Family Disaster Planning Is Essential

The terror alert level was raised in the United States recently due to the terrorist bombings in London and Egypt. It’s another sign that we live in a very different world than before the events of 9/11. We must be more cautious about where we go, what we do, who we talk to and events taking place around us.

Natural disasters can be equally threatening and destructive. Take, for example, our Southern states being ravaged by extremely dangerous hurricanes during the last few years.

While I believe we cannot live in fear, it’s also vital that we are prepared to handle catastrophes. An integral part of preparation is ensuring your family follows proper safety techniques. The American Red Cross says its relief workers reach disaster scenes as soon as possible, but that disaster victims must be ready to help themselves before, during and after catastrophe strikes.

The American Red Cross says its four steps to safety can protect families and neighbors in the event of a disaster.

  1. Find out what could happen to you

    1. Contact your local Red Cross unit before a disaster occurs
    2. Find out which disasters may occur in your area and how to best prepare
    3. Learn about your community’s warning signals
    4. Ask about animal care that would be available after a disaster
    5. Determine the best ways to help elderly and disabled individuals.
  2. Create a disaster plan

    1. Meet with your family to discuss why everyone must prepare for a disaster
    2. Discuss the different types of disasters most likely to affect your family and the dangers associated with them
    3. Pick two places to meet:
      1. At a spot outside your house in the event of a sudden emergency, such as a fire

      2. Outside your neighborhood in case family members can’t return home; be sure everyone knows the address and phone number of the site

    4. Ask an out-of-state family member or friend to be your "family contact" in the event local communications break down; it’s often easier to call long distance after a damaging catastrophe strikes
    5. Discuss what to do in an evacuation and how to safely include pets.
  3. Complete this checklist

    1. Post emergency telephone numbers by all phones in the house (fire, police, ambulance)
    2. Teach children how and when to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency
    3. Show each family member how and when to turn off the utilities at the main switches
    4. Ensure there is adequate insurance coverage
    5. Have each family member trained on proper use of fire extinguishers
    6. Install smoke detectors on each level of the home, especially near bedrooms
    7. Conduct a home hazard hunt
    8. Stock emergency supplies and assemble a disaster supply kit
    9. Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class
    10. Determine the best escape routes from the home
    11. Find the safest places in the home relating to each type of disaster.
  4. Practice and maintain an emergency plan

    1. Quiz children every six months on the plan’s details
    2. Conduct fire and emergency evacuations
    3. Replace stored water and food every six months
    4. Test and recharge fire extinguishers
    5. Test smoke detectors monthly and change their batteries at least once a year.

This is a lot of information, but it’s also lifesaving information. It’s important we know how to protect ourselves, our families and our homes in the event of a disaster. I encourage everyone to follow these four steps.

More information is available from your local chapter of the American Red Cross, and agency officials can answer specific questions you may have about disaster planning and protecting your family. To find your local Red Cross chapter or for emergency planning brochures, please call my office at (315) 781-2030. You may also e-mail me at The Red Cross can be reached directly at (202) 303-4498 or (866) GET-INFO (438-4636).