A disaster can change your life in just a few minutes; being prepared for the possibility of a flood, loss of power, fire or other emergency can make all the difference. The following is Part I of a two-part series on emergency preparedness
> Unfortunately, disasters can and do happen. We've been reminded of this with the recent flooding in Vernonia when families were forced out of their homes due to sudden high water. The flooding damaged homes and possessions and left a significant segment of the population homeless and without the basic necessities such as food, clean water, clothing and important insurance papers to help get reconstruction underway.
Leaving the comforts of our homes in an emergency is not something we want to think about, but the possibility of fire, flooding, devastating storms such as the recent tornado in Vancouver, or even terrorist attacks, are the grim realities of life. Being so near an active volcano is also a real threat. Being prepared is half the battle and having a plan in place can help put your mind at ease.
Evacuating your home
Coordinating a family disaster plan in advance makes sense, and a preplanned escape route out of the house and out of town can help make an evacuation less stressful.
Local government officials, not the Red Cross, issue evacuation orders when disaster threatens. Listen to local radio and television reports. If local authorities ask you to leave, they have good reason to make the call and it is recommended you do so immediately. Being prepared ahead of time can not only save valuable time but could save lives.
Finding out what disasters are most likely to happen where you live and how you will be warned is first and foremost. In our area we have an emergency alert system. 'It's a great tool,' said Steve Watson, systems facility specialist with Columbia 911 Communications District. 'We can notify a lot of people simultaneously.' Residents can also be notified in specific areas of town such as when the Boise mill had a propane leak a few years ago. Only residents that were in potential danger were contacted with information about what to do.
But, the system can't always foresee disasters in time to contact everyone. According to Watson, the flooding in Vernonia was so quick the system was not able to be used. Taking responsibility for your own family's safety is the best measure. 'Make yourself self-sufficient so you don't have to rely on anyone,' said Cheryl Engstrom, administration specialist and public information officer for Scappoose Rural Fire Protection District. 'People should not be in a position that if power is out, there is no food or water.'
According to Engstrom, a disaster supply kit is essential and can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you want it to be. By getting one or two items each time you shop you can complete your kit in a few months without putting a serious dent in your budget or your time. Engstrom suggests cruising the dollar stores for small items to keep costs at a minimum. One the other hand, if you don't want the bother of putting one together yourself, commercially prepared kits are available online through the Red Cross.
Creating a plan
Get together as a family and discuss the different disaster possibilities and how to prepare for each. In case of fire, for example, choose two different exits depending on where you are in the house when a fire breaks out. Select a meeting place so the family can stay in contact if they get separated. Find a location a safe distance from the house such as under a streetlight at the edge of your property, at the end of the driveway or even on the neighbor's front porch. You should also identify a place outside of your neighborhood such as a friend's home or a local church should your family get separated. It's also not a bad idea to have an out-of-state connection for everyone to call.
Another good idea is to post emergency and other pertinent numbers such as local utility companies near the phone, making certain everyone in the house knows they are there. A plan won't work if everyone isn't informed. Show responsible family members how to shut off power and water and have backup heat and power sources.
Install smoke detectors, especially near bedrooms and test them monthly. Learn about fire hazards, learn first aid and CPR. Scappoose Fire District offers free classes every other month and Columbia River Fire and Rescue in St. Helens can connect you with an EMT who offers free classes.
According to the Red Cross, there are six basics you should stock in your home that you would most likely need during an evacuation: water, food, a first aid kit, tools and emergency supplies, clothing and bedding, and special items. These essential items should be stocked in an easy-to-carry container. A camper or backpack can hold many of the essentials a family would need in an emergency, so don't discount the benefits there.
A complete listing of suggested items for a disaster kit is available online at www.redcross.org or www.fema.gov. You can also call FEMA at 1-800-480-2520. A Red Cross manual is available at local fire districts. 'That's our bible for helping people prepare,' said Engstrom.
Protecting your home
If officials haven't advised an evacuation and there is a chance conditions could worsen, take steps to protect your home and belongings by bringing lawn furniture, garden equipment, hanging plants and toys indoors. Check your property for things that could be a hazard such as anything that could blow or break off and cause damage.
Turn off propane but leave natural gas on unless it has been advised to turn it off. You may need it when you return home. Sometimes it can take weeks to get a professional to come and turn it back on.
Cover your windows if high winds are expected. Plywood is a good choice. If flooding is expected, consider sandbagging around the perimeter to keep water out. It takes two people about an hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, giving you a wall a foot high and 20 feet long. Keep shovels, sand, burlap or plastic bags on hand.
Move objects that can get damaged away from windows and into a safer area inside the house. Move televisions, computers, stereo, electronic equipment and movable appliances to higher spots and wrap them in blankets or sheets.
Store your disaster kit in a convenient place and make sure everyone knows where it is. Don't make it so heavy that it is difficult to move. If necessary, use two containers. To keep stored water fresh, change it every six months and rotate stored food every six months, too. Rethink your kit and family needs annually such as replacing batteries and updating clothes as children grow. Ask your pharmacist about storing your medications long term.
For more information about preparing for emergencies, contact Scappoose Rural Fire Protection District at 503-543-5026, Columbia River Fire and Rescue at 503-397-2990, Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter at 503-284-1234 or www.redcross-pdx.org, Columbia River PUD at 503-366-6501 or FEMA at 1-800-480-2520.
Next week: Part II-Being prepared away from home
Basics for a 72-hour disaster kit:
Water - store one gallon per person, more if doable
Food - store at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food. Also include vitamins, high-energy foods, foods for those on a special diet and comfort foods such as hard candy, instant coffee and tea bags
First aid - assemble a first aid kit or buy a prepackaged kit. Specifics for the kit can be obtained online from Red Cross or stop at your local fire department for information. Include prescription medications, antacids and pain relievers
Tools and Supplies - include items such as mess kits, an emergency preparedness manual available through the Red Cross or local fire departments, fresh batteries and radio, flashlights and extra batteries, cash and/or credit cards, fire extinguisher, tent, matches in waterproof container, nonelectric can opener and utility knife, pliers and wrench, aluminum foil, pencils and paper, whistle and sanitation supplies. You can also pack flares, plastic storage containers, a compass, tape
Clothing and bedding - sturdy shoes, rain gear, blankets or sleeping bags, hat and gloves, thermal underwear and sunglasses. Include at least one complete change of clothes per person,
Special Items - specific items needed for a baby or the elderly, entertainment such as books or games and important family documents
Important papers to take in an emergency*
-Social Security card
-Proof of residence (deed or lease)
-Birth and marriage certificates
-Stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates
-Wills, deeds and copies of recent tax returns
*It's a good idea to have copies of important papers in a home safe or bank safe deposit box
When leaving your home in an emergency:
-Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes for as much protection as possible
-Take your disaster supply kit
-Take your pets with you. Because public shelters do not allow pets, arrange to stay with friends or relatives or a pet-friendly hotel
-Use travel routes specified by local authorities rather than short cuts that could be impassable or dangerous
-Stay away from downed power lines