When disaster strikes, the last thing you will want is for your family to scramble to get to safety. Setting up a plan of action in which everyone knows their responsibilities is key to insuring that everything can be taken care of as soon as possible. Consider who in the family will need assistance and if your neighbors or other relatives will need to be included in this plan. Make sure to talk about this plan with everyone at once, and to revisit the plan every so often—especially after big events like a family member moving away, coming to stay, or becoming incapable of helping.
In advance, you’ll want to discuss an emergency plan with all the members of your household. Make sure to decide who will bring certain items such as cell phones or additional blankets into the safe room. If there are young children, handicapped, elderly members of the family or pets make sure someone is assigned to help them get to safety as well. If there are shutters on your windows, or braces to help secure the doors, someone will need to be responsible for securing these. If you have neighbors who might not be safe in their home, have them come over in the event of a tornado watch, or another severe weather warning. It’s a good idea for at least one person in your family to be CPR certified, and for everyone of age to have basic first aid skills.
Make copies of all your family’s important documents, and have them in your safe room. It’s a good idea to keep them in a waterproof bag or have them laminated. Here are some of the documents you might want to include:
Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policies
Social Security cards, Driver’s Licenses, Birth Certificates
List of valuables in the home and any documents related to them
Documents regarding any medical conditions, prescriptions, or otherwise pertinent information
A list of contact information for relatives and friends
In addition to the documents, there are supplies that you will want to be set aside in the safe room ahead of time. Here are some things to include:
Food and water to last 72 hours, and pet food as well. Keep in mind that you will want this to already be in the safe room. If it is canned food, you’ll want a can opener. Make sure it’s nonperishable food that can be readily consumed without requiring heating, and have utensils available as well.
Flashlights or an electric lamp, with plenty of batteries
A battery-operated radio
A first aid kit, in addition to any medications your family takes. Make sure there are plenty of bandages and a foil shock blanket.
Blankets and pillows
Cash or traveler’s checks, or copies of your debit card
Clothing for each family member
Leashes or carriers for your pets
Whistles or something to make noise within the event that you are trapped and need to get the attention of rescuers
Books, battery-operated toys, or something to entertain and keep children (or adults!) calm while riding the storm out
A memory stick with pictures and important documents loaded onto it
When going into the safe room, do a headcount before sealing the door. If there are small children or pets, have someone try to keep them calm by reading to them, or playing a game. Keep the radio on to listen to any weather alerts and all clear calls. In a worst-case scenario in which you become trapped— do not wait to begin using your provisions. Keeping yourself hydrated and nourished will keep you clear headed. Eating is natural stress relief—even chewing gum can help to calm you down. Do not try and leave until you are absolutely sure all danger has passed. With tornados, there is a high chance that there are more in the area, even when you cannot hear the wind anymore. Wait for a weather alert system to inform you that it is safe to leave your shelter.
If you cannot leave the safe room due to blocked passage, try to not panic as it will only cause everyone else to become frenzied. Help will be on the way. Have something with which to make noise if you hear rescuers. Just because the first responders are not there immediately does not mean you are not going to be helped—often, they have to deal with downed trees and powerlines to get to areas needing assistance. This is why it is important to contact someone who is far enough away to not be affected by the disaster so that if they do not hear from you, they can reach out. If you can, call 911: give them your address, and possibly landmarks to get to your property. Describe your location in detail and if there is someone in need of medical attention, detail what help they need and any preexisting medical conditions. When you can get out safely, check up on any neighbors and let people know that you are safe. Keep in mind that in such disasters, cell phone service might be disabled or limited. Facebook has a feature to mark yourself as safe after disasters. Utilizing this may be quicker in the event of a catastrophe, and give you more time to deal with the aftermath of the storm.