During the recent anniversaries of 9/11 and Katrina, we heard much posturing along the lines of, “But are we ready for the next one?” Partisan politics aside, local authorities are prepared now as never before. But what about you and your family?
Kristin Gossel dropped into our offices recently from Washington, D.C., where she works for Homeland Security (HS). Gossel is director of the public affairs arm of HS’s Ready Campaign, which, in conjunction with the Ad Council, urges individuals to do their part to prepare for emergencies, both natural and terrorism-related.
We asked her how safe she feels on a day-to-day basis. “I leave my office every day knowing there are thousands of people doing their utmost to keep us safe. What I worry about are the individual citizens who are not doing their part. We all need to be prepared,” Gossel says.
She cited a HS survey, completed this past July, tracking the public’s readiness concerning the three steps to preparedness the department says are vital. Of the first step — assembling an emergency kit — the survey showed 55 percent compliance. Only 39 percent of respondents said they had done the second step — creating a family emergency plan, and 40 percent said they had done the third — searching for information about preparedness.
Of course, no one is forcing us to do any of this, but after our own mammoth terrorist attack, and the tragic natural disaster of Katrina, it's time to get ready, folks! As parents, what excuse can we give for not doing the following:
STEP 1: PREPARE
—A home emergency kit should include:
Water; a three-day supply of food; battery-powered radio with extra batteries; flashlight with extra batteries; first aid kit; whistle; filter mask; moist towelettes; garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation; prescription medications, inhalers; copies of important family documents. You might also consider plastic sheeting and duct tape, and a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, if applicable.
A similar kit should be kept in your workplace. Include flat shoes or sneakers. Gossel keeps a Swiss army knife, several Power Bars, a protection mask, and local maps in her office kit as well.
STEP 2: PLAN
—A family emergency plan that includes a family meeting place.
“Designate an out-of-town contact, too,” urges Gossel, “because when phone lines get jammed, it is often easier to get through to someone across the country than it is to reach someone in the same city. Designate a relative elsewhere whom everyone can call. That person can keep track of everyone in your family.”
And don’t forget your kids’ school evacuation plans. Know what the school plans to do in an emergency. Ask about that now, and remember to do so again when your child changes schools.
All this information can be kept on index cards in your home emergency kit. Once a year — pick someone’s birthday — go through your kit and emergency contact information, and update if necessary.
STEP 3: STAY INFORMED
Go to the website of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/home/home.shtml) for information on local emergency shelters and evacuation routes.
Gossel also recommends at least reading through the information on HS’s Ready (www.ready.gov) website about procedures after a chemical attack. Local authorities will issue guidelines, but being informed — now — is always an advantage.
GET READY — KIDS!
Comic strips, crosswords, word searches and games can be found in the kids’ section of www.ready.gov. Keeping in mind the importance of piquing kids’ interest in preparedness but not scaring them, HS worked with early childhood and educational experts to devise games and activities to accomplish the mission in a fun way. For instance, kids are encouraged to involve family members in a scavenger hunt to collect items for an emergency supply kit. Kids can take a readiness quiz and print out a ‘Readiness U Graduation Certificate’ upon completion.
An activity book complete with stickers features a mountain lion named Rex and his family. This can be downloaded in the “Parents & Teachers” section, which also includes teacher materials co-developed with Scholastic.
GET READY — FIDO!
Pet owners also need to Prepare, Plan and Stay Informed. The needs of our animal friends are not so different from our own when it comes to an emergency. A brochure, “Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies”, is downloadable in the “Pet Owners” section of the Ready website.
THE TIME IS NOW
Political bias can sway us into thinking that we won't be taken care of, so why bother? Or that nothing’s really going to happen anyway. Perhaps all this preparedness sounds like too much effort, something that’s easier to put off till tomorrow. Consider, however, Gossel’s sobering but wise words: “It doesn't have to be a national emergency to affect your family. There could be a fire in your apartment — and you're out on the street.”
Americans, she says, should feel confident in the job being done by hard-working government staffers. “I joined the agency in 2003. To see how far we’ve come in three years is just amazing,” Gossel reports.
“And as for this preparedness campaign, I keep thinking, it took 20 years to get people to wear seatbelts, and how many years for women to know about the importance of yearly mammograms. ‘Ready’ is like that — it's something we just need to do.”
IMPORTANT MATERIALS YOU CAN DOWNLOAD FROM WWW.READY.GOV
• Wallet-sized cards, where you can list contact names and meeting places, for each family member to carry.
• A pocket-sized leaflet, Emergency Supply List, you can use as a checklist.
• Special information For People With Disabilities urges the disabled to show others how to operate their wheelchair, as well as to keep a list of necessary medical devices.
• Every Business Should Have A Plan — a brochure you can give to your office manager, which includes suggestions for successful evacuations, making a shelter-in-place plan, and preparing for utility disruptions.
FOR MORE INFO:
• Access government materials on emergency preparedness at www.ready.gov and at 1-800-BE READY.
• Access Ready NY information, including emergency guidelines for parents and families, at the website of the NYC Office of Emergency Management: www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/home/home.shtml.
• The NYC Office of Emergency Management holds regular community presentations on emergency preparedness throughout the city. Go to www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/home/home.shtml and click on the link: “Attend a Ready New York presentation near you!”