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5 minutes to get out: What would you do?

December 5, 2006

Al Tompkins at Poynter.org alerted me to this story today, and the question it posed truly hit home and made me think.

tornadoIf someone came knocking at your door, and told you you had just five minutes to evacuate your home (for an unknown amount of time), what would you do?

My first thought (after uttering an obscenity to myself, probably…): Panic!

I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

But this is a reality for many of us in the country that we are just not prepared to face.

Most of us live in areas that are affected by natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, house fires, floods, earthquakes and more. And you never know when we’ll need to evacuate because of industrial accidents (gas cloud, plant fire), or God forbid, a terrorist attack or nuclear incident.

KFMB-TV in San Diego visited one family unannounced and gave them five minutes to pack up and leave their home as a test of readiness.

The family passed the test with high marks, except for a few key items.

From the report:

Gennifer Cartwright and her two children Nick and Jordan are in a race for their lives, and a race to gather their most important belongings.

Jordan starts packing clothes into a backpack. Nick looks around for the right items to bring. He finds a suitcase in the garage. Mom packs extra jeans.

San Deigo family takes the test (KFMB)She remembers she has a disaster kit already loaded in the garage – a plastic container with a first aid kit, flashlight and emergency supplies. Don’t forget the water.

Time is running out. Nick and Jordan are still finding their favorite food. So many belongings, so little time. The car is getting full. One last check of the house, and then time is up.

When it comes to food, Gennifer feels like they did OK.

“Nutrition-wise, we could probably survive for a few days,” she said.

Gennifer brings enough food and water to last three days, the recommended amount. As part of her pre-prepared disaster kit, Gennifer has a solar powered flashlight and radio with a hand crank, and plenty of warm clothes, in case the family is away from the house for an extended period.

But there are some things Gennifer forgot. The front door, for example, is still open. Make sure you lock up the house before you evacuate.

During an evacuation, you’ll definitely need copies of your homeowner’s policy, car insurance, flood and earthquake policies and healthcare information, especially if your home is damaged or destroyed.

“What we want to do is make copies of those, or scan them to a disk and send them to someone out of the area, or keep them in a safety deposit box at the bank, or something like that,” said Ponce.

In addition to insurance papers, make sure you bring prescription medications, cash or ATM cards, birth certificates and ID cards. And don’t forget baby formula and diapers if you have little ones.

Gennifer also forgot to bring her family photo albums. If the house burns down, you’ll never be able to replace these family pictures.

When it comes to pets, only bring them if you can transport them safely. That means cages for cats, and extra water for the animals.

We also gave Gennifer and her kids some Red Cross disaster kits. They include a first aid kit, flashlight, radio, gloves and goggles, a poncho and food and water, among other things. You can keep these in the trunk of your car, just in case.

“You guys did really good for a five-minute drill and not knowing that we were going to show up,” Ponce said.

Thought the family in this test did fairly well, most of us are not ready to leave our possessions behind, and our priorities of what is truly important can be skewed.

Very few of us have emergency kits ready to go at a moment’s notice, with the proper food, clothing, blankets, medication and other supplies we need to survive.

As a “digital warrior,” burdened with a laptop PC, iPod, cell phone and more electronics than your average Circuit City, this gets more complicated for me. Giving up my ties to the Internet, the newsroom in Lancaster and the outside world would be heart-wrenching for me.

But, in a survival situation, where it’s my family’s life at stake, I am confident I could dump those tech toys without hesitation. My wife would probably be able to say goodbye to our two cats, and hope they would be OK in the house on their own with ample water and food (most emergency shelters won’t take pets). But, thankfully, most of our family pictures are now digital, so grabbing the photo album is no issue. All of our important photos are online at Flickr.

This article’s timing is ironic though. Yesterday, on the Glenn Beck radio program, Beck was talking about having an emergency kit on hand that could feed his family for far longer than the three-day recommended period if there was a disaster that confined them to his home (bird flu, flood, end times, etc.).

He even said he would have enough food to give to a neighbor in desperate need (even if that neighbor was Keith Olbermann… hah… but he wouldn’t be getting “the good macaroni and cheese,” Beck joked).

Beck’s monologue and this news report are both good wake-up calls. If you don’t have an emergency kit together, take a look at Ready.Gov or the American Red Cross website for a checklist of things to store and have it ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Be prepared. And stay safe out there.

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