Preparing Makes Sense
The likelihood that you and your family will survive a house fire depends as much on having a working smoke detector and an exit strategy, as on a well-trained fire department. The same is true for surviving a terrorist attack or other emergency. We must have the tools and plans in place to make it on our own, at least for a period of time, no matter where we are when a disaster strikes. Just like having a working smoke detector, preparing for the unexpected makes sense.
Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to make it your own for at least three days, maybe longer. While there are many things that might make you more comfortable, think first about fresh water, food and clean air. Consider assembling two kits. In one, put everything you will need to stay where you are and make it your own. The other should be a lightweight, smaller version you can take with you if you have to get away.
You'll need a gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation. Include in the kits a three day supply of non-perishable foods that are easy to store and prepare such as protein bars, dried fruit or canned food. If you live in a cold weather climate, include warm clothes and a sleeping bag for each member of the family.
Some potential terrorist attacks could send tiny microscopic "junk" into the air. Many of these materials can only hurt if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination. It's smart to have something for each member of the family that covers their mouth and nose, such as two to three layers of a cotton t-shirt, handkerchief or towel or filter masks, readily available in hardware stores. It is very important that the mask or other material fit your face snugly so that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask, not around it. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children.
Also, include duct tape and heavyweight garbage bags or plastic sheeting that can be used to seal windows and doors if you need to create a barrier between yourself and any potential contamination outside.
Plan in advance what you will do in an emergency. Be prepared to assess the situation. Use common sense and whatever you have on hand to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Develop a family communication plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another and review what you will do in different situations. Consider a plan where each family member calls, or e-mails, the same friend or relative in the event of an emergency. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Be sure each person knows the phone number and has coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact. You may have trouble getting through, or the phone system may be down altogether, but be patient.
Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the attack, the first important decision is whether you stay put or get away. You should understand and plan for both possibilities. Use common sense and the information you are learning here to determine if there is immediate danger. Watch television and listen to the radio for official instructions as they become available.
Create a plan to shelter in place. There are circumstances when staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside, a process known as sheltering-in-place and sealing the room can be a matter of survival. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to shelter-in-place and seal the room. Consider precutting plastic sheeting to seal windows, doors, and air vents. Each piece should be several inches larger than the space you want to cover so that you can duct tape it flat against the wall. Label each piece with the location of where it fits.
Use all available information to assess the situation. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to shelter-in-place. Quickly bring your family and pets inside, lock doors, and close windows, air vents, and fireplace dampers. Immediately turn off air conditioning, forced air heating systems, exhaust fans and clothes dryers. Take your emergency supplies and go into the room you have designated. Seal all windows, doors, and vents. Understand that sealing the room is a temporary measure to create a barrier between you and contaminated air. Watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for instructions.
Create a plan to get away. Plan in advance how you will assemble your family and anticipate where you will go. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency. If you have a car, keep at least a half tank of gas in it at all times. Become familiar with alternate routes as well as other means of transportation out of your area. If you do not have a car, plan how you will leave if you have to. Take your emergency supply kit, unless you have reason to believe its contaminated and lock the door behind you. Take pets with you if you are told to evacuate, however, if you are going to a public shelter, keep in mind they may not be allowed inside. If you believe the air may be contaminated, drive with your windows and vents closed and keep the air conditioning and heater turned off. Listen to the radio for instructions.
Know emergency plans at school and work. Think about the places where your family spends time; school, work, and other places your family frequents. Talk to your children's schools and your employer about emergency plans. Find out how they will communicate with families during an emergency. If you are an employer, be sure you have an emergency preparedness plan. Review and practice it with your employees. A community working together during an emergency also makes sense. Talk to your neighbors about how you can work together.
Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as assembling a supply kit and developing a family communications plan, are the same for both a natural or man-made emergency. However there are significant differences among potential terrorist threats, such as biological, chemical explosive, nuclear and radiological, which will impact the decisions you make and the actions you take. By beginning a process of learning about these specific threats, you are preparing yourself to react in an emergency.
Be prepared to adapt this information to your personal circumstances and make every effort to follow instructions received from authorities on the scene. With these simple preparations, you can be ready for the unexpected.
After preparing yourself and your family for possible emergencies, take the next step and get involved with preparing your community. Take a CPR and first aid class, volunteer at your local fire department, emergency medical/ambulance agency or with your municipal emergency management organization.