Precautions you take now against a house fire, severe storms, or other disaster can make a scary situation much easier to handle for the whole family. What you need to know and do in case an emergency comes up:
Kids can suffer any number of injuries that can require a trip to the ER. To make sure your child gets help right away:
* Near your main phone, post contacts for your pediatrician, 911 (or the equivalent in your community), and Poison Control (800-222-1222 will automatically connect to your local center).
* Put the same information in an easy-to-grab file and add: a description of each child's drug sensitivities, allergies, chronic conditions, special medical needs, and previous hospitalizations; your family's health insurance ID numbers; a list of any medications (with dosages) that each of your children takes; immunization records -- especially for tetanus; and directions to the nearest hospital emergency room.
* Know your way to the emergency room. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the route to the ER so that you won't get lost when it really counts.
Severe weather and other disasters
Supplies you'll need
In the event of any major catastrophe, you should keep these essential supplies stocked together in one place in your home, and make sure they're up-to-date:
- High-energy food that doesn't need to be refrigerated or cooked, such as dried fruit, granola bars, cans of tuna (make sure you have a manual can opener)
- Formula, bottles, and baby food
- Diapers and wipes, if your child needs them; enough for three days
- Water -- a gallon per person (including babies) per day, for at least three days
- Waterproof matches
- Battery-powered or transistor radio
- Extra batteries for flashlights, radio
- Telephone with a cord (cordless phones require a working electrical outlet)
- Home fire extinguisher
- Cash -- enough for a week's worth of groceries (plus coins for pay phones)
- Pet food, if needed
What to do when there's a power outage
* If you have a baby under 1, she can't maintain body heat well when it's cold. So check to see if it's safe to drive, then bundle her up and go to a friend's house or a motel.
* You don't have heat and weather doesn't permit you to drive? Close the doors to any rooms you're not using to conserve warmth.
* Use only battery-operated flashlights or lanterns for light (kerosene lamps release toxic fumes when used indoors).
* If you must use candles, burn only one or two at a time. Never leave them unattended or in a child's room.
* Don't leave a fire burning in the fireplace overnight.
* You can use a portable generator as long as it's outside. If you turn it on inside the garage, fumes can seep into the house.
* Don't be tempted to keep the oven door open for heat; it's a fire hazard. Gas ovens also release harmful fumes.
Equipment to have on hand
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. You should have one on every level of your home (basement, too). The best spot for smoke alarms: in or just outside bedrooms (install a carbon monoxide alarm in the hallway near every bedroom). Check the alarms monthly with the test button and replace batteries annually; get a new alarm every decade.
Fire extinguishers. They can put out a small, contained fire before it can spread. The best kind: multipurpose extinguishers.
Escape ladders. These are collapsible and can be stored under a bed. Hook onto a window to allow for escape when smoke or flames block a door (make sure it fits your window ledges). Put one in each child's bedroom that's above the first floor.
Flashlights. Store one next to or under each bed to help speed escape when it's dark. Nearly 50 percent of home-fire deaths occur between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., so it's smart to have flashlights on hand. When you check smoke-alarm batteries, check these, too.
How to create an escape plan
1. Walk through each room of your home, noting which door to use for escape -- plus one window (in case flames/smoke block the door). Check that the escape window opens easily and isn't blocked by toys or furniture. If there's a window guard, make sure it has a quick-release device. If it doesn't have one, replace it.
2. Note the most direct route out of the house from each room. If you live in an apartment, locate your fire exits.
3. Select a meeting spot outside the home that's easy to pinpoint, like a tree or streetlight.
4. Assign an adult to each child to help him exit (even older kids can sleep through alarms).
5. Gather the whole family for a run-through. First pinpoint the two ways out of each room, and explain that the door is the first option. (If you have an older child who can open the window, have her practice.) Finish by going to the family meeting spot.
6. Practice. Do a drill twice a year to teach everyone to exit quickly and reduce the odds that your child will react fearfully (hiding under a bed).
7. Sound the smoke alarm, using the tester button. Your child should be expecting a drill -- the goal of practice isn't to scare her but to train her to react the right way.
In the event of a fire, remember to escape calmly. Feel the door for heat and open it a crack to check for smoke -- if there is smoke, do a window escape. If not, exit via the door. Call the fire department or 911 from someone else's home, not from inside yours. Don't go back in for any reason.
Gear to keep at the ready
It's better to keep a survival kit under a seat than in the trunk -- in case you can't get to the trunk. Include:
- Warning devices: flares, triangles, a flashlight with extra batteries
- For snow conditions: Windshield scraper; collapsible shovel; bag of sand, salt, or kitty litter for traction on snow and ice (in a pinch, you can use the car's rubber floor mats)
- Jumper cables (though it's better for your car to wait for a tow)
- Tool kit (work gloves, pliers, screwdriver)
- Canned liquid sealant, such as "Fix-A-Flat"
- A blanket, a few bottles of water, and a first-aid kit
What to do if you get stuck
* Stay calm, especially if your child is with you. Seeing you upset will only make him more upset.
* If you pull over because of bad weather, stay inside, where you're sheltered. Don't leave your child in the car if you must leave it.
* Keep the dome light on if it's dark. It uses very little battery power and makes it easier for rescuers to see you.
* Tie a bright-colored cloth to your antenna, or hang one from the top of a rolled-up window, to alert passersby that you're stuck.
* If it's cold out, run the car and use the heater full blast for 10 minutes, then turn it off for the next 50; repeat every hour. But check first to make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow, ice, and mud. If it's not, poisonous fumes could seep inside when the car's running.
* Use your cell phone for emergency calls only, to preserve the battery. Make a brief call to family or friends to reassure them; let them make arrangements for you from a land line and call you back.
Taking precautions against various emergencies now can thwart a serious and possibly life-threatening situation. Sit down with your family and discuss the procedures for handling fires, storms, and other crises that may pop up unexpectedly. And be sure that you have all the proper supplies and equipment in place.