When I blogged about the “business areas” of the American Red Cross and the Finnish Red Cross, I promised to a dedicate a separate blog post for emergency preparedness. This important topic is often completely overlooked. Most of us are very gifted in perceiving emergencies as something that happens to others far away, not to ourselves in our own surroundings.
It is easy to come up with examples of times when simple preparations could have made a huge difference. House fires and medical emergencies impact families every day. Friends who lived in the DC area in August 2011 experienced an earthquake. Thousands of Finns were stranded without electricity during a harsh winter storm on the Boxing Day 2011.
The good news is that being prepared is not difficult. The American Red Cross recommends a 3-step approach: Get a kit, make a plan, be informed.
1) Get a survival kit: When leaving for a hike in the wilderness, it is a no-brainer to pack all kinds of emergency supplies, like some extra water and food, a cell phone, a flashlight, extra batteries, a Swiss army knife, a first aid kit, medication, copies of personal documents, and cash. To be properly prepared for disasters, similar supplies should be easily available also at home. Ideally you might want to have them packed in an easy-to-carry survival kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate. Have a look at this check list to judge which level of preparedness feels right to you.
2) Make a disaster plan: Make a disaster plan together with your family. If you live alone, think through with whom to team up. Plan what to do in case you are separated during an emergency and how to contact and find each other. You may not be able to return to your home, so you should have a meeting point both near your home and outside your neighborhood. Also plan what to do if you have to evacuate. Remember that phones may work only sporadically or not at all. An out-of-area emergency contact can be of great help during a disaster.
3) Be informed: Learn which disasters or emergencies are most likely to impact you. Then find out how authorities share information on disasters. Next learn to how to protect yourself and be prepared. This is important to do also while travelling, as you may face disasters that you are not familiar with when you are away from home. You might also want to get trained in first aid and CPR. Finally, share your learnings with people around you to be able to work seamlessly together if a disaster occurs.
If emergency preparedness is a completely new concept for you, all of the above may feel overwhelming and/or paranoid. Start from something concrete and easy to implement: Print out and fill in an emergency contact card, and make a habit of carrying it with you. This information may come handy not only in case of a major disaster but also in other types of emergencies, like traffic accidents. I want to encourage especially all my runner and cyclist friends to do this. Road ID is a nice fancy option, but a simple piece of paper works just fine, too.
If you live or travel in the US, also check out the awesome American Red Cross mobile apps (available for iPhone and Android). These apps alert you of natural hazards, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, and provide useful information on how to deal with them. At the time of a disaster, you can use these apps to check the locations of the nearest American Red Cross shelters. Similarly, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone users back home in Finland should check out the great free first aid app by the Finnish Red Cross.