Family Planning: The Red Cross Method

Make a Plan Photo

If there is a disaster, do you have a plan in place for your household? You’ve spent some time getting your emergency kit together. You have the water and non-perishable food. You have the battery operated weather radio. You have the first aid kit and the blankets. Now what? Where will you go?

Last year, several hours before Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, I got a call from my brother. He lives about four miles away, in a similar neighborhood, but his house is in a creek valley. In fact, an inlet from the Wissahickon Creek runs right behind his house, and he worries about flooding when there is a storm with the potential for enormous amounts of rain. He was a nervous wreck on the phone. “Can we come over?” he asked. This was a fairly big ask. I have three teenagers; he has three children under seven. That’s a lot of children in one house. “Sure,” I replied with some trepidation. My newly “Red Cross Aware” self had made some fairly extensive preparations for the storm. My plan had not considered my brother’s family. In fact, we had never talked about the possibility of sheltering them before. I paused on the phone, trying to figure out a good way to say that my emergency planning did not include another family of five. Then, I said, “You are welcome, but please bring some water and food in case we lose power for a significant amount of time.”  “Huh. . .?” he replied.

It had not occurred to him that in leaving his house to shelter elsewhere, he would need supplies. He did not think that the place he might choose to shelter, while safe from flooding, would be equally vulnerable to blackouts, lack of heat and water pump failure. He had not made a plan, and he was not prepared. After thinking it through, he chose to drive his family south to his mother-in-law’s house near Washington D.C. The storm looked as if it would mostly miss the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and he decided they would be safer there for a couple days.

This last minute plan worked out well for them. The roads south were still open and clear of traffic, and they were able to find the shelter they needed in a safe area.  Even so, it turned out they could have stayed. The Philadelphia Area was incredibly lucky, and our house lost power for a very short time.

Still, I invite you, dear reader, to consider how things could have turned out very differently: the storm might have taken a different path, stranding his car somewhere in Delaware; or State Troopers might have made him turn back somewhere along the way; or he might have come over to our house with his family and experienced a prolonged blackout with dwindling supplies. In other words, it’s important to make a plan.

Make a plan photo 2The American Red Cross has great suggestions for things to consider as you make a plan for your family in case of disaster. For instance, it had not occurred to me how my family members, now perpetually separated from one another during the day, might be apart when a disaster strikes. How would we find one another? According to the Red Cross, I should meet with my family to discuss the potential for separation, choose meeting places nearby and far away, and designate a person for everyone to call outside of the disaster area, and possibly out of state. If you might have to evacuate, like my brother, make sure you plan where you will go, who you will shelter with, and what you will need when you leave your house. Clearly, he and I need to talk. I need to take into account that I have family members nearby that may need to evacuate.

And it goes without saying . . .please, all the brothers and sisters and cousins and everyone, get that emergency kit together. It could make an enormous difference.

— Submitted by Sarah Peterson, Communications Volunteer

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