By U.S. Senator Susan Collins
Tornadoes in Northern Maine? An earthquake along the East Coast? A hurricane in New England?
These are acts of Mother Nature that we don’t see very often, and we often have little to no time to prepare once—or if—we receive the warning.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and devastating storms like Hurricane Katrina reinforced many of the lessons of preparedness and led to a law I coauthored to strengthen our nation’s capacity to respond to natural disasters, as well as terrorist attacks.
The government has established protocols that will help our country through natural disasters, disease pandemics, catastrophic accidents or vicious acts of terrorism. And your household should have them too.
We need all Americans to learn how best to respond to an emergency, whatever form it may take. That’s why this September is National Preparedness Month.
The goal is to remind Americans of the importance of being prepared, staying informed, having an emergency plan and doing basic due diligence when it comes to family and personal safety.
As the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I have been a strong advocate for emergency preparedness. Again this year, I am serving as an Honorary Congressional Co-Chair of National Preparedness Month. I am joined in this effort by Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman.
National Preparedness Month allows us to evaluate our personal emergency response plans. As Mainers get ready to send our children back to school, September is the perfect time for families to sit down and create an emergency plan.
Think about what you and your family should do in case of an emergency. Discuss where you would meet or how you would exit your home. All members of your family might not be together when disaster strikes. Parents could be at work and kids at school, for instance.
You should understand the school’s emergency system. Consider how you will contact one another. Young folks may be glad to know that text messages can often get around network disruptions, and they could help make sure all family members know how to text.
Different circumstances and emergencies require an important first decision. Do you stay inside or evacuate? Family members should discuss both possibilities. You should understand and plan to get out or shelter in place, and listen to the advice of experts. In some cases, staying put is the safest course, while in other disasters, evacuation is essential.
In making a plan, work with family members and co-workers to develop strategies for different kinds of emergencies and to determine roles and responsibilities.
The importance of planning cannot be underestimated. Make an emergency kit for your home. It should include: water, one gallon per person, per day for at least three days; a three-day supply of non-perishable food; a battery-operated or hand-crank radio; flashlight and extra batteries; first aid supplies; a whistle to signal for help; a dust mask to help filter contaminated air; plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in-place; moist towelettes, garbage bags and ties; a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; a can opener; local maps; and cell phone with charger.
Don’t forget your medications and glasses. If you have an infant, make sure all the proper supplies are in place. If you have a pet, make sure those supplies are included as well.
To stay informed, use your good citizenship skills. Knowledge is power, so keep abreast of the news and learn about area-specific emergencies that could happen where you live. Contact your state and local governments, which have established emergency plans for natural disasters.
Finally, be a good neighbor. Create the blueprint to care for your loved ones but also reach out to neighbors, colleagues, friends and strangers. Every hand will be a helping hand in a crisis.
In an emergency, everyone becomes a first-responder. Every person becomes a team player. Learn how to be prepared so that our families, our communities and our country are ready for the day we hope will never come.