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Emergency Management: Homeland security

While no one can give a direct answer on how to prepare for the unknown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does provide a detailed all hazards guidebook for citizens. "Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen's Preparedness" is available to view and download at the FEMA website. A section identifies how to deal with National Security Emergencies and gives guidance on preparedness. Bloomington Emergency Management recommends that you view this FEMA guidebook and website.

What you can do to prepare

Finding out what can happen is the first step. Once you determined what events are possible and their potential in your community, it is important that you discuss them with your family or household. Develop a disaster plan together.

  1. Create an emergency communications plan. Choose an out-of-town contact your family or household will call or email to check on each other should a disaster occur. Your selected contact should live far enough away that they would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event, and they should know they are the chosen contact. Make sure every household member has the contact's and each other's email addresses and telephone numbers (home, work, pager and cell). Leave these contact numbers at your children's schools, if you have children, and at your workplace. Your family should know that if telephones are not working, they need to be patient and try calling later or try emailing. Many people flood the telephone lines when emergencies happen but email can sometimes get through when calls don't.
  2. Establish a meeting place. Having a predetermined meeting place away from your home will save time and minimize confusion should your home be affected or the area evacuated. You may even want to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Be sure to include any pets in these plans, since pets are not permitted in shelters and some hotels will not accept them.
  3. Assemble a disaster supplies kit. If you need to evacuate your home or are asked to "shelter in place," having some essential supplies on hand will make you and your family more comfortable. Prepare a disaster supplies kit in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffel bag or small plastic trash can. Include "special needs" items for any member of your household (infant formula or items for people with disabilities or older people), first aid supplies (including prescription medications), a change of clothing for each household member, a sleeping bag or bedroll for each, a battery powered radio or television and extra batteries, food, bottled water and tools. It is also a good idea to include some cash and copies of important family documents (birth certificates, passports and licenses) in your kit.

    Copies of essential documents--such as powers of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, life insurance beneficiary designations and a copy of your will--should also be kept in a safe location outside your home. A safe deposit box or the home of a friend or family member who lives out of town is a good choice.

  4. Check on the school emergency plan of your school-age children. You need to know if they will keep children at school until a parent or designated adult can pick them up or send them home on their own. Be sure that the school has updated information about how to reach parents and responsible caregivers to arrange for pickup. Ask what type of authorization the school may require to release a child to someone you designate if you are not able to pick up your child. During times of emergency the school telephones may be overwhelmed with calls.

If disaster strikes

  • Remain calm and be patient.
  • Follow the advice of local emergency officials.
  • Listen to your radio or television for news and instructions.
  • If the disaster occurs near you, check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
  • If the disaster occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.
  • Shut off any other damaged utilities.
  • Confine or secure your pets.
  • Call your family contact. Do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.

A word on what could happen

As we learned from the events of September 11, 2001, the following things can happen after a terrorist attack:

  • There can be significant numbers of casualties and/or damage to buildings and the infrastructure. So employers need up-to-date information about any medical needs you may have and on how to contact your designated beneficiaries.
  • Heavy law enforcement involvement at local, state and federal levels follows a terrorist attack due to the event's criminal nature.
  • Health and mental health resources in the affected communities can be strained to their limits, maybe even overwhelmed.
  • Extensive media coverage, strong public fear and international implications and consequences can continue for a prolonged period.
  • Workplaces and schools may be closed, and there may be restrictions on domestic and international travel.
  • You and your family or household may have to evacuate an area, avoiding roads blocked for your safety.
  • Cleanup may take many months.

Listen to local authorities

Your local authorities will provide the most accurate information specific to an event in your area. Stay tuned to local radio and television, and follow their instructions is your safest choice.

If you're sure you have time:

  • Call your family contact to tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive.
  • Shut off water and electricity before leaving, if instructed to do so. Leave natural gas service ON unless local officials advise you otherwise. You may need gas for heating and cooking, and only a professional can restore gas service in your home once it's been turned off. In a disaster situation it could take weeks for a professional to respond.

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