The recent severe weather here in Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the midwest has resulted in so many people taking trips to emergency evacuation shelters, interior, windowless rooms of their homes or, in truly tragic cases, a ride down the rapids of a rain swollen river. I was blessed to only have to spend one night hunkered down in the pantry while the tornado sirens went off and a tornado touched down about 15 miles away. There are so many others who have not been so lucky. Having grown up a military brat and a Girl Scout raised by an Eagle Scout father and a mother who grew up in Oklahoma’s tornado alley, the idea of being prepared for an emergency is just ingrained in me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know where the flashlights, candles and matches and all the other necessary emergency gear was located, what to do and where to go. Our multiple moves have meant I have lived in areas prone to, and I have experienced, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, blizzards, nor’easters, droughts and more. Pick a type of extreme weather, I’ve probably been through it.
Recent conversations with friends, family and online acquaintances made me realize how few people really know what to do in an emergency and how many more are not prepared if they had to immediately evacuate. There are lots of great resources of what to do in an emergency – Please go read them!
For now, let’s just talk about what you need to know if you have to immediately evacuate your home, work or wherever you might be at that moment. Disclaimer – I am not an expert on this subject. Just someone who has lived through a lot of these types of things, with a few suggestions. This is also not an all inclusive list. Please check with your local government and/or disaster relief agency to find out what other resources are available. This is also really important to think about if you travel a lot. You never know when you are going to be stuck somewhere besides home or work and severe weather strikes.
Do you know how to receive local severe weather emergency and/or evacuation notices?
Every municipality is different. Don’t assume because something was available or normal where you lived before (even if it was as little as a few miles away!) that it is the same where you live or are traveling now. Some areas have sirens, some don’t. Many rely on Emergency Broadcast System notices on radio or TV – but seriously how many of us actually watch local network TV or listen to the radio any more? My recommendation if you have a smartphone is to download a weather emergency alert app. It will scare the beejeezus out of you every time it goes off but at least you will be aware of what is going on and whether you need to take precautions.
Do you know where to evacuate to or where the best place to take shelter is?
Find out! Again, every area is different and it varies depending on the type of weather. Your state or local governments will this information available or they can point you to the correct government agency that can give you the information. You can also check with the Red Cross or FEMA.
Do your kids know what to do in an emergency?
If your kids are old enough to be away from you – at grandma’s or a friend’s or school or on a playdate – they are old enough to be taught basic emergency preparedness. Make sure they know what to do, where to go and how to contact you. Do not assume that the adult they are with will know what to do. Make sure they know what to do. Don’t count on cell phones working or that you will have power to keep them charged. How many of you or your children have phone numbers or addresses memorized? I know I don’t, but I need to. Or I at least need to have them written down and with me. Do your kids even know your first and last name or are you just Mom and Dad? If they don’t know your name and address, it will take much longer for them to be reunited with you if you get separated. Have an emergency plan in place that your kids can implement anywhere, make sure your kids know the information they need and have an agreed upon meeting place, even if it is for after the emergency has passed.
You have 2 minutes or less to leave – what do you take with you?
While it is nice to think that we would all instinctively grab the really important stuff and the really sentimental stuff, have you thought about what that stuff is and where it is? Our lives are so cluttered, do we really know what we need and where it is. Could you, in less than 2 minutes, put your hands on and pack (not in order of importance)
- Important paperwork – birth certificates, passports, drivers’ licenses, marriage license, your health, car and homeowners insurance information, a list of important numbers and contact information, account numbers for all of your various accounts – banks, utilities, anything you need an account number for and a list of all your login information and passwords for online accounts
- Currency – cash, credit cards, debit cards, bank account numbers
- Devices and chargers – laptops, ipads, phones and chargers (for everyone in your family)
- Pets – leashes, medical and shot records and small supply of food and crates too, if you can carry them
- Medications / medical devices / medical instructions – for everyone in your family, including your pets, as well as, spare prescriptions
- Vision or hearing aids – glasses, contacts and solution, hearing aids, etc…
- A change of clothes – for everyone in your family
- Things little kids may need to be comforted – a blanket, stuffed animal, etc…
- Baby items – diapers, wipes, blankets, bottles, etc…
- Keys – house, cars, storage units, parents house, etc…
If you are not at home when the evacuation order is issued, does someone else in your family know how and where to collect and pack these things? Everyone who lives in your house should know what to pack and where these things are.
Time yourself collecting all of these things and getting out the door. Can you do it? Can you do it if you have to carry it and can not take your car – think boat or air rescue from a flood for example? If not, you need to put a system in place and start storing things where you could.
I posed the question to my Twitter and Facebook networks about what they would grab if they had to evacuate in an emergency. All of the answers included one or more of the things on this list, as well as some fun sentimental items.
So what would be on your list?