What to Do When Disaster Strikes

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(This article appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2005 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

As I write this, we are still “recovering” from this year’s devastating hurricane season. My prayers continue to go out to my APWU sisters and brothers and their families who were adversely affected. Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. With preparation, you can have what you need and a plan in place that will serve you well in almost any emergency.

Step 1: A Plan of Action

Talk with your family about potential disasters and the importance of being prepared for these events. Discuss the dangers that may be faced, and draw up a plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. Make sure every family member is involved and knows what they have to do. Designate alternates for each task in case not everyone is home when an incident occurs.

Step 2: Your Escape Route

Select a place to meet after a disaster. In fact, choose at least two places, including one near your home, which you will need if the emergency, such as a fire, strikes right where you live.

For area-wide emergencies, identify a place to meet if you are told to evacuate. Choose several places — a motel, a shelter, a friend’s home in another town.

Determine the two best escape routes from your neighborhood. Ask an out-of-town friend to be your “family contact.” Be sure that everyone knows his or her telephone number. If family members get separated, each one should call this person to let the others know where they are.

Step 3: Warning Signals

Learn about your community’s disaster warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them. For each type of disaster, learn where the safe spots are in your home.

Store at least one fire extinguisher in your home and make sure everyone knows how to use it. (Many local fire departments offer demonstrations.) Change the batteries in smoke alarms every year and make sure an alarm is installed and working on each level of your home.

Step 4: Keep Informed

Tell everyone in the household where emergency contact information is kept. Everyone should know when to call 911 or how to call other emergency medical services. Post emergency numbers near each telephone and program them in to everyone’s cell phones.

Make sure that flood and fire insurance are up to date. Keep all policies and other important documents in a safe-deposit box.

Step 5: Practice Evacuations

Practice evacuating your home twice a year. Drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on a map. Review your plan regularly with household members.

The Real Thing

Evacuations can be prompted by industrial accidents, terrorist attacks, or weather disasters. Leave immediately if you are advised to evacuate. Make sure your car’s gas tank is full and take along the following:

  • First-aid kit and essential medications, including an extra supply of prescription drugs; 
  • Bedding and clothing, sleeping bags and pillows; Canned food and can opener; 
  • At least three gallons of water per person; 
  • Protective clothing and inclement-weather gear; 
  • Flashlights, battery-powered radio, and plenty of batteries; 
  • Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members; 
  • Maps; and 
  • Personal documents, including insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.

For more on what to do in case of a disaster, your local Red Cross chapter has additional information. You can also visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site (www.fema.gov) for further advice and helpful links.

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