As much as we love our homes, the walls around us are not nearly as important as the people within them. Sometimes, natural disasters mean the place where we feel safest isn't safe anymore, and families are forced evacuate their homes at a moment's notice.
As those who fled the California wildfires know all too well, getting your children to safety when minutes and seconds count is incredibly hard, and when you have to leave with only the clothes on your back the days to come can feel even harder.
But there is something we can all do—today—that will help keep our kids safe if a disaster strikes tomorrow, next month or a year from now. Whether the threat comes from a wildfire, a hurricane, a landslide or a flood, whether or not we have an emergency plan is the one thing parents can control in an uncontrollable situation.
Unfortunately, many families don't have a disaster plan, and don't know what they would do if they had to flee their home. According to a recent survey by Farmers Insurance, 60% of American households don't have a disaster plan, but 70% of those surveyed have experienced a natural disaster as an adult.
Millennials are the most likely to have an emergency plan, the survey found, and as the images out of California continue to underscore the importance of this issue, more millennials may want to get prepared. Right now, 44% of millennials Farmers surveyed said they have an emergency plan and 49% have an emergency kit.
If you are among the half who don't have a plan, don't worry. It's easy to make one and it could make things a lot easier—and safer—for your family should you ever need it.
Here are five steps to make sure your family is ready to leave home should you need to:
1. Pack ahead of time
The Red Cross, FEMA and CAL Fire all recommend packing emergency evacuation kits to make leaving home in the event of an impending hurricane, wildfire, flood or other disasters safer and less stressful.
Emergency planners recommend taking a three day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person in a tote or wheeled tub that can be easily lifted into your vehicle.
You can also pre-pack a backpack or small bag for each member of the family, with changes of clothes, extra diapers or pull-ups for young children and toiletries, hygiene products and extra contact lenses or glasses for older family members.
Along with the personal belongings and food and water, a pre-packed evacuation kit should also contain the following items:
- Prescriptions or special medications
- An extra set of car keys
- Credit cards and cash (in case ATMs don't work)
- A fully-stocked first aid kit
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
- Sanitation supplies
- Pet food, crates, collars and leashes if you have animals in your family
- Copies of important documents
- Mobile phone, chargers and extra battery
If you don't want to keep your important documents and prescriptions in your emergency kit, consider storing them in a place where you will be able to grab them easily in the event of an evacuation.
2. Plan to reunite
Sometimes natural disasters and evacuations happen in the middle of the day, when parents are at work and kids are at school. This can be very stressful for families, but FEMA suggests discussing this possibility with children so that they are prepared.
Let kids know that in the event of a natural disaster during the school day they need to follow their teacher's instructions and that they may be picked up by an emergency contact, like grandma or a trusted neighbor, instead of you. Plan for a scenario where your family is not able to go home, but let your kids know that you or another adult will meet them wherever they are evacuated to from the school, like a designated emergency shelter or the home of a family member in another city.
Adults in the family also need to talk about these things beforehand as communications systems can go down in natural disasters. Let your partner or co-parent know that if your community is evacuated you'll be heading for your sister's house in the next state, or whatever designated location your family has decided on.
3. Designate an out-of-town contact
Plan to have a family member or friend who lives far enough away that they will not be impacted by the same event be your family's out-of-town contact.
Make sure your children know who this person is and have their contact information. Put it in their emergency bags and school backpacks and teach them the phone numbers and email addresses of the contact.
This person should ideally be someone you trust, who could advocate for you and take you in if needed.
4. Research accommodations out of your area
If your out-of-town contact is a few states away you could have a long drive ahead of you. Get to know the hotels on the route you would take to get to your family member or friend's place, or that you could stay in if they were unavailable.
If you have pets the Red Cross recommends keeping a list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters along your evacuation routes in your phone.
5. Know your routes
If you're asked to evacuate, it's best to do so as soon as possible, as traffic can quickly become congested when entire communities need to go. A couple times a year practice leaving your community as you would in an emergency (bring the kit and everything) and plan some alternative routes in case your usual route becomes blocked.
Program routes into your GPS and stash a paper map in the car just in case.
In the event of a disaster, don't try to take shortcuts or drive on closed roads.
We can't control what happens in a disaster, but we can prepare for them. The one shortcut we can take is packing and planning now.
Your family may never need your emergency kit, but you'll be so thankful for it if you do.