September’s National Preparedness Month revives the old motto “Be prepared” on a national level. Since its inception in 2004, federal, state, and local agencies have spent the month preaching emergency preparedness and encouraging Americans to prepare for natural and man-made disasters. The goal: inspire Americans to work together to “enhance our national security, resilience, and readiness,” according to President Barack Obama’s 2012 proclamation.
Why the focus? Almost one-third of Americans polled in the 2009 Citizens Corps National survey had not prepared for emergencies, because they believed that first responders would help them, despite watching strained government resources during tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Even those who considered themselves to be prepared for disaster didn’t grasp basic survival needs; nearly three-quarters of those polled had never done a home evacuation drill or did not know their own community’s evacuation routes.
When it comes to emergency preparedness, failing to plan is planning to fail. Don’t become a statistic. This September, follow the four Ps below to prepare your family and your community for future dangers that may arise.
- Prepare. Before you can develop an effective plan, you must have an idea of what to include in it. Write down every disaster-related question you can think of and find the answers before going any further. Some things to consider: Are you registered for your community’s emergency alert system? Do you know the location of emergency shelters, when they open, or whether there are restrictions on the residents they serve? Do you need special accommodations for family members with special needs or pets? The internet and your local government offices are good places to start your search for answers.
- Plan. Once you’ve prepared your emergency encyclopedia, schedule a family meeting to put it to use. Review your findings with your family, make a list of items for your emergency kit, and complete a Family Emergency Plan. Make sure all family members, including any caregivers or emergency contacts, have a copy of the completed plan; you don’t want a broken link in your chain. This is also a good time to remind all family members of the location of important documents and your emergency kit.
- Practice. Instead of game night or television time, spend your family time practicing your plan. Walk through your home, and together identify the safest exit routes in each room. Show your kids where the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are located, and check the batteries in each one as you go. Take a fire extinguisher in your backyard, and show children how to use it in case of an emergency. Once you’ve done this once, agree on a family signal (such as a blowing a whistle or ringing a bell) for future practice. Periodically, use the signal and conduct a home evacuation drill when your family is safe, but unsuspecting.
- Participate. There are many ways for families to get involved with local emergency preparedness efforts. Various organizations sponsor First Aid and CPR classes at locations across the country; these courses provide families with valuable bonding time in addition to life-saving skills. Parents can also work with teachers to coordinate emergency preparedness classroom activities using American Red Cross’s Masters of Disaster curriculum or coordinate supply drives at their schools. Finally, check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s National Preparedness Community website; it hosts a searchable database of local preparedness events in communities across the country.
If incorporating the four Ps into your household seems overwhelming, take it one step at a time. Dedicate one week (or weekend) of the month to each P, and spend at least 15 minutes tackling a few of the above suggestions. It is not only an opportunity to incorporate family bonding and education; it may save yours or a loved one’s life someday.