Even if you had a crystal ball, the odds are strongly against being able to anticipate every emergency your family might face. But the experts agree, taking the time to plan ahead now can help you and your family come through a crisis with as little stress as possible.

Even if you had a crystal ball, the odds are strongly against being able to anticipate every emergency your family might face.
But the experts agree, taking the time to plan ahead now can help you and your family come through a crisis with as little stress as possible.

American Red Cross of Greater Columbus spokeswoman Lynn Cook said her organization breaks the process of preparing for an emergency into three simple steps - get a kit, make a plan and be informed.

While the specific contents of each family's emergency kit will vary, Cook said the basics remain the same: water, food, first aid supplies, protective clothing and bedding, tools and special items (including medications and infant supplies such as diapers or formula).

"The idea is to have three days of supplies in an easy-to-carry kit that you can take if you are instructed to leave your home, or that you can use if you're told to shelter in your home," Cook said. "In the case of a flood for example, you might only have minutes to leave your home. So the idea is to have all these items in one place so that you can just grab it and go."

An emergency kit should also contain any documents your family may need during an emergency, including copies of insurance policies, birth certificates and a list of the family's phone numbers and e-mail addresses. "Those are things you are going to need to start rebuilding your life," Cook said.

She recommends keeping some cash tucked away in that kit. "We all just take it for granted that we can use a credit card or go to the ATM. But if something major should happen, we may not have that access."

Violet Township Fire Chief John Eisel said he would expand the list of basic supplies every family needs to have on hand to include a battery-powered radio, flashlights and lots of extra batteries.

"It's all about preparedness," Eisel said. "Preparedness comes in a lot of ways. Number one is having the supplies. But equally important is taking the opportunity to practice."

Eisel and Cook agree that having an emergency plan and taking the time to practice it with every member of the family (including pets) can save a life during an emergency. "You should plan and practice escape routes with the whole family and have a common meeting place that's predetermined," Eisel said. "Make sure that everyone in the house knows their phone number and address. That's a really big thing with children."

Starting at about age 5, Eisel said, children need to be taught how and when to call 911. And in the case of a fire, they should be taught to call from a neighbor's house and to not go back into a burning building for any reason.

"It's no different than being a professional athlete," Eisel said. "You have to have the right supplies and you have to practice to get good at it."

Cook and Eisel also said that understanding which emergencies might arise and how they might impact us individually, as a family, and as a community, will lessen the danger.

"Being prepared will make it much more likely that you and your family are going to stay safe during that emergency," Cook said. "I think we can be complacent, especially here in Columbus because we don't see a lot of severe weather. But it could happen here. We don't want to scare people, but at the same time we want people to understand that simple preparedness can really keep your family safe."

To that end, they agree a little education can go a long way. "The Red Cross has a goal of having at least one person in every household trained in CPR and first aid," said Cook. "If your child falls out of a tree or your spouse falls off a ladder ... knowing CPR can save a life."

Having and knowing how to use a weather alert radio is essential, Eisel said. And he recommends homeowners become familiar with their property. "Know how to shut off your utilities," he said. "If we were to have a natural disaster, you could very well have a natural gas leak at your house. Knowing how to shut off your own gas could mitigate that emergency."

Even the most prepared family, however, can find themselves in a situation no one could have foreseen. In that case, Nationwide Children's Hospital emergency department attending physician Dr. Angela Harris said, parents should go with their gut instincts. "I know that we see many people who call (an ambulance) when there is not any true need," said Harris. "But, if you are absolutely freaked out and certain your child needs to come to the emergency department, make that call. Parents are usually right."

Harris said her experience in the emergency department has taught her that while being prepared for an accident or emergency is good, preventing one is even better. "The big thing is protective equipment and common sense," Harris said. "And I think the best thing you can do is take away kids' ability to make bad choices."

Harris said one of her favorite cautionary tales gleaned from the emergency department this summer is of the 10-year-old boy who thought it would be fun to jump his bicycle onto a homemade ramp, which would then propel both him and his bike onto the family's backyard trampoline. "Make sure there's adult supervision so kids don't do silly things," Harris warned. "Kids will think of silly things to do. They are creative and smart ... they just don't think of the consequences."

Harris said she encourages every parent to learn CPR and the Heimlich maneuver and to keep a few basic first-aid supplies on hand such as bandages, gauze, ice packs, Tylenol, Motrin and Neosporin. "That's about all you need," she said. "If you can't handle it with those things, it probably needs to come to us anyway."


Miriam L. Segaloff lives in Gahanna with her husband and daughter. She has more than 17 years' experience in writing, editing and communications.