Because an emergency or crisis generally happens with little to no warning and hence little to no time to make preparations, emergency preparedness is one of the first things you should tackle when beginning your ‘self reliance’ journey. You should already have a plan in place for when these disasters hit so that you are more likely to get through it in one piece (physically and mentally).
When a catastrophe strikes, at that instant the single most important thing is the physical safety of you and your family. Everything else comes secondary to this. And while there’s no way to predict every possible situation that could endanger your family, there’s really only one thing you need to know in order to stay safe. And that is, your evacuation plan.
Now again, there are a ton of different disaster-type scenarios (that’s comforting isn’t it? :)) and they all rank differently on the ‘immediate threat’ thermometer. For this reason, I have developed a 3-tiered evacuation plan. This means that depending on how quickly you need to get out, you can use the corresponding evacuation plan. There is the ‘5-Second Evacuation Plan’, the ‘5-minute Evacuation Plan‘, and the ‘5-hour Evacuation Plan‘. Obviously, these are just time estimates, but they indicate the seriousness of how imperative it is to get out of the house. Today we’ll plan our 5-second plan.
The 5-Second Evacuation Plan
The 5-second plan would be for situations like a house fire or gas leak where the threat to personal safety is immediate. For this plan, you have one goal: Get Everyone Out. If you happen to be able to grab the family photo album on the way out, great. But it is obviously not a priority, nor should you ever re-enter a burning home to get any valuables, even if you suspect someone is still inside (although I’m pretty positive that no amount of debating or logic could ever convince me to not go back in if I knew my child was still in the home). And I’m sorry to say it, but pets do not count either. Flat out, your life is more important than your pets (sorry).
Okay. For this plan, you will first want a map of your home (it can just be a rough sketch) that includes every room in the house and two ways to exit each room and get outside (use doors, windows, etc). Mark the location of smoke detectors on your map as well and make sure everyone (especially children) knows how to identify the sound of the alarm.
Next, determine a chain of command. Who is in charge? And if that person is not home or is unavailable, who is next in line? Determine what this person’s responsibilities will entail (some suggestions: ordering the evacuation (this may be obvious with a fire, but not so obvious with a gas leak), ensuring everyone is out of the house, ensuring 9-1-1 is called (he/she may want to designate this to another person), and turning off the main gas valve (if it is outside and safely accessible)).
And finally, determine a designated meeting location outside the home, but close by (i.e. the mailbox, or a neighbor’s driveway). This is very important because in the panic of the moment, if people do not know where to go they are likely to just wander around. If someone appears to be missing, someone else may try to go back inside the home to find them (endangering their life), when really the ‘missing person’ is over at another neighbor’s home or in the back yard. So make sure everyone knows where to meet!
Things to Consider: Please remember that if you have small children or family members with special needs, you will want to be sure there is a way to get them out safely as well. (For me, that includes making a plan to go break windows from the outside if I cannot access the nursery from the inside!) If you are exiting out a window with children, always get the children out first, since they may panic and not follow if they are too scared. Also note that if you have a second story in your home, you will need to make plans for how to safely exit should the stairs be inaccessible. The best recommendation is to have a rope/escape ladder available in each room (and know how to use it!). It is not recommended to jump from a second story, however you can hang from the window sill and then drop for a much lower chance of serious injury. Also consider if there are awnings or patio covers accessible to get onto which can either be used to sit and wait on, or will generally make for a shorter drop.
You should also instruct family members what to do if they need to escape through a burning house:
1) Crawl low under the smoke
2) Feel doors before opening them. Do not open if they are hot as fire could be right on the other side. Exit through the alternate route instead.
3) If you are not able to leave a room, seal doors and vents as best as possible with duct tape, towels, clothes, whatever is available to help prevent smoke from entering the room until a rescue can be made. Wave a flashlight or cloth out a window to let rescuers know where you are.
Now please don’t just read this and think “Hm, that sounds good,” and then not give it another thought. Knowledge is power, but your whole family needs to know this! Take a night (Monday night sound good?) to sit down with your family and get this done! Once you have it all mapped out… PRACTICE! Panic is a powerful emotion and unless you have practiced this and practiced some more, panic will overpower your knowledge and you may not have the successful evacuation you hope for. Remember, all you need is three things: 1) a map of your home with exit routes, 2) a chain of command (with determined responsibilities), and 3) a designated meeting location. I’ll be doing my evacuation plan this week as well, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out. 🙂
Okay, so there you have it. Everyone out in 5 seconds! Ready, Go!
Resources and Additional Sites With Great Fire Safety/Evacuation Information:
Home Fire Escape Plan
How To Create A Home Fire Evacuation Plan
Home Evacuation Planning and Practice
What Should I Do If I Suspect A Gas Leak?
Photo c/o Simona Balint