National Preparedness Month, Week 3: “Practice & Build Out Your Plans”

National Preparedness Month has been observed in September since 2004 and has already reached its 13-year anniversary. The objective of this declared observance is to encourage Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, schools, and communities. Some of these steps include building emergency supply kits, making a family emergency plan and communications plan, staying informed on disaster information and related risks, and taking advantage of opportunities to get involved in preparedness/response efforts. There are a number of exciting things going on in the preparedness community this month which can be found at https://www.ready.gov/september

The focus of National Preparedness Month Week 3 is on practicing and further development of your emergency plans. Hopefully, you have done or will do your homework on gathering information about the hazards and/or potential disasters that could harm you or your family members. Perhaps you’ve taken that crucial step in disaster preparedness by building your emergency kit or “go bag.” And if you’ve really taken your preparedness seriously then you have probably developed an emergency plan for yourself and/or your family (see http://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan). But now what? One of the most important things you can do to validate your preparedness efforts is to practice them. So what does this mean exactly? How might you practice them and what elements should you focus on? Consider the following and get creative with it:

Exercise your emergency plan with your family

a. Identified evacuation routes (travel)
i. Practice evacuating to the destinations you have identified by taking the routes you have identified in your plan.
ii. Time how long it takes.
iii. Understand traffic/road construction patterns at different times of day.
iv. Think about possible vulnerabilities of these routes and how they may be impassable (under/over bridges, overpasses, etc.) following a large disaster; in particular, for us southern Californians, a large earthquake.
v. Drive alternate routes to arrive at the same destination.
vi. Ensure that am radio stations are preset in your car to those stations that will provide local disaster information; particularly regarding evacuation routes.

b. Identified evacuation routes (in home)
i. Practice the evacuation routes with the family to get outside the home.
ii. Make sure that nothing is obstructing these routes and that doors, windows, garage doors, etc. all open and function correctly.
iii. Test everybody’s knowledge of where the primary and backup meeting locations are outside the home and validate that they are still in safe; open places.
iv. Ensure that everybody has close-toed shoes accessible next to or near their bed to avoid walking over sharp objects.
v. Time how long it takes for the family to evacuate and did they grab the things identified in the emergency plan (i.e. “go bag,” pets, etc.)

c. Written emergency communications plan
i. Make sure everybody in the family has the contact information for the out-of-area point-of-contact to check-in with following a disaster. Likewise ensure the out-of-area point-of-contact has the contact information for those family members that will be calling. Validate all contact information is up-to-date.
ii. Call this out-of-area contact person and remind them that they are the primary point-of-contact identified in the communications plan. Also, consider identifying a back-up and tertiary. Make sure that you have a conversation with these back up contacts about this plan.
iii. Ensure that everybody knows what information to provide this person following a disaster (i.e. condition, location, needs, reunification status, etc.)
iv. Everybody send each other a “TEST Emergency” text message.

Check your emergency kit or “go bag”:

a. Pull everything out of you emergency kit and refresh yourself on what’s inside. Many people buy kits pre-packaged which is great but not everybody takes the time to go through it to see what’s inside and understand how everything works.
b. Make sure others in your home know what’s on the inside and when these supplies might be used.
c. Check the functionality of these supplies and replace/replenish batteries and anything else that need to be occasionally switched out or that may expire.
d. Identify any other items that should be added to your kit and fill some of these gaps. The idea is to continuously improve your kit or “go bag” over time.
e. Put your backpack on your back and wear it or hold it for a little while and get a feel for how heavy it is. Ask yourself whether or not you would be able to carry it for very long.

Testing and exercising the above aspects of your plan and supplies are important but can be made fun at the same time. You may choose to use a disaster scenario of your choice, activate your family’s practice run of this plan without any notice to them, or treat them to ice cream after your family has successfully “survived the zombie apocalypse.” It’s ok to add some humor to it and, in fact, this is one way in which many people learn and retain information the best. It is especially recommended to make these “dry runs” fun if you have small children in the house because this will get them used to and conditioned to some of the actions to be taken in a real emergency.

Disasters don’t plan ahead, you can!

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