- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2004

Linda Moss of McLean will not be among the throngs of people lining up at local grocery stores the next time a natural or man-made disaster occurs. She already has packed her family’s survival kit and planned an evacuation route, just in case.

“I think the point of preparing is to take away the panic if something were to happen and to build confidence and self-reliance,” says Mrs. Moss, who has enough food, water, firewood and other supplies to shelter-in-place for several weeks with her husband and their two children.

Shelter-in-place means living in one’s house without amenities such as running water and electricity.

Families can have different reasons for setting up emergency plans in their homes — such as hurricanes, ice storms, fire, terrorism or common blackouts from severe thunderstorms.

Mrs. Moss says the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, helped raise her awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters. However, her emergency preparations are equally useful for any natural disaster or emergency, says Barbara Childs-Pair, acting director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.

“One of the things about emergencies is they have commonalities,” Mrs. Childs-Pair says. “You need a meeting place if you get separated from your family. … You need food and water and medications.”

Some of the items, such as the first-aid kit that Mrs. Moss keeps in her car, even get good use in non-emergency situations.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve used Band-Aids and other supplies from the first-aid kit at Little League games,” she says. Her son Andrew, 9, plays baseball.

Local Red Cross chapters and D.C. EMA and other local government agencies give workshops on how to prepare for emergencies, including what should be in emergency kits.

Mrs. Childs-Pair says that contrary to what some might think, people feel reassured by emergency-preparedness information rather than riled up or nervous.

“Residents want to be empowered,” she says. “Seniors often say, ‘Tell us what we need to know so we can help ourselves.’”

Helping yourself during a disaster indirectly means helping others, too, Mrs. Childs-Pair says. When residents are well-prepared for emergencies and can take care of themselves, it frees up emergency management and other government agencies to help those who can’t help themselves, such as the elderly and people with disabilities.

“We tell people it may be 72 hours until a government agency reaches you,” she says.

Consequently, most emergency-management agencies recommend that households prepare emergency kits with at least 72 hours’ worth of food, water and medical and other supplies.

Helping yourself also can allow you to help your fellow man or woman in more direct fashion, says Meg Thayer, who lives in a 500-unit apartment building in Northwest. Ms. Thayer says she has enough supplies to last her at least five days.

During Hurricane Isabel, Ms. Thayer was able to share batteries and other items with neighbors because she was well-prepared and well-stocked.

“When you’ve helped yourself, you can start taking care of those around you,” she says.

Ms. Thayer says she’s just one of many people in her building who take an active role in emergency preparedness. The tenants’ association has had several meetings and workshops on the topic.

“It’s kind of the extended-family approach,” she says.

Emergency kits

Debra Fulmer, who does community disaster education for the Red Cross, teaches people what they should include in their emergency kits.

“Some find it daunting because it becomes overwhelming,” Mrs. Fulmer says. “But I tell them to take a first step, like making sure you have enough water for three days.”

A general guideline for water is to keep a gallon of water per person per day.

“The level of preparedness is up to each person,” Mrs. Fulmer says. “You’re going to have to think through what your specific needs are.”

The Moss family has hundreds of food, sanitary, medical and general supply items. Most things are stored in the garage in plastic bins with handles or in duffel bags, making it easy for the family to grab and run if they need to do so.

It’s up to each household to determine the type and amount of food they want to store for emergencies, Mrs. Fulmer says. She recommends nonperishables such as canned food (don’t forget to include a manual can opener in the kit), snack bars, crackers and peanut butter.

Instead of canned food, Mrs. Moss says, her family uses MREs (meals ready to eat), often used by the military, because they weigh less. The Moss family buys their MREs at an Army-Navy surplus store in Tysons Corner. Families also can buy them online or at other similar stores.

Mrs. Moss also has included desserts in the emergency kits, something Mrs. Fulmer always recommends during her emergency-preparedness classes.

“Include some comfort food, especially for the kids. … You’re not just thinking about the physical well-being of your children, but also the mental well-being,” Mrs. Fulmer says.

Families also should include a first-aid kit, prescription medication, antibacterial hand cleaner, washcloths, feminine hygiene products, scissors and tweezers. Tweezers can be used to remove glass splinters from the skin, she says.

Food and prescription medication need to be rotated frequently to ensure that nothing goes bad.

Also important are basic tools; a battery-powered radio; plastic sheeting and duct tape; flashlights; extra batteries; a change of clothes; blankets or, even better, space blankets (thermal, light-weight emergency blankets); and closed-toe shoes in case of excessive debris. If there are young children, diapers and wipes should be included. Families also should include bleach, which can help clean contaminated water, and garbage bags.

If a household has pets, the emergency kit needs to include pet supplies such as food, water, plastic bags to deal with waste, and veterinary records.

Good record keeping is important for the rest of the family, too. It’s wise to keep copies of important documents, such as financial records, birth certificates and homeowner’s insurance with the emergency kit.

“It can be time-consuming to put all this stuff together,” Mrs. Fulmer says, “but reconstructing your life without these items is even more time-consuming.”

Keeping cash in the emergency kit also can be a good idea, as is keeping a list of important phone numbers for family members and emergency-management agencies, she says.

What happens if you’re not close to your home emergency kit?

“Just keep some protein bars in your drawer at work and a small backpack with toiletries, critical medication, some water and food, and keep a kit in your car,” Mrs. Fulmer says.

Preparing the family

Preparing emergency kits is just one part of emergency preparedness. It’s also important to sit down with family members to determine a course of action for if and when disaster strikes.

It’s important to identify evacuation routes, with which emergency-management agencies can assist, and determine how family members can get in touch with each other and reunite if separated.

Having an out-of-town contact is important because sometimes during emergencies it’s easier to make long-distance calls than local calls, Mrs. Childs-Pair says.

Mrs. Moss has created an emergency contact list that her children keep in their backpacks at all times. It includes phone numbers for out-of-town relatives, she says.

Having a local meeting place if you can’t get back to your house also is important, says Alan Etter, spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Though they don’t make the same kind of headlines as hurricanes and terrorist attacks, house fires require families to prepare for survival, too.

In the District, house fires are a daily occurrence, Mr. Etter says.

Ways to prevent and survive house fires include putting up and maintaining smoke detectors and fire extinguishers as well as sitting down with family members to outline an escape plan.

“Do not only have two escape routes out of the house, but also out of each room — and practice often,” Mr. Etter says.

The Moss family has put its emergency planning to the test several times during the past year. Family members have sheltered-in-place and evacuated. Each drill has allowed them to fine-tune their preparedness, Mrs. Moss says.

“The main thing we learned when we sheltered-in-place was that we ran low on water,” she says.

Mrs. Moss now keeps 3 gallons per person per day instead of the commonly recommended 1 gallon per person per day.

The Moss family also learned something even more unexpected: Emergency drills actually can be fun.

“We really had the most incredible time,” Mrs. Moss says. “There was no television or phone calls. There was no outside interference. We just spent time with each other.”

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