While we cannot control the development of tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or man-made emergency situations, we can increase our chances for survival by having an emergency response plan in place for ourselves and our loved ones.
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Disasters Occur Here Too
South Brunswick had a taste of the intense power of this storm type in October 1990 when a category 3 tornado, carrying maximum wind speeds of 158-206 mph, made its way through Dayton and Monmouth Junction.
The storm passed through our area very quickly but the aftermath was surreal.
I was working at a free-standing mental health center on Route 130 in at the time, not far from the current site of Dayton Toyota. A relatively small gravel parking lot separated us from a day treatment center. The tornado lightly touched down with needle-like precision between the two buildings, uprooting century-old trees but causing no damage to either structure or their occupants.
Nearby businesses at the Five Corners strip mall were less fortunate as the high winds blew out windows and ripped off signs. Eight people in the township were reported injured and between $500,000 and $5,000,000 in damages was estimated.
Since that time, the world has learned much about the importance of disaster preparedness.
The events of September 11, 2001, shattered the collective belief that our physical and environmental safety was guaranteed. We learned terms like “go bag” and created strategies for reuniting with loved ones if disaster struck. Storage areas were created for canned food and bottled water and other “just in case” items.
But it has been a decade since the attacks took place on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and I am guessing that many people have become less rigorous in preparing for sudden emergencies.
I know I have and if there was a disaster today, I would be totally unprepared.
It is in this spirit that I offer some of the basic lessons we all learned ten years ago. I hope this will encourage you to explore the links at the end of this column for details and that you will make your own preparations. The following suggestions are based upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and American Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Checklist.
Create an Emergency Plan
Make sure that all family members know what to do if they are home and a disaster strikes:
- Decide where the “safe spots” are in your home for each type of disaster. For example, if a tornado warning occurs, should the family head for the basement (or a bathroom or closet, if your house is on a concrete slab)?
- Teach everyone two escape routes for each room. If necessary, for younger children, put a picture by each window or door that will be used for this purpose. Practice emergency evacuation drills at least twice a year.
- Show all members how to turn off the water, gas and electricity. Make sure everyone knows where fire extinguishers are located and how to use them.
- Post emergency phone numbers near telephones and show children how to call 911.
- Have a battery-operated radio available with instructions on listening for emergency information.
- Make sure that your important family records are in a water- and fire-proof container. I’ve found that a relatively small portable safe is sufficient. You can purchase this item at any office supply company or online.
Have a plan to unite family members if they are separated when a disaster occurs:
- Arrange with two relatives or friends — one local and one out-of-state — to be a central check-in source, and make sure their phone numbers are taught to younger children.
- Pick two places to meet if it is not possible to return to your home. One should be near your home in case there is a fire and the other should be outside your local area in case the disaster is more widespread, such as in a flood.
Finally, if you have pets, find out in advance whether they will be allowed in public shelters and if not, make alternate arrangements for boarding them.
Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit or “Go Bag”
These are supplies that you should be prepared to take with you in case of an evacuation. They can be kept in a duffle bag or large backpack or suitcase with rolling wheels:
- Include one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days as well as a supply of non-perishable or canned food and a manual can opener. Check your go bag periodically to make sure that these items have not expired.
- Have a change of clothing including rain gear and sturdy shoes for each person. If anyone wears glasses, include an extra pair.
- Pack blankets or sleeping bags.
- Make sure to have a supply of all prescription medications as well as a first-aid kit. Have a list of family doctors.
- Include a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio, flashlights and a supply of appropriate batteries.
- Make a list of important family information.
Finally, if you have an infant or if any family members are elderly or disabled, make sure that special items they may need are included.
http://www.gobag.org/index.php is an excellent disaster preparedness website focusing on how to create a family plan and preparing individual go bags. Other sites:
http://www.fema.gov/ is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) site and it includes valuable information on preparing for tornados, floods, earthquakes and wildfires as well as how to update your emergency kit.
http://www.ready.gov/ provides thorough information about the contents of emergency kits and details regarding creating a plan.
http://www.redcross.org/ gives valuable information on disaster preparedness.