When Disaster Strikes

Statistics show that more people die in road accidents while traveling or living abroad than die of malaria or other tropical diseases. Following safety protocols is critical. When disaster strikes, whether natural or otherwise, you want to be prepared. Knowing what to do can mean the difference of life or death.

Nine tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time. -- Theodore Roosevelt

If Disaster Strikes

  • Remain Calm
  • Follow the advice of local emergency officials.
  • Listen to your radio or television for news and instructions.
  • Check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
  • If the disaster occurs near your home while you are there, check for fires, household hazards, and gas leaks. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches.
  • Shut off any damaged utilities.
  • Secure your pets.
  • Call your family contact.


Finding out what can happen is the first step. Develop a disaster plan.

1. Create an emergency communications plan.

Choose an out-of-town contact your family or household will call or e-mail to check on each other should a disaster occur. Your selected contact should live far enough away that they would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event, and they should know they are the chosen contact. Make sure every household member has that contact's, and each other's, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers (home, work, pager and cell). Leave these contact numbers at your children's schools, if you have children, and at your workplace. Your family should know that if telephones are not working, they need to be patient and try again later or try e-mail. Many people flood the telephone lines when emergencies happen but e-mail can sometimes get through when calls don't.

2. Establish a meeting place.

Setting a pre-determined meeting place away from your home will save time and minimize confusion should your home be affected or the area evacuated. You may even want to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Be sure to include any pets in these plans, since pets are not permitted in shelters and some hotels will not accept them.

3. Assemble an emergency preparedness kit.

If you need to evacuate your home or are asked to "shelter in place," having some essential supplies on hand will make you and your family more comfortable. Prepare a disaster supplies kit in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffel bag or small plastic trash can. Include "special needs" items for any member of your household (infant formula or items for people with disabilities or older people), first aid supplies (including prescription medications), a change of clothing for each household member, a sleeping bag or bedroll for each, a battery powered radio or television and extra batteries, food, bottled water, and tools. It is also a good idea to include some cash and copies of important family documents (birth certificates, passports and licenses) in your kit.

Copies of essential documents such as powers of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, life insurance beneficiary designations and a copy of your will, should also be kept in a safe location outside your home. A safety deposit box or the home of a friend or family member who lives out of town is a good choice.

4. Check on the school emergency plan of any school-age children you may have.

You need to know if they will they keep children at school until a parent or designated adult can pick them up or send them home on their own. Be sure that the school has updated information about how to reach parents and responsible caregivers to arrange for pickup. And, ask what type of authorization the school may require to release a child to someone you designate, if you are not able to pick up your child. During times of emergency the school telephones may be overwhelmed with calls.

Earthquake Safety

Did you know?

  • Doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure.
  • During an earthquake, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on. This will provide some protection from falling objects that can injure you during an earthquake.
  • Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.

If you are inside when the shaking starts

  • Drop, cover and hold on. Move as little as possible.
  • If you are in bed, stay there, curl up and hold on. Protect your head with a pillow.
  • Stay away from windows to avoid being injured by shattering glass.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs rather than an elevator in case there are aftershocks.

If you are outside when the shaking starts:

  • Find a clear spot and drop to the ground. Stay there until the shaking stops (away from buildings, power lines, trees, street lights).
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Avoid bridges, overpasses, streetlights, and power lines if possible. Stay inside the car with your seat belt fastened until the shaking stops. Then, if possible, drive safely and carefully toward your destination.

Fire Safety

Did you know?

  • Children under the age of five are twice as likely to die in a home fire as the rest of the population, and child-playing fires are the leading cause of fire deaths among preschoolers.
  • Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Home fires are more likely to start in the kitchen than any other room in your home.

How should you respond to a fire?

  1. If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL for help.
  2. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test them every month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
  3. Talk with all household members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.
  4. Make sure your house is child safe from matches, lighters, candles, and flammable liquids (out of reach and locked).