When an emergency occurs, you will have no time to consider your options and decide on the best course of action – disasters strike with little or no warning and you need to respond quickly and adequately in order to ensure yours and your loved ones’ safety. Thinking clearly and making rational decisions in the midst of a life-threatening situation, however, is quite difficult, so you need to have an emergency plan ready to follow in case you’re forced to leave your home on short notice.
Creating a home evacuation plan and practicing it with your family members at least twice a year can help you stay safe, contact each other, and reunite if separated. The particulars of your emergency evacuation plan will depend on the kind of home you live in and the most common hazards in your area, but the general principles remain the same:
Determine Escape Routes
Identify the safest, easiest, and quickest way out of your property, but consider possible alternate routes as well, since your primary one may be blocked during an emergency:
- Make a map of your home indicating all doors and windows;
- Identify two ways out of every room in your home – a door and a window or back door. Buy escape ladders for upstairs windows and practice using them;
- Keep all escape routes clear – free of clutter and obstacles;
- Make sure all emergency exits can be opened easily (keep keys in nearby, safe, and easy-to-access locations; consider quick-release devices for security bars on windows and doors; etc.);
- Learn the safest way out of town – check with local officials for regional evacuation routes and procedures. Plot alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable;
- Keep ample fuel in your car at all times – enough to be able to get to a safe location out of town if need be.
Designate a Meeting Place
Designate a safe place for all family members to meet if you’re not together or get separated during an emergency – a relative’s house, a community center, a local landmark, etc. Make sure all family members (including young children) know the exact location of the meeting place and how to get there.
Depending on the type of natural disasters your region is prone to, your safe place can be:
- Indoors: If you live in an area at high risk of tornadoes and windstorms, you should designate an interior, windowless room (such as a closet or bathroom) on the lowest level of the building as your safe meeting place. A storm cellar is your best option;
- In your neighborhood: If you need to evacuate your home because of a fire or other in-home emergencies, you can meet someplace in the neighborhood – at a safe distance away from your home. The meeting place could be a big tree, a mailbox, a road sign, etc.;
- Outside your neighborhood: If a disaster happens when you or any of your family members are not at home and can’t get back or if your community is instructed to evacuate, you should all go to a library, house of worship, family friend’s house, etc. that is outside the impacted area;
- Out of town: An out-of-town meeting place is needed when you have to evacuate from flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. It could be a relative’s house, hotel, or any other place where you can go for protection and get reunited with your family if you’re not together when an evacuation order is issued.
Keep maps handy and make sure you have charts of your local area and the addresses of your safe locations saved on devices such as cell phones and GPS units.
Create a Communication Plan
During an emergency, telephone and cell services may be disrupted or may fail completely due to damage to equipment and call towers, loss of power, user overloads, or other issues. Therefore, it’s very important to have a communication plan that will help you stay in touch with your loved ones if a disaster strikes your area:
- Identify a contact person outside your immediate area who can help your family reconnect if you get separated during an emergency. In a disaster, it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town as local phone lines may be overloaded or out of service. Phone services out of your area are less likely to be disrupted, so someone outside your community may be able to receive and relay messages between family members when you cannot. Give your chosen emergency contact person the phone numbers and email addresses for everyone in your family and make sure each family member has his/her contact information as well (It should be stored in everyone’s cell phone address books under the name “ICE”- in case of emergency. This will help others identify your emergency contact if needed);
- Make sure all family members know how to text and what information to send by text (if they’re safe or need help, where they are), as text messages will often go through even if calls won’t connect;
- Have a car phone charger and a hand-crank or solar charger available for backup power for your mobile phone;
- Maintain a household landline and a corded analog phone that can be used when mobile phone service is unavailable;
- Use a pay phone if available – these phones don’t rely on electricity or mobile networks, so they will be operational even if cell service is unavailable;
- Use the Internet to communicate by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks.
Plan for Your Pets
If you have pets, you need to take some precautionary measures well in advance in order to ensure your animal friends’ safety and well-being during an emergency:
- Make sure your pets are micro-chipped and have I.D. collars;
- Learn where your animal companions like to hide in your home (they will get frightened during an emergency and will hide immediately), so you can find them quickly if you need to evacuate;
- Prepare a pet emergency kit that includes appropriate pet food and water supplies for several days, meal bowls (or other suitable food and water receptacles), transportation carriers or cages, leashes, medications, sanitary materials (plastic trash bags, litter box and litter, paper towels, etc.), specialized pet items, toys, bedding, etc.;
- Have copies of your pet’s medical and vaccination records and other important documents, such as micro-chip numbers, registration information, proof of purchase, adoption records, etc., stored in a plastic container you can easily grab during an evacuation;
- Give a neighbor or a friend (someone who is familiar with your pet) a spare key to your house and ask them to take your animal companion to safety in case you’re not at home when an evacuation order is issued (provided that there are no risks involved, of course). Show your emergency caretaker where your pet is likely to hide and where your pet emergency supplies are stored. Designate a meeting place where you can reunite with your animal friend;
- Find safe places where you can stay with your pet in the event of an emergency evacuation – pet-friendly hotels or motels, emergency shelters that accept pets, friends and relatives who are willing to shelter your pet, etc.
Prepare an Emergency Evacuation Kit
A survival kit will help you stay safe and well during and after an emergency. So, make sure you pack a grab-and-go bag with all the critical items you and your family will need to survive a disaster and store it in a convenient place you can easily access at any time. This way, you will be able to take your essentials with you during an emergency evacuation and will have the means to manage on your own for a few days.
Your emergency kit should include bottled water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, prescription medications, special medical supplies any of your family members need, sanitation materials and hygiene supplies, personal protection gear, a change of clothes for everyone, blankets, tarps, basic tools, spare batteries, a signaling device, a compass, a flashlight, a portable radio, and some cash.
Store your emergency supplies in a sturdy, fire- and waterproof container. Check and update the contents of your survival kit every six months.
Have Copies of Important Documents
You’re going to need your documents to identify yourself and your family immediately after the disaster, to prove that you own your house, and to be able to deal with different institutions and organizations in the post-emergency period. Therefore, it is critical to have duplicates and backups of all your important papers and records:
- Personal documents – passports, driving licenses, birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificates, diplomas, etc.;
- Property records – the deed to your house, home insurance policy, mortgage papers, etc.;
- Financial documents – credit cards, bank statements, loan papers, tax records, etc.;
- Medical records;
- A list of emergency contacts and personal contacts.
Keep your documents in a sturdy, waterproof case and store it with your evacuation kit.
Customize Your Home Emergency Evacuation Plan
Get familiar with the most common natural disaster risks in your geographic area and make emergency-specific plans – some emergencies may require your family to shelter in place (such as a winter storm), while others may necessitate evacuation (such as flooding or hurricane):
- If you live in Tornado Alley or along the coasts, you’re recommended to build an underground tornado shelter or an external storm cellar;
- If you live in a flood-prone area, it’s a good idea to water-proof your home and keep sandbags at hand;
- If you live in a region at high risk of earthquakes, you may want to reinforce your house (consider special seismic retrofitting) and anchor larger household items to walls;
- If you live in an area susceptible to wind storms, you need to install storm windows and permanent shutters that are made to withstand strong impact and provide protection from windblown debris.
Good to remember: Regardless of the specific hazards typical for your area, it is always advisable to keep your home in good repair and well-protected:
- Inspect the roof at regular intervals and fix any problems (loose shingles, broken tiles, etc.) without delay;
- Secure doors and windows;
- Keep valuables at higher levels;
- Have working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers on every level of the home;
- Learn now how to safely shut off all utility services in your home;
- Clean up the yard – secure loose items, remove debris, keep trees and shrubs well-trimmed, etc.;
- Keep gutters and downspouts clean and free of debris;
- Get appropriate insurance;
- Research restoration professionals in your area, so that you know who to call in case you need flood and storm damage restoration services after a disaster. Make sure you call a reputable company, like ServiceMaster Restoration by Complete, as soon as possible after the emergency – the experienced and trustworthy restoration specialists will stabilize your house and perform any necessary repair and remediation works, so that you can return to your home within a few short weeks after the evacuation.
Discuss Your Emergency Evacuation Plan with Your Family and Identify Responsibilities
Make sure every family member is well acquainted with your disaster plan and knows exactly what to do in the event of an emergency:
- Go over your emergency evacuation checklist with your family;
- Have everyone walk through the home with you and point out the escape routes in every room;
- Show every member of your household where the emergency kit is stored;
- Make sure everyone has the contact information of your emergency contact person written on paper and stored in their mobile phones;
- Make sure all members of your family know how to reach each other and where to meet up in an emergency;
- Make sure everyone knows what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it;
- Determine who will be responsible for assisting very young, elderly, and/or disabled family members during the evacuation;
- Pay special attention to kids – tell them how important it is not to hide in the event of an emergency, have them memorize the address of your meeting place, practice opening a window in order to climb out, setting up an escape ladder, etc.
Practice Your Home Evacuation Plan
Practice evacuating your home with your family at least twice a year. Go through each step of the evacuation – from discovering the emergency to everyone arriving at your meeting point. Make sure you grab your emergency kit, lock your home, contact every family member, and drive your planned evacuation route, just like you will in a real emergency.
Your efforts will pay off in the unfortunate event of a disaster – you and your family will be safe and will be able to get your lives back on track soon after the emergency.
If a major storm causes damage to your home or business in Staten Island, Brooklyn, or Somerset or Middlesex counties in New Jersey, contact ServiceMaster Restoration by Complete for storm damage restoration services. Our technicians can handle the restoration of water and flood damage and we can also rebuild severe structural damage.