Disaster Preparation – Part 1

airwayscrash.jpg(For the intro to this series on disaster prep, click here.)

Remember that disaster preparedness is playing the odds and reaching compromises. You are never going to establish a plan and policies that will keep you 100% safe from disaster and its effects. Know that up front. This is about spending a reasonable amount of time and money doing practical things to protect you, your honies and your stuff. Trust me: you don’t want to live with the guilt of knowing that a weekend trip to Home Depot to get a couple of smoke alarms could have saved your family. That said, you probably aren’t going to drop $2000 on an executive parachute to get you out of your office building either. Unless you have a spare $2000 in which case you should send it to me. It’s none of your business if I spend it on an executive parachute of my own.

Personal Disasters – limited to you and your property

Fires

For the record, in a fire, you can’t take anything. Ever. Period. Don’t try. Fires move so fast that even when you think you have time, you don’t. You have 30 seconds to 2 minutes to get out and erring on the side of 30 seconds could save your life. If you want to save anything, plan ahead and get a fireproof safe or keep valuables (like photos and computer back-ups) off-site. (Not that that location is guaranteed not to burn to the ground too. That’s how I think. Welcome to the inside of my head.)

• For starters, get a smoke detector. This would seem self-evident, but it’s not. Tons of homes don’t have them. Incredibly, my grandmother’s didn’t.

• Second, get at least one fire extinguisher so you’re prepared to put out small fires, like on the stove. There are four different kinds – A, B, C, and D – which are designed for four different types of fire (wood, grease, electrical and chemical). Long story short, you can get one rated for ABC that should cover all your bases.

• Make a plan. We have so many exit points in our apartment that it’s like some kind of circus clown set-up. We have more doors and windows than we do wall space. Most places don’t, so spend ten minutes figuring out how you’d get out of any given room in your home, keeping in mind that the fire might be on the other side of your first-choice door. Then spend another ten minutes methodically practicing and committing to memory how to operate that exit. I’m not kidding: smoke is profoundly disorienting. You may not remember, in the smoky panic, which way to turn that window latch or bolt lock that you’ve sorted out in daylight 1000 times, so learn it now.

  • If you don’t have enough reasonable exits, think about getting an emergency ladder. If you’re above the first floor, that is. If you’re on the first floor and you think you need an emergency ladder, go get a cup of coffee – decaffeinated – and pull yourself together.

• Do not plan on taking anything. You will need your hands to get out, so they can’t be carrying things. If you haven’t moved your valuables into a fire safe or someplace else entirely before the fire, leave it. (Think about overcoming the instinct to collect things now.)

• Do not stop to call 911. You don’t have time. Saving your stuff is not worth your life. Call 911 once you’re out.

• Never, ever move into a space where there’s fire unless you will die if you don’t. If you open a door into a space – a room, an enclosed porch – you will feed the fire oxygen and it will grow instantly. Always choose the exit furthest from the fire, even if it’s not your instinctive choice.

• Before you open any door, feel it with the back of your hand to see if it’s hot. If it is, back away. If it’s not, go for it. And please, please, please use the back of your hand when you feel the door – searing the skin off your palm is a terrible handicap in your escape and afterwards.

• Remember the mantras from elementary school. If you’re on fire, stop, drop and roll. Don’t run – that makes it worse. And stay low. If there’s any breathable air in the space, it’s near the floor.

Plane Crash

• Read the safety brochure. Every time. Exit doors are different on different planes and you don’t want to be the jerk trying to push a door out that should be pulled in.

• Check for your closest exit, including the one in front of you in business or first class or behind you in coach. Count the rows to that door. Always. Make it a habit. Same rules apply as in a fire: you need to know how to get out before something happens because once it does, everything recognizable will be unrecognizable.

• Do not plan on taking your luggage with you. That carry-on that barely fits into the overhead bin and annoys everyone waiting behind you in the aisle? You brought that in case the airline loses your other bag and “lose” does not include “incinerates in midair.” Again, if you’re worried about what you brought, a.) don’t bring anything you’d be sorry to be without (your ten favorite pairs of earrings , your really expensive, irreplaceable velour jumpsuit), and b.) make damn sure that you understand if your personal insurance policy covers travel disasters.

  • Related, if you’re interested, you can check out airlines’ coverage policies. Stunning. They cover almost nothing. So make sure you’ve got some kind of travel insurance if you’re worried. Best case for your stuff: your personal policy, not your credit card’s policy, since that will cover you in any location – plane, rental car, hotel, park bench. (Credit cards’ will cover what you bought on them only.)

• Here’s my plan: if I’ve got some time while the plane’s going down, I’m taking out my ID and some cash and putting them in my pocket. Also, if you’re one of those weirdoes who pads around the plane in your socks, this would be a good time to put on your shoes. I also plan on making cell phone calls, since that whole line about cell phones interfering with the plane’s operation will be pretty much moot.

Next Up: General Disasters – you and your city are affected as a whole

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