Disaster Preparedness, Part 2 of 3: What if Disaster Strikes and You’re Not Home? 6 Ways to Be Safe No Matter Where You Are

Last time, we talked about preparing your home for a disaster. But what if you’re not home?

This happened to me 14 years ago this month. The Nisqually Earthquake hit our area while I was 30 miles away at work, with one child at school and another in daycare. I had ridden in the vanpool that morning and had no way home. The phones weren’t working. And everyone in the building was panicked, glued to their computer screens trying to figure out what had happened and how bad the damage was—none of which helped to calm me down. I didn’t know my children were okay until late that evening when I finally was able to get home.

Although no one died in the earthquake, and it certainly could have been worse, my experiences as a mother cut off from her children for hours with no way home and no way to find out if they were okay scarred me for life. I actually quit that job to find a job much closer to home in case a disaster like that ever happened again, so that I could walk home if I had to. (And to this day, even though I work close to home, I get nervous when I have to travel far for a meeting!)

I tell you that story to illustrate that no matter how prepared you might be at home for a disaster, you might not be there when it strikes.

That’s why you need to be prepared for that scenario too. To help you with that kind of personal safety, below we offer five tips plus a bonus tip on being ready for a disaster no matter where you are when it strikes.

Tip 1: Have another emergency contact
Have an emergency contact that is someone outside of your area. For us, for example, it will be my mother. She lives almost two hours away so is less likely to be affected by the same disaster that might strike our town. That way, if all of us in the family know to contact her if we can’t get hold of each other, we have that one shared point of contact.

Tip 2: Have a meeting place away from home
In addition to an emergency contact outside of the family, have a meeting place away from home. It might be that roads are blocked or closed and getting home isn’t an option for some of the family. For us, since we live in the country, we will be choosing a place in town near the freeway as our designated meeting place.

Tip 3: Teach the kids how to handle the things at home
In the event that kids are home and parents aren’t, make sure the kids know how to turn off the natural gas and to do anything else that might be necessary in the event of an emergency, like find flashlights and work the fire extinguisher.

Tip 4: Arm all with phone numbers
Make sure everyone has all of the phone numbers they might need. This might mean your kids have the neighbors’ phone numbers, for example, as well as a number for that other emergency contact mentioned in tip 1. Also make sure everyone has email addresses for people in case the phones aren’t working.

Tip 5: Talk to your neighbors
Speaking of neighbors, talk to them ahead of time about what you would like them to do in the event that a disaster strikes while they are home and you are away. Do you want them to watch over your pets, for example, or turn off the gas at your house? Or perhaps you simply want them to keep an eye on your place. During a recent windstorm, for example, a tree fell on the home of a neighbor who was away, and another neighbor called to let him know what had happened.

In the event that you can’t make it home, make sure your cars are stocked for emergencies, something we will cover in the next post.

Bonus tip: Be willing to talk about it
I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t had these kinds of disaster-preparedness discussions yet with my family, and I realize it’s because I am afraid too. I am afraid to think about what could happen, and I don’t want to make my daughter too fearful. So here’s my last tip: Be willing to be open and honest about what could go wrong, because it’s better to have the difficult conversations upfront and be ready for a disaster than to be hit unprepared and suffer consequences that are much more painful than discussing an “uncomfortable” topic!

*Image source:  This image is a work of a United States Geological Survey employee and is in the public domain. For more information, see the USGS copyright policy.

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