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Family Preparedness: How to Shelter in Place During Disaster 
 
by Lisa Pietsch September 29, 2005

By having the right supplies on hand in the event of an emergency, you can avoid many inconveniences if forced to shelter in place during a disaster. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or warning to evacuate and staying in our homes is the safest option. Following this simple advice should help you and your family to prepare and be self-sufficient until normal services resume. Hopefully this will never happen to you but if it does, you’ll be prepared.

What if a major storm was bearing down on your home and you didn’t have time to evacuate? Would you be prepared to stay in your home without utilities or emergency services until the storm passed four days later? Let’s face it; bad things do happen to good people. We cannot always depend on our local government having a perfect plan in place to protect us in the event of a massive emergency. Certainly that is what we pay them for, but that is a different discussion altogether. Is your family ready for an emergency in which they’ll need to shelter in place? Do you know how you would make your home safe and what supplies you might need to see you through? Such an emergency may never happen, but what if it did? Following are some things to consider when preparing your home and your family for an emergency.

Communication

Communication is key. You’ll need to communicate your plan with your immediate family as well as a family member or friend who lives out of state. That out of state person should be the one that you contact whether you decide to take shelter in place or evacuate. When disaster strikes, you’ll need to call them and let them know what you plan to do. When the emergency has passed, they should be the first person that you contact to let them know that you and the rest of your family are safe. Unfortunately, this will also be the person responsible for contacting your local police if you don’t call to let them know you are safe.

In this day and age, nobody should be without a cellular phone. If you don’t want one to use every day that is fine, but go to your local drugstore and buy a prepaid cellular phone to have on hand in the event of an emergency. If you do have a cellular phone, be sure that you always have a spare batter charged and ready in case your power goes out and you are unable to use a charger. Without electricity, your home phone and all other electronic conveniences will be useless. A cellular phone is a must have in the event of an emergency. Once you have your cellular phone, be sure to program an address book entry entitled “ICE.” ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency”. If anything happens to you and emergency personnel find you, in addition to looking for identification on your person, they will also look for an ICE listing on your cellular phone. Program the name and phone number of your next of kin in that entry so that emergency services will be able to contact them quickly to let them know where and how you are.

Other items that are useful for communication are a flashlight, a small compact mirror and a whistle. A flashlight can be used to signal for help in the dark by flashing it three times. As with the flashlight, three long whistle blasts is also a signal for help. If you need to signal for assistance from the air, simply use your compact mirror to flash at low flying aircraft.

We’ve covered how to send messages, now you need to consider receiving messages. You’ll need a radio. Without electricity, your satellite television and radio will not work, nor will your home computer. None of your electronics will work. You’ll need an old fashioned battery operated AM/FM radio. Be sure to keep plenty of extra batteries with it, just in case you are sheltered in place for several days. Being able to tune in and find out what is going on in the rest of your area will help you to understand the situation and stay calm.

What to Have at Home

Electricity, Heat and a Hot Meal During a Disaster

Generators are always helpful in the event of a power outage, but they can be deadly. If you choose to use a generator, ALWAYS keep it outdoors. The carbon monoxide that a generator creates would be the equivalent to parking a running car in your living room. Carbon monoxide is a very poisonous gas that can wipe out a family in minutes. Of course you won’t notice it because you’ll get drowsy and go to sleep before it kills you. There are never any compromises when it comes to this rule: generators must stay outdoors.

Other items that are convenient to use during power outages are gas heaters, gas grills and camp stoves. Keep in mind that all of these items generate carbon monoxide gas. If you are going to use one of these items in your home, be sure that the room it is in is well ventilated. You may get a little rain or snow damage near open windows, but isn’t it worth you family’s safety?

Necessary Items

Just as heat and electricity are convenient during a disaster, so is ice. You may want a cube or two for when the times get really stressful and you decide to open that bottle in the back of your kitchen cupboard, but what you’ll really need ice for is keeping what cold foods you do have fresh. Your food will only stay fresh so long in a refrigerator that stops running. The best way to handle this situation is to fill clean two-liter plastic pop bottles or plastic milk jugs with fresh water and freeze them. A large storage freezer is the best place to store them until an emergency hits. You can remove the frozen bottles and place them in a large cooler with your food to keep it fresh. Once the water in the bottles melts, you can use it as additional drinking water. Two things to keep in mind when preparing these bottles:

1. Make sure they are absolutely clean before putting fresh water into them. Washing them with bleach and water will kill any germs inside. Use 1 tablespoon Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with fresh clean water after cleaning with the bleach solution.

2. Water swells when it freezes, so unless you want a bunch of broken, leaky bottles when the ice melts, remember to fill your bottles with water only to the three-quarters point and do not secure the cap until after the water is completely frozen. (If you secure the cap, the water will swell into ice and there will be nowhere for that one-quarter bottle of air to go but out. The bottle will split open.)

As soon as you know you’ll be sheltering in place, be sure to clean and rinse all of your sinks and bathtubs thoroughly. You’ll want to fill them all with water so that you’ll have a large supply of drinking water. Many people forget that dehydration can play havoc with the human mind and body. You’ll want to stay hydrated in order to keep your energy level up and your thought processes clear.

Do you store all of your important documents in a fireproof/waterproof box? If not, you should consider purchasing on to store to store personal identification such as birth certificates and social security cards, deeds to property, insurance policies, your will, living will and powers of attorney.

If you are a responsible gun owner, you already know that your guns should remain locked at all times. People who are stressed out beyond their usual levels should never have access to guns during an emergency. A gun in the right hands may keep your family safe, but in the wrong hands it could be devastating.

Some other items you should have on hand when sheltering in place are reasonable supplies of sanitary pads/tampons, deodorant, gel based hand cleanser, baby powder, baby wipes, diapers and toothpaste.

Deodorant and toothpaste will just help you and those you are sharing your home with feel better. Baby wipes and hand cleanser will be excellent to help you all keep clean in the event that you have no running water and must conserve your drinking water. A little baby powder combed through the scalp will absorb natural oils and keep the greasy hair at bay. Sanitary pads and diapers aren’t just for women and children. Hopefully you will never need such a large dressing but they do make excellent dressings for bleeding wounds.

Speaking of wounds, a first aid kit is vital. If you have an accident in your home and emergency services cannot respond, you’ll need to use some first aid. You should always have the following on hand:

Band Aid Liquid Bandage and assorted sizes of adhesive bandages, an ACE bandage, large gauze pads, Hydrogen Peroxide for cleaning cuts or wounds, Neosporin antibiotic ointment, Aspirin and/or Tylenol and a large scarf or bandana that can be used as a sling, tourniquet or to wrap a wound.

Other than water, the second most important thing you’ll want to have at home is food. Extra water and cooking appliances may not be available, so you should be prepared for that eventuality. Since you won’t know how long you’ll be sheltering in place, you’ll want to use your drinking water sparingly. Forget washing dishes or taking baths, those are luxuries! When laying in supplies, remember to keep them non-perishable, healthy and the kind that don’t need water for preparation. Consider having some or all of the following foods on hand:

Dried meats or jerky, dried fruit, Saltines or crackers, peanut butter, baked beans, canned soups (not condensed soups), canned tuna, ham or chicken. It should go without saying that you’ll want a dependable manual can opener too. If you really want a dependable meal, buy a few military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). They’ll be sure to keep your belly full and your strength up.

Caring for your Pets

If you have pets, you should be mindful of their needs in the event of an emergency as well. A doghouse is no place to be during a raging storm. Be sure to bring your pets into the house as soon as you know you’ll be taking shelter in place. Bearing that in mind, you’ll need to consider the following:

Are they wearing identification tags just in case they get spooked and run?

Do you keep enough of their medication on hand to last several days?

Do you have a sufficient supply of food and water to last them several days?

Pets respond to stress just as people do. If they see that they have shelter, food and water, they are less likely to become overly stressed. By being prepared for their needs, you and your pet can escape disaster with considerably less stress.

By having the right supplies on hand in the event of an emergency, you can avoid many inconveniences if forced to shelter in place during a disaster. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or warning to evacuate and staying in our homes is the safest option. Following this simple advice should help you and your family to prepare and be self-sufficient until normal services resume. Hopefully this will never happen to you but if it does, you’ll be prepared.


 

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