September is National Preparedness Month, a time to learn about the simple things you can do to prepare for emergencies and keep your family safe when they strike. It's also a good time look around the house and take steps to prevent accidents and injuries before they happen.
Natural or man-made, at your house only or all across your state, a disaster can strike at anytime. Are you prepared for one?
Hurricanes and other natural disasters; industrial accidents, oil spills and other man-made disasters happen all too frequently and can impact hundreds or thousands of people. Here are some things you can do to prepare:
- Know what types of disasters are likely to occur in your area, hurricanes in coastal areas and tornados in the mid-west, for example
- Know how the local authorities warn the public. It may be sirens, or the national emergency alert system using TV and radio alerts. Make sure everyone in the family knows what it means when an alarm is sounded
- Check TV, radio, and internet sites as much as possible for instructions and information
- If everyone is at home, stay together. Seek shelter in the home or at designated public safety shelters if your home isn't safe
- All family members should know who to contact when they're not at home when a disaster strikes or can't get home safely. If possible, choose a contact who lives someplace that won't be affected by the disaster, like an out-of-state relative
- Everyone should have a cell phone or a pre-paid calling card, and the names and phone numbers of emergency contacts stored in the phone or on a card that's kept in a purse or wallet
- Designate a place for the family to meet if the home isn't safe or can't be reached safely
- Have an emergency supply kit ready for use, including at least a three-day supply of food and fresh water. A smaller "to-go" kit should be prepared, too. Make sure all family members know where the supplies are kept
- Store copies of important papers someplace outside the home, like a safety deposit box at your bank. Insurance policies, wills, social security cards, financial papers, passports, birth certificates, should be copied
- Have a written inventory and pictures of household items and valuables and keep them with your important papers
- Each family member should have a flashlight near their beds
The US government and others have detailed family emergency planning tools to help you keep everyone safe. Take some time and use them. Your family's safety is well worth it!
Here we're concerned about emergencies that may affect only your house, like a fire or natural gas leak, for example. Here's what you can do:
- Make sure you have at least one working smoke and carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home
- Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, garage, and utility room. Teach each family how and when to use them
- Have at least two routes out of your house and practice using them. Designate a place outside away from your home as a meeting place
- Leave the house immediately if the alarms sound or you smell gas or see smoke. You can call the fire department or gas company once you're outside the home. Using the phone in the house during a gas leak may ignite a fire
- Make sure your small children know not to hide
- Make sure all family members know how to stop, drop, and roll if their clothing catches fire
- Each family member should have a pair of shoes and a flashlight near their beds. In cold weather, a coat or jacket should be kept in easy reach, too
- Keep important papers in a fire resistant safe or box in the lowest level of your home, or rent a safety deposit box at your bank
- Tell firefighters or other first responders about anyone, including pets, still in the house and where exactly they were last seen
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has more tips and resources to help you prepare for a home emergency. Again, it's worth your time and effort to take a look at this information. It may save a life.
An ounce of prevention, indeed, goes a long way toward keeping you and your family safe. There are dozens if not hundreds of things you can do to keep everyone safe at home:
- Install grab bars and non-slip mats in bathtubs and showers
- Keep stairways clear of clutter
- Don't leave burning candles unattended
- Keep your hot water heater at or below 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius)
- Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of small children. The same with anything small enough to fit through a paper towel tube, like small toys (marbles, eg.), coins, balloons
- Keep household cleaners in a child-proof cabinet or locked closet
- Don't store gasoline and other flammable liquids or gases (like gas for your grill) in a garage attached to your home
- Make sure everyone in the home knows how to contact poison control (1.800.222.1222) and can dial 9-1-1 in an emergency
- Frequently check for recalls on items like baby cribs, play pens, and window blinds
The Home Safety Council has many more tips and ideas to help make your home a safe place.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can authorities force me to evacuate my home if a hurricane threatens landfall?
- Is a babysitter liable for injuries suffered by a child she's in charge of?
- Can I be charged for 9-1-1 emergency services?
- My area never received emergency notification, can I sue the government for not warning me?