Most of us prefer not to talk about the possibility of disaster, and what we might to do survive if we ever found ourselves amidst one. It feels too surreal, makes us too nervous, or doesn’t seem worth the time. But as it turns out, this is exactly the wrong approach.
Research has shown that the more prepared you are for disaster – from both a practical and mental standpoint – the more likely you are to react appropriately if one strikes and thus increase your chances of survival. And, going through this preparation will make you feel less scared or anxious, not the opposite, because you’ll feel confident that you can cope with whatever happens.
It can feel overwhelming to delve into disaster planning, so here are some basic yet essential steps to help you get started:
1. Think about the most likely disasters in your area. Earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, floods – whatever natural disasters tend to strike your geographic region are the ones worth planning for.
2. Think about non-natural disasters too. Airplane crashes, train/subway/bus accidents, rape, mugging, house fire, etc. These are no fun to ponder, but having a sense of how you’d approach each scenario is just as important as planning for an earthquake. (Tip: whenever you get on an airplane, train, or bus, look for your nearest exit and count the seats between you and the exit door. Smoke often prevents people from seeing anything after an accident, so you need to be able to feel your way out.)
3. Take baby steps to prepare for #’s 1 and 2. Get an emergency preparedness guide from your local fire or police department, consult Google, and then begin with the easy things (like making sure fire alarms work). Set aside a little time each week to work on your disaster planning, otherwise you might not ever get around to it.
4. Pack an emergency kit for your home and cars. Go through this kit yearly (set a reminder) to replace expiring food and water, test flashlights/radios/batteries, and to make sure the kits are complete. You can also buy ready-made kits online or at Home Depot.
5. Develop a communication plan and a meeting spot for your family. Memorize each other’s phone numbers, as well as the number of a friend out-of-state who can be your point person if you can’t reach each other. Talk about where you all might be, and what your family action plan is – both for communicating & reuniting – even if everyone’s in different places. Make sure everyone knows where the emergency supplies are.
6. Share your preparedness plan with babysitters, relatives, and other caregivers. What good is being prepared if the people who often take care of your kids are not clued in? Also, inquire about your work – and your child’s school procedures – so you know what to expect if you/they are away from home.
7. Practice. Our brains have something called “procedural memory,” which will kick in after the initial shock of disaster wears off and allow us to get moving…but only if we have practiced. If you haven’t reviewed procedures or done a dry run, your procedural memory won’t be there to take over when you need it most. (This goes for reading the safety information card on airplanes too: no matter how often you fly, review it every time so it’s fresh in your mind).
8. Hoard water. Many times, lack of water is what threatens survival most post-disaster. Right after an earthquake (or another emergency in which you may be stuck in your home for awhile), fill the bathtub and sinks with water so you can access it later if need be. Keep a mini-filtration system, or water treatment tablets, in your emergency kit. (You can even drink the water from the toilet tank in a pinch – especially if you treat it).
9. Be a leader. When disaster strikes, those who are unprepared may feel paralyzed, but will listen and follow instructions from a leader, if a leader steps up. Since you will have prepared and practiced, you can act as the leader, which not only reduces chaos but also provides people with tasks that boost everyone’s chances of survival.
Simply being alive makes us vulnerable to catastrophes of many kinds, but we can do a lot more than we think to prevent and live through them. Following these steps will have an impact on how you react, and how likely you are to survive if disaster happens to strike.
Amelia Winslow is a nutritionist, food expert, new mom, and the founder of Eating Made Easy, a blog that makes healthy eating easier for busy people. She recently watched Amanda Ripley’s feature on PBS about Surviving Disaster, which inspired her to write this post.
photo courtesy of Time