In recognition of National Preparedness Month, USAmeriBank would like to take the opportunity to remember the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, and to celebrate the individuals that have pulled together to help those in need in the aftermath of these historic storms. Events, such as these, can shock us all but it can also provide motivation to take action necessary to prepare our families for the potential impacts of a disaster. At USAmeriBank, we take pride in supporting and connecting with our community, and want to encourage you to take action by highlighting steps to help mitigate your risk in the event of a catastrophe. It is never too soon to start planning for an emergency and a little foresight can go a long way.
Create a Family Emergency Plan
A disaster can strike in a moment and a written plan can ensure that your family knows what to do even if you are not together. The plan should list important contact information for the household and emergency service providers (doctor, police, fire, etc.). It should designate an out-of-town individual who can act as a main point of contact and provide multiple emergency meeting places. Think about what types of disasters you might face, and arrange your meeting places accordingly. Print out copies of the plan for each family member to carry, and post one in your home for reference. You can find more information about creating a Family Emergency Plan and templates to follow at Ready.gov/make-a-plan.
Hold Regular Drills
Once you have a plan, it is a good idea to practice. When an emergency strikes, time will be short and adrenaline high. A disaster plan is like a script and only by rehearsing the scene will the performance become consistent. Practicing instills confidence, and helps commit the plan to memory. Run through the scenarios on your disaster plan with your family at least once a year, performing as many of the actions as possible. If you cannot physically run through some scenarios, such as evacuating town, talk about them with your family. Discuss what routes you could take and how you will handle different problems (What if the interstate is closed? What if the rail lines are down? What if you are separated?). After each drill, review how it went and update the plan as needed.
Here are some tips for holding effective drills:
- 1. Have family members practice sending text messages to each other and to your emergency contact. Sending a text message uses less bandwidth than a call and will have a better chance of connecting if communication lines are compromised. The messages should be brief and informative, and convey your status and location. Something like “I’m OK, at John’s house.”
- 2. Set off the fire alarm at night so that everyone can practice getting out of bed. Nighttime emergencies can be especially disorienting, and it’s a good idea to be prepared so that no one panics.
- 3. Identify safe spots in home and practice “sheltering in place.” Talk to your family about which spots they should go to in different scenarios. For instance, in an earthquake you should “drop, cover, and hold on,” while in a tornado you should seek shelter in a windowless room on the lower level.
- 4. Practice evacuating the home and gathering at your designated meeting places. You should select meeting places in your neighborhood, outside your neighborhood, and out of town. Discuss which meeting place the family should go to under different circumstances.
- 5. Quiz your family regularly on the plan. The goal is to get comfortable enough with the details that you can act quickly and confidently in the event of an emergency.
Families with Young Kids
Thinking about potential disasters can be intimidating for young children. During drills and discussions, be sure to “prepare, don’t scare.” Talk to your kids about what to expect during a drill before getting started. Afterwards, follow up to make sure they understand the goals of the drill. Make sure your drills and discussions are age-appropriate. You can make preparing fun and memorable by using games, songs and rhymes. The CDC has created Ready Wrigley, a preparedness mascot with associated books and applications to help guide the conversation with young children. Visit CDC.Gov for more information and access to learning materials.
Make sure to prepare for their needs by customizing your emergency kit to include age-appropriate food and hygiene items. In an emergency situation, hygiene concerns can become compounded by overcrowded shelters and clean water shortages. Keeping your kids safe and healthy in these situations can be an extra challenge, especially for children in diapers. Think about what you will need for your family and include these items in your emergency kit. This may include diapers and wipes, disposable changing pads, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and household bleach. Bleach can also be used to disinfect water in an emergency. The CDC recommends using regular unscented 5%—6% household bleach.
Families with Special Needs
Plan for how you will handle emergencies with disabled or functional needs family members. Who will assist these members during an evacuation? How will you handle public or alternative transportation with special equipment? What will you do if you get separated? Think about these things now so you are not taken by surprise. Have any regular medications on hand and make sure you are comfortable with providing any necessary care. Put any special care instructions on a contact card, along with important contact information. Include the numbers of all family members, your emergency contact, doctors, and any other care providers. Make sure your loved one carries this card at all times in case of separation.
Families with Pets
Think about how you will care for your pets if you need to evacuate. Most emergency shelters do not allow pets, so take the time now to research pet-friendly motels or contact out-of-town friends to see if they can accommodate you in the event of an evacuation. Talk to your veterinarian about creating an emergency kit for your animals. This should include at least three days of food and water, medications, a collar, a leash, basic first aid supplies, and any elimination requirements (e.g. litter and a litter box). Your pets should wear their identification and rabies tags at all times, and keep updated contact information with microchipping agencies.
Once you have prepared for your family’s physical safety in an emergency, you should take additional steps to prepare financially. The material cost of a disaster can be crippling without advanced planning. Talk to your local authorities to understand what disasters are likely in your area and make sure your insurance coverage is sufficient. If you are at risk for flooding be sure to get coverage early, as most policies have a 30-day wait period before coverage begins.
Another thing you can do to prepare for this risk is to create an emergency savings account. Aim to set aside three to six months of expenses in a separate ‘disaster only’ fund. Think ahead about how you will handle financial matters if regular services are down. Switch any regular benefits (Social Security or other) to electronic delivery in case of mail interruption, and have some cash available in case ATMs are down. Prepare your Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK)with important documents and keep it in a secure location.
A disaster can strike rapidly, and so the time to prepare is now. Once you have created an Emergency Plan it is important to make sure all family members and friends understand it, and are comfortable with its implementation. At USAmeriBank, we are proud to support the Department of Homeland Security in promoting National Preparedness Month, helping to increase the number of people engaging in preparedness activities. You can find more information about preparedness actions you can take at the campaign website, www.ready.gov. You can also learn more about preparing financially by contacting USAmeriBank at 1-800-949-5666 or www.usameribank.com.