At least twice since Sept. 11, we have been warned of "credible" evidence pointing to another attack and have been asked to go to the highest state of alert. What, exactly, should we do in response to these sorts of warnings?
My friend Izzie, who is an Army wife in Fayetteville and uses her EMT training to work with disaster and relief agencies, was on standby to mobilize to Manhattan after the attack. Figuring there might be more to a "highest alert" than having a working flashlight, I asked her, "What do emergency preparedness workers do for their families?" This is the gist of what she told me.
There are two things that can happen in an emergency/disaster situation, assuming you are not a direct victim. You either stay at home for an indefinite time, probably without normal services (like electricity, trash pickup and possibly water), or you are evacuated to a shelter.
Either way, smart disaster workers know to have an emergency footlocker prepared. Everything you might need is in one handy place. If you're lucky, an evacuation order might give you the luxury of 10 minutes to pack your family and get out. You can grab your footlocker (Rubbermaid plastic bins work great) and know you've got the essentials you need.
It should contain lots of batteries, about three days' worth. She includes about 20 AAs (keeping her son occupied with his Gameboy becomes a high priority). She notes that there is nothing more frustrating to her and her colleagues than having to deal with a preventable emergency in the middle of a disaster, so for heaven's sake do not keep extra fuel like kerosene around. Instead, use a battery-powered camp lantern.
Pack a large bottle of aspirin or ibuprofen, and lots of antacids. Ask your doctor for an undated "Emergency Use Only" prescription. You need at least three days' supply of necessary medications.
If you go to a shelter, plan to wear your glasses, as contacts can be a real hassle. Sanitation can become iffy at best, so she recommends stocking plenty of toilet paper. Latex gloves are very useful, too.
Stash some bottled water at your house. Plan on three gallons of fresh water, per person, per day. There is food and water at the shelters, but it's a blessing to have something extra, so the footlocker should have some canned foods -- veggies, fruit, tuna-in-a-kit, and she swears by PopTarts. Remember that if the power is out, canned goods are useless without a manual can opener.
You can't take your pets with you, so leave food and water out for them. They will fend for themselves.
Pack lots of matches. A small pile of cash. Duct tape can repair almost anything. Clean socks. Trash bags. Have a healthy supply of sanitary products and the means to dispose of them (a film canister can hold two used tampons if you try hard enough). Lots of safety pins--you can use them for a zillion things.
The shelters provide diapers, but they're cheap-os and they're rationed, so you might want some of your own. Take your own infant formula--the premixed kind with disposable bottles, because sterilizing is out. Have your family's immunization records. You're going to be asked for information about allergies, medical histories, blood type and social security numbers, including your children's. Be ready. (For more into, visit http://www.ncem.org.)
Above all, stay calm. Do what you're told, even if you disagree with the government or our policies or whatever. Your children need to believe that you trust The People In Charge, so that they feel safe. And the FEMA folks, the Red Cross and all the people that might be involved are very, very well-trained, and are looking out for your safety and protection. Sept. 11 taught us that they would even give their lives for us. Don't forget that.