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  • Fort McMurray Fire Forces Entire City to Evacuate

    Fort McMurray Fire Wildfire along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

    Fires rage through Fort McMurray, a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada. The pine trees, once green, burn like candles. The entire city – over 80,000 people – has been evacuated. What will become of their homes is left up to fate. After burning for days, the fire has destroyed at least one neighborhood and caused severe damage in others. Fortunately, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

    The Fort McMurray fire started on Sunday, May 1, 2016, and continues to burn today, May 4, 2016. Because of hot weather, low humidity, and strong winds, the raging fire has been difficult to contain. The only way in and out of town is the city’s lone bridge spanning the Athabasca River. Officials have marked that as a high priority to protect.

    Without that bridge, nobody is getting in or out, and that includes supplies.

    After subduing the fire on Tuesday, the winds shifted, and according to reports, “flames stormed along a ravine and roared into the city and the race was on to get out.” The scene was not far off from something in an apocalyptic movie.

    Unfortunately, once the fire picked up, there was little time to get out. That meant evacuating with basically just the clothes on one’s back. One man opened his front door of his house and was greeted by smoke and flames surrounding his neighborhood. He promptly got on his motorcycle, made his way through traffic, and out of Fort McMurray. He took nothing with him.

    Wild fires are swift and dangerous. They can escalate without warning, and much of the time – as in this case – leave no time to gather emergency supplies. Being prepared for such unexpected emergencies is crucial. You never know when you’ll need to jump in your car and leave your home and belongings to fend for themselves.

    Because you just never know what will happen – or when – it is of vital importance to put an emergency plan together and prepare with essential supplies you will need for any scenario.

     

    72 Hour Kits

    First things first. Make sure you have the necessities you need for the first three days of an emergency. Your 72 hour kit should include water, food, sanitation items, gear for warmth, and other personal items specific to your needs. Ensure this bag is in an easy to reach location so you’re not wasting precious moments searching for it. Keeping it in the front hall closet (or similar location) is a good idea.

     

    Fuel

    Always keep your vehicle at least half full of gas. If you’re running on empty and have to evacuate, you could be in for quite the ordeal if your car suddenly runs out of gas. This is what happened to many people evacuating during the Fort McMurray fire. According to one report, vehicles were scattered on the sides of the road, some broken down, but some were out of gas. Police officers had to walk up and down the bottle-necked highway with gas cans to help those stranded make their escape.

    This example fuels the importance of always being prepared – no matter what. Make it a priority to keep your car at least a half a tank full. Otherwise, if there is a sudden emergency, you might find yourself trapped on the side of the road, and in that instance, there may not be kind police officers with extra gas to hand out.

     

     

    Listen

    Pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you know there is a big fire nearby, keep tabs on it. The man who left his home with just his motorcycle received a phone call from a family member warning him to leave. That’s when he opened his door, saw the flames, and rode away. We are uninformed as to his situation, and perhaps there was a reason he didn’t know the fire had come so close, but this scenario helps hit home the need to monitor emergency situations. Because you never know when the heat will get cranked up and you need to run.

    Also, follow the council of your local officials. If they give the order to evacuate, do so immediately. They have lots of information available to them, and they know better than anyone the dangers involved. It’s just not worth the risk to wait.

     

    Emergency Plan

    Create a plan with your family of important things to remember during an emergency. Who grabs what and what actions to take in certain circumstances would be a good start. Likewise, come up with a few locations to meet up, just in case you aren’t all together at the time of an evacuation. This will help keep your family together during emergencies. Ready.gov has many more ideas for an emergency plan.

     

    Clean Up

    Keep your yard free of highly flammable objects, such as dead grass, leaves, or branches. Clean out those natural fire starters every once in a while so that if a fire does come, your yard won’t be a huge contributor in feeding the flames.

     

    Fort McMurray fire via Edmonton Journal Fort McMurray fire closing in - via Edmonton Journal

    With the massive evacuations up north, we are reminded of what we must do in order to be effectively prepared. While you can’t necessarily protect everything you own, you can at least protect yourself and your family. Things come and go, but life is precious, and by preparing in advance for emergencies (such as earthquakes, drought, or even raging wildfires), we can make sure we are properly prepared for, protected, and comfortable during these times of crisis.

     

    Take time today to go over your family emergency plan. In what areas do you need to improve?

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner  Fort McMurray Fire

  • In Case of a House Fire...Plan Ahead

    House FireOn the night of March 30, a fire ripped through a block of apartment buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y. Though no one lost their lives, at least 35 families were displaced. Three buildings burned and two others were damaged.

    The New York Times described the struggles of the next few days for several families.

    “How the days, even weeks, after a fire play out for someone it has displaced are largely determined by what that person can grab in the seconds before escaping,” wrote Times reporter Michael Wilson.

    The American Red Cross helps at about 70,000 house fires every year in the United States, an average of one every eight minutes, said Rich Woodruff Red Cross Communications Director for the Utah Region of the American Red Cross.

    When they’re thinking about preparing for a fire, many people remember 72-hour kits or go bags. Some even remember to gather extras like diapers and prescription medication. Here are a few things Woodruff said people tend to forget when they’re planning for rapid evacuation.

    First, have an evacuation plan and rehearse it. Map two exit routes and arrange meeting places in case household members get separated from each other. Also arrange meeting places and phone contacts out of town in case of a widespread emergency. Ready.gov has templates to make planning easier.

    “Let’s say at 3 a.m., the smoke alarm goes off, and you can’t see well. Instead of panicking, you have a predetermined route,” Woodruff said.

    Second, plan for pets. Pets are often overlooked in peoples’ emergency plans, Woodruff said.

    When packing a grab-and-go kit for household members, pack one for pets. Pack things like food and a water bowl. Make sure each pet has identification, like a collar or microchip. The Red Cross has a pet first aid app and other pet preparedness information.

    For a few days after the Brooklyn apartment fire, according to the New York Times story, one resident, Luke Moffitt, worried about his cats. He’d opened a window on the way out so they could escape, but he hadn’t seen them. He was lucky. When firefighters allowed him to enter his apartment, he found them inside. A building superintendent who raised pigeons on the roof of another building lost all of them.

    hard drive connected to the computer with vital documents House Fire

    Third, keep digital copies of important papers either in the cloud or in a place like a safe-deposit box. These include papers like wills, vital records, financial and legal information and ownership records. One of the greatest struggles for people displaced in the Brooklyn fire was finding and recreating vital records, the New York Times story reported.

    For example, the Red Cross gave out preloaded debit cards to fire victims, but adult family members had to have identification to receive them. The Rondon family had five adults and an infant living in their apartment. Only one adult, away during the fire, escaped with his ID. Two others found ID copies by calling an employer.

    The Quinones family needed their son’s birth certificate and proof of residence to get into temporary housing. They got a letter from their son’s pediatrician since they didn’t have a birth certificate. They had to get a form signed by their landlord and notarized since they had no lease on hand. A few days later, demolition workers recovered their battered file cabinet that contained birth certificates and other important papers.

    On average, people have two minutes to escape from a burning house, Woodruff said. When the Brooklyn blaze began, one man was on his way to the shower. He escaped shirtless and shoeless, no phone, no wallet. Emergencies aren’t convenient. But preparing for them can make the aftermath a little more bearable.

    The Red Cross has emergency preparedness apps like first aid, emergency alerts and preparedness for kids.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner house fire

  • Preparing the Elderly for Emergencies

    preparing the elderlyHurricane Katrina was devastating to health care providers. Hospitals and clinics flooded or lost power. Almost 100 kidney dialysis clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama closed, some permanently.

    A representative from a company that manages dialysis clinics described the result: “More than 7,000 displaced patients packed into our open clinics, which were not immediately staffed to handle them all.”

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of older adults have some kind of functional limitation, like chronic health problems, impaired mobility or diminished sensory awareness. This can make them vulnerable in an emergency. Sixty percent of the people in Louisiana who died from Hurricane Katrina were over age 60. So planning for emergencies is especially important for seniors.

    One group of older adults from Rochester, New York, described how an ice storm that caused a two-week power outage impacted them.

    “If we had only taken a few simple steps to prepare ourselves for such an event, we could have eliminated many of the hardships we had to endure,” they wrote for a Red Cross booklet about senior preparedness.

    They recommended three ways to prepare: get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Unless otherwise specified, the ideas below come from their Red Cross booklet, “Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors.”

     

    Get a Kit

    In addition to a basic emergency kit with food, clothing, and water, seniors should personalize their kits with extra supplies. These can include extra eyeglasses, medication, hearing aids and batteries, oxygen and assistive technology. Label bags and equipment with a name, address and phone number. Keep support equipment in a designated place so it’s easy to find.

    preparing the elderlySome medication, like insulin, requires refrigeration. The U.S. Food and Drug administration recommends that if power has been off for a while, those drugs should be discarded. However, if they are necessary for life, they may be used until a new supply becomes available. Medication exposed to excessive heat and flood water can also become unsafe. So keep medication in a waterproof container and check it for exposure before use.

    Not many people can afford spare hearing aids. In an earthquake-prone area, use Velcro to attach a hearing aid case to a flat surface so it will be readily available and won’t shake off.

     

    Make a Plan

    Have a plan for how to evacuate and how to shelter at home. Share it with caregivers, friends, and family members. Be honest about abilities and limitations. Know home caregivers’ emergency plans. Keep phone numbers handy – carry them in a wallet or post them by a telephone.

    preparing the elderlyKeep copies of vital records in a fireproof container or safe-deposit box. Vital records include birth, marriage and social security certificates, insurance information, wills and deeds and records of possessions. Health care records are also important. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an online tool, called Blue Button, to help people bring together their electronic health records.

    After Hurricane Katrina, 85,000 people had trouble getting social security checks through the mail. The AARP Foundation recommends people switch to direct deposit. Go to the U.S. Department of the Treasury web site, godirect.org, or call 1-800-333-1795. The Treasury Department also has a prepaid debit card option for people with no bank account.

     

    Be Informed

    Know what types of disasters are more likely, and prepare for those.

    “Seniors living in Florida need to know how to prepare for a hurricane, while older adults in the Midwest should stock up for blizzards and floods. In California, people should prepare for earthquakes and wildfires,” the CDC recommended.

    Be aware that scammers come out after a disaster. Operation Emergency Prepare recommends six steps to keep from being scammed.

    1. Don’t pay cash to a contractor for home repairs and never give your credit card number unless you are paying the bill with it.
    2. Be sure you have a signed contract detailing the work you want to have done and don’t make a final payment until the work has been done to your satisfaction.
    3. Make sure that any contractors, plumbers, electricians, or roofers are bonded, licensed, or registered in your state. You can check their license status with your state or Better Business Bureau.
    4. Try to get several bids before agreeing to any work; a one-third down payment is considered appropriate.
    5. Beware of home repair loan brokers who guarantee you a loan if you first pay a fee.
    6. If you suspect you have been taken advantage of, call your state attorney general’s office.

     

    As the CDC points out, in an emergency, older adults are a great resource. With their experience and knowledge, they can be preparedness leaders. It starts with preparing themselves first.

     

    What can you do more to be better at preparing the elderly you know?

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Preparing the elderly

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