts
of toxins are released into the environment. You can be exposed to chemical and
biological toxins by:
_ Inhaling them.
_ Swallowing contaminated food, water or medication.
_ Touching or coming into contact with contaminated items.
Many times you cannot see or smell anything unusual. In the event of a hazardous
chemical or biological emergency, you will be given instructions by
authorities. You may be told to evacuate, to move uphill and upwind of the
release, to shelter in place, or to go to a designated facility. You may also be in
the immediate vicinity of an incident and not realize the danger. If you see people
vomiting, in convulsions or acting disoriented, leave the area immediately and
seek medical attention. If out of doors, check the wind and walk upwind to evacuate
Handling Mail Safely
The United States Postal Service urges people to report suspicious letters or
packages such as mail that:
_ Has excessive postage, no postage, or non-canceled postage.
_ Has no return address or a fictitious return address.
_ Has an improper spelling of addressee names, titles, or locations.
_ Looks lumpy or has a lopsided appearance.
_ Is sealed with excessive amounts of tape.
_ Is unexpected and is from a foreign country.
_ Has a postmark showing a different location than the return address.
_ Displays distorted handwriting or cut-and-paste lettering.
If you receive a suspicious letter or package:
_ Do not open it.
_ Do not shake, bump or sniff it.
_ Cover it or place it in a plastic bag.
_ Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
_ Call the police non-emergency number.
In most cases the police will be dispatched for a report of an unopened suspicious letter
or package and after investigating the item, will advise you what to do. If the letter or package does not meet specific criteria, they may
simply advise you to dispose of the suspicious letter or package if you are uncomfortable opening it. The fire department will respond to
reports of suspicious substances for evaluation and proper disposal. When in doubt, however, call the police non-emergency number or 911.
When conditions warrant, local officials may instruct residents to seek shelter in their homes or officials may establish community-
based shelters for local residents. Normally, shelters are set up in public schools, recreation centers or other appropriate
facilities where residents can seek refuge as well as sleep and eat. Persons needing shelter are asked to bring a change of
clothing, bathing and sanitary supplies, pre-filled prescription and other medical needs, denture and eye care materials, and special dietary supplies or requirements. With the exception of service animals, pets are generally not permitted in the shelters.
If local officials advise you to "shelter in place," they mean for you to remain indoors and protect yourself there. Take
your children and pets indoors immediately. Get your disaster supplies kit, and make sure the radio is working. Go to an interior
room without windows. In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals
are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed. While gathering your family, you should:
Close all windows, exterior doors and fireplace dampers.
_ Turn off all fans, heating, and air conditioning systems.
_ Wet some towels and jam them in the cracks under the doors.
_ Tape around the doors, windows, exhaust fans and vents.
_ Use plastic garbage bags to cover windows, outlets, and heat registers.
_ Close the window shades, blinds or curtains if you are told there is a danger of explosion.
_ Stay inside and keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you
are told to evacuate.
When Electrical Power Is Lost
Disruption of electrical service can occur as a result of many things, including lightning, high winds,
ice and heavy snow, and equipment failure. For the most part, service is normally restored within a
short period. However, major power outages can happen for extended periods from time to time.
When power is lost, you should:
_ Check to see if your neighbors have power. The power loss may be only in your home, due to a blown fuse or a tripped circuit.
If your neighbors also are without service, call your local power company (see page 15). If you must go outside to
assess the situation, take a flashlight and watch for downed power lines that could still be energized. If downed lines are
located, don't go near them or touch anything that they may be in contact with. Report downed power lines immediately.
_ Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns for lighting. Candles and kerosene lanterns are not recommended for
lighting because of fire hazards.
_ Turn off all major appliances. When major appliances-refrigerators, electric water heaters, air conditioners and
pumps-are left on, they could overload electric lines when power is restored causing a second outage.
_ Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food can be kept cold for a day or two if the doors
are kept closed. During the winter, you may be able to store some items outside in a proper container. If temperatures
are below freezing, it's possible to freeze water outside in containers and place them inside your refrigerator to
help keep food cold. Try to consume perishable foods first. When in doubt, throw it out.
_ Use portable generators cautiously. They can be used to provide limited electrical power during an outage. But, take
care to ensure that they do not pose a threat to you and your family. Never fuel or run a portable generator in the
home or garage, as gas-powered generators pose a serious fire and carbon monoxide threat. Generators should be
installed in compliance with your local power company's guidelines. Always operate according to the manufacturer's
instructions. For additional information on the proper use of emergency generators, call your power company.
_ If you depend on a well or cistern for your water supply be prepared to use alternate sources of water until power is
restored. These systems normally use electric pumps which may not operate when the power is out.
_ Be aware that gas appliances may not work if the electricity is off because the equipment may require electricity for
ignition or valve operation.
Drain pumps, supply lines, water heaters, boilers and traps in drains of tubs, sinks, commodes, washing machines and
dishwashers. Plumbing can freeze when power is lost during cold weather periods. To avoid major flooding when
temperatures rise, turn off supply lines to outside spigots. Water heaters that are drained to prevent damage from
freezing must have their power circuits shut off as well. Failure to do so could result in loss of the heating element
when power is restored. Never turn on a water heater unless the tank is full.
_ List life support equipment required for family members who depend on these devices (respirators, ventilators, oxygen
equipment or other life-sustaining devices) with the power company. You should have a contingency plan that
always includes an alternate power source for the device and relocating the person.
Select a single room in the home in which the entire family can live - ideally a room that gets sunlight during daylight hours.
Use fireplaces and wood-burning stoves with care, and always supervise them when burning. Make sure the fireplace is in
proper working condition and has been inspected regularly. Never use charcoal as an indoor heat source; charcoal produces
deadly carbon monoxide gas. Wear layers of clothing, including sweaters and coats, which hold warm air and help to maintain
body heat for longer periods. For homes with natural gas heaters, keep meters and vents clear of ice and snow.
Checking On Relatives And Neighbors
During storms and other emergency events, check to see how your relatives and neighbors are coping, especially senior citizens
and persons with disabilities. If possible, help them plan or locate resources from which to obtain assistance. Contact
your local department of human services for information on services available for the elderly and residents with disabilities.
Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community. If you are told to evacuate, it is important to
stay calm, listen carefully and follow all instructions. If you're sure you have time, call your family contact to tell them where you are
going and when you expect to arrive. Shut off water and electricity, but leave natural gas ON unless local officials advise you otherwise.
Only a professional can restore gas service once it's turned off, and this could take weeks in a disaster situation. If you must
choose quickly what to take with you, grab these things and go: medical supplies, disaster supplies (flashlight, batteries, radio, first-aid
kit, bottled water), a change of clothes, sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each family member and car and house keys.
If you plan to travel by car, become familiar now with alternate travel routes you can use to avoid
congested main arteries in the event of an emergency. Remember, it is against the law to drive on
the shoulder. Shoulders are reserved for police, fire and rescue vehicles.
All news radio stations such as WTOP (1500 AM/107.7 FM) and WMAL (630 AM) provide 24/7 traffic information.
Carry a winter survival kit in your vehicle. Suitable items include blankets, flashlight, shovel, jumper
cables, road salt or kitty litter, flares or reflective triangles, local road maps, and high-calorie food
like granola bars and cans of juice.
Consider keeping an old cell phone and a power cord in each of your cars. Even if the phone does
not have a service provider, it should still be able to dial 911.
Children In School
In the event of a community or national emergency, or an evacuation or a shelter-in-place order,
parents should check the local media and local school system cable stations, hot lines, and Web
sites for announcements about changes in school openings and closings. News about changes in school schedules is routinely
disseminated through most metropolitan radio and televisions stations. Many regional school divisions now also use e-mail
notification systems to alert parents immediately of changes in school schedules. Check with your school to see if an e-mail
notification system is in place. Generally, unless evacuation of a particular school is ordered, students will be kept at school
until school officials can safely transport them home. Because the best place for children during a regional crisis may well be
in school, parents are discouraged from going to school to pick up their children. If a parent does go to school, he or she
should be prepared to present the identification required by the school system-usually a photo ID. Note that if a school is
ordered to provide shelter in place-to protect the safety of the children-no one will be allowed in or out of the school building
until the danger is passed. In that event, parents, for their own safety, should also remain indoors. Relying on the schools
to transport students home on normal bus routes will help avoid gridlock in and around schools and help keep roads clear for
essential emergency vehicles. If buses are severely delayed, schools may ask parents to help by picking up their children.
Parents should check the local media and school news outlets regularly for announcements about school decisions.
Older adults should have an individual emergency plan. You can prepare your individual emergency plan by planning ahead;
keeping in touch with your family and neighbors; and sharing your emergency information with others.
Disaster can strike without warning and older adults can especially be vulnerable in disasters. Older adults can help ensure
their safety in case of an emergency by:
_ Having your emergency kit at home ready to take with you in case you need to evacuate your home. The kit can also
help "shelter in place" if emergency officials direct people to stay in their homes.
_ Knowing the location and phone number of your local emergency management and American Red Cross offices.
_ Labeling any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers you would need.
_ Listing the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers.
_ Planning for transportation if you need to evacuate.
_ Filling prescriptions before they run out.
_ Knowing the telephone number of a 24-hour pharmacy for emergencies.
_ Knowing the 24-hour emergency contact number for your doctor.
_ Posting emergency phone numbers near the phone.
_ Keeping a copy of important contact numbers and medical information in your wallet or purse.
_ Planning and practicing the best escape routes from your home.
Keep in Touch with Family and Neighbors and Share Your Emergency Information
Establish relationships with nearby neighbors before an emergency or disaster happens. Ask nearby family or neighbors
you trust to check on you during a disaster. Keep in touch with your family and neighbors and look out for each other by:
_ Sharing your emergency contact and medical information with
your apartment building management or condo association.
_ Giving your emergency contact and medical information to
your neighbors and family.
_ Creating a contact list of your neighbors' information.
_ Arranging for someone to check on you.
_ Teaching those who may need to assist you in an emergency
how to operate necessary equipment. Be sure they will be
able to reach you.
_ If you have home health care services, plan ahead with your
agency for emergency procedures.
_ Notifying local police, fire and rescue responders of special
needs or mobility issues.
Getting information during an emergency situation is vital, especially at the height of the event when evacuation may be required. In
1951, President Harry Truman established the first national emergency alert system (EAS). Although the technology has improved
over the years, the goal continues to be to use broadcast media to provide emergency information to the general public as quickly
as possible. Using the EAS, emergency managers can provide critical information and instructions to the public. Radio and television
stations provide the quickest means to obtain information. Have a battery operated radio tuned to a local all-news or talk-radio station.
Consider purchasing a battery-operated weather alert radio. Many jurisdictions use their government cable channels, electronic
notification systems that are accessed through the internet or hotline telephone systems to transmit local emergency information.