- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Something we all learned after September 11, I hope, is that we always need to be prepared for the worst but expect the best. The same is true with your house. Plan ahead for disaster or be prepared to face even more problems than the initial emergency itself.

For instance, if a water pipe breaks and starts flooding your basement, if you know where the water main cutoff valve is located, the damage will be far less than if you don't know the whereabouts of that little handy valve. Planning is everything.

This next year should be the year we all develop emergency plans for our households. (I'm preaching to myself here and will report back to you when I'm done with my household plan.) It's not that hard, and there is plenty of private and public information available on the Web and other places to help with this task.

There are various types of plans that should be thought out, written down and practiced by all family members.

A family disaster plan helps educate every member of the household about what to do in the event of a community, town or regional emergency. What happens if basic services get cut off? Where are the shut-off valves to utilities, such as gas, electricity or water? Where are the exits out of the house in case of fire or other disasters?

These are issues that each family member needs to know like the back of their hand.

Planning for disaster includes putting together a disaster supplies kit, emergency food supplies and storage, and water preparation and storage. The plan should also include a list of phone numbers to call in case of an emergency (assuming the phone works at the time).

During a regional emergency, residents should limit their phone use, keeping the lines open so as not to add to the burden on the phone system that comes with an emergency. We learned that very clearly in the Washington area after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Emergency personnel were having to handle the same calls over and over as callers kept calling in reporting the same request for ambulance, police and fire departments.

Meanwhile, a high use of wireless phone service limited the ability for emergency personnel and worse, those who were in the midst of the disaster to get access to the cell, digital and satellite hookups. It seems that when disaster hits, a lot of people like to call their friends and talk about it. This clogs up the system and hampers the communications between those in need and the professional rescue teams.

Emergency plans will differ from household to household. Develop your plan according to where you live and what you live near. Coastal homeowners should have a plan in place for hurricanes, while residents in flat lands would be concerned with tornadoes. Be ready for flooding if you live near a river. Some areas will have to be ready for various natural disasters. Plug in with the local emergency services that may already have emergency planning kits put together for your region.

As far as your particular planning, your household makeup will have an affect on your emergency plan. If you have pets, for instance, you must determine how and where they will be cared for during an emergency. It's actually better to keep them penned up in a kennel than right next to you on a leash. Unless of course, you're in a basement that's flooding. Nevertheless, you must have somewhere to keep Fido and Fluffy if your family must head to the emergency shelter because health regulations generally don't allow pets.

Do you have an elderly resident in your home or next door? Keep them in mind as you put your emergency plan in place.

Here are a couple of Web sites to help you design an emergency plan for your home:

• American Red Cross: www.RedCross.org.

• Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.FEMA.gov.

As grandmother used to say: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Contact him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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