Preparedness Guide – Plan

When the Emergency Alarm System sirens to announce an imminent weather disaster, stress and worry can be reduced with a planned course of action. An emergency plan should address everything from aiding family members with functional needs to shutting off utilities before evacuating.

“Being prepared today can save lives tomorrow,” said Coralie Matayoshi, CEO for the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross. “You are your best defense against emergencies. There are three key things you should do to prepare yourself and your loved ones for emergencies: build an emergency preparedness kit, make a plan for what your family will do in an emergency, and be informed about resources available in your community and types of disasters that could occur there.”

A family without a synchronized emergency plan will run into more problems when evacuating than a family who planned ahead. “Keep in touch with your family,” said Maria Lutz, Director of Emergency Services for the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross. “Usually, the most stressful thing is not knowing if everyone is okay.” Assign one emergency contact from your neighborhood and one from outside your neighborhood as a method of assurance. It may also help to have at least one contact in the contiguous United States.

Considering some disasters are more complicated than others, families should evaluate how they will get to a safe place. “A lot of people stay at home during flash flooding,” stated Lutz. “Don’t wait until the last minute.” Lutz warns against driving during high flooding, especially in high risk areas, to avoid losing control of the vehicle. Determine unconventional roads in case the route you would routinely take is obstructed.

In the event a family gets separated, members should already be prepared to find their way back together through prior planning.  Establish a method of communication to contact each other. In cases of low power on mobile devices, agree on a time during which members will turn on their phones in order to conserve battery life. A safe location such as a local shelter can be used as a meeting point.

Shelters are limited during hurricanes. “Not many buildings may resist over 80 to 90 miles per hour winds,” warned Lutz. The Department of Emergency Management provides residents with shelter lists sorted by island and district. Schools make up a large portion of them in the state. Pet owners should locate shelters with designated quarters for pets. “Most people haven’t thought of the conditions they’ll be under in shelters,” warned Lutz. It is advised that residents bring their own food supplies, while keeping in mind individuals may have as little as ten feet of space to occupy.

As a final step, families and individuals should designate tasks to speed up the evacuation process. Tsunamis generated in distant locations will commonly allow residents enough time to pack their car and vacate their homes for higher ground. Locally generated tsunamis pose a larger threat, usually allowing only fifteen minutes before reaching land. Evacuation plans for tsunamis should apply for heavy rains and flooding as well.

An emergency kit should be kept with seven days’ worth of supplies such as water, food, and change of clothes. Water kept in the kit should be kept to a gallon per person per day. All food stored in the kit should be non-perishable and easy to prepare without requiring heating. Keep emergency kits in a dark part of the home, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Kits should preferably be stored in rolling luggage for easy portability.

Plan accordingly; add supplies to the kit that fit your needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests including pet food, medication, infant formula, diapers, and important documents. Items for personal sanitation such as moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties may be necessary. If carrying canned foods in the kit, remember the can opener.

Keep a small radio with access to NOAA Weather Radio, which broadcasts National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. A hand crank radio requires no power outlet and often comes with a built-in flashlight, making it essential for disasters.

Despite Hawaii experiencing many disasters in its history, not all residents may be prepared for the unforeseen. “People have heard what they should do,” spoke Lutz. “Not many people have put it into practice.” Small tasks often overlooked can lead to major hazards. Creating a plan for every possible scenario could transform a scary experience into a well-coordinated routine.

Link to article on Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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