30 Days, 30 Tips About Emergency Preparedness
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Welcome to National Preparedness Month! Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Preparedness Month was created to spread awareness of natural disasters, how to plan for them, and how to survive them.
Every day this month, the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad will post information gathered from www.ready.gov/september and other such sites and present it to you in a way that makes it easy to comprehend. We’ll be covering general emergency preparedness, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. So come back every day this month to see our entire series on how to get prepared!
Setting Up a Basic Emergency Preparedness Kit
- at least one gallon of water per person per day. It’s good to plan for at least three days without additional resources
- at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- flashlight and extra batteries
- first aid kit
- whistle to signal for help
- dust masks for every member of the family to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to help seal off your shelter
- moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for sanitation -wrench or pliers for utilities
- a hand or battery operated can opener if any of the food is canned
- local maps
- cell phone with chargers, inverter, or solar charger
Additional Items to Consider for Your Emergency Preparedness Kit
- prescription medication
- infant formula and diapers (if needed)
- pet food and extra water (if you have a pet)
- cash or traveler’s checks and change
- important family documents (like birth certificates, copies of financial forms, etc)
- emergency reference materials such as first aid books
- sleeping bags and warm blankets
- a change of clothing to include long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and sturdy shoes
- chlorine bleach and medicine dropper: when one part bleach is mixed with nine parts water, it can serve as a disinfectant
***do not use scented, color safe, or bleaches with added cleaners
- fire extinguisher
- matches in a waterproof container
- personal hygiene items
- mess kits, paper cups, plates, plastic utensils, and paper towels
- paper and pencil
- books, games, puzzles, or other activities for children
Here’s a handy checklist to help you build the best kit you can!
Food Preparation and Preservation
ABCDE’s of Food Safety:
Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F.
Be prepared for an emergency by having items on hand that don’t require cooking. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be on hand and be sure to use these items and replace them from time to time.
Consider what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency. If you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.
Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times.
Ensure you have a hand-operated can opener readily available.
General Preparedness Classes
Take a community emergency response team class from a local Citizens Corps chapter. You can learn everything from locations of local shelters and evacuation routes to how to respond to types of emergencies, and even ways to help volunteer in the event of a disaster.
Find classes near your home here.
In addition, VBVRS offers community CPR classes taught by our volunteers who are American Heart Association-certified instructors.
Find out more about this free program on our CPR page.
Preparing Your Family for a Generic Emergency
- Make a Family Emergency Plan. Depending on the circumstances of the disaster, your family may not be together, so it is important to develop a plan to get in contact with one another and get back together.
- Plan meeting locations both within and outside of your neighborhood.
- It can sometimes be easier to make long-distance calls, so you may want to consider designating an out-of-town contact to attempt to reach separated family members.
- Ask about emergency plans in place at any location where your family members spend significant amounts of time. If no plan exists, volunteer to help make one.
- Be sure to consider the specific needs of your family, including pets when making your plan.
- If you need to evacuate, the stations of VBVRS are designated as emergency shelters.
You can find a complete list of local shelters from your local Citizens Corps chapter.
Pets are family too! Learn more about how to prepare them here.
Find Out What Plans Are in Place in Your Area
Learn what emergency preparedness plans have been set up in your area by state or local officials. In any emergency, follow the instructions of local emergency management officials.
Find your local plans here
Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make a family emergency plan today. September is National Preparedness Month. Learn more at www.ready.gov/September.
Hurricanes are severe tropical storms that form in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and in the eastern Pacific Ocean. People who live in hurricane prone communities should know their vulnerability, and what actions should be taken to reduce the effects of these devastating storms.
Is Your Home At Risk for Hurricanes?
In addition, Atlantic-born hurricanes can travel up the Gulf of Mexico, so states bordering this body of water are also at risk.
Categories of Hurricanes and Their Effects
Hurricanes are classified into five categories based on their wind speed, central pressure, and damage potential. Category Three and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes, though Categories One and Two are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full attention.
Category 1 have wind speeds of 74-95 mph. Minor damage can occur to housing exteriors, small trees may be uprooted, and power lines may be severed, resulting in power outages.
Category 2 have wind speeds of 96-110 mph. Major damage can occur to housing exteriors, trees may be uprooted, roads blocked, and guaranteed power outages for long periods of time will occur.
Category 3 have wind speeds of 111-130 mph. Extensive damage can occur to housing exteriors, many trees may be uprooted and many roads blocked. Water and electricity will be extremely limited.
Category 4 have wind speeds of 131-155 mph. Housing damage includes loss of roof structure and/or exterior walls. Most trees will be uprooted and most power lines will be down. Houses will be isolated due to debris pile up, and power outages could last for weeks.
Category 5 have wind speeds more than 155 mph. A high percentage of homes will be destroyed. Fallen trees and power lines will isolate residential areas. Power outages could last months, and most areas will be uninhabitable.
Know the Risks Associated with a Hurricane
Hurricane hazards come in many forms: lightning, tornadoes, flooding, storm surge, high winds, and even landslides or mudslides can be triggered in mountainous regions. Look carefully at the safety actions associated with each type of hurricane hazard at here and prepare your family disaster plan accordingly.
Hurricane Terms to Know
Hurricane Watch: a hurricane is possible in your area. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.
Hurricane Warning: a hurricane is expected in your area. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
Check out the National Hurricane Center for information about current tropical storms and hurricanes.
How to Prepare Your Home Against a Hurricane
- Cover all of your home’s windows with pre-cut plywood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds.
- Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
- Keep all trees and shrubs well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.
- Secure your home by closing shutters, and securing outdoor objects or bringing them inside.
- Turn off utilities as instructed. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
- Turn off propane tanks.
- Install a generator for emergencies.
- Reinforce your garage doors; if wind enters a garage, it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
Protect Your Property Against a Hurricane
Hurricanes cause heavy rains that can cause extensive flood damage in coastal and inland areas. Everyone is at risk and should consider flood insurance protection.
Flood insurance is the only way to financially protect your property or business from flood damage.
- To learn more about your flooding risk and how to protect yourself and your business, visit the National Flood Insurance Program site.
- Find your home’s risk of flooding using this map.
What to Do During a Hurricane
Listen to the radio or TV for information.
You should evacuate under the following conditions:
- If you are directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.
- If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure—such shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well fastened to the ground.
- If you live in a high-rise building—hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
- If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway.
- If you feel you are in danger.
- If you are unable to evacuate, go to your safe room. If you do not have one, follow these guidelines.
- Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
- Close all interior doors—secure and brace external doors.
- Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm – winds will pick up again.
- Take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
- Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy object.
Even though states in the midwest are most susceptible to flooding, states in every region of the country are at risk. Ninety percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding and 20% of flood insurance claims come from outside high-risk areas.
It’s important to be aware of the potential for flooding no matter where you live, but especially if you are located in a low-lying area, near water, or downstream from a dam. Any body of water that overflows can result in flooding.
Visit NOAA’s Flood Monitor to get information about bodies of water near you.
Causes of Floods
Tropical Storms and Hurricanes: Hurricanes pack a triple punch: high winds, soaking rain, and flying debris. They can cause storm surges to coastal areas, as well as create heavy rainfall, which in turn causes flooding hundreds of miles inland.
Heavy Rains: Several areas of the country are at heightened risk for flooding due to heavy rains. The Northeast is at high risk due to heavy rains produced from Nor’easters. This excessive amount of rainfall can happen throughout the year, putting your property at risk.
Levees & Dams: Levees are designed to protect against a certain level of flooding. However, levees can and do decay over time, making maintenance a serious challenge. Levees can also be overtopped, or even fail during large floods, creating more damage than if the levee wasn’t even there.
Flash Floods: Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. since they can roll boulders, tear out trees, and destroy buildings and bridges. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas in less than six hours, which is caused by intense rainfall from a thunderstorm or several thunderstorms. Flash floods can also occur from the collapse of a man-made structure.
New Development: Construction and development can change the natural drainage and create brand new flood risks. That’s because new buildings, parking lots, and roads mean less land to absorb excess precipitation from heavy rains, hurricanes, and tropical storms.
Is Your Home at Risk for Flooding?
Check out this map to find out if your area is at risk for flooding.
If you need to evacuate, the stations of VBVRS are designated as emergency shelters. You can find a complete list of local shelters from the local Citizens Corps chapter.
Flood Terms to Know
Flood Watch: flooding is possible. Tune into NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
All Clear: No flooding expected.
How to Prepare Your Home Against Flooding
- Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel in your home if you are in a high-risk zone.
- Consider installing “check valves” to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home.
- If feasible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds.
How to Protect Your Property Against Flooding
- Purchase a flood insurance policy if you do not already have one or review your current insurance policy to ensure your home and contents are adequately covered.
- The National Flood Insurance Program can help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves if additional coverage is required. Insurance is offered to homeowners, renters, and business owners if the community participates in the program.
- Visit FloodSmart.gov to learn more about individual flood risk, explore coverage options, to find an agent in your area, and to find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program.
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. They can appear suddenly without warning and can be invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears.
Planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. Be prepared to act quickly. Keep in mind that while tornadoes are more common in the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, they can occur in any state and at any time of the year, making advance preparation vitally important.
Tornado Terms to Know
Tornado Watch: a tornado is possible in your area.
Tornado Warning: a tornado is occurring. Take shelter immediately.
Make a Tornado-Specific Emergency Plan
Because of the rapid and unpredictable nature of tornadoes, the general emergency family plan may not be sufficient. Be sure to review methods of staying safe at home, in buildings, in a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home, or out in the open.
At Home: storm cellars provide the best protection, but if one is not available, go into an interior room on the lowest floor possible.
In a Building: go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
In a Vehicle, Trailer or Mobile Home: these do not provide good protection. Plan to go quickly to a building with a strong foundation, if possible.
- If no shelter is available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area to avoid debris. Do not get under an overpass or bridge.
- In general, stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls. Remember that corners attract debris. Plan to stay in the shelter until the storm has passed.
If you need to evacuate, the stations of VBVRS are designated as emergency shelters. You can find a complete list of local shelters from the local Citizens Corps chapter.
The Dangers of Fire
According to FEMA, more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 20,000 are injured as a result of fires, many of which could be prevented. Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.6 billion a year.
When there is a fire, do not waste time gathering valuables or making a phone call. Fires can spread quickly, becoming life-threatening in as little as five minutes. While flames are dangerous, heat and smoke can be more dangerous and can sear your lungs. As the fire burns, poisonous gasses are emitted that can cause you to become disoriented or drowsy, which could put you into a heavy sleep. The leading cause of fire-related deaths is asphyxiation, outnumbering burns by a three-to-one ratio.
How to Prevent Fires
- Keep matches and lighters locked up and out of reach of children
- Teach your child that fire is not a toy
- Do not trap electric cords against walls where heat can build up
- Take extra care when using portable heaters. Keep bedding, clothes, curtains, and other combustible items at least three feet away from space heaters
- Only use lab-approved electric blankets and warmers. Check to make sure the cords are not frayed
- Never smoke in bed
- Replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard. Mattresses since then are required by law to be safer
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring
- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old, or damaged appliance cords immediately
- Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen
- Don’t allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons, and hair dryers
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord
- Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker
- Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out, or gives off smoke or sparks
Find more details at FEMA.
Planning a Fire Escape Route
- Review escape routes with your family. Practice escaping from each room
- Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut
- Make sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside
- Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than one level, and ensure that burglar bars and other antitheft mechanisms that block outside window entry are easily opened from the inside
- Emergency escape masks/smoke hoods have the potential to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries by protecting users from smoke inhalation and many other toxic gasses, provided they are used properly and perform effectively
- Teach family members to stay low to the floor (where the air is safer in a fire) when escaping from a fire
- Clean out storage areas. Do not let trash, such as old newspapers and magazines, accumulate
Prepare Your Home for a Fire
Install Smoke Alarms
According to FEMA, properly working smoke alarms decrease your chances of dying in a fire by 50%.
- Place smoke alarms on every level of your residence. Place them outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on the wall (4 to 12 inches from ceiling), at the top of open stairways or at the bottom of enclosed stairs and near (but not in) the kitchen.
- Test and clean smoke alarms once a month and replace batteries at least once a year – a good way to remember to do this is to replace the batteries during National Preparedness Month, which occurs every September. Or, as you set your clock back for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check and replace your smoke detector batteries.
- Replace smoke alarms once every 10 years.
Find more information on smoke alarm safety and an interactive quiz at the U.S. Fire Administration website.
Federal and National Resources
For more information on how to plan and prepare for natural disasters, please visit the following resources:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
- NOAA Flood Watch
- American Red Cross
- EPA’s Natural Events Preparedness
- CDC’s Disaster Readiness
- USA Freedom Corps
There are many different types of natural disasters that we can prepare for, but all of the information here and online should only serve as a guide. The most important thing to remember, and the best chance for your and your family’s survival, is to use common sense. Otherwise, we hope you have learned about how to better protect yourself this past month and have started taking the steps to prepare yourselves for these disasters! Think of the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad as your partner when it comes to staying as safe and healthy as you can be.