On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and wreaked such massive damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency called it "the single most catastrophic natural disaster and costliest hurricane in U.S. history." In the storm's aftermath, rising floodwaters left thousands of New Orleans residents stranded, and those who managed to find shelter often lacked basic necessities, such as baby food and blankets. In 2013, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center reported the storm caused $135 billion in damages, and estimated that over one million Gulf Coast residents had been displaced from their homes.
It's been nine years, but Katrina's widespread damage continues to demonstrate our need to be as prepared as possible for any future emergencies. In recognition of National Preparedness Month, VetTalk is featuring this article on disaster preparedness to help you develop an emergency plan and kit for your family. Especially for our military families, who may face separation due to a member's deployment, or live abroad because of a PCS move, it's necessary to decide in advance what you will do if disaster strikes.
1. Know Before You Go
For those about to make a PCS move, it's advised to thoroughly research your new location. Will you be stationed in the Caribbean, or in a Pacific Asian nation? Will you live on the West Coast of the U.S.? While looking up facts about the culture and the food, find out if your new home has experienced any major disasters in its history.
In addition, Ready.gov explains that warning systems vary from one place to the next, so you should also contact your local government to find out how the community will be informed in a time of emergency. Will you be notified by sirens, or a TV broadcast? Once you identify the risks of living in your area and how you will be informed of a disaster, you can begin to prepare your family's emergency plan and kit.
2. Prepare an Emergency Plan and Kit
There are several government programs and websites, such as Ready.gov, Military OneSource, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website, that you should consult when you develop your family's emergency plan. The important takeaway is that in order to keep your family a safe as possible, you need to decide in advance how your family will respond if a disaster occurs. Military OneSource provides a comprehensive list of things you need to plan for. Below, we've narrowed it down to the most important items you should start with:
- Establish a distant emergency contact, such as an out-of-town relative or family friend. This is important for family members who may be deployed and cannot reach anyone back home.
- Make a list of emergency numbers and ensure everyone knows where it's posted.
- Discuss with your family the situations that could require them to seek shelter and where they can go to find shelter.
- Factor your pets into the emergency plan. Have a carrier, pet food and water prepared in advance.
- Make copies of important personal and financial documents, and keep them with your emergency kit so they're easy to grab in an emergency.
- Establish an emergency meeting place near your neighborhood in case certain family members can't make it back home.
After you decide how to respond during a time of emergency, you should assemble items for an emergency kit that you can grab in a hurry. Military OneSource and Ready.gov advise military families to prepare the following items:
- A three day supply of water for your family. Each person will need one gallon a day.
- A three day supply of food
- Flashlight and batteries
- Wrench and pliers to turn off utilities
- Prescription medications and first aid kit
- Cell phone and charger
- Dust mask
- Whistle to call for help
For more specifics, as well as tips on how to maintain your emergency kit, visit Ready.gov.
3. Connect with your Readiness and Emergency Management Flight
Lastly, every active duty service member should connect with their installation's Readiness and Emergency Management Flight, which is responsible for ensuring the installation is prepared to respond to all types of natural and manmade disasters. According to Ready.gov, the Readiness and Emergency Management Flight can also educate families about what to do in a time of emergency. In addition, each unit is assigned an emergency management representative, who can brief families on the installation's emergency procedures and evacuation plans.
If you don't have an emergency plan or kit, start developing them now. You will increase your sense of security and feel safer knowing your family has taken the steps to prepare for a potential disaster.