When I said last time that hurricane season was almost upon us, I didn’t realize that I was being prophetic, with Tropical Storm Beryl bringing drenching rains and power outages to north Florida and eastern Georgia over the weekend. And isn’t that the way of most disasters? You knew you should have made a plan, but it just snuck up on you anyway? This week I’ll talk about what goes into a good emergency plan for yourself and your family.
Understanding what is currently happening is critical to preparing for an emergency. On an individual level, that means identifying the types of disasters that you could face here at home. Weather-wise in the Metro Atlanta area, we are vulnerable to tropical storms, floods, and tornadoes, along with the occasional winter event. Residential, business and grass fires are common. Since DeKalb County has more miles of interstate roads than any other county in Georgia, the potential for man-made disasters such as hazardous materials spills is high. And don’t forget that terrorism is still a threat to each and every one of us.
First and foremost, stay informed. Watch or read the local news and weather reports. Find out how your local area will inform you of each kind of disaster – here in DeKalb County, you can sign up for the proactive notification systems CodeRed and WeatherWarn on the county website.
Make a family communication plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so you need to plan how you will contact each other.
- Identify a contact that lives out-of-state who can act as a virtual gathering point and can relay messages. Program that number in everyone’s cell phone as “ICE” (in case of emergency) – emergency personnel will often check your ICE if they find your phone and you are unresponsive.
- Make a contact card for every member of the family with a list of emergency phone numbers – 911, the power company, your insurance company, friends and co-workers, etc.
- Keep your contacts updated across all of your channels, including phone, email and social media. Make a group list of your top contacts.
- Make sure every family member has a cell phone or pre-paid phone card. A pre-paid cell phone is a good cost-effective emergency option.
- Teach all family members how to use text messaging – often a text will get through when a phone call can’t.
- If you have a traditional land-line phone, make sure you have at least one non-cordless phone (one that plugs directly into the phone jack and has no power cord). That phone will still work even if you lose power.
Make an evacuation plan. Plan how you will get away and where you will go.
- List the steps each family member will take and who will call whom. Remember the old “phone trees”? Social media can make that easier, if you still have access to the internet in the crisis. Use a phone tree if you don’t.
- Choose several destinations in different directions so that you have known options. Remember to account for traffic, which is bad enough on a good day around here. Pre-program your GPS units to those locations.
- Keep current paper maps in your car. That GPS may not be working …
- Consider your pets – if you have to evacuate, leaving them behind is not a good option for them. Remember that most shelters don’t accept animals (except service animals).
- Never let your car’s gas tank get below half-full. You can’t get away if you can’t get gas for your car in your immediate area. With gas prices the way they are, it hurts less to fill up that way anyway.
- If you don’t have your own transportation, contact your local county emergency management agency and ask how they will handle evacuations.
Build disaster kits. You should have at least two – one for staying put if you have to make it on your own for a few days (called sheltering-in-place), and one for evacuating in a hurry.
Next time I’ll talk about what should go into your disaster kits. Remember, preparation can make the difference between a disaster and an adventure.