Family Preparedness for Natural Disasters

By Dr. Chris Reynolds, CEM, Dean, Academic Outreach and Program Development

emergency preparedness ReynoldsWith only about three months remaining in 2017, this year has proven to be a costly one in terms of natural disasters. So far this year, a total of 85 federal disaster declarations have been issued, dealing with everything from winter storms and flooding to hurricanes and wildfires. The unprecedented scale of these disasters has impacted many in our university community. In a matter of just two weeks, the country was hit by two major hurricanes, resulting in the evacuation of six million people in Texas and another 5.6 million in Florida (where I reside in Tampa). Both Harvey and Irma made landfall as Category 4 storms. And in the west, there are no less than 120 wildfires that have destroyed countless acres of forest and thousands of homes.

In a perfect world, everyone would be prepared anytime disaster strikes, but the reality is few disasters allow time for people to gather even the most basic necessities, thus making early planning a necessity. Whether it is wildfires in the west, tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest or hurricanes in the south and east coast, we all face the ever-present threat of disaster. Preparedness begins at home with our families, assuring they have the necessities needed for survival during long-term emergencies. While preparing my own family and home for the arrival of Irma, I spent the day sending out a series of tweets to help other members of our university community prepare their own families for disaster.

Dr. Reynolds was recently interviewed by Tampa Bay’s News 9. Watch the video below.

Developing a family emergency plan includes knowing whether you reside in a threat area and knowing your evacuation routes and shelters. Equally important is knowing whether your shelter can accommodate special-needs evacuees or pets. Many times, we see the horror stories of our elderly or disabled who have been abandoned in the advance of a hurricane or flood. Likewise, we also see stories of pets who have been left behind because many shelters cannot accommodate pets. Family emergency plans can help address these issues well in advance of a disaster.

Families should safeguard their important papers, passports, birth certificates, etc., in waterproof containers to protect them from destruction. You should also have a “go bag” that contains clothing, hygiene items, and medications ready for use. Be sure to have your flashlights and batteries in waterproof containers centralized for ease of access when the lights go out. Take time prior to the storm to fully charge cell phones. If you have portable jump-start batteries, be sure these are fully charged as well.

Whether you evacuate or not, prepare your home. Consider moving electronics (televisions, etc.) to upper floors or on top of tables to protect them in the event of flooding. Line your door thresholds with plastic and sandbags to prevent water from getting in. Vehicles should be positioned for ease of egress to allow for quick relocation if necessary.

The reality of hurricanes is the eventual loss of electricity, which can exacerbate the stress families undergo during these incidents. Portable generators are relatively inexpensive and provide enough electricity to power radios, lights, and fans. Remember to never run a generator in your home! Generators must only be operated outside in well-ventilated areas! If you have a portable gas grill, be sure that you have a full propane tank. Gas grills can provide much-appreciated hot food if you lose power and are isolated. Gas grills should also never be used inside the home — only outside with plenty of ventilation.

In advance of the storm, it is important to have non-contaminated water for consumption. In addition to filling water containers, you should fill your bathtubs with water and cover them with plastic. It is equally important to have enough non-perishable food that can sustain you and your family for up to 72 hours. Before the storm hits, you can also prepare filling food that is easy to fix and tastes good when it’s cold.

Children won’t understand all of the excitement in advance of a storm and it is important to keep them occupied during the preparation and storm to lessen their anxiety. Consider both electronic and non-electronic activities. Like our children, remember that our pets won’t understand the excitement either, so spend time comforting them in advance of a storm. Once the storm has passed and it is safe, you will want to conduct a damage assessment on your property or home. Remember, this should ONLY be conducted when it has been determined by authorities that conditions are safe. After your assessment, consider cleaning up small debris, tree limbs, etc., for ease of pickup by cleanup crews.

As Dr. Powell recently reminded APUS staff and faculty, “Safety first at all times and in all things.” The importance of the “safety first” approach cannot be overemphasized. Whether you are preparing for a storm or evacuating, preplanning and preparedness can determine whether you and your family will survive during disasters. The time to prepare and plan is in advance of a storm or incident. Preparedness begins at home and remember: “Have a plan!”

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