One of the secrets to being able to survive emergencies is to
pre-plan your response. This is what law enforcement officers,
firefighters, and disaster relief workers all do. They understand that a
plan — and the discipline to practice that plan — is what gives them
the edge in a crisis. In many situations it is the difference between
life and death.

As you are finishing up your last-minute preparations, let me
encourage you to prepare written contingency plans for each of
the following scenarios. I can’t write the plans for you; every
situation is different. However, I can raise some important questions
that will get you started.

1. House fire. What happens if your house catches on fire and
you either can’t call the fire department because of Y2K or they are
detained because of a sudden increase in other calls for assistance?

  • Does your family know what to do? Do they know what
    not to do?

  • Does everyone have a specific role? Have you provided an
    opportunity to practice?

  • Do you have the local fire department’s phone number in a readily
    accessible and visible place? Do you have a backup method of
    communicating with the fire department if the phone system goes down
    (e.g., a cell phone).

  • Do you have fire safety rules in place — especially if
    you are burning anything indoors (e.g., cook stoves, kerosene or propane
    space heaters, etc.)? Does everyone in your family know what the rules

  • Have you marked out an escape route for each floor? Do you have a
    backup escape route if the primary one is impassable?

  • Do you have the necessary equipment (e.g., fire extinguishers,
    flashlights, battery-operated smoke alarms, etc.) in place? Do you know
    how to use it?

  • Can you execute your plan in the dark? Or in the middle of the
    night when everyone is groggy and disoriented?

2. Home invasion. This is the one I hate to think about.
What if your home is broken into by thieves or thugs and you can’t get
911 to work or law enforcement officials are detained? I recently took
an entire course on home defense and it was excellent. It caused me to
completely re-think my strategy.

  • Again, does your family know what to do? Do they know what
    not to do?

  • Does everyone have a specific role? Have you provided an
    opportunity to practice?

  • Do you have “an early warning system” in place (e.g., burglar
    alarms, dog, security lighting, etc.)?

  • Do you have a “refuge room” in your house where you can retreat
    until the police arrive? Does the room have a dead-bolt lock? How about
    a reinforced striker plate so the door is more difficult to kick in? Do
    you have a cell phone in this room in the event that the conventional
    phones are down or the bad guys have cut the lines? If you have a
    multi-floor house, you either need a clearly-defined route to get to the
    refuge room or a refuge room on each floor.

  • If you have firearms, have you received adequate training so you
    don’t make a bad situation worse? Do you know how to clear malfunctions
    and do you have back-up firearms in case your primary systems go down?
    Do you have the right kind of ammunition and plenty of it? Have you
    considered ear and eye protection (amplified ear protection can not only
    protect your hearing but give you an edge in hearing what’s going on in
    your house)?

  • If you have to come out of your refuge room to get to a child or
    loved one who can’t come to you, and you simply can’t wait for the
    police, can you do so safely. Do you know how to “clear a room” without
    making yourself an easy target? If you are going to work with your
    spouse, do you have procedures in place for “areas of responsibility”
    and communication?

  • Once again, can you execute your plan in the dark, or in the
    middle of the night when everyone is groggy and disoriented? If you are
    going to have a home invasion, this is probably when it will happen.

3. Neighborhood Looting. What happens if a mob of angry
people starts making its way down your street? First, you need to know
that the greatest deterrent to looters is organized, committed, and
armed citizens.

  • How do you plan to deter a mob from looting your home?
    What deterrents can you utilize to make your home an unattractive
    target? Are you willing to make a “show of force” (i.e., several people
    armed and wearing some sort of simple insignia like an armband or hat to
    suggest that you are organized)?

  • Have you talked with your neighbors about how you would handle a
    looting scenario? Have you worked out a plan together? Have you mapped
    out a route that you can use to channel them away from your homes and
    out of your neighborhood? (You do not want to get squared off with
    looters, leaving them only one way to move — through your property.)

  • What “triggers” would cause you to evacuate your premises? (In my
    view, no casualties are acceptable. I can lose my property; I am not
    going to risk losing a loved one.) If you had to evacuate, where would
    you go? What would you take?

Hopefully, if you develop plans for these scenarios, you will
never have to use them. But if you need them, you will likely
really need them. This is why you need to take the time to make
careful plans and practice them now.

Trust me, doing this is time-consuming and inconvenient. Waking your
family up in the middle of the night to practice a fire drill is not
something they will likely thank you for — until it’s a real life
situation and everyone survives because you took the initiative to plan
your response.

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