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Communicate and be prepared to evacuate

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Creating a plan for every possible disaster scenario could transform a scary experience into a well-coordinated routine.

The best way for residents to reduce their stress levels during an imminent weather disaster, is with a planned course of action. An effective emergency plan addresses everything — from aiding family members with functional needs to shutting off utilities before evacuating the home.

"Being prepared today can save lives tomorrow," said Coralie Matayoshi, CEO for the American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter. "You are your best defense against emergencies. There are three key things you should do to prepare yourself and your loved ones for emergencies: one, build an emergency preparedness kit; two, make a plan for what your family will do in an emergency; and three, be informed about resources available in your community and types of disasters that could occur there."

Hello, Emergency Kitty

An emergency kit should be kept with seven days’ worth of supplies, and include water, food and change of clothes. Water should be kept to a gallon per person per day. All food stored in the kit should be non-perishable and easy to prepare without requiring heating. Keep emergency kits in a dark part of the home, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Kits should preferably be stored in rolling luggage for easy portability.

Residents should also add supplies to their kit that fit their needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends kits that include pet food, medication, infant formula, diapers and important documents. Items for personal sanitation such as moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties may be necessary. If carrying canned foods in the kit, remember to include a can opener.

Residents should also carry a small radio with access to NOAA Weather Radio, which broadcasts National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. A hand-crank radio requires no power outlet and often comes with a built-in flashlight, making it essential for disasters.

Why You Should Plan Ahead

A family without a synchronized emergency plan will run into more problems during an evacuation than a family who develops a course of action ahead. Families should establish a method of communication to contact each other in the event that members are separated. In cases of low power on mobile devices, agree on a time during which members will turn on their phones in order to conserve battery life. Additionally, a safe location such as a local shelter can be used as a meeting point.

"Keep in touch with your family," explained Maria Lutz, director of Emergency Services for the American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter. "Usually, the most stressful thing is not knowing if everyone is OK."

Considering some disasters are more complicated than others, families should evaluate how they will get to a safe place. "A lot of people stay at home during flash flooding," stated Lutz. "Don’t wait until the last minute."

Shelters are limited during hurricanes. "Not many buildings may resist over 80 to 90 miles per hour winds," warned Lutz.

The Department of Emergency Management provides residents with shelter lists sorted by island and district. Schools make up a large portion of them in the state.

"Most people haven’t thought of the conditions they’ll be under in shelters," Lutz said.

Last, But Not Least

As a final step, families and individuals should designate tasks to speed up the evacuation process.

Tsunamis generated in distant locations will commonly allow residents enough time to pack their car and vacate their homes for higher ground. Locally generated tsunamis pose a larger threat, usually allowing only 15 minutes before reaching land.

Evacuation plans for tsunamis should apply for heavy rains and flooding as well.

Despite Hawaii experiencing many disasters in its history, not all residents may be prepared for the unforeseen. "People have heard what they should do," said Lutz. "Not many people have put it into practice."

Small tasks often overlooked can lead to major hazards. Creating a plan for every possible disaster scenario could transform a scary experience into a well-coordinated routine.

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