State of Kerala, India, was battered by the rains, causing havoc, displacing humans, and above all causing irreparable damage to the environment. Having been involved with rescue missions in such natural disaster while serving with the Indian Army for over two decades and also with the experience gained in Canada for the past 15 years, I thought it appropriate to work out a survival plan for all. If you are adequately prepared to face a range of emergencies, anytime, anywhere; you have a great chance of survival, God and nature willing.
The aim of this paper is to lay down a few steps that will help you take care of yourself and your loved ones during an emergency.
Know Where You Live
A country like India, where the terrain, climate, culture and social conditions differ drastically every square kilometer, knowing the risks in your region can help you better prepare. It may be heavy rains and floods in Kerala or in the East; water logging in Mumbai, blizzards and avalanches in J&K and Sikkim; tsunamis and cyclones in coastal regions; earthquakes in the Himalayan regions – the list is endless. Along with natural disasters, there are other types of risks, such as long power outages and industrial or transportation accidents, etc. It could even be spread of a life threatening epidemic raging like the Nipah Virus epidemic which Kerala recently witnessed.
Plan for an Emergency
Every household needs an emergency plan to suit their location and area. It will surely help you and your family know what to do in case of an emergency. It is surely worth the effort. The plan once made must be discussed with every family member and clear instructions as what each member is expected to execute must be clearly defined.
Keep this document in an easy-to-find, easy-to-remember place (with your emergency kit). Photocopy this plan and keep it in your car and/or at work, and a copy close to your phone. If you completed your plan online, keep an electronic version on your computer and also store it in a cloud and must also be saved on everyone’s cell-phones.
Love Thy Neighbours
Please take your neighbours also into consideration while working out your emergency plan – they are always your first responders in case of any emergency and you are also expected to reciprocate.
Neighbourhood Safety Plan
Work with your neighbours or the Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) to identify people who may need extra help during an emergency. Like in the Army, you may also assign ‘buddies’. Assets like doctors and health professionals, military veterans, retired police and administrative officials, and above all the youth group – they are all assets of your neighbourhood. Ensure that you include them in your neighbourhood plan and allocate duties and responsibilities to them.
Revisiting the Plan
Please revisit your plan and also your neighbourhood plan at least once a year. That should be the time you must restock your kit(, change the batteries, food and bottled water. Any breaks like Onam holidays, Pooja holidays or any weekend is the most suitable time when most members are available. Write yourself a reminder to update your emergency plan one year from now.
- Emergency Exits. Draw up a floor plan of your home that shows all possible exits from each room. Plan a main exit route and an alternate exit route from each room. If you live in an apartment, plan to use the stairs instead of the elevators. Identify an evacuation route from your neighbourhood in case you need to leave in a hurry and always plan for more than one option.
- Meeting Places – Randevu (RV). Identify safe places where everyone should meet if you cannot go home or you need to evacuate. Specify a meeting place near home or outside immediate neighbourhood.
Make Copies of Important Documents.
Make copies of birth and marriage certificates, passports, licences, wills, land deeds and insurance. Take photos of family members in case a lost persons record is created. Keep them in a safe place, both inside and outside your home. You might want to put them in a safety deposit box or give them to friends and family who live out of town.
Learn about the emergency evacuation plans in place and what you will need to do. You may want to have some basic supplies at work, such as water and food that do not spoil, in case you need to stay put for a while. Check with your employer about workplace emergency plans, including fire alarms, emergency exits, meeting points, and designated safety personnel or floor wardens.
Ask your children’s school or daycare about their emergency policies. Find out how they will contact families during an emergency. Find out what type of authorisation the school or daycare requires to release your children to a designated person if you can’t pick them up. Make sure the school or daycare has updated contact information for parents, caregivers and designated persons.
Plan for pets
In case of an evacuation, remember that pets are not allowed in some public shelters or hotels. In case of an evacuation, prepare to take your pets with you to the home of a relative or friend, or take steps to identify pet-friendly hotels or pet boarding facilities in your area and further away from home.
Special Health Needs
- Support Network. Establish a personal support network of friends, relatives, health-care providers, co-workers and neighbours who understand your special needs and also of your family members’.
- Prepare a Health List. Make a list of all your health/ medical needs. Keep a copy of this information in your emergency kit, and give a copy to your personal support network. The list must include:-
- Accommodation needs
- Insurance information
- Medical conditions
- Emergency contacts
- Family medical history
- Recent vaccinations
- Health screenings
- Grab&Go Medical Bag. Talk to your doctor about preparing a grab-and-go bag, if possible, with a two-week supply of medication and medical supplies. Include prescriptions and medical documents. Remember that pharmacies may be closed for some time, even after an emergency is over.
Choose an out-of-town contact who lives far enough away that he or she is unlikely to be affected by the same event. If you have recently moved to a new area, make arrangements through friends, cultural associations or community organisations. Arrange for each family member to call, e-mail or text the same out-of-town contact person in case of an emergency.
- Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector, smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and well-stocked first aid kit. If you live in an apartment, or if you are staying in a hotel, know where the fire alarms and at least two emergency exits are located.
- Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on every level of your home, including one in your kitchen. Everyone in your home should know where to find the fire extinguishers. All capable adults and older children should know how to use it. See manufacturer’s instructions regarding the lifetime of your fire extinguisher.
- Older children and adults should know how to turn off your home’s water, electricity and gas. Make large, easy-to-see signs for water and gas shut-offs as well as for the electrical panel.
- Teach children how and when to dial emergency numbers as well as how to call the designated out-of-town contact.
- Limit phone calls to urgent messages only. Keep calls short to free up the lines for others.
- When notifying emergency services of your location, provide the exact street or civic address and nearest intersection.
When an Emergency Strikes
- Follow your emergency plan.
- Get your emergency kit.
- Make sure you are safe before assisting others.
- Listen to the radio or television for information from authorities. Local officials may advise you to stay where you are. Follow their instructions.
- Stay put until all is safe or until you are ordered to evacuate.
- Authorities will not ask you to leave your home unless they have reason to believe that you may be in danger.
- If you are ordered to evacuate, take your emergency kit, your wallet, personal identification for each family member and copies of essential family documents with you. Bring a cellular phone and spare battery or a power bank or charger with you, if you have one. Use travel routes specified by local authorities.
- If you have time, call or e-mail your out-of-town contact. Tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Once you are safe, let them know. Tell them if any family members have become separated.
- If possible, leave a note telling others when you left and where you are. Shut off water and electricity if officials tell you to do so.
- Take pets with you.
- Lock your home.
- If you go to an evacuation centre, register your personal information at the registration desk. Do not return home until authorities advise that it is safe to do so.
Preparing an Emergency Kit
- In an emergency, you will need some basic supplies. You may need to get by without power or tap water. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours.
- You may have some of the items already, such as food, water and a battery-operated or crank flashlight. The key is to make sure they are organised and easy to find.
- Make sure your kit is easy to carry and everyone in the household knows where it is.
- Keep it in a backpack, duffle bag or suitcase with wheels, in an easy-to-reach, accessible place, such as your front-hall closet.
- If you have many people in your household, your emergency kit could get heavy. It’s a good idea to separate some of these supplies in backpacks. That way, your kit will be more portable and each person can personalise his or her own grab-and-go emergency kit.
Basic Emergency Kit
- Water – at least two litres of water per person per day; include small bottles that can be carried easily in case of an evacuation order
- Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods (replace food and water once a year)
- Manual can-opener
- Crank or battery-powered flashlight (and extra batteries). Replace batteries once a year.
- Crank, battery-powered radio (and extra batteries).
- Granb&Go medical bag.
- First aid kit
- Extra keys to your car and house
- Some cash in smaller currencies. Automated bank machines and their networks may not work during an emergency. You may have difficulty using debit or credit cards.
- A copy of your emergency plan and contact information
- Recommended additional items
- Two additional litres of water per person per day for cooking and cleaning
- Candles and matches or lighter
- Change of clothing and footwear for each household member
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each household member
- Garbage bags
- Water purifying tablets
- Basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dust mask, pocket knife)
- A whistle (to draw prompt attention)
- If you think your water is contaminated, check with your municipality or local authorities for details. When in doubt, do not drink water you suspect may be contaminated.
Emergency Vehicle Kit
Prepare a small kit and keep it in your vehicle to include:
- Candle in a deep can and matches
- Extra clothing and shoes
- First aid kit with seat-belt cutter
- Flashlight (crank or battery-powered). Replace batteries once a year.
- Food that won’t spoil (such as energy bars)
- List of contact numbers
- Radio (crank or battery-powered). Replace batteries once a year.
- Small shovel
- Warning light or road flares
An emergency may occur at any time and human being over centuries have faced many such ones. In case you are adequately prepared, you are in a better position to face it and also help others to go through the ordeal. Always remember “Preparedness is the calm before, during and after any storm.”
(Based on Government of Canada Emergency Preparedness Guide)