Prepping Matters: Have a Plan

Imagine you are woken in the middle of the night by a loud rumbling noise.  The bed shakes. The windows rattle, then shatter, blowing bits of broken glass into your room.

What do you do?

Well, depending on where you live, this could be an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, explosion, or any number of other disasters.  The type of disaster will determine what should be done.

The good news is, natural disasters tend to happen in somewhat predictable patterns.  Certain parts of the world are more prone to certain disasters, and not others.  For example, California sees earthquakes on a regular basis.  Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, and Oklahoma is known for tornadoes.

We can’t always know when and where a disaster will strike, but we can prepare ahead of time for what we are most likely to encounter.  For example, if I lived in California, I would definitely learn how to prepare for earthquakes, but here in Texas, earthquakes are not a problem.  We are more likely to encounter tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flooding.

The first step in preparing for emergencies its to prepare for the types of disasters you are most likely to encounter for the region you live in.

Plan Ahead

Let’s say that in the example above, the disaster is a tornado.  Tornadoes do weird things.  I have a picture on my Couldn’t Sleep Last Night page where a tornado left a mobile home in place, but sucked the mattress out the window! If it can suck a mattress, it can probably pull me out too.  My first action would be to get away from that window. In a tornado, seconds count, so my best option would be to get in the closet, or jump into the bathtub, whichever is quicker.

In the seconds I have to think, especially being pulled from the stupor of sleep, I might not be thinking clearly.  That’s why it’s important to think these things through ahead of time, so you will already know what you should do.  In the old G.I. Joe cartoons, they used to say “knowing is half the battle”.  By doing your think work and preparing before a disaster strikes, you will be ahead of the game.

Practice Drills for Each Disaster

Once you have identified what is most likely to happen, and what should be done, the next step is to make sure everyone in the house knows the drill.  The best thing to do is have regular family meetings where you practice what should be done in each type of disaster.  Make a list of the top ten most likely disasters for your area, and develop a plan for each one.

For example, if a tornado destroys our home (while I am at work, and the kids at school), the kids know to stay at the school (as long as it is safe), and I will find them there.  If the school is not safe, then they are to go to the hospital.  We know to leave messages, if possible. These are all things that must be discussed in family meetings, and refreshed periodically.

You might get some grumbles and complaints from certain family members, but be persistent.  This may save their life one day!

A Most Common Disaster

Some disasters strike regardless of where you live. House fires, for example, can happen anywhere, and is one disaster that every household should be prepared for.  Do you have a fire extinguisher?  Does everyone know how to use it? Do you have one on each level of your house? What is your escape plan?  What if the fire is blocking your escape route?  Do you have an alternate route? Do you live on a second floor?  If so, do you have a fire escape ladder?  What if someone is injured?  Do you have a first aid kit? Do you know how to use it?  What if you are the one who needs help? Is every member of your family trained in what to do?  Do the little ones know how to call 911?

As you can see, there is much to be considered, and this is just one type of disaster.  Putting a fire escape plan together is very important.  Fire safety and prevention would be even better.

I remember when I was 13 years old, I decided to make myself some french fries as an after school snack.  Both my parents were at work.  I put the pot with oil on the stove, and cranked the heat up.  The phone rang, and it was my best friend.  She was upset (boy troubles).  I stepped outside to talk in private. I don’t know how long I was on the phone with her, but when I stepped back inside the house, my heart jumped into my throat.  There was black smoke collected at the ceiling to about the top of my head.  Two foot flames were leaping out of the pot, and licking the wood cabinets above the stove.  I panicked, not knowing what to do.  Fortunately, I had heard that you should not put out a grease fire with water, so I grabbed salt, and flour to smother the flames.

I opened the windows to let the smoke clear out, but the walls were gray with soot from the smoke.  The cabinets were charred black like charcoal.  In my teenage mind, I dreaded my parents coming home that day, because I knew I would be in trouble.  The truth is, they were relieved it wasn’t much worse.  If I had not been taught how to handle a grease fire, I might have reacted by throwing water on it, which could have seriously burned me that day.

After that, our family sat down and developed a house fire plan.  We got a fire extinguisher, and we weren’t allowed to do anything other than boil water when no adults were around.

Wait, And It Will Be Too Late

We were lucky that day, but sadly, many families are not.  Tragically, many families die when having a plan may have prevented their deaths.

Putting a plan together takes some time, and is not something that can be done in a single afternoon. The best thing is to  schedule time to work on your plan, an hour every day  until you feel like you are in a good place with it.

No two plans will look the same.Every family plan will look different, but there are some common guidelines to follow.  To get a better idea of how to put an emergency plan together, visit www.ready.gov/make-a-plan for some helpful resources.

Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Don’t wait, or it will be too late.  Make a plan today.

Couldn’t Sleep Last Night

Last night, I was not prepared for a tornado.  I have taken baby steps over the last year to get my family more prepared for emergencies.  I have several other posts on the back burner that detail all of the things I have been doing, and I will post those soon.  Yet, despite my efforts, I learned just how unprepared I actually am should a disaster strike.

Here in Texas, severe thunderstorms are as common as Wal-Marts…seems like there is one on every corner.  I love thunderstorms.  Something about them makes me feel alive.  However, last night, the hairs on my neck stood on end.  The thunder was just a little louder than it usually is.  The winds were just a little bit stronger than they usually are.  Instead of feeling invigorated, I felt concerned.  You see, I have lived in Texas my whole life, and I have never encountered a tornado (thankfully).  That doesn’t mean the day won’t come.

So I was in bed, feeling quite unnerved, and my mind suddenly raced with a thousand thoughts: “What if there is a tornado tonight? What would we do?”  I thought about the food and water I have set aside. “Would that be enough?”  “Where are the flashlights?”  The kids had taken them to a night time scavenger hunt. “Did they put them back?” I had no idea. “Where is the first aid kit?”  We had recently gone camping, and had not unpacked the bags yet.  “At what point should I tell the kids to get in the bathtub?”  I didn’t want to alarm them for no reason.

My mind was a whirlwind, much like the storm that raged outside.  I convinced myself that everything would be fine…it always is, and that I was overreacting.  I suppressed my fears, and tried to go to sleep.

I found out the next morning, that there were actually two tornadoes that touched down in the next town over!  Goosebumps pricked up on my skin.  My instincts were right.  Here are some photos of the destruction, courtesy of kxan news:

I share this story because it is easy to convince ourselves that nothing bad will happen. Here I am, an advocate for emergency preparedness, and I felt terribly unprepared. Luckily for us, nothing bad happened, but our luck may not last forever.  I don’t want to feel like I did last night.  Today, I am addressing all those questions I had.  The flashlights and first aid kit are back in place.  I picked up a few extra cans of food and water when I did my regular grocery shopping.  I talked with my kids about our tornado plan.

The key with being prepared is, don’t get complacent.  I don’t mean live in fear.  I mean that prepping should be a natural thing we do, like getting an oil change, or spring cleaning.

If I was smart, I would have had a NOAA Weather Radio. This is a special radio that is programmed to alert you for severe weather warnings. If I had one of these radios, I would have had my answer, and I wouldn’t have been left guessing.  Couldn’t I have just turned on the weather station on my tv?  The power was out, so I had no tv, and no internet.  It’s fairly common for the power to go out for an hour or two.  I am prepared for long periods without power, but I didn’t consider the possibility of not being able to get a weather report.

What about sirens?  The city has tornado sirens, don’t they?

That’s what I thought too.  But I recently found out that many cities do not have the sirens, and depend on reverse 911 emergency alert texts to your cell phone.  So if I was waiting to hear that siren before taking action, I would never hear it.

The nice thing about this radio is that it has a battery backup, so if the power goes out, it will run off of battery.  Also, if you are sound asleep, and there is a tornado warning for your area, it well set off an alarm to wake you up, giving you and your family time to get to safety.  Sometimes tornadoes can be on top of you in a matter of seconds, so every second matters.

I have learned from this experience, not to become complacent. I have ordered my NOAA radio.  I hope to be better prepared for next time, because next time might be the real thing.