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Emergency Info Online, Fifth Edition

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II. Make a Plan

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Planning for an Emergency

By John Cavanagh and Anne Malia

Due to their unexpected nature, emergency situations are often chaotic. People react to different situations in different ways, and it is very common for an individual to lose his or her composure during a crisis and forget the appropriate actions to take. Although it is necessary to have a detailed emergency plan, one should also have a very basic concept of what to do in the event of an emergency. By making a “First Things To Do” list, whether at home, school or work, you can be confident that everyone involved will know how to handle themselves in an emergency. Each emergency situation is different, but there are basic guidelines that can help you through any incident that might occur. The following list of the first things to do in any emergency contains overall tips that could fit most situations.

First Things to Do in Any Emergency

  • Stay calm. This will allow you to think clearly and use common sense.
  • Access the scenario for danger. Decide whether it is safer to evacuate or shelter-in-place.
  • Once safely evacuated or sheltered-in-place, call for help using 911 and clearly explain what you know about the situation.
  • Provide first aid for any injured people. Move any people who are injured away from further danger.
  • Obtain as much information about the emergency as possible, without putting yourself in danger. Pass the information on to emergency responders when they arrive on the scene.

One of the most common emergencies is the occurrence of a fire, so it is important that all schools, homes, offices and other public places have a plan for what they would do in the event that a fire starts in their building. Each person involved should be familiar with the following list in order to know what to do in case of an evacuation. While the above mentioned steps will help in any emergency, these more specific actions could make the difference between life and death during a fire.

First Things To Do in a Fire

  1. Know your escape routes. Make sure that everyone is aware of the easiest escape route. In addition to your first choice of a route, have several backups incase the way is blocked. Homes should always have a portable window fire escape ladder stored on the second story. Do not forget to plan usable escape routes for people who have disabilities, and designate someone to assist them in the event of an evacuation.
  2. Stay low. As we are taught at a young age, smoke rises, and it is important to stay low to ground in order to avoid it. You will be able to see more clearly and will be breathing in less smoke. Feel doors for heat to judge whether fire is on the other side. If fire is on the other side, make sure that the door is completely closed and wave a towel or piece of clothing out the window to get the attention of a firefighter or a rescuer.
  3. Call for help. Never stop while inside a burning building to call 911—get out first! In many cases, a neighbor or passerby might have called 911 while you were in the process of evacuating. If responders still have not arrived on the scene once you are safely outside, make sure that someone has called, since waiting even a few minutes before making that 911 call could cost lives.
  4. Get to a meeting spot. Most likely, your family, business or school has a meeting place set up where everyone will meet if the building is evacuated. If you don’t have such a spot, take the initiative to set one up! As soon as you get out of the burning building, get to the meeting spot. Once there, you can survey who is safe and who might be trapped inside the building. You can then alert firefighters as to where people who are not present may be located inside.

First Things To Do In A Thunderstorm or Hurricane

Unfortunately, many fatalities occur each year from people who do not take thunderstorms seriously. Even in storms that you may not think are very dangerous, there is still a risk of electrical shock or being struck by lightening. Following these simple steps can ensure that you and your family will be safer during storms:

  1. As soon as you hear of an oncoming storm, gather everyone inside – preferably, as close to the center of the building as possible, away from windows.
  2. Secure outside objects, such as lawn furniture or garbage cans, which could blow away and cause damage or injury to others.
  3. Gather candles, flashlights, and a battery powered radio so that if the power goes out, you will not have to search for these supplies in the dark. (Ideally, these should already be kept in an emergency kit which everyone knows the location of.)
  4. Try to avoid: taking baths and showers, watching television, working on a computer, or running an air conditioner. All of these things put you more at risk for electric shock. Telephones should be used in emergencies only.

REMEMBER: If the power goes out during extreme cold or extreme heat, your home may not be safe to occupy without working heat or air conditioning. Call your town or city’s information hotline to see about emergency shelter options.

There are an endless number of emergencies that can occur. You are responsible for planning in your own home, and letting an administrator know if you think the plan in your school or office is not as solid as it should be. Preparing is one of the most important steps, but sometimes emergencies occur no matter how prepared we may be – that is why it is important to know the first and most important things to do during any emergency.

Resources for Fire Safety:

Fire Safety Directory

This free online directory contains links to residential fire safety resources available on the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Fire Administration. A brief description of each resource is provided, along with a link to the resource webpage.

All articles in Bridge Multimedia’s 30 Days, 30 Resources series are available for publication in whole or in part without further permission, free of charge, with attribution to Bridge Multimedia and


About the Writers

John Cavanagh is Communications Director for Bridge Multimedia and Chief Researcher for Emergency Information Online.

Anne Malia writes about technology and emergency preparedness for people with special needs and has contributed to the production of and

Article inquiries welcome. On request, we can provide feature-length articles tailored to your audience and requirements. Please contact John Cavanagh at Bridge Multimedia: or .

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