Personally, I don’t like thunderstorms, and because I live in Oklahoma, thunderstorms are a fact of life. This makes it a bit of a challenge, but my dislike of thunderstorms has nothing to do with tornados or high winds; it has more to do with lightning. As a kid, I can remember summer storms in the intermountain west, and those storms brought lightning, which brought fire. Over the past couple of years, we have been reminded in dramatic and tragic fashion just what “fire season” is all about.
October is also Fire Prevention Month. This year the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has announced the theme for this year as “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape, Plan and Practice Your Escape!” This theme seems very applicable not just because of the fires, as we have also seen evacuations due to hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
While the initial thought behind this year’s theme is for planning your escape due to a fire in the home or place of work, for those of us that live in fire-prone areas, it can also mean your neighborhood. But, as we have seen recently, it isn’t just fire. It could be a hurricane, a flood, or an explosion. There are several resources available that can help you plan and prepare for evacuation. The NFPA and Red Cross have has some great tools and checklists. A quick internet search will help you find a variety of resources.
Our actions in the event of an evacuation are going to depend upon our location and how much time we have to evacuate. If it is a local event such as a fire or smoke in a home or at our normal place of work, our reactions and actions may be calmer, because hopefully we have practiced a fire drill and know where our exits are. What if you are in a restaurant, the grocery store, a theater, or a sports stadium? Do you look at your surroundings and develop an immediate plan if something should happen?
Then there are the broader situations of having to evacuate due to a large fire or weather event. Those evacuation plans may be impacted by just how much time you have to prepare, i.e., that time between being alerted of a potential evacuation and when you have to leave. What would you do if you only have 5 minutes? What would you grab? (Hopefully, identification, and medication, and you hope that you have a full tank of gas in the car.) How about 15 minutes? You may be able to add a change of clothes and sturdy shoes, food, chargers, and important papers. How about 30 minutes? You can add personal hygiene items, more of your important documents, laptops, maps, more food, and other supplies.
The more time you have, the better prepared you can be, but you still need to think about it ahead of time. This is where those checklists and resources from the NFPA and the Red Cross are very handy. Each person and each family will have unique situations. What if you have pets? Or, you are caring for elderly parents, someone who is sick and needs special medical equipment, children with special needs, etc. What about neighbors? Finally, if you are evacuating, where are you going to go, and how are you going to get there?
Unfortunately, without prior planning, the likelihood of leaving something critical behind is greater or could result in your not being able to get out at all. What is your contingency plan if you can’t get out? While we all hope that these events will never happen, this year seems to be reminding us that bad things happen, and we need to be prepared. We need to stop, reflect, and plan for the unthinkable, as it may be those few minutes of preparation that can ultimately make a bad situation a bit more bearable.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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