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Making a Home Escape Plan

While it would be a tall order to find any family who would want to be evacuated from their home, a well-orchestrated evacuation plan is crucial to family members' safety and peace of mind.

"Probably the most critical thing is having a plan for the various things that can happen before they actually happen," says Jackson County Fire District 3 division chief fire marshal Ken Johnson.

"It's pretty common to see that attitude of 'it will never happen to me.' It's something that, yes, it is a rare occurrence, but if there's a chance it can happen to folks, they need to be prepared."

Devising a plan of immediate escape is as basic as creating a simple sketch of the layout of the home. Outline various sleeping and living areas and pinpoint at least two escape routes from each area. Practicing escape routes with the whole family will help work out any problems, Johnson says.

"It's really as simple as saying, 'O.K., there's a fire in the kitchen.' Then walk through it with the family. Doing a walk-through typically will identify things you didn't think of, like, 'Gee, I need to fix the latch on the window,' or 'Hey, we need a ladder outside the second floor window.'"

Johnson recommends practicing an evacuation plan at least once every six months, at the same time smoke detector batteries are tested. To mix things up a bit, plan a practice evacuation at a time of day or night when it's least expected.

After working out the logistics of escaping a potentially dangerous or uninhabitable situation, think about possible long-term needs. As witnessed with victims of Hurricane Katrina last year, displacement from disaster can mean days, weeks or longer.

Aside from a 72-hour kit, which should include basic necessities such as medication, non-perishable food and a portable radio, plan for long-term medication, infant formula or pet food that would be hard to find following a disaster.

For shelter, determine locations of emergency shelters and gather phone numbers, maps and other pertinent information to store in an evacuation kit.

Keep a list of relatives' phone numbers who could provide shelter, care for pets or serve as a point of contact for extended family to report to, minimizing worry about "missing" family members.

In the event of an area evacuation in which a waiting period precedes evacuation, collect any financial documents (carefully organized and put in one place before hand), photographs and other irreplaceable items.

When police or firefighters order evacuation, follow instructions to ensure the safety of family members and emergency personnel. Johnson encourages involving the family and setting an afternoon aside to devise a plan for various emergency scenarios.

"Get the family together and talk about 'What if,'" Johnson says.

"What if we have a flood? What about an earthquake situation. If we could be out of our home for 'X' amount of days, or without certain services… In addition to escaping right away, have a plan in place to handle the situation as long as necessary."

Johnson adds, "We try to emphasize 'Your Family. Your Responsibility.' Whether it's fire safety, emergency preparedness or whatever kind of disaster, one of the lessons learned out of Hurricane Katrina is that it's important to be prepared for the absolute basics. It's just so important to be prepared before you need to be."