When an emergency strikes, one of the biggest obstacles in many family dynamics is also one of the biggest potential lifesavers: communication. Listening, learning and communicating effectively may not sound like sophisticated survival techniques, but they are—and they are all too often overlooked.
As disasters strike with more frequency and force throughout the world, it’s critical for every family to have a talk about what to do during an emergency. But the conversation shouldn’t begin and end there. Preparing for worst-case scenarios and recovering from catastrophes can mean the difference between staying safe or suffering loss, and feeling prepared can bring everyone piece of mind.
Here are 10 tips every family can use to prepare for, survive and recover from all kinds of calamities.
1. Stay informed (the first mantra to readiness). That means staying up-to-date on news and weather reports. NOAA Weather Radio continuously broadcasts weather reports from your local National Weather Service station and issues alerts when trouble may be on its way. Of course, there are myriad websites and apps that can personalize information straight to your handheld device or computer. The Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency websites are good starting points to search for helpful online tools.
2. Put a plan in place. Knowing what to do with hazard information calls for having an emergency plan. Have a meeting with all household members to talk about emergency response. Do some homework and alert everyone to the types of problems that could happen. Then, hand out assignments and determine who is responsible for what during trying times. Moving furniture, shutting off the electricity, checking in on pets and elderly family members are just a few things to think through. Create a checklist.
3. Have an emergency kit ready. You can make your own or buy ready-packed kits that include water, food, a flashlight, blankets, a radio, first aid items, medications, a knife or multipurpose tool, a cell phone charger, a whistle, matches, some cash and personal hygiene supplies. Keep a two-week supply of food and water for every person in the household.
4. Make a recovery plan. If the family is split up, how will you let each other know you are safe, or in need of help? “In case of emergency” (ICE) contact information should be stored on every person’s mobile phone. First responders are trained for look for this contact information so they can get in touch with loved ones or family medical professionals if the person is incapacitated. Microsoft has a HelpBridge app that blasts SOS or OK statuses out to personal networks. The Red Cross, too, has a “safe and well” service. Beyond virtual recognition, plan meeting spots—one local and one outside your immediate geography.
5. Do an indoor home assessment. Inside, take inventory and photos of important and expensive items. Make duplicates of important papers, such as insurance, mortgage documents, wills, passports, and marriage and birth certificates; and store them in a safe, dry place, if not a safe itself. This will come in handy if an event destroys things. Remember, flood and other types of property insurance must be purchased at least 30 days ahead of an event for damage to be covered.
6. Also do an outdoor home assessment. Overhanging tree branches and dead leaves and limbs can pose wicked threats during wildfires and strong wind events. Trim trees and bushes and create a 30- to 100-foot safety zone around your home. Store your outdoor furniture and clear your yard of any debris. Wind storms make dangerous flying objects out of things that aren’t anchored. During wildfire season, flammable debris can act as fuses to your house.
7. Pay attention to nature. Nature’s signals can often precede modern means of forecasting and warnings. Worms suddenly appearing on the ground may mean a flood is imminent. If you find spiderwebs inside your home, it may mean a cold spell is coming. You can even figure the temperature outside by the sounds of a cricket: The number of chirps every 14 seconds plus 40 is the temperature in Fahrenheit. To be sure, you can see if a storm is approaching by the kinds of clouds in the sky. In short, stay in tune with nature and your surroundings.
8. Get to know your neighbors. Community groups and local networks are good for more than socializing. If you must evacuate your home, it’s helpful to have a neighbor keep an eye on your property for you. A neighbor’s house can also be a place of shelter if your home is inaccessible. Moreover, knowing where elderly and disabled people live can help emergency officials better do their job when disasters strike.
9. Identify a safe room. This should be a basement, bunker or area as close to the interior of your home (aways from windows and doors) as possible. This is a very important place to have designated, especially during wind storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Also, practice a safety position: Kneel with your head preferably facing the ground near the corner of an interior wall. And cover the back of your head with your hands.
10. Use short commands during emergencies. In traumatic times, the brain can usually process only three directives. So keep safety instructions brief and to the point. For example, “stop, drop, and roll” is a way to extinguish flames if you catch fire. When an earthquake strikes, the thing to do is “stop, drop, and hold.”
Communication in advance can instill sound knowledge. Communication in the moment can thwart harm. And communication after a roiling event may mean some comfort and solace.
Thomas Kostigen is an expert climate survivalist and the Global Ambassador for Live Prepared. He’s also the National Geographic best-selling author of The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover, as well as the National Geographic children’s book Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Hailstorms, Thundersnow, Hurricanes and More!