Four Steps to Safety

Complete four steps to safety. There are four basic steps to developing a family disaster plan:
  1. Find out what could happen to you. By learning what your risks may be, you can prepare for the disaster most likely to occur in your area. Learn more by contacting your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter. Be prepared to take notes. Ask the following:
    • What type of disasters are most likely to happen in your community? Identify which human-caused or technological disasters can affect your region, too. Remember to consider major chemical emergencies that can occur anywhere chemical substances are stored, manufactured, or transported.
    • How should you prepare for each?
    • Does your community have a public warning system? What do your community's warning signals sound like and what should you do when you hear them?
    • What about animal care after disaster? Pets (other than service animals) are not permitted in places where food is served, according to many local health department regulations. Plan where you would take your pets if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted.
    • If you care for elderly or disabled persons, how can you help them? What might be some special needs to consider?
    • What are the disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or day care center, and other places where members of your family spend time? You should be prepared wherever you may be when disaster strikes and learn steps you can take to prevent or avoid disasters.
  2. Create a Family Disaster Plan. Once you know what disasters are possible in your area, talk about how to prepare and how to respond if one occurs. Make checklists of steps you can take as you discuss this information with your family. Here is how to create your Family 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. Keep it simple enough so people can remember the important details. A disaster is an extremely stressful situation that can create confusion. The best emergency plans are those with very few details.
    • Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing disasters ahead of time will help reduce fear and anxiety and will help everyone know how to respond.
    • Pick two places to meet:
      • Right outside of your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
      • Outside of your neighborhood in case you can't return home or are asked to leave your neighborhood. Everyone must know the address and phone number of the meeting locations.
    • Develop an emergency communication plan. In case family members are separated from one another during floods or other disasters, have a plan for getting back together. Separation is a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school.
    • Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to be your "family contact." Your contact should live outside of your area. After a disaster, it is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call. Family members should call the contact and tell him or her where they are. Everyone must know the contact's name, address, and phone number.
    • Discuss what to do if authorities ask you to evacuate. Make arrangements for a place to stay with a friend or relative who lives out of town and/or learn about shelter locations.
    • Be familiar with escape routes. Depending on the type of disaster, it may be necessary to evacuate your home. Plan several escape routes in case certain roads are blocked or closed. Remember to follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will direct you to the safest route; some roads may be blocked or put you in further danger.
    • Plan how to take care of your pets. Pets (other than service animals) are not permitted to be in places where food is served, according to many local health department regulations. Plan where you would take your pets if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted.
  3. Complete your checklists. Take the steps outlined in the checklists you made when you created your Family Disaster Plan. Remember to include the following items on your checklists.
    • Post by phones emergency telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.). You may not have time in an emergency to look up critical numbers.
      • Teach all responsible family members how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity at the main switches or valves. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Turn off utilities only if you suspect a leak or damaged lines, or if you are instructed to do so by authorities. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Paint shut-off valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase visibility. Attach a shut-off valve wrench or other special tool in a conspicuous place close to the gas and water shut-off valves.
      • Check if you have adequate insurance coverage. Ask your insurance agent to review your current policies to ensure that they will cover your home and belongings adequately. Homeowner's insurance does not cover flood losses. If you are a renter, your landlord's insurance does not protect your personal property; it only protects the building. Renters' insurance pays if a renter's property is damaged or stolen. Renters' insurance costs less than $15 a month in most areas of the country. Contact your insurance agent for more information.
      • Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Smoke alarms cut nearly in half your chances of dying in a home fire. Smoke alarms sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can detect both smoldering and flaming fires. Many areas are now requiring hard-wired smoke alarms in new homes.
      • Get training from the fire department on how to use your fire extinguisher (A-B-C type), and show family members where extinguishers are kept. Different extinguishers operate in different ways. Unless responsible family members know how to use your particular model, they may not be able to use it effectively. There is no time to read directions during an emergency. Only adults should handle and use extinguishers.
      • Conduct a home hazard hunt. During a disaster, ordinary objects in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire is a home hazard. For example, during an earthquake or a tornado, a hot water heater or a bookshelf could turn over or pictures hanging over a couch could fall and hurt someone. Look for electrical, chemical, and fire hazards. Contact your local fire department to learn about home fire hazards. Inspect your home at least once a year and fix potential hazards.
      • Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit. (See the "Disaster Supplies Kit" section.) Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, clearly labeled, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffel bags.
      • Keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car. (See the "Disaster Supplies Kit" section.) If you become stranded or are not able to return home, having these items will help you to be more comfortable.
      • Keep a portable, battery-operated radio or television and extra batteries. Maintaining a communications link with the outside is a step that can mean the difference between life and death. Make sure that all family members know where the portable, battery-operated radio or television is located, and always keep a supply of extra batteries.
      • Consider using a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature. NOAA Weather Radio is the best means to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service continuously broadcasts updated weather warnings and forecasts that can be received by NOAA Weather Radios, which are sold in many stores. NOAA Weather Radio now broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards both natural (such as weather and flooding, as well as earthquakes and volcanic activity) and technological (such as chemical releases or oil spills). Working with other federal agencies and the Federal Communications Commission's new Emergency Alert System, NOAA Weather Radio is an "all hazards" radio network, making it the single source for the most comprehensive weather and emergency information available to the public.

        Your National Weather Service recommends purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio that has both a battery backup and a Specific Area Message Encoder (SAME) feature, which automatically alerts you when a watch or warning is issued for your county, giving you immediate information about a life-threatening situation. The average range is 40 miles, depending on topography. The NOAA Weather Radio signal is a line-of-sight signal, which does not bore through hills or mountains.
      • Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class. Have your family learn basic safety measures, such as CPR and first aid. These are critical skills, and learning can be a fun activity for older children.
    • Plan home escape routes. Determine the best escape routes from your home in preparation for a fire or other emergency that would require you to leave the house quickly. Find two ways out of each room.
    • Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster. Different disasters often require different types of safe places. While basements are appropriate for tornadoes, they could be deadly in a major chemical emergency.
    • Make two photocopies of vital documents and keep the originals in a safe deposit box. Keep one copy in a safe place in the house, and give the second copy to an out-of-town friend or relative. Vital documents such as birth and marriage certificates, tax records, credit card numbers, financial records, and wills and trusts can be lost during disasters.
    • Make a complete inventory of your home, garage, and surrounding property. The inventory can be either written or videotaped. Include information such as serial numbers, make and model numbers, physical descriptions, and price of purchases (receipts, if possible). This list could help you prove the value of what you owned if your possessions are damaged or destroyed and can help you to claim deductions on taxes. Be sure to include expensive items such as sofas, chairs, tables, beds, chests, wall units, and any other furniture too heavy to move. Do this for all items in your home, on all levels. Then store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box.
  4. Practice and maintain your plan. Practicing your plan will help you instinctively make the appropriate response during an actual emergency. You will need to review your plan periodically and you may need to change some parts.
  5. Quiz your kids every six months so they remember what to do, meeting places, phone numbers, and safety rules.
  6. Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills at least twice a year. Actually drive evacuation routes so each driver will know the way. Select alternate routes in case the main evacuation route is blocked during an actual disaster. Mark your evacuation routes on a map; keep the map in your Disaster Supplies Kit. Remember to follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will direct you to the safest route, away from roads that may be blocked or put you in further danger.
  7. Replace stored food and water every six months. Replacing your food and water supplies will help ensure freshness.
  8. Use the test button to test your smoke alarms once a month. The test feature tests all electronic functions and is safer than testing with a controlled fire (matches, lighters, or cigarettes). If necessary, replace batteries immediately. Make sure children know what your smoke alarm sounds like.
  9. If you have battery-powered smoke alarms, replace batteries at least once a year. Some agencies recommend you replace batteries when the time changes from standard daylight savings each spring and again in the fall. "Change your clock, change your batteries," is a positive theme and has become a common phrase. While replacing batteries this often certainly will not hurt, available data show that batteries will last at least a year, so more frequent replacement is not necessary, and time does not change in Arizona, Hawaii, the eastern portion of Indiana, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Guam.
  10. Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years. Smoke alarms become less sensitive over time. Replacing them every 10 years is a joint recommendation by the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
  11. Look at your fire extinguisher to ensure it is properly charged. Fire extinguishers will not work properly if they are not properly charged. Use the gauge or test button to check proper pressure. Follow manufacturer's instructions for replacement or recharging fire extinguishers. If the unit is low on pressure, damaged, or corroded, replace it or have it professionally serviced.