How To Get Your Stuff Together For A Tornado
The past few years have been deadly for tornadoes.
Last year it was Oklahoma, Tennessee and Illinois. This year, tornado season has barely begun and already Alabama and Georgia have been struck by F3 twisters decimating Beauregard and other towns in Lee County.
So what’s the best way to prepare for a tornado?
The worst thing about tornadoes is that you don’t usually have plenty of warning that one is about to strike. But if you take the time to create a simple plan, you’ll know how to get the people you love and the stuff that is most important to you to a safe place, as quickly and easily as possibly.
With preparation comes the ability to not only survive a tornado, but to thrive after the emergency has passed. Here’s how to do it…
The Three Step Approach.
Make sure that you have your disaster survival gear at your fingertips and that you know how to secure your home and personal safety when a tornado strikes. Know where your tornado shelter is — if it isn’t in your home — and the quickest and easiest routes to get there. In fact, it might be a good idea to hold practice drills to see how quickly you and the kids can get out of the house and sheltered from the storm, with everything you need.
Make sure that you have everything you need – necessities, keepsakes, vital information – in the shelter with you or waiting for you in your pre-determined evacuation location. This is a lot easier than it sounds, if you have a storm shelter in your home. All you need is to do is to take the necessary steps now, to ensure you have access to all the items and information that will help you get back to living your normal life, as quickly and easily as possible. You’ll also want to make sure that the things that are most vital to you — your important papers, financial and insurance information, treasured photos, videos and music and scannable keepsakes are backed up onto a portable hard drive and stored in a safe deposit box or safe, in the town where you will go during evacuation. That way it will be safe, sound and waiting for you when you arrive.
Make sure that you have a pre-written plan of what you’ll do and where you’ll go when a disaster strikes, including a plan for how you’ll get back to your normal life, once the disaster is over.
Because tornadoes can happen so suddenly, most families end up having to ride out the storm in their shelter, storm cellar or bathroom. But having to shelter in place doesn’t mean that you don’t need a plan, not only to survive the storm and evacuate if necessary once it passes, but to ensure that you and your family have everything you need to get back to living, once the emergency is over. We’ve got two other blog posts I’d like to recommend for two very specific tornado-related challenges. One is communication. Technology has completely revolutionized the way we ride out tornadoes. We interviewed a reporter from Arkansas recently who spent last tornado season in her bathtub, staying safe using up to the minute storm tracker apps and disaster safety utilities on her iPad and iPhone. If you have a lot of tornadoes in your area, you’ve GOT to read this interview. It could literally save your life.
The second post is about a TV show — CSI: Miami to be exact. They did an episode about a tornado last season that was not only very well done, but one of the characters lost her life because her parents failed to do one simple thing. Find out what it was at this link.
If you live in an area of the country prone to tornadoes, you absolutely need an Evacuation Plan and a Get Back To Life Plan. If you don’t know the evacuation routes in your area, call your local fire department for this information way before tornado season. And while you’re at it, make sure you also ask them where the emergency shelters are in your area in case you suddenly need one. You always need to know where you’re going and what you and your family would do if your area becomes uninhabitable. If necessary make a plan with other relatives or neighbors to evacuate together and share transportation and costs.
Even if the tornado doesn’t physically impact your home, your neighborhood and city might still without power or basic city services for a few days. Telephone and/or cell service could also be down. That means not only means you won’t have light, but you also won’t have power for computers or televisions and radios. Grocery and drug stores won’t be able to ring up purchases, ATMs won’t work, garage door openers might not function. Name any tool or convenience we rely on in this world and chances are it’s powered by electricity.
So your first defense is making sure that you always have an alternative source of power, battery powered flashlights, extra cash, a supply of canned or frozen food that doesn’t need to be cooked to be eaten, and the all-important supply of water – enough to last you and everyone in your family for three days. Since your home or neighborhood might have significant damage, keep rubber-soled shoes, a warm jacket and other emergency gear within reach of your bed or right inside your closet. Rubber soled shoes will protect your feet from the broken glass and rocks that will probably be strewn everywhere.
We aren’t going to get into the details of how to turn off your gas, when to boil water or a list of items to have on hand for a tornado, because there are literally hundreds of sources for that information. In fact here area a few great downloadable resources that we recommend. Tornado Guide Tornado Checklist
You should also create or update your evacuation checklist, detailing the items that you and your family would need if you were unable to live in your home for three or more days. This includes all of your necessities, prescriptions, vital documents (or access to them on portable hard drives, online or in out of area safe deposit boxes), keepsakes, personal and professional contacts, ID and basic medical history and anything else that your family will need while evacuated.
Talking about a tornado is one thing. But experiencing that devastation first hand puts things in perspective.
Here’s a quote from LA Times reporters Nicholas Riccardi, Matt Pearce and Robin Abcarian, on the scene after the Joplin, Missouri tornado. (5/23/11)
“When the tornado hit, Staci Perry, a scrub technician at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, had just left the operating room to grab a piece of equipment for a surgery in progress. An urgent announcement came over the loudspeaker: “Execute condition gray.” That was the hospital’s code for an impending disaster, though in drills, the command was always preceded by “Prepare for condition gray.”
There was no time to prepare. As she heard the massive glass walls crack, Perry, 33, dashed back to surgery. “The pressure in everyone’s ears was just tremendous,” she said. A physician’s assistant threw himself against the door so it wouldn’t blow in and destroy the operating room. The lights went out. The wind howled.
“Literally, the hospital imploded,” said Dr. Jim Riscoe, an emergency room physician at the 230-bed facility. There is an emergency plan for disasters, he said, “but they don’t anticipate the emergency being the hospital.”When it was over, just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the storm had gouged a six-mile swath roughly half a mile wide in this city of 50,000 people. At least 116 people died, five of them hospital patients.The apocalyptic after-images were depressingly familiar, reminiscent of those from the deadly April tornadoes in the South: rubble as far as the eye could see, cars buried under pieces of houses, trees wrenched from the ground with massive roots reaching toward the sky, columns of smoke rising from gas fires, emergency vehicles with lights flashing. And everywhere, knots of people stunned by nature’s violence mourned their losses, counted their blessings and told their harrowing stories.”
So what do you think? Is it worth a few minutes of your time to make sure your family is ready to deal with any emergency — including a tornado?
That article always reminds me of CNN or FOX news coverage of whatever storm just took place. One thing is always the same. The faces of the people in the midst of the storm.
They looked shell-shocked, terrified, lost. Most of those people, were at least moderately prepared for a disaster.
Those in tornado country most likely had stockpiled some food and water, those in hurricane country might even have evacuated and done everything their local news and emergency authorities told them to do. And yet, after the disaster, they were standing there, scared and helpless, because their homes, the people they loved, and basically their entire lives have been destroyed to the point that their own existence was now unrecognizable. All of those people, rich and poor, young and old — they all had one thing in common. They had NO idea where to go and what to do from here.
Preparing your home for a tornado is vital, but there is really only so much you can do. For example, in any of the recent F4 or F3 tornadoes, people did a phenomenal job tornado proofing their homes.
But the one thing they could do nothing about, was the tornado itself. Based on the way the storm approached and its intensity when it touched down, there was no level of tornado preparedness that could save the homes in the path of the twister. In many neighborhoods every single home, tornado preparation or not, was gone, with nothing but a foundation left standing. And along with tornado, went the contents of those homes and businesses.
That’s why your tornado emergency plan, must include a way to instantly locate and safeguard the vital information, documents and keepsakes that you’ll need to have access to after the emergency has passed. And once you create the plan, you can use it in any emergency – not just tornadoes.
And THAT – knowing what to do and where to go after the disaster is over, is step three. The most important step of all.
Facing a disaster without giving yourself a plan to recover from it, is like trying to build a house with no blueprint and no tools!
Having two plans can make all the difference in getting you through those first few days and weeks after a disaster strikes.
What are the plans? They are the Backup Plan Evacuation Plan and the Get Back To Life Plan — the same plans that we’ve built into our book Ready.
The evacuation plan is pretty simple. It all comes from one question… If you were at home or at work and suddenly had to evacuate your home, or your general area, where would you go?
As you think about the locations you’ll use for your evacuation, consider, the people traveling with you, how you’ll get there (car, bus, plane), any pets traveling with you and whether those locations will actually work for you – for instance are they close to stores or services your family might need, like pharmacies, clothing, banks and doctors.
We suggest that people have three different locations in mind, to give you different types of locations and choices depending on the circumstances. As you create your plan, write everything down in detail. If you have to use this plan, you and the people you love are probably going to be in panic mode and following an easy to understand plan, will help calm and focus you.
Write down the people who will be traveling with you, and any special instructions you’ll need to gather everyone together, in case a disaster or emergency occurs while you’re all away from home. Name the location that you and your family will use to meet up with each other and the location you will be evacuating to, if you cannot live in your home, but your immediate area is still safe. Include the address of the location, contact phone, email address and directions.
Next choose a location (writing down the details, address and contact information) that your family will use if you not only need to evacuate your home, but your immediate area or city. This might happen during a moderate hurricane or a tornado. Your third location is out of state, for a serious, widely destructive emergency like the Japan or Chile Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the Colorado Wildfires, or other disaster that will make your entire region uninhabitable.
You will also include these locations on your emergency wallet card and your family’s wallet cards. Now, no matter what the disaster, even a fire or local emergency, you and your family will now know where and how to gather, and who will be responsible for what, so you can quickly reunite and travel on to your emergency location together. If you like, you can also give a card to the person you chose to be your out-of-area contact as well.
Will you have any pets traveling with you? Be sure to fill out the pet section, so that you will have all the information you need for them, like the name and numbers for the veterinarian, their licenses, and names/numbers of kennels in the location you are evacuating to and any prescriptions or special instructions you’ll need until you return home.
Your Get Back To Life Plan
The worst part of any disaster, short of losing a loved one, is the possibility that the home you love and care for and everything in it would be damaged beyond repair. That is what your Get Back To Life Plan is all about.
Imagine that you and your family have survived the flood, but had to leave your area because it is uninhabitable.
You’re in your evacuation location two days after the waters subside. The phone rings. It’s a good friend of yours, who has just toured your neighborhood and is calling to tell you that your home is badly damaged and he doubts that you will be able to live in it for several months, if ever again.
After you and your family hold each other for a while and talk, you finally feel strong enough to open your Ready In 10 Notebook. There you find your Get Back To Life Plan and begin making calls to your insurance agent, your contractor and your boss. You call the local real estate agent in your evacuation city and ask her to begin looking for temporary housing, register your children in the local school, and begin calling the contacts you need (that you jotted down just in case), to help you settle in. Getting settled is easier than you thought, since you have copies of all of the vital documents you need, like your birth certificates and property deeds in a safe deposit box at the local bank. It takes some time, but with hard work and a lot of courage, you and your family are back to living in a matter of weeks.
Now imagine the same scenario, the same phone call, holding your family, talking and then realizing that you have no plan and no clue how to get back to living your life. It’s CNN coverage all over again. The best part of this little scenario is that it hasn’t happened to you and that you have time right now, to make sure no matter what ever occurs in your area, you and your family will be prepared.
If you don’t have a copy of our actual Get Back To Life Plan grab one from the blog post or just grab a piece of paper.
Take a few minutes to think about the following questions:
How will we handle our bank accounts, paying our monthly bills and receiving our paychecks? How much emergency cash do we need to have, while traveling?
What are our credit card limits and toll free numbers for emergency increases?
How will we work? Will we work remotely or have to look for new positions? What people or contacts can we call about temporary or permanent jobs?
How will we handle our medical, dental and prescription needs while in the new location? What doctors and dentists can we use while there?
How long can we stay in our evacuation location? If we need to remain evacuated longer, where will we go/stay? Who will our real estate contacts be, if we need to find new permanent or temporary housing?
How are we going to secure the property or vehicles we had to leave behind?
How will we take care of our pets, during the evacuation and until we find new permanent housing?
How will we handle our transportation needs? What contacts will we need to purchase or lease vehicles?
How will we handle our daycare needs? How will we handle getting our children into school if necessary? What schools or contacts will we need, to enroll them in a new school in a temporary or new location?
How will we handle any special needs in our family?
Once you’ve answered the questions, get your family together to work out any potential problems you have uncovered and then draft your plan. And don’t forget to compile a list of real estate agents, financial contacts and jobs, schools, doctors and other professionals or information that you might need to establish yourself in the new city temporarily or permanently.
Of course those are only two parts of your Backup Plan. Your family’s complete Backup Plan should also include:
1. Your Vital Information List: Copies of documents and a way to make them secure and accessible.
2. Your Medical Information List: Medical, allergy and prescription drug history and insurance information for each person evacuating.
3. Your ICE Contacts, Emergency Wallet Cards/ID, and optional Mobile Command Center.
4. Your Backup Plan Evacuation Plan: Who is going to be evacuating with you, where will you go, where will you stay, and how will you get there?
5. Your Evacuation Checklist: The items, you need to take with you.
6. Your Get Back To Life Plan: What you and your family will do if you are unable to live in your home, or city for an extended amount of time.
7. Your Home Inventory
Starting over is never easy, especially when it happens because of a disaster or other life changing emergency. But taking a few hours now to think through and draft a plan, will give you and your family the direction, information and support that you need, to get through not only the first hours and days after a disaster, but the first steps back to living the life you’ve worked so hard to build.
Have Fun Getting Your Stuff Together! We’ll talk later…