An Introductory Guide To Surviving Hot Weather


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year”.  The year 2014 was the hottest in modern history and more hot weather may well be on the way.   Extreme heat and high temperatures can lead to health issues and eventually death if not properly addressed.  Young children, older adults, those who are sick and/or overweight are even more likely to succumb to the effects of extreme heat and temperature.  There are things one can do now, however, to mitigate against the effects of extreme heat.  The following is an introductory guide to doing just that.

Extreme Heat: General Preparation

  • Having air conditioning installed at home or place of business is a good starting point.  The system must be in good repair and installed properly.
  • All air-conditioning ducts should be inspected for proper insulation.
  • Do not rely upon fans as a primary source of cooling.
  • On a temporary basis, window reflectors can be installed to reflect heat back outside.
  • Be sure to cover windows that receive sun with drapes, shades, or other coverings.
  • Outdoor awnings or louvers can also reduce the heat significantly.
  • Weather-stripping can be installed on doors and window sills to keep cool air in the building.
  • During a heat emergency, limit your exposure to the sun as much as possible.
  • Cooling showers or baths may be taken to reduce body heat.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water.  Hydration is key to survival.  For those with medical conditions that require a fluid-restricted diet, consult with your family physician first.  Note very cold beverages can lead to stomach cramping.
  • Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar should be avoided.
  • If possible, have a backup source of water available at all times.  A sudden stoppage of the normal supply of water could be catastrophic during an extreme heat event.
  • In addition to having backup sources of water, consider obtaining the equipment and skills to filter and purify your own water from natural sources.
  • Wear sun screen and appropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Be sure to eat a well-balanced, and preferably light, meals during the event.
  • If possible, avoid hard work during the hottest part of the day.
  • At no time leave small children or animals alone in a closed vehicle.  Temperatures in such enclosed spaces can climb from 78° to 120° F in under eight minutes.
  • Be sure that any animals you have (e.g., pets, livestock, etc.) have proper shade and access to water.
  • If one own a mobile device (e.g., a smartphone, tablet, etc.), consider install the free American Red Cross Emergency App.  The app contains information on preparing for and coping during a heat wave.  Alternatively, with the proper tools, the free app may also be run on a Mac OS based machine or on Windows based device.
  • Be sure to check on people you know, such as friends, family, neighbors, etc., that do not have air conditioning, are elderly, have small children, or have medical conditions that may be adversely effected by extreme heat.  Be prepared to render first aid should they require said.
  • Stay informed by tuning into the radio or Internet sources for updates on the heat wave.

Heat-Induced Illnesses

There are a number of heat-induced illnesses that the reader should be aware of.  Some are similar, but each have unique symptoms and treatments.  The American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local emergency management organizations, citizens-organized groups (e.g., The American Civil Defense Association, etc.), and others all can provide training for addressing heat-induced illnesses.  However, in brief, the conditions that should be noted are:

Heat Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion can result in heavy sweating, but the skin may be cool to the touch.  Additionally, the victim may have a weak pulse and experience nausea, dizziness, headaches,  and vomiting.

Heat exhaustion can be treated by having the victim loosen or remove clothing articles, lie down in a cool place, and apply cool, wet cloths.  An air conditioned location is best for treatment.  The victim can be given small, even sips of cool water, but no more than half a glass every fifteen minutes.  Should vomiting occur, stop administering water, and seek medical treatment immediately.

Heat Cramps:  Heat cramps are painful spasms that typically occur in the abdominal muscles and legs.

A victim of heat cramps can be treated by moving to a cool location and gently massaging and stretching the affected muscles.  As with heat exhaustion, small sips of water can be administered, but must be stopped if the victim feels nauseated.  When in doubt, seek medical treatment.

Sunburn: Sunburn usually manifests with skin redness, irritation, and pain.  Blisters and swelling may also be present.  Secondary symptoms include headaches, fever, and disorientation.

Mild sunburns can be treated by taking a cool shower.  If blistering occurs, apply sterile, dry dressings and seek medical attention.

Heat Stroke:  Heat strokes is a very serious medical condition in which the victim’s temperature control system stops working.  It can feature high body temperatures (105°+ F), a rapid and weak pulse, and shallow breathing.  If a victim is exhibiting these signs, do not administer water and do not delay in calling 9-1-1 or other emergency medical services.  A delay may prove fatal.  Until medical help arrives, the victim can be moved to a cool location and remove unnecessary clothing.  The victim’s should be monitored for breathing problems.

The preceding has been a short introductory guide to the topic of extreme heat.  Additional material may be accessed in the sources listed below.  If the reader wishes to discuss extreme heat preparation, or other disaster related topics, the free Disaster.com forum is available here.  Sign up is quick and easy.

Sources

  1. Extreme Heat Prevention Guide – Part 1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
  2. NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record
  3. Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 118-119). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  4. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 85-92). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  5. Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. (2011, June 20). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html
  6. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  7. TACDA ACADEMY – CIVIL DEFENSE BASICS 1 9. WATER PURIFICATION. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_9Water.pdf
  8. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  9. Rosdahl, C., & Kowalski, M. (2008). Textbook of Basic Nursing (9th ed., pp. 465-466). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  10. Schwartz, R. (2008). Tactical Emergency Medicine (pp. 84-87). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  11. Heat and alcohol–a dangerous combination. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/ade70528.page
  12. Extreme Heat. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/heat
  13. Sunburn | Doctor | Patient.co.uk. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/sunburn
  14. (2013, June 10). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
  15. Extreme Heat Tip Sheet for Individuals. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/heat/tips.pdf

extreme heat

Fire Safety and Wildfire Preparedness


Wildfires (also known as a brush fire, forest fire, desert fire, or vegetation fire) are uncontrolled fires in areas in which combustible vegetation can be found.  Practicing good fire safety is paramount when wildfires may be imminent. These fires can be started by natural occurrences, such as lightning and volcanic eruptions, or by man-made sources, such as accidents, carelessness, military action, terrorist activity, or arson.  Droughts, heat waves, and climate changes can impact the behavior of wildfires.

According to a recent study, wildfires, and related burns, kill 339,000 people worldwide every year.  The majority of the recorded deaths are in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by southeast Asia.  The death toll is lower in the United States and Canada, but property damage is in the multiple billions annually.  Millions of acres are consumed each year by wildfires.

The largest, though not deadliest, wildfire in American history was Great Fire of 1910.  It was dubbed the Big Burn and approximately three million acres in Idaho, Montana, and Washington state.  Eighty-seven individuals, mostly firefighters, lost their life in the event.  The largest wildfire in North America was the 1950 Chinchaga fire in British Columbia and Alberta, which destroyed around 3.5 million acres.

While a fearsome force of nature, there are preparations that private citizens and home owners can take today to help mitigate against the ravages of wildfires.  The following are some steps to take before and during a wildfire event.

Fire Safety – Preparing for a Wildfire

  • Read up on the the dangers of wildfires and how to be prepared.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state level organizations, the American Red Cross, and citizen-initiated groups all publish material on the topic.
  • If you have a mobile device, consider installing a free, real time wildfires app such as that published by the American Red Cross.
  • Practice good fire safety in general:
    • Install smoke alarms in your home and business, if they are not already in place.  Fully functional smoke alarms have been shown to decrease the chances of dying from a fire by fifty percent.  Each level of a home or business should have a smoke alarm.  Smoke alarms should be tested each month and the batteries changed once a year.  After a smoke alarm has been in service for ten years, replace it with a new unit.
    • Have fire extinguishers available in places where they are handy, especially in locations prone to fires such as the kitchen, laundry room, etc.  Make sure they are checked regularly.  In many communities, the fire department will do this for free.
    • Be sure to have an escape route planned and discussed with your family.  Fire safety practice runs are not a bad idea either.
    • Escape ladders for upper story rooms are essential.
    • Make sure all windows are able to open properly in the event of a fire.
    • Insure all members of the family are familiar with the procedure to stay low to the floor when escaping a fire.  Also, make sure everyone in the household is familiar with the Stop, drop, and roll procedure in the event their clothing is on fire.
    • Reduce clutter, such as old papers, trash, periodicals, etc., as these are fire hazards and represent poor fire safety.  This goes doubly so for flammable materials such as gasoline, kerosene, benzine, motor oil, etc.
    • If you smoke, make sure to never do so near flammable materials and ensure that the cigarette or cigar is properly put out when finished.  Dousing is the best method to extinguish such items, but deep ashtrays work as well.  Never smoke in bed.  Smoking related materials remain the leading cause of death by fire in the United States.
    • Make sure that matches, lighters, candles, and other such items are out of the reach of children.  Small children are curious about such articles and they may inadvertently start a fire.
    • If within your budget, consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system and/or install a home security system that monitors for fire.
    • If there is any doubt as to the state of your electrical wiring, have the system inspected by a licensed electrician.
    • In many communities, the fire department will do a free walk through and inspection of your home.  If available, it is worth having the inspection completed.
  • Make sure your home or business has the entrance marked with an easy-to-see sign so that emergency vehicles can locate you easily.
  • Ensure that water sources, such as fire hydrants, swimming pools, etc., are accessible by the fire department.
  • Ensure that your yard, garden, shrubs, and trees are kept well maintained.  Remove debris, dead wood, leaves and other combustible material around at least a 30 foot radius around your home or business.  Consider planting fire-resistant vegetation.
  • Firewood should be stacked at a distance from your home.  Thirty feet or more is best for maximum fire safety.
  • Using fire resistant materials for roofing can reduce the risk to your home or business.  The installation of fire-resistant drapes can add an additional protection.
  • Cover exterior vents and eaves with a ¼ inch metal mesh screens to keep sparks out.
  • Flammable materials, such as fuels, lubricants, grease, oil-based paint, solvents, etc., should be stored in metal containers and be located at least 30 feet away from structures and other wood material.
  • Have tools on hand, such as shovels, rakes, axes, etc., to fight small fires until responders can arrive.
  • If a wildfire is close, lawn sprinklers can be placed on the roof and used to douse the structure.
  • Consider storing fire retardant gel to be applied in the event of a wildfire.
  • If a wildfire is close, shut off gas sources, such as natural gas, propane, etc.  Connect all garden hoses.  If available, fill any contains (e.g., pools, jacuzzis, children’s pools, trash cans, etc.) with water.
  • If you must evacuate, be prepared with the necessary supplies to do so.  The American Red Cross has a checklist available here.
  • Before leaving, close all doors inside the structure to prevent a draft.
  • Review the fire safety resources below
  • If an evacuation order is issued, do so immediately.

This has been a short, introductory guide on fire safety and things you can do to help protect yourself and your property from wildfire damage.  Additional information is available in the sources listed below.  If the reader wishes to discuss wildfire preparation, the Disaster.com forum is available here.  Sign up is quick, easy, and completely free.

Sources

  1. Silverstein, A., & Silverstein, V. (2010). Wildfires: The Science Behind Raging Infernos. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow.
  2. Wildfire | U.S. Drought Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.drought.gov/drought/content/products-current-drought-and-monitoring/wildfire
  3. Wildfire Prevention Strategies. (1998, March 1). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/docs/wfprevnttrat.pdf
  4. Terrorist Interest in Using Fire as a Weapon. (2012, May 31). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from https://info.publicintelligence.net/DHS-TerroristFireWeapon.pdf
  5. Sheridan, K. (2012, February 19). Wildfires kill 339,000 people per year: Study. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://phys.org/news/2012-02-wildfires-people-year.html
  6. American Experience: The Big Burn. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/burn/
  7. Wildfires. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/wildfires
  8. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 115-122, 123-125). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  9. Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 124-126). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  10. Linton, J. (2004). Wildfires: Issues and Consequences (pp. 43-45). New York, New York: Nova Science.
  11. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://m.fema.gov/wildfires
  12. Wildfire Preparedness | How to Prepare for Wildfires | Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/wildfire
  13. Causes of fire. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes
  14. Fire retardants that protect the home. (2007, November 25). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-re-fire25nov25-story.html#page=1
  15. Home Fire Safety, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire

fire safety

A Story of Surviving a Category 5 Hurricane


(Picture Above is Looking across Efate, Vanuatu before Cyclone Pam hit)

Please Note: This is a firsthand experience of Cyclone Pam slamming into Vanuatu from the perspective of a couple living on Efate, the third largest island of the chain. Cyclones, Hurricanes and Typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon, but which word is used is based upon where the event occurs – Cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, Hurricane in the North Atlantic and Pacific, and Typhoon in the Northwest Pacific.

Preparing for Cyclone Pam

We had plenty of warning from Internet based forecast services of a seriously big tropical storm heading for us. The Vanuatu Meteorological Service (VMS) refused to acknowledge the threat this system posed as it hadn’t entered their area of responsibility. Public pressure on social media eventually led to them issuing warnings before it did enter their area. This was such a large and ferocious system that many, including myself, got on to social media to warn people. This earned us insults and threats from people using the VMS Facebook name.

I can’t recall what I was feeling in the build up to the arrival of Cyclone Pam as my business is boat orientated so we obviously had a lot to do to prepare, including craning our own boat out of the water. Preparing for such a big storm took up all of my mental capacity and I really had no time to feel anything. I guess, in retrospect, I was functioning on autopilot – some natural instinct directing me to do what I was doing. Sort of like a flight or fight situation.

At one stage, as Pam drew closer, I was to be seen with a wooden carving in my hand “conducting” the storm with “big” music on the stereo.

After accepting that we were going to get a very close pass on this category 5 system we prepared the work side of our lives as best as we could. We have a cyclone rated building as a workshop and we put all business records, computers etc. into a work vehicle and parked it inside the workshop. We also left our other work vehicle inside the workshop and relied on public transport until the storm was over.

We had been through a smaller cyclone before – but on our boat in a marina and not in a house on land. For this reason we had a fairly good idea of what to expect and how to prepare with only a few adjustments for protecting ourselves in a building rather than aboard a boat. Our community is small and close knit so everyone shared their experiences of previous cyclones including lessons learnt and what to do to prepare.

A view from our back deck before Cyclone Pam hit

At our rented accommodation we discovered that they didn’t have storm shutters, and it was obvious with the large trees growing all around us we would need them to protect from flying timber. These were quickly made by our wonderful landlords and fitted in place. We brought in a 150 amp hour battery, small inverter and LED light stand to provide lighting during the cyclone itself, and a 350 watt generator to provide basic power for fridge/freezer etc. after the cyclone passed. We also brought plenty of carbohydrate based food which was easy to prepare and wouldn’t require refrigeration (we use propane for cooking) and don’t forget the coffee.

Approximately 30 litres of clean drinking water was stored in various containers as well as fuel and oil for the generator. We live within a few metres of the water so toilet flushing etc. after the cyclone was not a problem with a bucket.  All loose materials around the premises were secured; kindle, cellphone and laptop charged. We had basic first aid supplies as well as a course of antibiotics on hand.

As stated, our house is right on the water (actually a lagoon) and was facing the worst of the expected wind so we made inspections of the foundations to ensure they weren’t likely to wash away. We had many big trees around us but I figured that if they fell during the early stages, they would miss the house, and if they fell later when the wind shifted they would help keep the roof on.

The VMS had finally discovered the wonders of blanket texting just before the cyclone and started issuing warnings. What those warnings didn’t contain was the expected wind direction, so people who couldn’t read a weather map had no idea what side of their homes was vulnerable. Traditionally cyclones come in with the northwest winds here, but this one started from the southeast so many were caught off guard.

Cyclone Pam Hits Vanuata Dead On

We hunkered down at home well before the onset of Pam, confident we had preparations in hand. As the wind built throughout the day, we built our bunker inside using two sturdy tables covered with a tarpaulin to shelter our precious mementos, passports, etc as well as offering us and our two cats a final refuge should we lose the roof.

Our homemade "bunker" to protect us if our roof collapsed

Our homemade “bunker” to protect us if our roof collapsed

Around six hours before the peak was due to hit us a glancing blow with less than a hundred knots of wind, the system changed course to pass directly over us (amazingly, we still had power and internet). At this stage I made the decision to extend our bunker by using our king size bed base to form a roof with mattress underneath, all covered with a tarpaulin. Winds were now forecast to be up to 130 knots.

The build up to the storm was very long with winds starting to rise at least 18 hours before the peak. They say there are three wind noises in a storm – howling, shrieking and moaning.  For about 12 hours we had howling wind then a very short period of shrieking wind and then a couple of hours of moaning. I had never heard moaning wind before and never want to again.

As the peak happened around midnight, and we had shut ourselves in before midday with our shutters up, we weren’t able to see the storm unfolding. We could only guess what was happening as we heard flying debris hit our house. We retired to bed about three hours before the peak and actually managed to get some sleep through the worst of it. Our cozy cave was giving us a feeling of security.

We're looking out from the same deck as before, but we're missing a few trees this time.

We’re looking out from the same deck as before, but we’re missing a few trees this time.

Cleaning Up After a Category 5 Cyclone

The next morning we awoke to virtually no wind. We were in the lee of a ridge, and by then the wind shifted. Even though our house and work escaped virtually untouched, the destruction around Port Vila was extensive, and it was obvious that foreign assistance was needed immediately. Everybody has seen the photos so I won’t go into that, but I will describe the feeling around town as the first C17 Globemaster from Australia did a morale boosting low pass over town as it brought in the first planeload of aid. The sight of that plane did more for the people of Port Vila than the aid it carried.

Post cyclone cleanup demonstrated the true spirit of the South Pacific. I have not seen an outward sign of grief even though there is much to grieve over. Amongst the destruction, people are cleaning up with smiles on their faces. I even had a bus (minivan) driver refuse to take my money when I went to see if I could retrieve our work vehicles.

A Few Thoughts on What Happened

Mine and Sue’s relationship is pretty firmly founded in traditional gender roles, even though Sue is exceptionally strong when the shit hits the fan – and we have an unconventional lifestyle. I am acutely aware of my duty to protect those I love, and this places a burden on me that I am happy to shoulder. Many years at sea, and some military service, gave me confidence to know that I had done everything within my power to keep us safe.

I did however start second guessing myself when the winds were beyond anything I had experienced before and were making sounds I had never heard before. During this time, having my love by my side and trusting me was comforting.

Post cyclone cleanup demonstrated the true spirit of the South Pacific. I have not seen an outward sign of grief even though there is much to grieve over.

Could I have done more? Yes I believe I could have protected my family better by living in a temperate climate and working a 9-5 job. Do I want to experience the same forces again? No way, but I have been strengthened and educated by the experience.

The same view of Efate, but after Cyclone Pam hit. Note the missing roofs, downed trees and more.

The same view of Efate, but after Cyclone Pam hit. Note the missing roofs, downed trees and more.

The Female Perspective

Note: This section was written by Sue Green, Peter’s fiancée

Pre Cyclone Pam

We had a week to prepare for the coming of Pam, which in some ways was a bonus in terms of getting fully prepared, but on the down side it also allowed anxiety to build. It was the total topic of conversation, and being around people who were full of doom and gloom wasn’t easy. I found myself alternately being a little bit crazy (I am anyway at the best of times) and fighting anxiety attacks. At one stage, as Pam drew closer, I was to be seen with a wooden carving in my hand “conducting” the storm with “big” music on the stereo.

During Cyclone Pam

I actually felt better once she ramped up as I knew that at some point soon the waiting would be over and Pam would be over. I had faith that we were as prepared as we could be. Pete takes such things seriously and is eminently sensible during crises. Wearing ear muffs helped immensely in cutting down the frightening noise, and I tried to focus on breathing deeply and slowly to keep myself calm. One of our cats snuggled between us at the height of the storm and stroking her was soothing.

Post Cyclone Pam

The shakes and tears came when we finally got communications again and could contact friends and family. I believe that they possibly went through more of an ordeal than us – they could see and hear on the news and social media what was happening, and the not knowing if we were OK for hours/days must have been scary. We knew we were OK; they didn’t. It was certainly a relief when it was over, and in some ways I feel guilty that we were so fortunate and our damage was minuscule.

I’m Peter Wederell and my fiancée is Sue Green. Our business is Total Marine Solutions (http://www.totalmarinesolutions.com.vu)

Sue & I met whilst working in Antarctica (the windiest place on Earth) in 2002. We brought a sailboat in 2006 and went cruising around New Zealand and the South Pacific. We eventually washed up on the shores of Vanuatu and were encouraged to start up a full service marine company which we did and have now lived here for 4 years.

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Preparing Children for a Disaster: A Primer


Growing up in a prepared household these are a few of the tips I learned from my parents about preparing children for a disaster.  I have started to teach my daughter these as well, even though she is 18 months.

#1 – Start teaching them now.
It is never too early to start teaching kids how to be prepared and survive.  My father worked in several types of emergency services and my mother worked with emergency support services as a volunteer.  One of their favorite stories is that by the time I was three, I knew how to use a two-way radio.  When I was five, I could tie a sling to a wounded arm, better than most of the adult students in their first aid classes.  By eight, I could build a snow shelter and make a shelter in the forest.  There are many cases where a small child saved an adult’s life because they were taught what to do at a very early age.

#2 – Practice with your family. Kids need to have things repeated, and repeated, and repeated, and repeated.  Think about how many times they hear the ABCs.  The reason I could do first aid at such a young age was because my parents had to take me with them when they taught classes.  In school, we practice fire drills each month.  The reason is that with practice, it becomes automatic.  Do the same at home when preparing children for a disaster.  Yes, my family had home fire drills, including when friends stayed over.  I even had pop quizzes on emergency information.  Give rewards, verbal or physical, when they do good to encourage them to continue learning.  I had a sticker chart for chores, schoolwork, and emergency stuff.

#3 – Show them that this is important and serious. Show them that you take this seriously by being serious when you talk about being prepared.  It can kind of be made to be fun, but let them know that there is a reason for this information and the reason is that you want them to be safe, because you love them.

There were many times I remember Dad coming home from work and just looking at me and asking me questions like  “If there is a fire, where do you go?”  (Mailbox)  “Do you wait to find Mommy or Daddy?”  (No)  “If someone tries to take you, what do you yell?”  (“I don’t know you”, then “get away from me” as loud as I can.)  “What is the phrase they will tell you if they were sent by us?”  (Something about Dr. Who, it rotated)  or “If someone breaks into the house, what should you do?”  (Dial 911, leave phone off the hook, as I go to my room to hide in my big messy closet, unless I can get out the backdoor).   Even without him telling me, I knew a kid was hurt or died that day because they did not know the answers. My parents really took preparing children for a disaster seriously!



#4 – Teach them where equipment is in your house
. I can still tell you where the fire extinguisher, first aid kit, band-aids, gauze bandages, roller bandages, and radios were in each of our houses growing up.  I remember one time, while Dad was gone, my mom cut herself badly while pruning.  She came into the house yelling for me, then laid down on the bathroom floor.  I got what was needed and started to apply first aid while making sure she did not go into shock.  I think I was about 10 at the time.

#5 – Make first aid kits and emergency equipment a habit.  While in school, I had a basic first aid kit, safety pins, and flashlight in my backpack.  It was part of my back-to-school supplies.  I have a feeling they were even kept in my diaper bag, although I don’t know for sure.  I know these supplies are in my daughter’s diaper bag, which my daycare provider says is the most organized and prepared bag she has seen.  As an adult, I have the same in my purse, as well as my classroom.  I knew having a fire extinguisher was important, because one was always outside my bedroom door.  This meant that when I went away to college I got one on my first shopping trip.

#6 – Visitors to the house need to know emergency procedures as well.  The first time someone came to spend the night at my house, they were told our emergency meeting place.  As my parents always said, “If they are staying at our house, their safety is our responsibility.”  They were also told what to do if I had low blood sugar, as I am diabetic.

#7 – Your kids will not always be with you. Ask about where they would go if a fire happened while they were spending the night at a friend’s house or at the babysitter’s.  Make them think about how to get out of various locations and where to go so that it becomes a habit.  I tended to ask people where their meeting place was the first time I stayed at someone’s house, so it got them thinking about emergency preparedness as well.

End thoughts

Having a prepared kid doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry.  You are a parent so of course you will worry.  What it does mean is that you will not have to spend valuable time giving directions, which they won’t hear, to a stressed out stubborn kid, when you are stressed yourself.

Hopefully you will never have to find out, but training your kid could save their or someone else’s life.  It will also put a better head on their shoulders when they are away from you.  At the very least, it will give them habits to make them prepared adults. Preparing children for a disaster should be as important as teaching your child how to ride a bike.

Rebecca Amela

Rebecca is a school teacher and has been involved with the American Red Cross and other community preparedness organizations. She is married, has a daughter, a son on the way, and lives in the Northwest. When not teaching, her hobbies include crafts, sewing, and the science fiction genre.

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preparing children for a disaster

Are Emergency Response Assessments Missing the Mark?


No long term business endeavor can successfully be sustained without regular structured assessment. Emergency response is no different. In fact it may be more important to accurately assess emergency response programs. Emergency response does not generate income, nor is generating income a goal of emergency response programs. Therefore it differs from private business in that a simple bottom line fiscal evaluation does not exist.

It is quite possible that a private business can generate profit while not being run at its most efficient levels. The goal is often to make money, not provide the absolute best product. An emergency response organization has a goal of doing their best. They are evaluated by not only what they do, but also on their capabilities to provide expertise and care that may never be needed. How do you assess an organization’s ability to do something they don’t do regularly, if at all? How do you assess an organization’s ability to do something they have never done?

Capability Assessment for Readiness and Emergency Response

The answer to those questions is in what the Federal Emergency Management Agency calls Capability Assessment for Readiness or CAR. While it may be called by different names, the emergency response community uses capability assessments as the standard for determining the readiness of responders.

Most people will say that our responders are doing their best. This is true, in that they are doing their best given the systems they are given to operate within. Would they do better if they used systems that were more accurately assessed, that were modernized regularly, and that used the latest technology had to offer to make them more safe and efficient? If they were striving to be better and reach higher goals on a consistent basis?

Why would responders not be aiming to reach higher goals? Perhaps they are being told, “You’re doing fine. You passed your assessment.”

The issue is most certainly not with the effort of our responders, but rather the manner in which they are assessed. Accurate assessments would change the objectives and give our responders the tools they need to continue to improve and be as safe as they deserve to be.

Our responders are put in dangerous situations on a consistent basis. Unlike in business, they are required to make life or death decisions in an instant. They are well certified and trained, and use the equipment they have to the best of their abilities. But they are still injured and killed far too often. Police, Fire, EMS, Hazardous Materials Technicians and many others accept the risks associated with their jobs as a part of daily life.

The ability to assess whether or not they are being given the best chance to do their jobs as safely and efficiently as possible rests in our ability to provide adequate and accurate assessments.

The Problems with Internal Emergency Response Assessments

Most public response agencies and jurisdictions do internal assessments. They use the tools and standards set out by agencies such as FEMA, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While there are positive aspects to these assessments, this kind of assessment also has many faults. First and foremost is that most internal assessments are often nothing more than a regulatory compliance check.

Meeting regulations is a good thing. It sets a minimum. However there is so much more that responders can do. Best Practices very commonly far exceed minimum regulatory standards. Standards are developed over time. They lag behind the most current technologies. Standards are usually median level objectives. At best, meeting standards might put you in the middle of the pack.

Internal assessments also have another common aspect that can limit the effectiveness of the team in the long run. They very often do nothing but measure the ability to meet internal standards. If you continue to measure yourself against internal standards only, you will fall behind the curve. You will be meeting outdated goals and objectives.

A most troubling aspect of organizational assessments however is how they tend to be a chance for middle management to prove how capable they are to senior management. The objective should be to accurately evaluate capabilities by identifying shortcomings and creating corrective actions. It is not at all uncommon for managers to prepare responders to excel in assessment activities. Prior to assessments, scenarios are practiced and personnel are scheduled to provide a greater number of responders than normal. The goal is positive results.  The results are false positives.

What ensues is an inaccurate assessment that overstates the response capabilities. Gaps that exist will not be filled. Personnel will not get training they need. They will not get tools or equipment they need. Senior management is happy that their responders are so capable. Middle management will be happy they are such capable leaders.

The Problems with Third Party Emergency Response Assessments

Outside or third party assessments are available to alleviate some of those issues, however they come with some issues of their own.

  • Outside assessors don’t have the knowledge of the organization that internal assessors can have.
  • Outside assessments can also stress meeting minimum statutory or regulatory standards as opposed to best practices
  • Often, outside assessors speak only with management level personnel
  • Outside assessors often do not get information from ground level responders who have first-hand knowledge of the capabilities of the organization.

Emergency Response Consultant Need Improvement
Many consulting firms who do assessments lack focus to provide the best assessments to specific agencies. They provide assessments for a wide range of disciplines using templates that might not best measure the true needs and capabilities of each. Fire response is different from medical response, which is different from public safety response and other types of emergency response.

So How do you Assess Emergency Response Preparedness?

In his paper, The Problem of Measuring Emergency Preparedness, the Need for Assessing “Response Reliability” as a part of Homeland Security Planning,  Brian A. Jackson makes the point that to truly assess response capabilities, not only should we consider what a response agency is capable of, but also ask what is the reliability that they will be able to respond in a certain manner. An agency might be able to meet specific response criteria. However there is a difference if they can meet it only 30 percent of the time versus 80 percent of the time. Maybe they can do it during day time shifts Monday through Fridays only. There can be many reasons for an organization to be able to meet specific criteria on at certain times. Manpower differences, traffic, weather are some of the many variables.

So what is the answer to the dilemma of emergency response capability assessment?

One thing that most agree on is that a comprehensive cycle of drills, training and exercises are required. Since we don’t know when and where emergencies are going to happen, it is difficult to observe actual responses in an assessment. Large organizations that respond to a high number of incidents can use actual incidents. An analysis of recent incidents can be included for most agencies, if accurate incident reports are available. Smaller organizations need to rely on the drills and exercises, but the results of these should still be critically evaluated.

Accurate Emergency Response Capabilities Assessments

There are some key elements to obtaining an accurate capability assessment. The main consideration in determining how to perform an assessment is to start with “Why you are performing an assessment?”.

The reason is to accurately determine to what extent your organization can respond to the given situations they might face.

There are many levels of situations that must be considered, each with separate approaches – how do they operate in routine emergencies, what are their capabilities during major emergencies and how will they perform in a worst case scenario?

These measurements must be compared to minimum standards, organizational goals, regulatory requirements, best practices and the newest modernized technologies. When organizations are given all this information to compare themselves to, they can decide on a proper course of action to get to where they want to fall on the scale from “Minimum Standards, to the Best That Modern Technology can Afford.”

Assessments should be highly focused. There are so many different parameters specific to each discipline and each jurisdiction. Individual attention to detail is important. All levels of personnel should be included.

So many times I have seen mid-level managers and above involved in an assessment of what responders can do-without the representation of a single responder! Several responders should have the opportunity to give honest and anonymous information as to what they can and can’t do. Assessment reports tend to be very dry and very predictable. It is sometimes hard to believe that someone paid for that opinion. Thank you Mr. Obvious.

Taking the SMART Approach to Emergency Response Assessments

Assessments should be SMART (Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). This is a slight modification of the traditional SMART objectives, although I changed the first component.

SMART Method for Emergency Response Assessments

Rather than have “S” represent “Specific”, I prefer to make sure that specific is included in some of the other components. I feel that more important than specific, that assessment results should be Simple. Simple can best be described as focused. Focus is important in making results meaningful.

The M component is Measurable. Specific parameters should be reported in measureable formats. (I told you that specific was incorporated).

The A is Attainable. In the assessment world, attainable has a dual meaning – first measure capabilities against specific metrics that can be attained. The Mayberry FD will not be able to attain all the same capabilities that FDNY will. Secondly it means that you should make the results gradual – so that they can be attained on a consistent basis, building success on success.

The R is for Realistic. The assessment should reflect what the organization can do on a consistent basis. Set goals that the organization has the budget for.

Finally T is for timely. Set deadlines for improvement on specific objectives. Not a single deadline, but many. If you are going to drive from New York to San Francisco, you don’t set out with just one final destination. You route your trip through cities between New York and San Francisco. You set a time to reach each one. If you leave on Monday and wish to be there by Saturday, you might want to be in St. Louis by Wednesday and Denver on Friday. Short term goals allow morale to build as goals are reached and celebrated. Success is built on success.

What should happen is that tools to make meaningful change should be identified. Quantifiable results that meet the SMART test should be presented and a roadmap to graduated improvement should be provided as the result of any emergency response assessment.

emergency response