Editor's Note

Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed.

WHEN disaster strikes, it seems all eyes are focused on the government and, in turn, citizens expect the government to bail them out of the mess. September has been set aside as National Preparedness Month, and the government is taking the lead on encouraging Americans to be prepared for emergencies in their homes, schools and businesses.

In a program dubbed Ready America, government officials are encouraging families to make a plan. The program is designed to increase public awareness about the importance of family emergency preparedness while urging individuals to make themselves and their loved ones better prepared.

In a program dubbed Ready America, government officials are encouraging families to make a plan. The program is designed to increase public awareness about the importance of family emergency preparedness while urging individuals to make themselves and their loved ones better prepared.

Perhaps the most significant event in planning is to do a little research about the area in which you live. For instance, I live in Texas, so preparing for a tsunami isn't a wise choice. Find out what kinds of disasters, both natural and man-made, are most likely to occur in your area, and then prepare accordingly. Most notably, decide how you will be notified if there is an emergency. A common method is either by emergency radio or TV broadcasts. Some areas might have a special siren, or city officials might send out phone messages or an updated e-mail.

Chances are, however, if an emergency strikes your family will not be together, so plan on how you will contact one another and make sure you review what you will do in different situations. Consider these three options:

1. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.

2. Be sure every member of the family knows the phone number and has coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.

3. Be patient. You may have trouble getting through because the phone system may be down altogether.

Because we spend so much time at work, school and out of the home, another good idea is to inquire about emergency plans where family members spend time, whether it be school, daycare or the office. If no plan exists, volunteer to help create one. Neighborhoods can work together to create a local plan in the event of an emergency, which will help many people be better prepared to safely reunite family members.

Practice pays. In the business world, companies can implement a plan that will ultimately protect their greatest asset, the employees.

In 1993, when the World Trade Center was attacked for the first time, financial services giant Morgan Stanley learned a life-saving lesson that paid huge dividends eight years later. It took four hours that day to evacuate its employees, some of whom had to walk down 60 or more flights of stairs to safety. None of Morgan Stanley's employees were killed in that attack, but it did prompt Morgan Stanley's management to take a closer look at its disaster plan.

Company officials investigated its operation, analyzed the potential disaster and developed a multi-faceted disaster plan. More importantly, the plan was practiced frequently, just in case there was another disaster.

Eight years later, the disaster came on Sept. 11, 2001, and the planning and practice paid off. Immediately after the first hijacked plane struck One World Trade Center, company security executives ordered the company's 3,800 employees to evacuate World Trade Center buildings Two and Five. This time, it took only 45 minutes to get out to safety.

The plan continued by offering grief counseling and an increased security presence. Communications strategies were provided in a timely manner to management, employees, investors, clients, regulators and the media.

While Morgan Stanley lost 13 employees during the Sept. 11 attacks, more would have died if a solid disaster plan were not in place, and if it had not been practiced over and over. Morgan Stanley made a commitment to its greatest asset, its staff.

Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected is to prepare an emergency supply kit. I've heard it referred to as a 72-hour kit. No matter the name, it is important that you and your family have certain basic emergency and first aid supplies at home so you can respond to home emergencies and to natural disasters. Organize your supplies and keep them in one place where you can have easy access. Everyone in the family should know where the supplies are located and should have a basic understanding of how to use them.

Here are some recommended items that should be included in a basic emergency supply kit:

  • Water -- one gallon of water per person, per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.

  • Food -- at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.

  • A battery-powered or hand cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert, and extra batteries for both.

  • Flashlight and extra batteries. Matches in a waterproof container.

  • First aid kit.

  • Whistle to signal for help.

  • Dust Mask?helps filter contaminated air.

  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.

  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

  • Can opener for food.

  • Local maps.

You may need other items that are particular to your climate and to the types of natural disasters that you have in your area. If mosquitoes are a problem, be sure to add mosquito repellent to your supplies.

Assembling these supplies will take time and money, and another key is to take the necessary time to discuss with family or coworkers the plan for an emergency. Take the time regularly to discuss and practice for emergency situations. A good idea for the family would be to meet on Monday nights. Talk with your coworkers once a month.

If you take the time to prepare, there's little or no need to fear emergency situations. And better yet, your dependence on other's would be minimized.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 6.


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