University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Disaster Preparedness

Preparedness Questionnaire Discussion

  1. Do you think that your family is relatively well-prepared for a disaster such as an earthquake, tornado, winter storm, fire, flood or hazardous material incident? The emergency management community hopes that you are ready! It's hard to imagine a disaster so destructive and widespread that the American Red Cross wouldn't be able to reach you and your family in a matter of hours with cups of coffee and warm blankets. But potential for such a disaster does exist. The New Madrid earthquake fault, right here in Illinois, is an example of a disaster with enormous destructive potential. The emergency management community has plans in place to respond to these widespread disasters. Their goal, of course, is to help the most needy (those trapped by fallen buildings, in burning homes, crushed cars, etc.) first. In order to meet that goal they need to be able to count on Illinoisans who are not in imminent danger to fend for themselves for at least 72 hours. Your well-prepared family could help save the lives of others, not just yourselves.

  2. Do you believe that the community you live in is relatively well-prepared for a disaster? What do you REALLY know about your community's disaster plans? Do you know if your community has a siren warning system? Do you know what it means when you hear a siren? For example in the Champaign/Urbana area each siren that is sounded means you should remain in your shelter for another 30 minutes. So if you hear one siren, seek shelter. If you hear a second siren, remain in your shelter for another 30 minutes. In other communities a second siren may indicate an "all clear." Some communities do not have a siren system at all. It is important that you know about your community's siren system. Remember, most warning sirens are designed to provide warnings to those working or participating in other activities outdoors.  They are not designed to provide blanket coverage for those inside a closed building.  Use the NOAA weather radio or commercial radio or television broadcasts for weather information when indoors.  Remember, non-local cable or satellite television channels most often will not provide local weather warning information.Has your county ESDA (Emergency Services Disaster Agency) coordinator worked with local hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, shopping malls, schools, etc. to make sure they have a plan for what to do during an emergency? Do you know who your ESDA coordinator is? He or she is in the phone book - you might want to give him/her a call.

  3. Have you discussed disaster preparedness with your family? If you have a plan of what you will do during a disaster but you haven't shared it with your family ahead of time, your plan may not work! Each family member needs to know how to phone for help, escape out of the house, and seek safe shelter in the house. Each family member needs to know how to be safe when they are out of the home (at work, school, play). Each family member needs to know how the family plans to reunite if it becomes impossible to return to the home.

  4. Do all members of your family know how to call for help? If you have kids, do they know how to phone for help? Do they know to dial 911 (if it is available where you live)? If you don't have 911, do you have the number of the Sheriff, Police, Fire, Ambulance, Poison Control, responsible friend/relative, etc. near the phone? Do your kids know what sort of information they will need to give over the phone (i.e., the address of the home, their last name, etc.)? Do they know to phone from outside of the house if the house is on fire? Do they know to stay off the phone during an electrical storm?

  5. Have you conducted a home hazard hunt and fixed potential hazards? Many disasters at home can be averted with a simple hazard hunt. Is the home fire-safe - no frayed electrical cords, no overloaded outlets, working smoke detectors, working carbon monoxide detectors, no flammable liquids near sources of heat or flames? Are working fire extinguishers easily available? Is the home earthquake safe--no unsecured heavy objects (mirrors, bookshelves, etc.), the water heater bolted to the wall?

  6. Do you have a Family Disaster Supply Kit? In your supply kit you will need ALL of the things it will take to survive 72 hours. This will include food and water of course, but also medicines, blankets, flashlights, etc. Even if you don't put together an actual kit (although we encourage you to do so), think about having at least enough food, water and medicine at home with you to last 72 hours.

  7. Do you have a Disaster Supply Kit for each car? A small box in the trunk of your car, with blankets, a first-aid kit, cash, food, flashlight, radio, etc. could literally mean the difference between life and death. Every car should have a kit. You might want to change the contents of the kit for the different seasons of the year.

  8. Are you current in First-Aid training (within the last 3 years)? Basic first-aid, for example how to stop bleeding by applying pressure, can be crucial, even life saving knowledge. First-aid courses are often offered by local American Red Cross chapters and local hospitals for nominal charges. Think how happy you (and the victim) will be if you are able to make use of current training in an emergency situation.

  9. Are all responsible family members current in First-Aid? Unfortunately, there is the possibility that YOU might be the victim! Does everyone in your family know basic first-aid?

  10. Are you current in CPR (trained in the last 3 years)? CPR - Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation is a simple technique that has saved many folks who would have otherwise been choking, drowning, smoke inhalation, or heart attack victims. When you think about a few hours of training saving a loved one's life, isn't it worth it?

  11. Are all responsible family members current in CPR? Again, there is the possibility that YOU might be the victim! Or, you might not be home when the incident occurs. Be sure that everyone in your family is trained.

  12. Do you have operational smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors? Having a smoke detector and/or a carbon monoxide detector in your home is NOT good enough! You need to make sure they are operational, that is, they must have working batteries. An operational smoke detector more than doubles your chance of escaping from your home alive. Two good rules of thumb are check your detectors once a month (pick a day of the month, say the 1st, and make a habit of checking the detectors every month on the 1st); when you change your clock for daylight savings/standard time, change the batteries of detectors too.

  13. Do you have a charged ABC fire extinguisher? There are three basic classes of fires. All fire extinguishers are labeled using standard symbols for the classes of fires they can put out. A red slash through any of the symbols tells you the extinguisher cannot be used on that class of fire. A missing symbol tells you only that the extinguisher has not been tested for a given class of fire. Class A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and many plastics. Class B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, lacquer, and flammable gas. Class C: Energized electrical equipment - including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances Many household fire extinguishers are "multipurpose" A-B-C models, labeled for use on all three classes of fire. If you are ever faced with a Class A fire and don't have an extinguisher with an "A" symbol, don't hesitate to use one with the "B:C" symbol. WARNING: It is very dangerous to use water or an extinguisher labeled only for Class A fires on a Class B or Class C fire. > Do you know where your fire extinguisher is? Do you know if it is still fully charged (they can lose their charge over time)?

  14. Do you know how to use the fire extinguisher? Using a fire extinguisher is not completely straightforward and the time to learn how to operate one is NOT during a fire. Follow the four-step PASS procedure. Pull the pin: This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher. Aim low: Point the extinguisher nozzle (or hose) at the base of the fire. Squeeze the lever above the handle: This discharges the extinguishing agent. (Some extinguishers have a button instead of a lever.) Sweep from side-to-side: Moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the flames appear to be out. A good practice might be to purchase two fire extinguishers--one to keep and one to let each family member practice on.

  15. Do you know how to turn off all utilities (gas, electricity, water, etc.)? For a variety of reasons, it may be necessary to turn off the utilities in your home. Do you know where the water main is? Do you know where the circuit breaker box is? Does everyone in your family know NOT to turn off the electricity if you have to stand in water to do so? Both the Extension Service and the American Red Cross can provide you with instructions on how to turn off your utilities.

  16. Do you know where your family records are? If your house burned down today would your insurance papers, household inventory, receipts, etc. burn too? A great place to keep your valuable papers (marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports, insurance papers, household inventory, etc.) is in a safe deposit box. It is probably not wise to keep your will in a safe deposit box though. A will is best kept with your attorney or a close friend (if you die it will become difficult for others to access your safe deposit box, making it difficult for them to find your will).

  17. Do you know where your family will meet outside your home in case of an emergency? If your family is separated during an emergency you should have two contingency plans in place. The first plan should be a place to meet near your home (such as across the street at a neighbor's) if the emergency is something like your house burning down. The second plan should be a place to meet in your community, away from your home, (such as a local business or friend's house) if the emergency is something like your neighborhood being evacuated. By knowing ahead of time where to rendezvous, family members can avoid needlessly worrying about members that are fine and concentrate on family members that are unaccounted for.

  18. Do you know at least two exits from every room in your house in case of a fire? Most rooms have a door and a window. If the window is a second story window, do you have a way to escape safely (i.e., a fire ladder)?

  19. Have you practiced an emergency drill in your home within the past year? Drills are a terrific way of making sure that everyone in the family (kids and adults) understands and has the physical/mental ability to carry out the plan your family has developed. If kids get confused about whether to stay inside or leave the house during a fire for example, the time to get them straight about it is BEFORE anything happens.

  20. Do you have an out-of-area phone contact? Believe it or not, long distance phone calls are often easier to make immediately following a disaster than are local phone calls. If everyone in your family knows to phone "Aunt Susie in Oklahoma," Aunt Susie can help link families that have been separated and help identify those family members that are unaccounted for.

  21. Do you know about disaster plans at your workplace, at your children's school or day care, etc.? Few of us spend 100 percent of our time at home, so we need to know about the disaster plans at the other places we (and our loved ones) spend time. Be sure that you know what the plan is and that it is a sound plan.

  22. Can you list the actual cash value of EVERY item in your home, garage, and patio? You may be asked to create such a list after a fire, tornado or flood! Obviously, a wise choice is to make that list (often times called a household inventory) well before a disaster occurs. A household inventory can provide you with some excellent information for deciding how much insurance to purchase as well. The Illinois Cooperative Extension Service and the Illinois Department of Insurance have recently put together a household inventory which is available for a nominal charge.

  23. Do you know what your homeowners insurance covers? Are you aware that virtually NO homeowners insurance policies cover damage done by floods, earthquakes, mine subsidence or sewer backup? Some homeowners insurance policies do not even cover frozen pipes or damage caused by the weight of snow! How can you be sure you are covered for the hazards you face? First, find out what risks are in your area (you may not be at risk for mine subsidence, for example, if you do not live near a mine). Then discuss these risks with your insurance agent and make sure you have the coverage you need. To purchase flood insurance you will need to be living in a community "participating" with the National Flood Insurance Program. If your agent is unfamiliar with flood insurance call the following for more information: Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Water Resources (217-782-3863) or the National Flood Insurance Program (800-638-6620)

  24. Some family members have special needs, for example the elderly, mobility impaired or sick. Do you have a plan for making sure these members will be safe during a disaster? Check your family disaster plan and make sure it will work for everyone. For example, if the family plan is to seek shelter in the basement during a tornado warning, be sure everyone in the family is able to negotiate the stairs to the basement. If some members are unable to go to the basement, make sure you have a second plan in place for them (i.e., seek shelter in an interior room, under a heavy piece of furniture).
  25. Do you have a plan for your pets? A simple sign on your door, alerting the fire department to the fact that you have pets inside, could save your pets' lives. Bringing a pet to a temporary shelter may pose health risks that the local shelter may not be willing to cope with. It's a good idea to arrange for a place ahead of time (maybe a friend or relative) where your pets could stay temporarily in case of an emergency.

  26. Do you know the difference between the National Weather Service's "watch" and "warning" signals? A watch means conditions are favorable for hazardous weather to occur (watch tv, etc.). A warning means hazardous weather is occurring, imminent or highly likely. Take protective action. Watches and warnings are issued for weather hazards that pose a threat to life and/or property, including tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, floods/flash floods, winter storms, and extreme wind chills or heat.

There are lots of places to turn for more information about disaster preparation and planning:

  • Illinois Emergency Management Agency (Springfield office)
  • Emergency Management Agency (each county and many municipalities have an EMA coordinator)
  • American Red Cross (organized in "chapters" across the state)
  • Illinois Department of Insurance (Springfield and Chicago offices - also check with your agent)
  • National Weather Service (offices across the state - ask for: Warning Coordinator Meteorologist)
  • State Fire Marshal's Office (Springfield office - also check with your local fire department)

Written by: Holly Hunts, Consumer & Family Economics Specialist July, 1996.
Further revisions by Rick Atterberry, March 2006.

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