Disaster preparation

Disaster can strike quickly and without warning, so it’s important to be prepared. For parents, their first concern is often the children. Planning for an emergency gives children a sense of security that they will be looked after, and that they can do something to look after themselves.

Encourage your children to join school civil defence teams. Many schools compete for civil defence awards, and learn valuable skills in the process. In New Zealand, we are at risk from many kinds of natural disasters, including earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, tsunami (tidal waves) and storms. Man-made disasters can also occur; a particular danger being hazardous material spills from trucks, trains, planes and at storage facilities.

Contact your local Civil Defence office to find out what types of disasters are most likely to happen in your area. Civil Defence will give you information on preparing for a disaster. Find out if your neighbourhood has a warning signal, what it sounds like and what you should do when you hear it.

Your workplace, children’s school or preschool centre will have a disaster plan. Schools and teachers are prepared for disasters and school staff will do everything they can to keep your child safe. It’s important to create a disaster plan with your family. Talk with your family about why you need to prepare for disaster.

Explain the different dangers of fire, storms, floods and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. As a family, discuss the disasters that are most likely to happen and talk about what to do in each case. Make sure everyone knows where to get help if it is needed and how to make contact with other members of the family during a disaster. Arrange a place for your family to meet.

First aid is a good skill to learn – for more information, contact your local Order of St John or Red Cross (see section on FIRST AID). Barnardos recommends a hazard hunt with the whole family participating. Anything that can move and/or break when your house starts to shake is a hazard.

Think about what will happen to heavy furniture, fixtures and appliances. Anchor bookcases and other top-heavy furniture to studs using metal angle braces, ‘L’ brackets and lag screws. Fasten shelves to the bookcase. Stop refrigerators, washing machines and other heavy appliances from moving by blocking the rollers.

Check for any possible flying glass. Check your chimney is secure and tie down your hot water cylinder. Anchor heavy mirrors and pictures over beds, chairs and couches with wire through eye screws into studs. Keep beds away from windows. Know where the safe spots in your home are for each type of disaster, for example under a doorway during an earthquake or in the attic in a flood. Keep emergency telephone numbers by the phone such as those for fire, police, ambulance and doctor.

Teach your children how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches. Only turn gas and water off if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so by emergency authorities. Keep a battery-operated radio handy and follow instructions from local emergency officials. Be ready to evacuate immediately if you need to do so. If you have to evacuate, wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes. Take your disaster survival kit (see separate section).

Lock your home. Listen for and use travel routes specified by local authorities. If there is time, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving. Always leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going. Meet with your neighbours to plan how you can all work together after a disaster until help arrives. If you are a member of a neighbourhood organisation such as Neighbourhood Watch, introduce disaster preparedness as a new activity. Get to know your neighbours’ skills and needs.

Think ahead and plan childcare for children of parents who can’t get home. Stock supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Replace stored water every three months and stored food every six months. Also keep a bucket and supply of rubbish bins handy for a makeshift toilet.

Don’t put chemical cleaners in the toilet cistern as chemicals will poison a potential source of drinking water. Assemble a disaster survival kit with items you will need in an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy to carry containers such as backpacks, duffle bags or covered rubbish containers.

If disaster does strike

  • Remain calm and put your disaster plan into action.
  • Check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
  • Listen to your battery-powered radio for news and instructions and be prepared to evacuate if advised to do so. Always wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
  • Check for damage in your home. Use flashlights. Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards.
  • Sniff for gas leaks. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get everyone outside quickly. Do not light a match or open flame.
  • Clean up spills, medicines, bleaches, petrol and other flammable liquids immediately.
  • Be prepared to deal with the emotional needs of your children. Stay close enough to talk with and comfort each other. Talk about what happened and encourage your children to talk about their feelings.

Fire safety.

It is often children who are the tragic victims of house fires. Fire can engulf a house in flames very quickly, so it’s important you have smoke alarms for early warning and a fire escape plan so everyone can get out of the house quickly. Children should never have unsupervised access to matches, lighters, candles or other naked flames.

They don’t realise the danger of fire or how quickly a fire can spread. The small cost of smoke alarms is nothing compared with the knowledge that you will be alerted early to a fire that could kill you and your children. Smoke alarms can give you vital time to escape safely.

Two alarms per house is recommended, and one on each level of multi-storey homes. Make sure one is in the hallway near sleeping areas. A publicity campaign – by the Fire Service – provides some simple advice for people caught in a fire: Get out and stay out. The campaign gives a strong message that you should stay out of a burning building – don’t be tempted to go back for valuables or even to try saving the life of another person.

The Fire Service will respond quickly to an emergency and its firefighters are equipped to deal with all kinds of fires. A private individual cannot know the dangers fire can present and how quickly it can spread, nor do they have the proper equipment. Other precautions you can take include:

  • Connect a hose that can reach all areas of the house to an outdoor tap and keep it connected.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher (consult the Fire Service for the correct type for your situation), but remember extinguishers have limited uses. It could be fatal if you use valuable time with a fire extinguisher when you should be concentrating on saving life and calling the Fire Service on 111.