It’s two o’clock in the morning and you are sound asleep. The telephone rings and a recorded message states an emergency evacuation has been ordered for your neighborhood. You and your family must leave within five minutes. A toxic cloud from a truck accident has created a plume that is headed for your home. What do you do next?
If you have prepared ahead, you wake up the rest of the family, put on your clothes, grab your 72 hour kits, get in the car, and drive to a place you have already determined will be your evacuation point. Perhaps that is a motel or a relative in another town. Probably the recorded message told you of the Emergency Evacuation Center activated and opened for your use. On the way, you call your family contact person in another state to tell them you have been evacuated and how you can be reached by concerned family members or friends.
Sound far fetched? People experience these dramas all the time. Sometimes the drama has national attention, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and sometimes it is a more local event. But if it happens to you, it is a big event and planning ahead will lessen the impact for you and your family.
We are often lulled into complacency during large scale emergencies by thinking that the fire and police departments are coming to the rescue, and if the problem is too big for them, then the federal government will be close behind. What you need to know is that public safety organizations are exceptional at handling everday calls, have mutual aid amongst themselves to handle larger or multiple incidents, but sometimes an event is simply too big to get individualized attention to every person affected within a short amount of time. And as far as FEMA goes, it takes time to mobilize and put people and equipment in place where disaster has already made communication and travel difficult.
Here’s the message – you need to be thinking about how you can take care of yourself in a general disaster that may be overwhelming the normal first responders. That way, you know that at least for the initial period (three days is recommended) you and your family will be warm, fed, and clothed. Imagine how things might have been different in New Orleans if people had each prepared a 72 hour kit before the hurricane hit.
Putting together a 72 hour kit is a fairly simple task. Some of the things you put in it will depend upon your personal tastes, but the rest is standard fare. For instance, you should have water, appropriate clothing, food and first aid. Add to that a flashlight, portable radio, and some stress relievers such as games or cards. If there are several in your family, distribute the extras amongst all the packs so the weight doesn’t become cumbersome.
Medicines are important and dividing off a 3 day supply will require regular maintenance to make sure they stay in date. Money is equally important, but make sure to have cash in case credit cards don’t work.
If you are in the habit of having a family night, this is a great time to work on 72 hour kits. Or invite some friends over and do it together. In the past people might have thought it a little strange to think like this, but my guess is those people are beginning to consider these possibilities and will be thankful you are thinking of their wellbeing.
If you have access to the internet, typing “72 hour kit” into the search bar will bring up a nearly limitless list of vendors and sites offering help with your kit. You can even buy pre-packaged kits tailored to your preferences.
After preparing the kit, think about what comes next. Cell phones have put nearly everybody in touch with everybody else, and while we hope this technology will continue working in a disaster, if cell towers are knocked down cell phones won’t work. Have a plan to let another family member know where you are, what your plans are, how to get hold of you, and when you will call them next. Make sure you tell the rest of your family and friends who this contact is in case you can’t be reached. One of the saddest effects of Katrina was the tearing apart of families – you can help prevent this through preplanning.
Next, if you have a pet, remember that many emergency evacuation centers will not allow animals inside. Do you have a pet carrier? How about a leash? And don’t forget food for Fido.
That’s it! Well, maybe it’s not everything, but planning for disaster will prepare you for the worst by doing your best. Remember what Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Help yourself and maybe you’ll be in a position to help others.
Kenneth J. MacLean, Fire Chief, Sudbury Fire Department