Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Preparing for the Next Emergency – Part 1

by Angela Drake

Military families live in locations that can be inherently dangerous, whether from natural disasters or civil unrest. The next emergency can come with little to no warning. Families in southern Turkey learned this when the Pentagon authorized a voluntary evacuation of families living near Incirlik AFB. Those families that were already prepared for such an event will find the entire process stressful but less so than if they had done nothing to prepare beforehand.

That’s why it is important that all of us be prepared, whether it’s for the tropical storm headed our way or the volcano threatening to erupt or the mass protests on the streets that put our families at risk.

Being prepared can mean different things in different situations but there are some general rules that are worth following across the board.

No Matter the Emergency

No matter the emergency, there are some things we should always do:

  • Keep fuel tanks in vehicles as full as possible and don’t let them drop below half a tank.
  • Keep your cell phones fully charged and consider charging a spare battery if you have any warning of a potential emergency situation.
  • Remember that modern news reports often attempt to elicit a sensational response; look for information that is presented in a clear and calm manner.
  • If you have warning of a potential emergency, contact your extended family beforehand and let them know you are prepared. This simple step can let you focus on the emergency at hand without worrying about the need to let them know you are safe.

Above all else, plan ahead. Leave as little to luck or chance as possible. That’s where the following checklists and suggestions should come in handy. Of course, you may think of something we have missed – please let us know in the comments below!

Sheltering in Place

In most locations, when a disaster hits, we are told to shelter in place. That means local authorities, be it the Base or Post Commander, the mayor, the governor, or the Ambassador at your Embassy, will require you to stay at home. Something like a strong winter storm will force us to shelter at home whether we are told to or not.

At our current location, along the Ring of Fire, the threat of an earthquake or volcanic eruption is a constant and we have been encouraged to have these things on hand:

  • Extra bottled water or method to sterilize tap water (iodine tablets, bleach, etc.)
  • Canned or dried goods that need little or no preparation to eat.
  • Fully stocked first aid kit
  • Battery operated items like radio and flashlights with spare batteries.
  • Candles or hurricane lamps. Please never leave these unattended.
  • Personal hygiene items in amounts to last more than a few days – diapers for children and toilet paper come immediately to mind.
  • In case of a volcanic eruption, duct tape to place on doors and windows and prevent ash from entering your home. Have masks available if you need to be outdoors during an ashfall. For more information on safe sheltering during a volcano, please visit this page on the CDC website.
  • In case of winter storms, have alternate ways of staying warm just in case the power goes out. That means wood for fireplaces and plenty of warm blankets, or emergency thermal blankets, or your favorite cold-weather sleeping bag as well as wool hats and gloves. Wool stays warm even if it gets wet. A kerosene heater can be an option but be aware of safe use and appropriate ventilation. For more information of safe sheltering during a winter storm, please visit this page on the CDC website.

With these items your family will be able to survive for at least a few days without outside support whether you are facing storms or protests or falling ash or flooded roads.

For those of you with children, consider having a surprise package hidden at the back of the closet. You know your kid best so whether it’s a new book they can read on their own, a game the entire family could play, or something in between, that little surprise could come in handy when the stress of being cooped up together becomes overwhelming. Remember that your own calm attitude will do more to keep things on an even keel than anything else.

Another tip for making this experience easier for kids is to embrace the moment – why not turn your dining room into a mini-deployment zone? With a few blankets to make a tent, a flashlight to provide some ambiance, and an MRE, kids can pretend they’ve been sent on deployment with mom or dad. Spending some time in an imaginary world can help young minds handle the stresses of the real emergency itself.

Sometimes we don’t have the option to shelter in place at home. Emergencies can happen while kids are at school and you are at work. Know the emergency plan for your children’s school. For example, at our current assignment, an active volcano has recently started spewing ash and is threatening a large eruption. The local school has required that parents bring in an emergency backpack for each child. The backpack should contain food and water as well as a mask and eye-goggles for protection from falling ash. But schools should have plans in place even when there is no threat of an imminent emergency. Be the pro-active parent and ask before the emergency ever happens.

For those of you with pets, make sure you have an extra supply of pet food. And if you own a dog, the last thing you need during falling volcanic ash or an epic snowstorm is a dog that refuses to go to the bathroom on the provided newspaper in the laundry room. If you live in an area where sheltering in place is high on the list of emergency options, you might want to train your dog beforehand so that they aren’t freaked out by being asked to do something they know is wrong. It can take away yet another level of stress you won’t need during the emergency itself.

If your pet stays at home alone, you will need a plan for them as well. It would be a good idea to have a neighbor who lives very close by to come and collect your pet in an emergency situation. Make sure they are prepared with extra food and if they need to have a crate at their home for your dog or cat, make sure that is possible as well.

Sometimes, emergencies are so bad that the local authorities require that we evacuate. We will be sharing tips and suggestions for emergency evacuation in the next post.

Angie Drake

Angie is the founder of Not Your Average American where she currently writes about living and traveling in South America. As the daughter of an Air Force NCO and the wife of an Air Force Officer, she has broad experience with military life. She is outspoken about issues that affect the military community and posts opinion pieces at DailyKos and helps run the KeepYourPromise Facebook page with more than 100,000 followers fighting to keep military pay and benefits intact.