Louisiana families are no strangers to disasters, and if we have learned anything from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, it is that family support and preparation can be keys to successful readiness and future recovery.
Talk with your family about any impending disaster. Avoiding the topic does not make it go away, and lack of information can be scary, particularly for young children. Hearing about it from the news media, classmates and other sources could create fear. Children also pick up on their parents’ emotions and react accordingly. The less stress you feel by being prepared, the less your family will experience stress. By being prepared you also feel a certain sense of control over your situation; a certain degree of reassurance. And it also gives family members an opportunity to focus on things they can do to help out rather than feel helpless.
Family members should create a plan before a disaster hits. First make an emergency plan, discussing the reasons why it is important. Brainstorm various potential scenarios, considering how your children might react in a disaster, how you might react and how the crisis could affect each person’s emotional and physical well-being. This gives everyone the time to think through and plan actions for real-life crises.
Plan in advance how to deal with the stress as well. Even if the disaster never comes to fruition, consider it a good exercise in case of future disasters. Once you have a plan, practice it as a family.
Preparing the Family
Here are some steps to take in preparing your family for a flood:
- Check with local authorities, including the local office of the LSU AgCenter, to review flood maps to determine if your home is located in a flood-prone area. Or use these links of the two mapping services/ties provided by the LSU AgCenter to find the ground elevation at any spot in Louisiana (http://maps.lsuagcenter.com/windspeed_elevation/ and www.LSUAgCenter.com/floodmaps).
- Discuss the situations that will determine when and if you will evacuate.
- Learn about your community's emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes and emergency shelter locations. Investigate emergency plans for your child’s school and your workplace.
- Make emergency home plans as outlined by the American Red Cross, FEMA or another disaster team.
- Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Be aware that coastal Louisiana has a contra-flow plan for hurricane evacuation.
- Write out your emergency information. Make a pocket-sized copy for each member of the family.
- Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the "family contact" in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address and phone number of this contact person. In some situations (such as loss of cell towers or overloaded circuits), it is easier to make long distance calls than local calls. Use the LSU AgCenter Disaster Wallet Card.
- Post emergency phone numbers at every phone.
- Inform local authorities about any special needs, i.e., elderly or bedridden people, or anyone with a disability.
- Explain to each member of the household what everyone has to do to prepare for and respond to a disaster.
- Discuss what each person is to do if you must evacuate.
- Identify potential home hazards and know how to secure or protect them before the flood strikes. Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water or fallen power lines or before you evacuate. Turn off gas and water supplies before you evacuate. Secure structurally unstable building materials and items like outdoor furniture that could float away or into another structure causing further damage. Show responsible family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity at main switches. Make sure they know when they should shut off utilities.
- Buy a fire extinguisher and make sure your family knows where it is and how to use it.
- Secure your valuable family data, important documents and photos. Remember to back up electronic computer files and store them on a portable storage device you will take with you, such as birth/health records, insurance policies, tax information and digital photo files. For additional information on what paper you will need to protect, go to Organize Your Important Papers.
- Assign the above tasks to family members. Even children can take a role. Be sure the task is within that person’s ability.
- Establish a Grab and Go Kit or other grouping of emergency supplies and keep it handy.
Include children in the discussion of the preparation for a disaster. Involve children in preparing for and carrying out emergency plans. All children need and want to carry out important roles. This helps them feel a part of the family and prepares them to cope with later situations. It also helps to reduce their stress level by making them feel empowered. Young children need very concrete information without a lot of detail. Answer their questions when asked to prepare them for an emergency:
- Practice, practice, practice the emergency plan. Give children exact steps to follow. Talking, practicing and actively preparing together will help children understand what they may view as a strange occurrence like a flood.
- With preschoolers, perhaps play “Let’s Pretend.” Discuss a situation that might arise and then ask, “What would you do?”
- There are some good interactive websites that guide very young and school-age children virtually through preparing for a disaster. For example, Sesame Street has a whole section of its site devoted to that topic. FEMA has a similar site.
- Provide basic supplies for a variety of possible situations.
- Stock a box for very young children because they need distractions from waiting.
- Traveling with children of any age can be stressful, even under the best of circumstances. Allow them to take along a favorite item, like a stuffed bear or some item that helps them feel more secure. Be sure there are enough games to play together or individually for quite some time.
- Make sure emergency supplies of food, diapers and drinks are available as recommended by disaster teams.
- Help children practice dialing 9-1-1, fire station and ambulance. (But keep the phone on the hook!)
Preparing Older Adults or Special Needs Family Members
If there are older or disabled relatives living in your household, review emergency procedures with them. This will help them feel like part of the family and give them some sense of control over their own lives.
- Be sure to prepare a set of emergency supplies and information for older adults or special-needs family members as well. Use the "Unique Needs" tab of Ready.gov's "Basic Kit" page
- If special transportation or assistance is necessary in an emergency, arrange this in advance.
- If a relative lives in a nursing home or other facility, discuss evacuation procedures with the staff and make appropriate plans.
Preparing Your Pets
For many people, pets are part of the family as well. When you practice an emergency plan, your pet should be included. By practicing the routine, you and your pet will be less likely to panic because the steps will be familiar. Animals have instincts about severe weather changes and will often isolate themselves by running away if they are afraid. By having practiced an evacuation, the familiarity will mean less difficulty dealing with your pet in a real emergency. That’s less stress for you AND your pet.
To prepare your pets before a disaster:
- Organize emergency supplies for your pet as well. Include pet food, bottled water, medications, veterinary records, cat litter/pan, can opener, food dishes, first aid kit and other supplies in case they're not available later.
- Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina have forced emergency shelters to rethink their rule of not allowing pets. However, not all shelters will accept pets. Call ahead to find out which shelters will accept families and their pets or will make provisions for pets to be near their owners.
- If you have to board your pet in the event of evacuation, having veterinary records will be required before kennels or clinics will accept your pet. Be sure your pet’s vaccinations and identification tags are up-to-date. Securely attach current id tags to your pet's collar. If possible, attach the address and/or phone number of your evacuation site. If your pet gets lost, his tag is his ticket home.
Being proactive will go a long way to dispel fears and reassure family members. For additional preparation information refer to:
Preparing Your Home for a Flood
Prepare Your Business for a Disaster
Preparing to Evacuate