As we continue to understand the enormity of the tornado devastation, there are practical things that you can do right now to empower yourself and your loved ones. In addition to protecting your physical safety, you can take simple, low-cost measures to provide peace of mind for you and those beyond your locality who fear for your safety.
I invite you to add your own suggestions to this list, as it's not intended to be comprehensive, just a starting point for discussion.
1. Ensure that everyone in your household is carrying current identification and emergency contact information. While you might have a driver's license, college ID, or other form of identification, it's of little use in an emergency in terms of reaching your loved ones. I've created my own emergency cards as a Word document that I print and "laminate" using clear tape. They contain my name, two points of contact (each with telephone and e-mail) and a request that they be contacted in case of emergency. If you don't want to divulge home addresses, that's fine. Keep these emergency cards current! If your contact has new phone or e-mail due to a job change, unemployment, or move, make yourself and your family new cards with the new information. Make multiple copies and ensure that you and your loved ones carry these ID cards on their person!
2. Sign up for a First Aid and/or CPR class. While it's great to be surrounded by capable first responders, there may come a time when you could make the difference between life and death for someone in an emergency, or even in the course of daily life. Summertime poses plenty of hazards: someone choking at a barbeque, bee stings, or swimming pool mishaps. Your ability to respond calmly (even just to know to call 911) can be vitally important. If you've had these classes before, it might be wise to take a refresher, as methodologies for CPR have changed over time, and everyone can benefit from reminders on first aid techniques.
3. Avail yourself of useful apps to stay connected with loved ones. When cell phone lines are down or clogged with traffic, you'll want other means of staying in touch. Apps like Life360 can show you where your loved one (or at least their phone) is located at any given moment. Social media sites allow you to post updates that will keep your contacts apprised of your status during an emergency. Text messages can often get through when phone calls cannot, and they provide a record of time of contact. Do not, do not, repeat: do NOT text and drive! We have enough carnage without you getting into an accident.
4. Develop and rehearse a family, household, or business plan for emergency situations. Discuss ideas with the people you need to contact, and suggest ways to contact each other and - if necessary - meet at a designated location. The plans can provide for various situations: severe weather, terrorism, natural disasters, medical emergencies. Rehearse the plan with occasional drills. Kids can be a great help in designing these plans, and it's empowering for them to take on a proactive role. They're also more likely to embrace a plan that they helped to create.
5. Program important phone numbers into your mobile phone. Numbers for your local police, fire, poison control, your child's school, doctor's office, and all your key contacts. You can also designate a contact as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency" that someone can dial if you're unable to use your phone. Make sure that your kids, family members, friends, and co-workers have YOUR current phone number programmed into their phones. Also: print out or write a list of key phone numbers in case you have to use someone else's phone in an emergency.
6. Safeguard your pets. Make sure that your pet has up-to-date vaccinations, and that they're wearing a collar and ID tag. Make sure that the tag has your mobile phone number on it. You can easily add this information by writing it with a waterproof Sharpie on the existing tag or on another tag made from a piece of plastic. If you've been considering having your pet microchipped, this might be a good time to do it. If you're expecting to have to evacuate to a shelter, or to a friend or relative's home, figure out in advance whether you can bring your pets, and prepare a travel crate if needed and pack key items (food, heartworm pills, water, chew toys) in a "go bag".
7. Keep your car's gas tank filled. If you need to evacuate and power is out, stations will be inoperable. Make sure your car's windshield washer reservoir is filled, even if it's just with plain water. Driving through stormy areas, even through the aftermath, you'll need a clear windshield. Also, if you have a gasoline-powered generator, be sure you've got gasoline on hand and safely stored. Don't even think about running a generator in an unventilated garage, building, or confined space. Check any extension cords in advance for wear.
8. Prepare your home's "safe location". Many of us lack basements, and will need to shelter in interior rooms such as a pantry or windowless bathroom. Clear out that space of any unnecessary clutter and equip it with water, snack foods, flashlights or fluorescent lanterns, a portable radio, and something to sit on. You might be in there for a while.
9. Sign up now for e-mail or text alerts from your community and state emergency agencies, your kid's school, your business, and other entities who provide crisis updates. Many power companies and phone services offer apps that allow you to track outages. Weather apps such as iMap Weather Radio provide real-time alerts in preprogrammed locations of your choice, plus your "current location" on iPhone or Android platforms.
10. Keep in touch. Let people know where you are, whether you're staying or evacuating, how you've weathered the storm, who you're with. As you could see from yesterday's live blogs, many folks spent frantic hours unable to reach loved ones or verify that they were safe. Don't worry about "over communicating". Someone wants to know you're safe or where you can be found. Since your phone has limited battery life, ask each person you contact to let others know your situation. Working out a communication plan in advance can be a big help with this. Oh... and grab your mobile phone's charger when you head out the door.