My Evolving Approach To Emergency Preparedness

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During my grad school days in New Orleans, when a hurricane threatened the coast, we would coordinate shelter (usually whoever’s house or apartment was in the highest part of town), movies, lawn chairs, and booze. Hurricanes were less a time for concern or evacuation, and more of a break from studies and work and just about as good a time as any to have a shrimp boil out on the front lawn.

After completing graduate school, I accepted an administrative position at a major medical center in New Orleans, Louisiana. During that tenure, the most significant windstorm that came through the area was Hurricane Georges. Much of the central part of the city evacuated, leaving an eerie ghost town that I was proud to present my hospital staff name badge to get through police check points, me, 24 years old, thinking I was so important. As part of the administrative team, we made sure our patients (and those transferred to us) were taken care of, even when the power went out, that the floors were appropriately staffed, the staff was appropriately rested, the families of our staff had shelter, power generators were ready, entrances were sandbagged, and food and drink available for up to a week. The storm was supposed to come up the mouth of the Mississippi River, but turned east and caused devastation to communities near and in Biloxi, Mississippi instead. It was oddly exciting to be in the midst of a potential storm, anticipating needs and taking action. It was easy to feel this “good” about it with no family or dependents.

By the time September 11, 2001 came along, I was partnered and working at a different hospital. And I remember watching the television in the conference room, just stunned. That day’s events motivated us to take the opportunity to move to Texas to be closer to family. Because, after all, nothing was more important.

In the hours before the ravaging and tragic Hurricane Katrina, I spent most of my time accounting for friends and family in South Louisiana, making sure everyone we knew and loved had evacuated, offering up prayers for those in the path of the storms, and shedding many a many a many a tear for the absolute loss – in person, innocence, and property – experienced by so many. It was a somber time. And many of our friends and family lost EVERY.THING. or are still – STILL – trying to rebuild.

Two weeks later, with Hurricane Rita threatening the Texas coast, the city of Houston, for all intents and purposes, shut down. And with that, and with a partner to think about, and with Katrina’s devastation fresh on our lips, we loaded up with our dogs, a crawfish boil pot, lots of trout and redfish from a recent fishing trip to South Louisiana (we were afraid to come back to lost power and rotting fish), and evacuated to San Antonio. After helping our church take video inventory of the parsonage and the basement levels of the church, we finally headed out at 10:00 pm, arriving at 6:30 a.m. Nevermind that the trip is usually three hours. The day the storm was to hit Houston, it had shifted and gone to Louisiana instead. So, much to the horror of my mother, we had a fish fry for my siblings. On her driveway. And then went and played golf.

If you had a pulse at all in the last week, you probably noticed there was a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico last week. Named Gustav. And in addition to that one, we had a perfect storm brewing at our house, a storm of clashing ear infections and throat viruses, so this complicated our plans a bit.

As a side note, is it just me, or were Jim Cantore and Al Roker – AL ROKER! – having a hard time keeping their balance from actively leaning sideways for extra visual effect? You could almost feel the weight of the camerman’s temptation to tilt the camera as he tried to find some damage – ANYTHING FOR THE RATINGS – to record and broadcast to the thousands of eyes glued to their televisions. And instead, they kept having to zoom in and out on that one little tree leaning a bit on Canal Street. Not to minimize the damages that have occurred, just being cynical about the enthusiasm of disaster coverage.

Nevertheless, at our house, we kept a wary eye on what was happening, ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice because sure enough, having dependents COMPLETELY CHANGES YOUR PRIORITIES. Certainly I could live without power for a couple of days, but I wouldn’t subject two 4 1/2 month olds to that kind of heat, given the option. And so at the beginning of this hurricane season, I began preparing a list of items (surprise, surprise), continually tweaking along the way.

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A draft of the “kit”

There’s no beer or outdoor furniture on my list – that stuff can be purchased at the final destination, after all – but in compiling it, I used pieces of the various resources I list below.

National Hurricane Center
This site has reasonable quick-and-dirty lists for making a Family Plan (not THAT kind of family plan), and creating a Disaster Supply Kit.

American Red Cross
For me, the American Red Cross’ preparedness site is a little easier on the eyes than the NOAA version above.  They also have a Family Safety Planning Guide which has activities and tips for parents and kids that gets the little ones involved and educated about preparedness.  To get the kids age 5-14 involved, they’ve produced a Family Kit called “Masters of Disasters” .  This Kit is also useful for families with kids younger than 5, but whose parents need things spelled out like they’re in kindergarten. Like me.

FEMA
For the less illustrated inclined, FEMA has good information on how to prepare for all types of emergencies and hazards like tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires.  But they do have a right-brained kid-friendly site called FEMA For Kids and it even has – WAIT FOR IT – DISASTER TWINS! That’s right, internet, Julia and Robbie, “The Disaster Twins” have stories about their experiences with various kinds of disasters and how they prepared for and handled it. There’s even a Spanish version, to boot!

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The DHS has a Ready Kids site that truly gets kids actively involved in family emergency preparedness planning – through a family of mountain lions! The site has online games and other avenues to get kids involved. And if for no other reason, you should check out the site just to see a mountain lion with such defined biceps. The Ready Kids site bears links to kid activities, maps, links to information on helping children cope in a crisis, and – I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING – a Children’s National Preparedness Month Song. For real.

Citizen Corp Council
And finally, it doesn’t hurt to know your local community’s emergency response team locations and resources. To find a Citizen Corp Council nearest to you, type in your zipcode on the left side (towards the bottom) at the Citizen Corp Council website.

These are just a sampling of the multitude of resources, but if you have a favorite, or fresh tips on what works (or has worked through actual experience) for your family, please mention them in the comments section. Bottom line, no matter what kind of disaster or emergency you are susceptible to – and don’t think you aren’t, because you ARE – be sure to have a family plan, a meeting place, a disaster kit, and communication plans for your family. Their lives depend on us.

Rachel’s personal blog can be found at RaJenCreation.

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