Are You Ready?

When the big one hits, will you be ready?

By Sam DiGiovanna  |   Jul 9, 2019

You’re at the station or on patrol and suddenly the building or ground begins to shake. You duck, cover, and hold (hopefully). After what seems to be an eternity (actually just 5 seconds), the shaking finally subsides. The pre-alert tones activate, and dispatch advises we are in “earthquake mode.” Are you prepared? 

Just as we train and follow policy for fire suppression and life safety duties, we train for disasters, both natural and manmade. As first responders, we are very good at disaster preparedness. But how often do you and your family train on what to do during disasters?

Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires—it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, disasters happen even while you’re on duty. Are you really prepared? Is your family prepared? If they’re not ready, chances are you won’t you be able to completely focus on your job duties while at work. 

What to Do Before an Emergency Situation

First, have a serious discussion with your immediate family members. Things to discuss include: What could happen and what they should do in different scenarios. If the emergency or disaster occurs while your children are at school, what’s your plan for reuniting? If roads or other infrastructure are damaged it could be hours or days before you can be together again. What actions could each of you take in such a scenario? Focus less on problem-solving for a specific scenario (because it probably won’t happen that way) and more on developing a comfort level with uncertainty. During a major disaster, you and your family will need to think on your feet.

Second, the possibility that cell phones might not work. Kids who have never lived without texting may panic if cell phone communication breaks down—something that can happen even if there isn’t widespread destruction. Prepare them now and talk about how you could get messages to one another if you are separated for several days.

Third, your role as a first responder. Family members, especially children, may expect you to be around when disaster strikes. But you have a duty to your community as well. Prepare them now so that they aren’t upset during actual disasters.

Next, prepare your house. Things to consider:

1. Keep a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries in an easy-to-access location. Make sure everyone in the house knows where these items are stored.

2. Always have enough water, food, medicine and other necessities on hand for at least 72 hours.

3. Consider how you’ll power devices. Smartphones, tablets and other devices have become almost essential to our daily lives. Investing in a generator and an external battery pack (or several) for your phone can alleviate some of the stress of dealing with an extended power outage.

4. Make sure your family members know how to turn off gas, water and electricity.

5. Look around your house and imagine the worst-case scenario. What can you do to make things safer?

What to Do During an Emergency
The most important thing is to stay calm—easier said than done! Also, stay where you are. Many people react to different situations by running out of buildings, because they feel unsafe indoors, but that can leave you vulnerable to falling glass and debris. While some situations may require you to move out of the building, unless it’s a fire or explosion, it’s best to take a few moments to assess before making sudden movements.

What to Do After an Emergency
When you’re on duty, you probably have a list of actions to take and areas to check per your department’s policy. The same goes when you’re off duty, whether you’re at home or somewhere else:

Check yourself and others for injuries and provide first aid if needed. Check on neighbors, especially the elderly or those with special needs.

Check water, gas and electric lines for damage (including the smell of natural gas). If any are damaged, shut off the valves. Do not touch any downed lines, and don’t use matches, candles or any flame until you’re sure it’s safe. Broken gas lines and fire don’t mix!

Turn on the radio. Don’t use the phone, including your cell phone, unless it’s an emergency. Use limited text messages, not phone calls, to communicate with family to lessen the demand on the system.

Stay out of damaged buildings and away from damaged areas.

Be careful around broken glass and debris. Wear boots or sturdy shoes to keep from cutting your feet.

Follow your department’s callback policy and be prepared to log some long hours as your department tries to help the community recover.

 The key in any disaster is preparedness, for yourself and your family, so you can perform your job while being “fit for duty” both physically and mentally!

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Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.
Sam DiGiovanna

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