Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Herriman Fire Reminds Us to Be Prepared

Jana Sweeny, Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross, spent time in the Red Cross shelter for residents of Herriman who had to evacuate. Here is her story of one family who took the necessary precautions to be prepared. What would you bring in the event of an evacuation? Are you prepared?

Monday morning haze hung over Herriman High School as people wandered around the American Red Cross shelter located there. Some were waking up from sleep, some stayed awake all night waiting for news. Most people were in the cafeteria getting breakfast for their children and a snack or cup of coffee for themselves. Like many people do when hearing about this type of disaster, I began thinking about what I would take from my home if I only had 10 or 20 minutes to get out. I have my disaster kit ready to go and keep important documents in a fire-proof lockbox. I also keep a list of things I want to remember to grab- work boots, change of clothes, prescriptions for my family and my pets. I started talking to people about this. What did they grab? What do they wish they had grabbed? Most answers were similar- computers, paperwork, and family photos. Many people talked about having to leave precious family mementos behind. Antique furniture made by relatives, artwork, and other treasures that could never be replaced.

During this string of conversations I started talking to Chris Streicher who recently moved into his Herriman home with his new bride Angela and his teenage son. As we began to talk I realized that his story of evacuation was much different. Chris and Angela care for three aging family members in their home. Chris’s mother who is in her 70’s and Angela’s aunt and uncle who are in their 80’s live with the couple. They bought their home in Herriman because it had the space to accommodate the needs of these very special
family members. They were able to add handicap accessible fittings to bathrooms and stairwells to make sure that all three, who use assistive devices including wheel chairs and walkers, could comfortably access their whole home.

When the notice came from police that they had 20 minutes to get out the first thought was, what do they need to bring for their elderly family members. Chris loaded the wheel chairs and walkers, while Angela packed the bags. They made sure to grab everyone’s medication and then they piled in the car and headed to Herriman High School. On arrival Chris immediately notified the Red Cross nurses of the condition of his family. He asked that they be looked at by a medical profession to ensure that the high level of smoke hadn’t caused any breathing problems. After they were checked out Chris made the difficult decision to split the family up. He realized quickly that his mother and Angela’s aunt and uncle would be more comfortable in a hotel. He made arrangements and dropped Angela off with the older members of the family. He and his son returned to the shelter for the night knowing that it would probably be the best place to quickly receive updates on the situation.

Taking into account the needs of vulnerable family members is key to smart disaster planning. Chris had great suggestions for elderly family members. Ensure that you have assistive devices that will help them continue to feel some level of independence, not only wheel chairs, but walkers or canes. Make sure to grab all medication. Remember that elderly family members often feel security in certain items such as their purse or wallet. Be sure to grab those things as well. As Chris said “you can always run to the WalMart for new socks, but some things are harder or will take longer to replace.” He also recommended making sure that all of your family members are informed about what is happening. As any of us with aging relatives know, change in routine is often hard. Even though he had little time, he quickly explained to them what was happening and then took more time in the safety of the shelter to talk through the decision with this family. Additionally, make sure to inform shelter staff at check in of any potential medical needs of your family. Finally, ask for help if you need it. Chris asked members of the police department who were patrolling the neighborhood to assist him in getting everyone and everything loaded into the car. Recognizing that it would take the Streicher family longer than families who were all able bodied, they were more than happy to help.

Chris and Angela did everything right. They made good and informed choices for their family and were able to react quickly because they had taken time to think through potential scenarios and plan for them ahead of time. To ensure your family is prepared like the Streichers are, visit the Red Cross website.

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