I had some other ideas for blogging this week. I’m finally past a few projects at work and am slowly getting back in the kitchen and doing some other things around the house and back in gear on writing on my next book. In general, I’ve been feeling pretty comfortable the last two weeks.
Until I watched the footage out of Moore, Oklahoma yesterday. It brought back distant memories of a few childhood years spent doing tornado drills in school in Wichita Falls, Texas, not long after the 1979 tornado that was the worst tornado in U.S. history—until the May 1999 F5 tornado which hit Moore, Oklahoma. And it brought back more recent memories of surveying my own home after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
My heart breaks for the people in Moore who are calling the insurance companies trying to get emergency checks to buy clothes and food, listening for the sound of the Salvation Army mobile food truck in their neighborhood, and are getting ready to see their life’s possessions loaded up in giant metal containers like toxic waste to be taken to the dump. It’s gut-wrenching.
I’ve been there.
It’s a good reminder, though, for all of us, to spend a few minutes this week preparing ourselves for what to do if disaster strikes. Here are some of my top tips for you:
1) Designate a folder for key documents and file it with your important papers. Mine is “The Red Folder.” It contains our social security cards, passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, and copies of driver’s licenses, home and car insurance policies and contact info, and medical insurance cards, as well as bank account numbers and information. Information about your mortgage company and account number and car loans and account number should also be in here, as well as any credit card account numbers and contact information, if you have them. If you are able to do so, stick a generic gift card in here (remember to rotate it out if it has an expiration date) for an amount you can afford–$25, $50, etc. If you have to leave quickly, it’s not as good as just having cash, but it may help you get a tank of gas, a meal, or a hotel room in a pinch.
2) Take pictures of your home and every single room. Print these off old school—don’t just keep them on your computer. Write on the back of each photo what are the big items in your rooms. You’ll need this for insurance and documentation purposes.
3) Ask your children’s schools for their disaster policies. Know what they will do if an event happens during the school day. Often this will come home the first week of school in the student handbook that is sent home or referenced (yes, that book you never read but sign the acknowledgement saying you do.) As storms beared down on our area today, my daughter’s preschool emailed all parents a copy of the policy as a reminder. I totally appreciated their commitment to keeping our kids safe and the parents informed.
4) Fill out a Family Emergency Plan and go over it with your kids. Designate a safe place to meet and a safe word to use as a password with your family members. The government provides a good template as a starting place. Have a copy of it in your red folder.
5) Everyone should have a five-minute box, especially if you live in a place like Tornado Alley, on the coast, or in an area prone to earthquakes or floods. Have items like a flashlight, a new pack of batteries, bottled water, a small blanket, toys/crayons if you have kids, something relatively non-perishable like a pack of peanut butter crackers or something similar to snack on (you’ll want to change this out obviously), a whistle. A copy of key documents from your red folder is not a bad idea either, just in case. If you’re ever in a shelter/evacuation situation, remember to put on sturdy shoes, wear a pair of pants, and have a light jacket with you if you can. You never know what you’ll be walking out into afterwards.
I also like the idea of having five, ten, and fifteen minute lists. Walk through your house and write down the things you would take with you if you only had five, ten, or fifteen minutes before you absolutely had to leave. For Ike, I had an overnight period. I gathered up all of those “irreplaceable” items like baby books and wedding pictures and some family heirlooms that I knew insurance could never replace. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t take your TV with you. Take the stuff that counts. In the case of a quick evacuation, having a list in your five-minute box to remind you to get your red folder and the dog leashes can make the difference between being prepared and being panicked.
I truly hope that the hour you take to do this is an hour that is totally wasted. I hope you never have need to pull out a red foer or a five-minute box in your own life. But unfortunately I’ve learned the hard way that these things can happen to any of us, and I’d rather share my own experience with you in the hope that it helps you be better prepared if the time comes for you.
And if you’re in Moore, Oklahoma tonight, all of this is too little too late. So please just accept a big hug from someone who has been there, done that, and come out stronger than before. Believe me, God can and does use ALL THINGS for good. It’s dark right now, but it does get better. Hug.
What about you? Have you been through a natural disaster? Does your family have a plan? What are your best tips for disaster preparedness? Please share them so we can all be better prepared.