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5 ways you can prepare your family before disaster strikes

When disaster hits your community, you’re one of the people they’ll depend on – but what about your family?


Bay St. Louis Emergency Management Agency volunteer crews rescue the Taylor family from the roof of their suburban, which became trapped on US 90 due to flooding during Hurricane Katrina, in this Aug. 29, 2005, photo in Bay St. Louis, Miss. (AP / Ben Sklar Photo)

If natural disaster struck your city or town tomorrow, would your priorities lie with your job as a sworn officer to protect the members of your community, or with the family you’ve also promised to protect? It’s a situation many officers don’t ask themselves until it’s too late.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, nearly a quarter of the city’s police force went AWOL. Lieutenant Henry Waller was one of the many who received heat for his decision to bail — but he, like many others, argued that his family needed him more than the city.

Your department probably already has protocol for when disaster strikes — your family should be no different. If you’re confident your spouse and children will know what to do, then you can focus on your job.

1. Be Prepared, Not Paranoid
Today, having an arsenal of canned and non-perishable goods is often viewed as eccentric. Shows like “Doomsday Preppers” that sensationalize disaster preparation don’t help the cause, and certainly won’t help win an argument with your spouse about collecting batteries and extra food.

The idea of preparing “just in case” makes some people nervous, but better nervous than sorry, right? After all, how many of your grandparents had pantries they could live out of for months? Storing away food and resources isn’t a new idea, and really, it makes sense.

Law enforcement families, above anyone else, need to be prepared for the unexpected. Ask your spouse, ‘Are you going to be comfortable if I need to be gone for 3 days?’

2. Prepare Your Kids
Start to develop an understanding of preparedness with your kids by shutting off the TV and heading outside. An interest in camping is a great way to teach kids about survival skills and preparations — plus the first time your power goes out, your kids won’t be horrified.

Disney and American Red Cross put on something called the Pillowcase Project which teaches kids to gather their most prized belongings efficiently in the event of an emergency and carry them all in their pillow case.

3. Create a Tribe
You heard right. It may sound a little excessive, but really imagine you’re in a scenario where sources are scarce. Are you more apt to let friends into your home with nothing to offer that will consume your family’s resources, or friends that are as educated as you are and have something to bring to the table (in this case, literally)?

If your friends are also in law enforcement, it should be easier to convince them to buy into emergency preparedness. Build a group keeping varied skills in mind.

“You’re building a mutual aid society,” explained Peace officer J. Jason Welin, who hosted an emergency preparedness class at the 2014 ILEETA Conference. “You hear your friends often say, ‘When sh*t hits the fan, I’m coming to your house ‘cause you have all the guns and ammo. What you want to hear is, ‘We’ll bring the propane and you make the dinner.’”

4. Stuck On Where to Start? Google It
The internet has blogs on top of blogs listing starter kits for building a pantry. Many only ask that you spend an extra $5 a week on groceries to get you started. Others include weekly projects. (I.e. This week, buy a Rubbermaid tote and 2 rolls of toilet paper for each family member).

“It helps to break it up into time frames,” advised Welin. “Start with what you need to survive 24 hours: A little food, some batteries. Then 72 hours, then a week, until you start thinking about living a prepared lifestyle. It should become more of a mindset.”

All of your equipment and preparations will do no good if you’re trapped outside the home.

Ask yourself the following questions about prep outside the home:

Do you have what you need to camp out in the squad room?
Is there emergency equipment in your vehicle?
Is there emergency equipment in your families’ vehicles?
Is your child prepared at school? (There are kits available meant to be stored in a locker)
Is your child away from home (away at college, remote) prepared?

5. Avoid Uni-taskers
Simply put, uni-taskers are things that only serve one purpose. In a situation where you have limited means, the more an object can do for you, the better.

For example, a cooler with a handle and wheels can be used for transport, can keep perishables cold, is easy to travel with, can be pre-filled with emergency supplies or used as storage, can transport water, and will float (which could come in handy in a flood situation).

Have an exit strategy. If your spouse and children have to leave town without you — have a game plan in place that includes where they plan to go and the best routes to get there. If everyone is fleeing, you’ll want to avoid high-traffic areas when possible. Keep a map In your glove compartment.

Last, and most important, having all of this emergency equipment won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Do you know how to use your back-up generator? Can you start a fire?

In the sidebar is a list of items, tips and tricks divided by category that you can use or store in your home in the event of an emergency. As the list goes on, you’ll notice it gets a little more prepper-intensive, so if you’re new to the idea for preparing for an emergency, start off with the essentials. (No criticisms here, we’re organizing for preppers of all magnitudes).

Loraine Burger writes and edits news articles, product articles, columns, and case studies about public safety, community relations, and law enforcement for Police1. Loraine has developed relationships with law enforcement officers nationwide at agencies large and small to better understand the issues affecting police, whether on the street, at the office or at home.