As you get your children ready for school, you hear sirens down the street. Your neighbor calls and says he thinks there's been a car accident. Suddenly, there’s a loud knock at the door from a police officer. She urgently tells you to evacuate the area. The officer explains that there’s been a major natural gas leak and it’s unsafe to stay in your home. Before you can ask any more questions, the officer moves on to the next house.
What do you do? Where do you go? Do you take your pets? Do you have an emergency kit? Does it contain your medication, insurance information, emergency phone numbers?
This scenario, while scary, is not terribly uncommon. What’s really frightening is that most citizens are unprepared for disasters. We carry a spare tire in our cars, we have insurance for a fire, and we teach our children to dial 9-1-1, but is that enough?
The answer is no!
As an emergency manager, I am frequently asked by people what they can do to be prepared for a disaster. Here are three easy steps:
1. Sign up for Montgomery County Emergency Alerts
You could be the best prepared person in the world, but it doesn’t matter unless you know about an emergency as it’s happening. As our scenario above illustrated, sometimes rumors can spread faster than accurate information. In Chevy Chase, it might be a while before the local news channels cover an incident in our area. Everyone needs to take a moment to sign up for emergency notifications directly from the county. The messages can be sent to your cell phone, email account, pager, and BlackBerry device. To instantly register your phone, simply send a text message with the word MONTGOMERY to 411911.
2. Create emergency kits!
Most organizations tell you to create a kit. I make a special point of emphasizing the need for more than one. You need an emergency kit at your office, in your car, and at home. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a great website for more information on building emergency kits, for more information on disaster preparedness, visit www.Ready.gov.
3. Create a plan
This one-page template is available from Ready.gov as well, and is meant to be printed and folded into a wallet-sized card. It’s important that your plan include medical information (such as food/medicine allergies for everyone in your family, any current medications and a quick medical history, as appropriate), emergency contact information for your family members, a neighborhood emergency meeting place, an out-of-neighborhood meeting place, an out-of-town meeting place, directions to all meeting locations, insurance information (including homeowner’s/renter’s insurance), and phone numbers for utilities in Chevy Chase.
If everyone is able to follow the three easy steps above, it could very well save your life!
In future articles on Patch.com, I’ll cover what you should have in your kits and homes to be better prepared.
Todd Jasper is a federal emergency manager and has been happy to call Chevy Chase home since 2008. His emergency management blog is www.toddjasper.com.