Practice Emergency Drills With Your Family

Practice Emergency Drills With Your Family

It has been said by many and verified by experts, you will react to the extent of your training in a crisis.   With no training, people freeze or panic in an emergency.  Having a lot of training overcomes the reaction to freeze or panic.  For this reason, the military continually trains its soldiers.  EMS personnel refresh their skills and training frequently.  Firefighters are continually learning how to handle dangerous, toxic materials.   Airline pilots must re-certify every year.  And many white-collar professions, such as teaching and computer programmers, require lifelong learning.

Practice drills are a very good mechanism to prepare your family for a disaster, emergency, and disaster.  This article talks about the various practice drills that you can conduct with your family.   Regardless of the age of you and your family members, you should practice these drills on an annual basis.  Having a new-born baby or an infirmed family member does not excuse you from conducting an emergency practice drill.   In fact, conduct a drill at the most vulnerable times of your life is precisely when you should be doing the drills.

Your family can encounter an emergency situation at any time.   Having a bad flu will not prevent a home fire.   Healing from a broken leg can occur at the same time as the local chemical plant goes up in a fire.   A hurricane can sweep over your town, while grandpa is bedridden with Alzheimer’s.   Many people who die during a disaster are those unable to rescue themselves.  During Hurricane Katrina, a high proportion of deaths occur with elderly people who were not mobile.  The city and state shamefully did not use the city and school buses to remove elderly and bedridden people hospitals, adult care facilities, and retirement homes before Hurricane Katrina.  As I believe in all things, it is up to you to be self-reliant and self-rescue in an emergency/disaster event.  Waiting for help is waiting for help that may never come.
The following is a suggested list of practice drills you can conduct with your family.

Family Practice Drills

1. First Aid Drill – This is a drill to prepare for an injury or rapid illness.  This is very important if you have a family member who is at risk for sudden illness.  It is recommended that every one of age 12 and higher take a CPR and First Aid class.  And learn the Heimlich maneuver for a choking victim.  Every parent should learn the Heimlich maneuver, as many choking victims are young children.  First aid skills are perishable, as are many skills.  Practice occasionally to be ready always.  References:

A. American Red Cross Training and Certification in First Aid, CPR and AED
B. American Red Cross First Aid Drills
C. Choking
D. Heimlich maneuver

2. Fire Drill – Every family should conduct an annual fire drill.   No excuse not too.  Have a plan for each family member to escape a burning home.  Children should be taught to drop to the floor and crawl, if there is smoke in a room.  And everyone should touch a door to sense for heat, before opening.  If there is too much smoke, don’t try to make a run through the smoke.  One or two breaths of smoke will knock down anyone.  Smoke from home fires contains lots of toxic stuff.  Each family member might have a different escape route, depending on where their bedroom is located.  Most home fires start in the kitchen, but most deaths occur from home fires that occur at night.  Every bedroom and major room any home should have a smoke detector.  I prefer smoke detectors with battery backup power, in the event of a power outage.  There should be a fire extinguisher in every kitchen and garage.  For the bedrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors of a home, consider having rope ladders or packaged escape ladders.

Here are three possibilities:

A. First Alert EL52-2 Two-Story 14-Foot Escape Ladder
B. Kidde KL-2S Two-Story Fire Escape Ladder with Anti-Slip Rungs, 13-Foot
C. ResQLadder FL25 Three-Story Portable Emergency Escape Ladder, 25 Foot

3. Home Invasion Drill – A home invasion drill is the exact opposite of a fire drill.  Unlike a home fire, where you are an attempt to escape from a burning home, in a home invasion, you are seeking protection and refugee within your home.  Practice what you would do, if someone attempted to break into your home.  Your plan and reaction will vary greatly by your home layout, your skills, and your resources.  For my family, my first reaction is to grab my gun from a secured, locked spot near my bed.  My night gun is a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with high-capacity magazines.  I keep 3 extra magazines with my night gun.  This gives me around 60 rounds of firepower.  My night gun has an attached light and laser to blind the attacker and help with the aim.  Having your night gun upgraded with tritium or fiber optic night sites is recommended.  I’ll expect that my hands will be shaking during such an event.  So I intended to supplement my aim with the laser on my gun.  After grabbing my gun, I grab my cell phone and sprint to my children’s rooms.  For this reason, always have your cell phone charged and next to your bed.  It is very possible that the intruders will cut the phone and electrical lines into the home.  If for some reason, I’m unable to reach 911, I’ll shoot a couple of rounds out of a window in a safe direction so that my neighbors will call the police.   If I feel I have time, I’ll also unlock my 12 gauge shotgun, which is devastation at short-range.  No one negotiates against a shotgun.  We’ll lock ourselves in the children’s bathroom, while we call the police.   We’ll wait until the police give us an all clear sign.  While the rule of law exists, it is not recommended that you confront an intruder alone.  The intruder may have several team members, inside and outside of the home.  If the intruder leaves on their own accord, don’t leave the safety of your locked room, until after the police have cleared your home.  Many home intruders are intoxicated with drugs and/or alcohol.  It is not unheard of an intruder settling down quieting into a home they have broken in.  Having a watchdog is very helpful.  Having a police dog clear your home finalizes the event.

4. Shelter-in-place / Weather Emergency Drill – When you are in a disaster event and the best course of action is to stay home, this is called “Shelter-in-place”.  A shelter-in-place or weather emergency drill is not much unlike a home invasion drill.  Except that you are preparing for an immediate weather event, such as a tornado, flash flood, tsunami, snow blizzard, ice storm, or severe thunderstorm.  Each of these events calls for a different reaction.    You’ll need to adjust to your local weather and climate situation.  If you live on the West Coast of the United States, you’ll want to conduct an earthquake drill.  Living in tornado alley calls for different drills.   For a shelter-in-place scenario, you’ll likely want to be in the lowest part of the home and away from windows.  If your local risk scenarios call for an evacuation, then you start to execute your bug-out drill.

5. Bug Out Drill – Most families don’t practice a bug-out, but should.   This week, the wildfires in Colorado have burned down 500 houses.  Many 1000′s more people needed to evacuate.  Any home, any town is vulnerable to some type of disaster, where you might need to evacuate for a short period of time, or even forever.   Hurricane Katrina was a long-term evacuation.  Hurricane Sandy was a short-term evacuation for many thousands and a long-term evacuation for several 100′s of families who lost their homes.  Sadly, many destroyed homes will never be rebuilt, due to lack of flood insurance or the shifts of water edges.  There are two types of bug-out drills.  The two types are: (1) rapid evacuation, and (2) long-term evacuation drill, where you have more time to pack.   Say, for example, a local chemical plant or nuclear power generation plant has an explosion, you need to immediately evacuate.  In this scenario, you have almost no time to pack.  For this reason, you should always have a bug-out bag ready.  The goal of a rapid evacuation is to be out the door and on the road within 30 minutes.  Often, you will not even have 30 minutes to evacuate.  Your bug-out bag should have sufficient supplies to provide three days of all needed things to survive.  I’ll not go into the details of what should be contained in a bug-out bag.  I’ll cover that in another article.  Your long-term evacuation bag is often called an INCH bag.  INCH stands for I’m Never Coming Home again.   An INCH bag is more of a process than one bag.  You’ll want a lot more clothing and to take irreplaceable valuables with the INCH bag.  The long-term bug-out should include your camping equipment, gold & silver coins, expensive jewelry, long gun, ammo, photo library, important papers, and irreplaceable art.   The practice of a bug-out drill should primarily be with the rapid bug scenario.  Give your family less than 30 minutes to pack clothing, medicines, food, water, etc.  Your important documents should already be organized with your bug-out kit.  Everyone should customize their bug-out plan according to their unique family situation, local climate, direction of travel, and density of their living area.   It is best to have at least three routes of travel to leave your town.  Best to have a printed map and pre-planned directions.  Consider that the internet and phone services will be down, unavailable.   If you don’t have your own vehicle, then you have special planning to do.  Work out a plan with a friend or family member who does have a vehicle.  Many city and county governments have a registration list of people to transport during a disaster.  If you are home-bound or infirmed, get on the government evacuation lists.  If you rely on public transportation or bicycle for your daily commute, then learn what plans your local government has for the evacuation of people without their own vehicles.  Know this information ahead of time.  Sadly, many people died in New Orleans due to inadequate evacuation planning.

6. Local Disaster Drills, Tests, and Alerts – If you live near a nuclear power plant, chemical plant, petroleum processing plant, oil refinery, or fuel storage hub, then there is likely a local disaster plan and alerting system.  Be aware of these plans, and incorporate into your bug-out plan or shelter-in-place plan.

7. Bank Holiday Drill – This is more of planning activity, rather than actual practice.  Preparing for a bank holiday is the recognition that economic collapses are sudden, without much notice.  Governments will do everything and anything to prevent a collapse of the currency or collapse of a government.  Governments will delay, defer, and hide the truth until the truth can no longer be maintained.  This was demonstrated in Argentina and Cyprus, who were saying, “All is well.  There is no problem” up until the point they closed the banks, froze accounts, and confiscated money from their own citizens.  Friday, the country was running normally.  Come Monday, all the banks were closed.   It can and will happen that suddenly.  For more information about this event, please see my previous article: In the event of a Bank Run (Bank Holiday) – Instructions for my Wife

8. Retrieve Grandma/Grandpa Drill – If you have elderly family members, you should be ready to retrieve them.  They might fall and have an injury, where they are no longer able to care for themselves.  There are scenarios where a retirement community goes bankrupt.  Or the retirement community is near a disaster or weather event and causes an evacuation order.  Thus it is prudent to discuss with your elderly family member how to react to a disaster.  Yes, grandma and grandpa need their own version of a bug-out kit.  A key part of planning for your elderly family members is to work with them to always have their affairs in order.  And for you to know their wishes and instructions, in the event that some bad happens to them.  There is also the possibility that both you and your elderly family members must bug-out at the same time.   If you live in the same town or local region as your elderly family members, then chances are you will both be subject to an evacuation order.

9. Retrieve Your Child From School – If you have school-age children, you should be ready at any moment to retrieve them from school.  This can be as a result of the child becoming sick or injured at school.  It could result from an evacuation order or early dismissal due to a weather event.  Or god forbid another mass shooting event.   Think about how you will get to your school if 100′s of other parents have the same idea.  Can you approach the school from a less used travel route or neighborhood side road?  Also take the time to understand your school’s disaster response plans.  Schools typically have disaster drills several times each year, including fire drill, lockdown drill, shelter-in-place drill, and/or bad weather drill.  In some parts of the country, there are specialized drills to prepare for local high risk events, such as earthquakes and tornadoes.  Some schools don’t want you to retrieve your child, and will bus the children away from a disaster scenario.   If your school has automated alerts, such as emails or text messages, sign up.  Likely each disaster scenario will be handled differently, so you need to be ready to adjust to whatever instructions the school issues.  Also, prepare your children for an emergency event.  Provide your children with instructions on where to go, if you are unable to meet them.   Having local friends as back-up and travel buddies is very helpful.  My wife has several friends who she can rely upon to pick up our children at school, in the event that she is unable and I’m away at work.

10. College Student Get-home Drill – If you have children away at college, discuss with them when and how they should evacuate their college living situation.  Will you come to get them, or will they attempt to travel home themselves.  If your college student lives away from home, they would be well served by having a “Get Home” bag.  There are two types of preparation in a “Get Home” scenario.  First is your college-age children drive home in their own vehicle or gets a ride with a friend heading in the same direction.  The second version is a walk-home.  Consider having your college child ready with a backpack, hiking shoes, food, water, and defensive weapons for a walk-home.  If you plan to drive to your child’s college to retrieve them yourself, then consider the possibility that you are unavailable due to a concurrent disaster evacuation.   This doesn’t need to be too crazy.  A backpack with a modest set of survival gear can be set aside at your child’s college living arrangements for disaster/emergency events.   I recommend that parents inspect the living arrangements for your child away at college.  Is there smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguisher?  If the residence in good physical condition?  The biggest thing you can do with your college-age child is to have already instilled a good sense of right and wrong, and how to avoid trouble.  All the lessons of drugs, alcohol, sex, firearms, personal finances, associating with bad people, and avoiding unsafe situations must be instilled before they go to college.
11. Abandon Ship Drill – If you have a fishing boat or water pleasure craft, you need to plan for an emergency while on board.  Don’t cut corners on maintenance.  Having good communications equipment with extra batteries.  Have signal flares.  Have emergency flotation devices.  Bring extra food and water.  If you go travel out to the ocean or gulf or bay or other deep water, having a lifeboat is advised.  I’ll not try to give any advice for this scenario since I have absolutely no expertise on this subject.  Rather I’ll refer you to:

A. US Coast Guard Boating Safety Resource Center
B. National Water Safety Congress Resources
C. MedicinePlus Water Recreation Safety

12. Mass Shooting/Active Shooter Drill – Consider your planning and reaction if encountering an active shooter.  God forbid, but hope I’m carrying my concealed pistol the day such a terrible event was encountered.  “Gun-free zones” are free-fire zones for mentally ill people, in my opinion.  Nearly every one of the mass shooters in the past couple of years has been by mentally ill people.  Shamefully, the United States as a whole does an awful, terrible job at caring for people with mental illnesses.  What has improved in the nation’s care of mental illness, since the Newtown, CT mass shootings?  The answer, nothing.  The liberal progressives want to take away my guns — from a law-abiding, honest, helpful citizen.  And yet have no plan to care for this country’s people with mental illness.   Glad I live in a state the recognizes that police, noble in all their efforts, cannot be everywhere.  And thus permits me to carry a concealed weapon.  Many active shooters are themselves cowards, and retreat at the first returned shot.  In my mind, at least I can give my family a chance to escape, while I take the focus of an active shooter.

13. Airplane Evacuation – If you travel by airlines, pay attention to the flight attendants’ instructions about evacuation.  I travel often for work and leisure by plane.  When I have the option, I away try to sit in an exit row, which is statistically the safest place on the plane.  If travel with children, I’ll try to sit in the row just ahead or just behind the exit row.  If there is a chance as evacuating a plane, the place to be is first out the door.  Know about the location of the floatation devices on the plane.  Most plane seats can act as a flotation device.  And there is a personal flotation device under the seat.  I’ll always carry some food and water onto the plane, in case we are delayed or rerouted.  Since I travel so much, I’ve been considering buying a smoke hood.  A smoke hood covers your head and filters the poison gases.  It is a bit bulky and not cheap, so I am currently wavering on this item.

14. Hotel Evacuation – When every you check-in to a hotel, motel, or resort, pay attention to the evacuation plan.  The evacuation plan is usually posted on the door of your room.  Read it once upon your arrival.  Know where the emergency exits are.  Having actually lived through a couple of real-life hotel evacuations, including a fire, I pay close attention to the emergency exit instructions.  Whenever I can, I prefer to stay on the 2nd or 3rd floor of a hotel.  By being on lower floors, this give me a better chance of escape.  Several years ago, I had to walk down 30 floors in my pajamas at 3 AM due to a hotel fire — not a fun night.

15. Cruise Disaster Drill – My family loves to take cruised for vacation. Cruises are affordable luxuries that the entire family can enjoy.  Our cruise vacations are one of the few things that unite all generations of our family for a vacation.  I like and greatly respect my brother-in-law.  He is a great guy and has a great family.  But he operations on a completely different tempo than myself and my wife.  With a cruise, we can all do our own things during the day, and unite at mealtime.  Great fun.   Every cruise has a muster drill, typically within a few hours of initial departure.   Several cruises the past year have had emergency events where the drills became reality.  Fortunately, my family’s cruises have been wonderful fun.

Here is some general advice to go along with all these drills:

1. Buy and set up an NOAA Weather Emergency Alert radio.  These radios will issue a very loud alert any time of the day, in the event of a disaster warning.  Sleeping through a flash flood or tornado is a bad day.

2. Subscribe to the disaster and weather alerts that can be sent to your mobile phone.  There are several mobile phone apps that can alert you to a forthcoming emergency.

3. Gather all your important documents ahead of time.  These include mortgages, rental agreements, insurance policies, birth certificate, marriage license, court orders, deeds, medical history, drug prescriptions, adoption papers, vehicle registration, concealed carry license, military discharge papers, passport, etc.  Scan all your important documents onto an encrypted memory stick with a required password.  Place paper copies and memory stick into your prepared bug-out bag.   Keep your original documents in a bank safe box or in a fire resistant safe at home.

4. Have recent physical photographs of all your family members, in case of an emergency.  If you are separated from your family, then you can give a physical picture to police and rescuers.

5. Have your photograph library well-organized and ready to travel.  Your photos are your life’s history and irreplaceable.   Every year, I make a new backup copy of my family’s photo library onto a portable hard drive, which is stored in a bank safe box.  Some might consider storing their digital pictures on a web service.  I prefer not to do that for privacy reasons.  The photo storage websites are a service you may wish to consider, so that you don’t lose your precious memory during a disaster.

6. You need to serious consider whether you want to keep a lot of valuable art, collectibles, and jewelry at your home.  Consider if you had to leave quickly and you might be able to take just a few items.  Art, jewelry, and collectibles must often be insured separately from regular homeowners/renters insurance.  Most home insurance has specific low limits on these items.

7. The same with firearms, you can only carry a few firearms in a bug-out situation.  Consider storing a few firearms and ammo in a rental storage unit, at your vacation/retreat home, and/or with a few trusted friends.

8. Consider storing some of your survival/emergency supplies in a rental storage unit, which is within walking distance of your home.  If you lose your home, a storage unit will protect from losing all your material goods.

9. Always keep your vehicle fueled to three-quarter filled.  Store a filled portable fuel container at your home.  In the event of an evacuation, the gas stations will be overwhelmed.  And when you evacuate, expect to sit for a long time in stalled traffic.  You need extra fuel in an evacuation scenario.

10. Have enough stored food and water for a bug-out or shelter-in-place.  Water is key, in that in an emergency situation, public water might be contaminated or not running.  Each person needs a gallon of water per day for drinking and cooking.  Generally I recommend as a minimum to have three weeks of stored drinking water.  If you live in a dry part of the country, such as the Southwestern United States, store even much more water.   I have a plastic tote bin devoted to holding food for a bug-out situation.  It contains dehydrated foods, MRE’s, canned food, snacks, and candies.  The tote bin has enough food to feed my family for two weeks.  This tote bin obviously get used in a shelter-in-place scenario.   My recommendation is each family should have a minimum of one year of stored food.   I’ve discussed in my other articles about why and how to store one year of food.

11. Cash is king in a disaster event.  Keep at least $200 on hand at all times for disasters and emergencies.  If the power goes out, or your want to buy supplies from another person, no one is carrying around a credit card machine.  Expect ATM machines to be emptied in a disaster situation.

12. Keep an emergency contact list with you at all time.  Keep a list of the home phone, mobile phone, work phone, school phone, and emails of all your family members and close friends.  Have this on a physical piece of paper, in the event of a power outage or losing charge on your cell phone.

13. Keep extra cell phone batteries with you at all times.  In the event of a disaster, everyone gets on the phone to call friends and family.  The phone carriers get jammed due to call volume.  Some cell phone towers might be damaged.  When a mobile phone is unable to connect to the network, it will repeatedly retry a connection, and use up the charge on the batteries even faster.   For this reason, I always carry extra batteries for my mobile phone.  I was up in New York City on the day that the earthquake struck Virginia in 2011.   The building that I was visiting was evacuated.  And a million New Yorkers all tried to make calls at the same time.  The result was nearly no one was able to connect.  And nearly everyone drained their cell phone batteries.  In my laptop bag, I carry an emergency radio which had a hand crank charger.  I am able to connect my mobile phone to this hand cranked radio to recharge the mobile phone.  With this capability, I have a layer of redundancy.

So you are reading this and you are thinking, this guy is paranoid, a nut case.  It just so happens that I have actual encountered many of these emergency/disaster events in my lifetime.  I have faced automobile accidents with deaths, personal injuries, bar fights, a riot, choking victims, heart attack victims, floods, hurricanes, an earthquake, building fires, industrial accident, regional power outage, local power outages, nuclear plant emergency, blizzards, wind damaging storms, airplane emergencies, countless weather delays and storm closings, and lesser emergencies — all during my lifetime.  And I’ve had several trips to the emergency room myself.  I haven’t experienced a tornado, wild fire, terrorist attack, or pandemic yet, and hopefully never.  Possibly I’m an unlucky person, but I’m alway prepared and have survived well.  As a former Boy Scout, I’ve followed their motto, “Always Be Prepared” into my lifetime.  It has served me well.
I hope you are enjoying a undramatic, disaster-free life.  When the disaster comes to your life, hope you are ready and prepared.  Conducting drills are great ways to teach your family and practice your skills.  Make mistakes during a drill, so that mistakes don’t occur during the real thing.

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