As a trained responder in first aid and CPR and also holding more specialized training in psychological first aid care and shelter operations, I am lucky that I have not had to put my skills to use in the Northern Virginia area.
However, whether you subscribe to the belief in climate change or not, there is evidence that larger scale weather events (snow storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods etc) are occurring on a more frequent basis, including here at home. It's prudent to familiarize yourself with Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) planning and mitigation to be prepared in the event of a severe emergency.
Sit down with all members of your family and discuss safety scenarios, or with the younger children use pictures and map routes to help them understand the plan. Already you should have a fire plan escape route – how to get out of the house and where all parties meet up. However if, the emergency is such that you need to hunker up at home or evacuate, here is some basic advice to keep in mind:
1. Have on hand a battery operated radio (and extra batteries) and always listen to the emergency notifications from local and state responders. If children need to be picked up from school, know in advance who is in charge of getting who.
2. Make sure your home always has a supply of non-perishable foods and canned food and a can opener along with bottled water and flashlights with batteries. As a precaution, it is also wise to have a small stash of these same items in your vehicle. Should you have special populations at home make sure you have what you need: diapers and formula for infants, special medications to control diabetes or other conditions for the elderly or sick, and pet food for your furry friends.
3. Charge your cellular phone if you have one in case power is lost and your land lines go down. Similarly, if your fire / carbon monoxide detecting alarm system is linked with your land line it is advisable to have a backup battery operated one which can be easily installed in a central place. Flammable candles can be very dangerous, and the fumes from small heaters or generators can also be fatal so make sure all equipment is set up properly and well ventilated. Finally, be sure to check in on your neighbors and lend a hand when possible.
4. In the event you may actually need to evacuate your home at some point, make sure there is ample gasoline in your vehicle because there can be severe shortages (when supplies are diverted to generators for example) as was seen prominently after Hurricane Sandy. Moreover, you may need to charge your phone in your car.
5. Do not be afraid to use the hospitality of local shelters if you do not have nearby friends or family that can take you in – they are set up to assist you and the workers should be trained in cultural sensitivity and dealing with the Muslim community in terms of sleeping arrangements and dietary restrictions. Some local mosques and community centers are also set up to receive you – so know your options. Note that if schools are out for an extended time, you may need to have back up child care in place if you need to get back to work or are helping with the response efforts.
There is always a need for more assistance (especially from those speaking other languages) so if you are interested in being involved, I highly encourage you to take courses offered by the Red Cross and others. We will always pray to Allah to protect us from such disasters, but we must also be ready to come to the aid of our family and the larger community if needed.
Christiana Tobais-Nahi lives in Northern Virginia.