Try to imagine that right now, a large-scale earthquake happens, causing bridges to collapse, destruction to buildings, and utilities such as electric, water, and gas lines disrupted.
You immediately grab your cell phone to contact loved ones, but no phone calls will go through due to a mass breakdown of communication systems. Think about where you are now and how you will find your loved ones and get to a safe place.
Perhaps you are at work, or at the grocery store, maybe you are out of town or work in Nashville (on the other side of the Cumberland River and bridges are impassable), or you may be at your home. Are your loved ones with you or across town?
Currently, for myself, my husband and I both work in Gallatin, and our youngest children go to school here too. However, our oldest son goes to school in Wilson County, which would mean trying to get over the bridge and down 109 to get to him. Would we both try to divide and get the children? Once we get to the children, then where do we meet? What if we cannot get to our home or our home is damaged and not safe for us to enter?
I hope you get the picture, but I have not scared you the point of crawling in your closet and crying. These are real situations that can happen to us even here in Gallatin. More likely for us, it would be a tornado, but we cannot ignore other threat possibilities.
I recently spoke with a friend who was at football practice at his high school when the 1989 earthquake devastated the San Francisco area. He recalled that he had to walk several miles to get to his house and then had to wait hours until his mother finally came walking through the door, both elated to know the other one was alive.
The best way to prepare for emergency situations is to have a plan. Planning starts with the following simple steps:
Alerts & Warnings – Sign up for alerts and warnings on your phone. You can visit the City of Gallatin website to sign up for CodeRed alerts on your mobile device, or another option is to purchase a weather radio and program it for local weather alerts.
Collect – Collect the contact information of your family members and other important people and places, such as hospitals, schools, and workplaces. This is called a Family Emergency Communication Plan. Write down all phone numbers and email addresses, and have a contact outside of your community or state who can act as a central point of contact to help your household reconnect. In a disaster, it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town because local lines can be jammed.
Share – Make copies of this plan for each member of the household to carry in his or her backpack, purse, or wallet. You can go to ready.gov/make-a-plan and print a wallet-sized card. Check regularly to make sure each household member is carrying their information card. You should also make sure all of this information is posted somewhere in your home for everyone to see. Make sure to tell your out of town contacts that they may receive calls, texts, or emails from members of your household during emergencies.
Practice – Review and practice your plan with all members of your household on a regular basis. Discuss what needs to be sent on a text message during an emergency. Short messages like, “I’m OK. At library” are good. With smartphones today, it is rare that people actually learn phone numbers. Try to have all household members remember important phone numbers and practice reciting them regularly.
Emergency Meeting Places – Determine an emergency meeting place that will be a safe, familiar place where your family can go for protection or to reunite. If you have pets, think about places that are animal-friendly.
Indoor: You need to have a safe place inside our home for when tornados may occur. Small, interior, windowless rooms such as a closet or bathroom on the lowest level make good safe rooms. If you have to use this room in a tornado event, I would advise everyone to be dressed in shoes and head protection like a bicycle helmet.
In your neighborhood: If you have an emergency in your home and you need to evacuate, you need to have an emergency meeting place in your neighborhood where all household members can meet. We teach this during fire prevention lessons, and we recommend that you chose a neighbor’s home. If you live in the country, you may need to pick a nearby barn, shed, or a special area on your property, such as a large tree.
Outside your neighborhood: Have a meeting place that is outside of your neighborhood in case you cannot gain access to your area during an emergency, and you are all away from the house. This can be a library, community center, house of worship, or a relative or friend's home.
Outside of your town or state: Should an emergency happen and you must evacuate the area, chose a location out of town that can be your meeting place. I have family members that live in Hendersonville, which could work for my family, or we may have to go out of state to family members we have in Ohio or North Carolina. Think about when Hurricane Katrina struck, and lots of people had to evacuate out of state.
Remember that during emergencies, texting is best because you may get through when a phone call may not. The text message may also save and then send automatically as soon as capacity becomes available. Remember to keep batteries charged, keep a car charger available, have a solar charger, and backup battery power.
I hope that you have learned something and will take the simple steps above to create your family emergency plan. If you read my last article, you should have already prepared your water for 72 hours. That is one gallon of water per person, per day, for three days. An example is my family of five would need five gallons a day, which would equal 15 gallons total for drinking water.
2020 Emergency checklist thus far:
Store 72 hours of drinking water for your household.
Sign up for emergency alerts.
Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan
I’ve created the above checklist, which will be updated after each new step is published. If you follow each step, by the end of this year, you will be better prepared for disasters, and therefore you will be helping to make Gallatin a safer, healthier, prepared, and more resilient community.
Stay safe and create your plan.
Fire Marshal Elizabeth Bednarcik is with the Gallatin Fire Department – 615 452-2771;