Monday Mornings with Madison

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

It was 10 years ago yesterday that the United States experienced the most devastating and tragic acts of terrorism in our nation’s history.  No one will forget where they were when the events of that day began to unfold.  Most adults east of the Mississippi River were either at work or on their way to work while most children were arriving or already at school.  Those acts, while focused on New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, showed that terrible, unexpected events can strike anywhere, anytime, without warning.

Of course, one needn’t go back in history very far to be reminded that bad things can and do happen.   Within the last month, an astonishing 5.2 earthquake shook the northeast, followed within days by a Category 3 Hurricane Irene.   Forest fires are currently sweeping through drought-stricken Texas.  Just a few months ago, floods and tornadoes devastated the Plains and Midwest.  Whether natural or man-made, such events stand as a cautionary admonition that the unexpected can and does happen.

In such situations, it is vitally important to be prepared.  So how do we prepare for the unexpected?  Depending on the location, every business and individual or family should have a plan for what to do in an emergency.  While no one is advocating building a bomb shelter or stockpiling food and water, it is good sense to develop and communicate a plan of action for every company and household.  Indeed, the first step is to ensure there is an emergency plan in place anywhere you and your family spend time: work, school, daycare and/or home. If no plan exists, volunteer to help create one. Talk about how to work together in the event of an emergency.  Here are some things to consider in developing an Emergency or Disaster Recovery Plan. 

1.  Type of Emergency. 

Consider the kinds of disasters, both natural and man-made, that are most likely to occur in your area.  While not all emergencies can be predicted (as was evident when an earthquake recently rocked the northeast), planning should include both the obvious (hurricane preparedness for populations along the Gulf and Atlantic seaboard) and the less likely (a terrorist attack).

2.  Communication. 

Think about how you would be notified, depending on the type of emergency.  In certain cases, local authorities may or may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what should be done. However, it is important to stay connected for information or official instruction as it becomes available.  Methods of getting your attention vary from community to community. One common method is to broadcast via emergency radio and TV broadcasts. In case of tornadoes, there might be a special siren.  In other instances, there might be a telephone call or emergency workers might go door-to-door. The key is to stay connected and alert.

3.  Evacuation. 

Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the emergency, the first important decision is whether to stay put or evacuate. A good Emergency Plan should understand and plan for both possibilities. Use common sense and available information to determine if there is an immediate danger.

Whether at home, work or elsewhere, there may be situations when it’s simply best to stay put and avoid any uncertainty outside.  There are other circumstances when staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside is crucial.  This process is known as “sealing the room.”  Use available information to assess the situation. If there are large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is contaminated, consider taking that kind of action. The process used to seal the room is a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between people and potentially contaminated air outside.

4.  In Case of Emergency Contact.

For a company or family that may not all be located in one central place, it is helpful to identify an out-of-town contact  In an emergency, as was the case immediately after 9-11, it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town.  An out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated members of a company or family. Ensure every member of the team or family knows the phone number and has a cell phone, coins, or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.

Those with a cell phone should program a contact in the phone directory designated as the “ICE” (In Case of Emergency).  In an accident, emergency personnel will check cell phone ICE listings to get a hold of the emergency contact. The ICE should be told – in advance – that he/she is listed as the emergency contact, and that person should have instructions of what to do in such circumstances.

Even if phones lines are not working properly, use text messaging (also known as SMS or Short Message Service). Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not get through.

Another good idea is to subscribe to an alert service. Many communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts or e-mails to communicate information about bad weather, road closings, local emergencies, etc.

5.  Personal Emergency Kit

More often than not, the most challenging problems arise after the emergency.  First and foremost, individuals need to be able to survive on their own after an emergency. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but often they cannot reach everyone right away. It may take hours, days or even weeks for help to arrive.  Usually in such circumstances, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be disrupted for long periods of time.

Here are some basic things every person should have in an Emergency Supply Kit.

  • One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.  Filling a bathtub is a quick and easy way to have water for sanitation, but children should be kept out of that bathroom.
  • Non-perishable food sufficient at least three-days per person
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlights (at least one per person)
  • Batteries sufficient to keep flashlights, radio, etc. working for a week
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask – to filter contaminated air
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes
  • Garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Inverter or solar charger
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof container
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid book
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing in cold-weather climates
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper.  (When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.)
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Battery-operated fans for very hot climates.

While not essential, an outdoor gas or charcoal grill is invaluable for anyone that has to make do without electricity for more than three days.

These items are specific to certain people:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

6.  Back Up Files

Businesses should back-up computer files to a remote location far from the main computers.  Backed-up files should be tested to ensure that they can be restored easily after an emergency.  Homes should also back up computer files including photographs either to flash drives or disks kept at a separate location or to a web location.

7.  Power

Companies that need to be operational immediately after an emergency should invest in a generator to ensure power is available even if utilities are down.  This is especially true for regional and national companies that may need to continue servicing customers in parts of the country not affected by the emergency.  Fuel for a generator also needs to be available and stored properly.

For more information or to get started in preparing a written Emergency Plan for your business or home, go to http://www.fema.gov/ to download “Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness.”

Quote of the Week

““Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout motto.  The meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previously thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” Robert Baden-Powell

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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