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Despite the horrific loss of life from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, so many more people survived than it was first feared. Many were able to escape, and the attacks were "still early by New York time" (according to one television commentator). This was wonderful news. But, let's look at the "survivors" who live in the immediate area and right around it.
Little has been said about the residents of downtown Manhattan and how their way of life was affected. We were all touched either physically or emotionally by this disaster - even those who lived across the country and across the world, even those who didn't personally know anyone who was hurt or lost. But these residents were affected in more ways than you may realize.
When a large disaster (terrorist attack, earthquake, tornado, etc.) strikes, many of the necessities of life are suddenly gone - instantly gone. Electricity is the first to go. Natural gas is the first to be turned off for safety reasons if the lines didn't already break. Phone lines fall down, break, or get overloaded. Water lines break, and those that don't may soon be filled with water that is not safe to drink. Streets are suddenly not passable or, at best, not safe for vehicles. Vehicles are trapped by garage doors that can't open. If your vehicle is accessible and you dare venture out, the street lights are not working, leaving you in great danger at every intersection. When you reach the store, they can only accept cash (in the exact amount), and they are out of food and water anyway. Do you dare start driving at all, since you will not be able to get gas - the pumps work on electricity. Your home gets colder and colder without any source of heat. The child you finally calmed down goes into hysterics again when you try to go just a few feet away to use the toilet, because she will be left in total darkness.
None of this is easy to cope with, but you can get through it so much easier and safer (and with fewer hysterics!) with a little preparation. Disasters happen all the time somewhere in the world. Are you ready if one hit your neighborhood next week? Find out what you need to do now before it is too late. Emergency preparedness now will make all the difference in your survival later.
You want to get through a disaster safely and with as little inconvenience as possible. For the long-term effects, you need to prepare like you would if you were leaving home for a vacation deep in the woods away from everything. For the short-term effects, you need to think first of safety. We'll use an earthquake as the example, and you need to think through whatever kind of disaster may affect your area of the country.
During an earthquake, get in a doorway or under a sturdy object like the kitchen table. Don't leave the building during the shaking unless there is a great possibility that the building will collapse. Many injuries occur from falling debris from the outside of the building (bricks or windows) or from tree limbs. If you're in bed, roll out of bed, slip on sturdy shoes, and grab your flashlight. You may not be able to get back to them after the shaking stops.
Before an earthquake, talk to your family about what they should each do. Each person can get to their own doorway and wait until the shaking stops. Then you can all get under the kitchen table or some other sturdy piece of furniture before the aftershocks start. Go over the plan with the entire family, then have an occasional drill to be sure everyone will be able to react without hesitation during an earthquake. Children can remain quite calm during an emergency if they have been told in advance what to do. And, you can't know in advance if you will be near enough to help them during the initial shaking, so they need to be able to help themselves. Every family member should keep shoes next to the bed that have a decent sole (not rubber thongs) and can be slipped on quickly. There may be broken glass and ceramics anywhere. Also, adults should have a flashlight next to the bed to guide their way, and children should keep a flashlight under their pillow. Do not light a match or candle since there could be a gas leak.
The shaking has stopped, and you're all unhurt. Now you can all get to a safe place outdoors away from any falling debris if you think your home is in real danger of collapsing. If not, remain inside under sturdy protection until the aftershocks have stopped or calmed down to a safe level. If your car is in a safe location, you can get in your car where you already have two blankets, a spare flashlight, a first-aid kit, and a portable radio (among other things) to hear news and official warnings. If anyone had been injured, you could control bleeding and keep wounds clean until you could get to a medical facility.
Get the picture? You practiced in advance so even separated children can get to safety and remain calm. You each already have your flashlight and shoes next to the bed. And, you have emergency supplies in your car. You are all unhurt, reasonably calm, warm and dry, and able to hear all the details you need. If you are in your car in the middle of nowhere when the earthquake hits, you have enough supplies with you to last until you can safely get home or until help comes to you.
The aftershocks have stopped, and it is time to take care of yourself, and your family and pets. You may be on your own in lots of ways. You may not have electricity, natural gas for cooking or heating, clean water, or phone service. You need to be prepared in all aspects to keep safe and comfortable at home for at least three days after an earthquake, and in many aspects for up to a month; and your car and office need to contain emergency supplies to last at least three days. In this time of war and uncertainty, it is recommended that you be prepared to survive on your own at home for at least three months.
Phone lines are susceptible to outage because they use wires and cables, but cell phones will still work because they rely on satellites. Cell phone service was out across Southern California for about 20 minutes after the Chino Earthquake (near Los Angeles) on July 29, 2008. This was caused by the extreme number of "Did you feel it?" and "Are you okay?" calls. This type of outage repairs itself when the number of calls is reduced, whereas wired phone service could take days or weeks to be repaired manually. You may not be able to call 911 in those first minutes, but firemen, paramedics, and police begin patrols as soon as the first shaking stops. The best way to help yourself and everyone else is to not make any phone calls in the first hour unless you have a real emergency.
After an earthquake, the first thing to check is your gas main. If there is any leakage, you need to shut off the valve right away. You may even need to turn your gas off at the main if it was not broken, if the earthquake was large enough that aftershocks may cause it to break. Next, get your survival kit to a safe place. Then, get the car out of the garage, if possible. Keep the car out of the garage and away from trees and utility poles since a large aftershock may cause any of these to block your car in. Have everyone stay away from windows and from heavy objects that could fall over (like the entertainment center). After the next aftershock, get heavy items off high shelves so they won't be thrown down on anyone. (You don't want to be in the middle of this action when an aftershock hits, but right after one should be a safe time.) Get breakables off shelves and lay them on the floor so they may not get damaged in the next aftershock to come.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms: storm surge, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding. The key to hurricane protection in all of these areas is preparation. By taking sensible measures before, during and after a hurricane, many lives can be saved, more injuries can be avoided, and property damage can be averted or lessened.
See our SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS index for much more information on first-aid items, emergency supplies, water storage, pet safety, etc.
Getting prepared should begin well before the hurricane season starts. Find out if your home meets current building code requirements for high-winds. Experts agree that structures built to meet or exceed current building code high-wind provisions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms. If you do not live in an evacuation zone or a mobile home, designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as the family's meeting place.
Be aware of streams, drainage channels, and areas known to flood so you can plan an evacuation route.
Stock up on non-perishable foods that require no cooking, water, medicines, first-aid supplies, hygiene items, gasoline, emergency supplies, and cash. Optimally, a two-week supply of non-perishable food is recommended. Although it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for that long, such a stockpile can relieve a great deal of inconvenience and uncertainty until services are restored. You should have been saving your empty water bottles, and this is the time to wash them out, rinse them thoroughly, and fill them with clean tap water (which can be stored for up to a year).
Prepare an emergency kit for your home and a second for your vehicle, even if you plan to ride out the storm at home. Store all of these items in unbreakable, waterproof containers. At least one family member should take a first-aid and CPR class, but it would be even better if everyone that is old enough does so. Post emergency telephone numbers by the telephones, and teach your children how and when to call 911 for help.
Preparing your home and yard is also important. Some important preparations you can make include keeping trees and shrubbery trimmed to prevent breakage and to keep loose limbs from becoming airborne in a storm, and remove limbs that could damage your house or utility lines if blown loose. Purchasing window shutters, door shutters, storm shutters, plywood, shovels, sandbags, hammer and nails, and plastic sheeting in advance is good planning and should be less expensive than during the hurricane season. Plastic garbage bags, work boots, and gloves will come in handy also. Call your local emergency management agency to learn how to construct proper protective measures around your home. Find out how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
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