Disaster escape route
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Plan the safest escape route in case you're forced to evacuate your home during a disaster.

There are really two sides to a disaster event: evacuating your home and getting back there during an emergency. The bottom line is that you need a plan for your family detailing what to bring, where to meet and how to communicate.

We all typically commute to our workplace or school either by car, subway, bus or train. A few lucky people walk or take a bicycle. Your children at daycare also need to find their way back or be cared for until you can reach them. This is the side of a disaster where we are away and need to get back home.

On the flip side, your home is the hub where you eat, sleep and raise your family. You may also take care of aging parents and have pets or other animals. They all vie for your help in dire times, and a plan can help create sanity in a chaotic situation. This is the side where you need to remove yourself and everyone else from your home to be safe.

Finding Home

The most important element on either side of a disaster event is communication. The first step, according to FEMA, is to create a contact card or list. Every member of the family should have a copy of this list, which includes family member cell phone and landline numbers, plus the numbers for schools and daycare facilities, neighbors, relatives and family friends. This card should be a hard copy, preferably laminated to resist the elements, and be on your person—in a wallet, purse or knapsack—at all times.

A cell phone is the next piece of communication equipment to have. Your cell phone should also store all this information, but don’t rely on it for your primary resource, as cell phones are easily damaged or can lose power. All family members should know how to text since text messages can often get around disruptions in cell phone service. A recharging cord should be with the phone, too. Make it a habit to recharge your phone whenever you can so the battery is always topped off.

Creating an emergency plan can be daunting. The Red Cross offers an online module (arcbrcr.org) that takes the guesswork out of planning. It will walk you through creating the bug-out bag or emergency supply kit that you and your family will need. These supplies need to last at least three days for all members of your family and will include the obvious items like food and clothing to the less-obvious items like toilet paper, sanitary napkins and board games to take your mind off your situation when you are safe and waiting out the event. Depending on where you live, you may need specific supplies. For instance, if you live near a nuclear power plant, you need potassium iodide (KI) tablets in your emergency kit and know the dosage required for each family member. Or if you live in a wooded area, a chainsaw can help clear roads.

In the case where your family is scattered and need to get back home, communication is vital. Remember, home is not a specific place like your house, but it is instead a place where your entire family is together in a safe location. At the onset of an event, sending a short text that tells everyone in your immediate family where you are and your situation is the start. From there your plan needs to be enacted. Remember to create contingencies. For instance, mom’s car is out of commission and caught in high floodwaters. She is safe with the kids in a shelter, but she can’t get home to a parent, a pet or a neighbor per the plan. The plan then changes as dad will take over that task, but make sure you communicate the change in plan.

Forced To Evacuate

There might be a time where you must abandon your home for safety. There are disasters you can plan for, like hurricanes, snowstorms and other weather events, while with others there is no early warning, like with a fire, an industrial accident, an earthquake or a terrorist event. Your evacuation plan should cover both types of disaster scenarios. Use any extra time to check and gather your bug-out kit and get your family out of harm’s way. Evacuate before or when told by authorities. If you wait, hoping to ride out the situation, you may be trapped.

Each family’s plan will be different, but it does not need to be complicated. Discuss the plan with all family members and do a practice run. The point is to prepare together so, in the event of a disaster situation, you have the steps and ground work in place to help ensure you, your family and friends will survive.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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