Opinion Your Views — 10 January 2013
Are you ready?

By Cyndi Lake

What’s the first thought that runs through your head when there’s an impending disaster, like a snowstorm, hurricane or worse — a terror threat?

My guess is it’s about your family and their safety. Planning for the worst-case scenario can relieve a lot of stress and worry when the real thing happens.

Your first priority should be to have a communications plan with your loved ones. As we learned during the earthquake in 2011, cell phone service will likely be the first thing to stop working during a major emergency, although text messages sometimes get through when calls can’t. Power outages can compromise your home phones as well, particularly if they are cordless and need power to operate. Keep a landline telephone to plug in if needed.

Local connections will be overloaded, but often long-distance calls have a better chance of getting through. Identify an out-of-state contact that everyone in your family can call to check in with. For example, my local relatives all know to call an uncle in Colorado if there is an emergency.

Write down important contact numbers with a pen and paper. We all rely heavily on our mobile devices to store information, and they may not always work in an emergency, particularly if the power supply is interrupted. Keep a card with this key information in your wallet or purse at all times.

Your second priority should be self-sufficiency: securing enough supplies for at least 72 hours. Nonperishable food, water (one gallon per person each day for drinking and washing), medications and other essentials — think toiletries — top the list of items you should consider stockpiling. You don’t have to break the bank to be prepared; just grab a few extra cans and water bottles while at the grocery store. Make sure to consume them — emergency or not — before the expiration dates and continue to rotate your stock.

Additionally, you should have a battery-operated or hand-crank radio and flashlights to use during a power outage. We all love candles, but they are a dangerous way to provide light during power outages. A weather-alert radio — which you can find at your local Red Cross, Target or Home Depot — can provide up-to-date information during emergencies and not just about weather. A few models also feature cell phone chargers.

I always urge people to have a bag in their car with some of these items, along with a change of clothes and comfortable shoes. You never know when you might not be able to make it home. Remember the January 2011 ice storm that paralyzed area roadways during rush hour, when it took some people 10 hours for a trip that normally takes 40 minutes?

Taking the time to prepare for a potential emergency will help ensure peace of mind and make life easier for you and your loved ones when emergency strikes.

-The author is the public health emergency management coordinator for the Alexandria Health Department.

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