Drills and Rally Plans

As a commercial pilot, we are taught to identify possible threats and then discuss how we plan on mitigating those threats. This module is no different. No matter where you live, you are always going to be faced with some threats, be it earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunami's, etc, there will always be something. Some threats might be preceded by a warning, such as a hurricane, while others provide no warning at all, such as earthquakes. Once you're aware of your threat(s), you can start taking the necessary steps toward mitigating them.

I have discussed with my family many of the threats we face here in Salt Lake City, but there are 3 specific threats that we drill often. Each of these 3 threats are of the "no warning" variety, which is all the more reason why I require my kids to be very familiar with each of them. No matter where you live, you and your family are at risk for at least two of these, and if you live in the western US, you are at risk for all 3. These 3 threats are: Earthquakes, House Fires, and Home Invasions. And these threats will be the topic of this module. With this in mind, I encourage you to take this month and identify the threats that you and your family are most likely to be faced with and talk with your family about these threats. Discuss some of the ways in which you can prepare beforehand, what you should do during, and what you are supposed to do afterward. Let's start with earthquake considerations.

Earthquake Planning

What to do Before an Earthquake:

Earthquakes are unlike other disasters in that they strike suddenly, violently and without warning. So, the key to earthquake preparedness is advance preparation. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake.

Five Ways to Plan Ahead

  1. Check for Hazards in the Home

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls.

  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.

  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.

  • Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit.

  • Brace overhead light fixtures.

  • Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.

  • Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.

  • Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.

  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.

  1. Identify Safe Places Indoors and Outdoors

  • Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table.

  • Against an inside wall.

  • Away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.

  • In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.

  1. Educate Yourself and Family Members

  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on earthquakes.

  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.

  • Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.

  • Run earthquake drills with your kids a couple of times a year.

  • Teach them to stay put during an earthquake. You don't want them frantically running around the house.

  • Make sure they have a Bed Kit. Talk to them about the importance of having shoes following an earthquake. The most common injury in the 1997 Northridge Ca. earthquake was glass in feet.

  1. Have Disaster Supplies on Hand (Bed kits and 72-hour kits)

  • Flashlight and extra batteries. We keep an LED lantern in every room for every occupant (in the bed kit underneath each bed).

  • Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries.

  • First aid kit and first aid manual.

  • Emergency food and water (72-hour kit at a min, 96-hour is better).

  • Nonelectric can opener.

  • Essential medicines.

  • Cash and credit cards.

  • Sturdy shoes. Keep these in your bed kits or at least near your bed. Especially for your kids. Did you know that the most common injury during the M 6.7 Northridge earthquake in California in 1994 was glass in people's feet? FEET INJURIES. How sad. If nothing else, please keep shoes by your kids' beds. Make sure they are in arms reach. Following a big earthquake, such as the Northridge earthquake, windows are going to be broken and glass is going to be all over the place. The last thing you want to deal with during the immediate aftermath of an earthquake is your 9-year-old (I have one of them) running into your room and not only panicked from the earthquake, but screaming because their feet are bleeding profusely from broken shards of glass. And good luck getting medical attention immediately following a large earthquake. Now you've got a serious problem on your hands. My kids know that the first thing they do is grab their kits, turn on their led lanterns, and put their shoes on. If there is nothing else you do, please take just a couple minutes and make sure your kids have shoes by their bed.

  1. Develop a Rally Plan and Emergency Communications Plan

  • In case family members are separated from one another during an earthquake (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster.

  • If necessary, assign some tasks to some of your older kids. These might include help with younger siblings, those with special needs, pets, etc.

  • Make sure you establish beforehand a meeting or rally point. See the end of this article for more information on this.

What to Do During an Earthquake:

Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If indoors:

  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.

  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

  • If in a public building, DO NOT use the elevators.

If outdoors:

  • Stay there.

  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If in a moving vehicle:

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.

  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If trapped under debris:

  • Do not light a match.

  • Do not move about or kick up dust.

  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.

  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

What to Do After an Earthquake

  • The first thing that should be done is everyone should get their shoes on. Remember what was just said about the Northridge Earthquake. Shoes are a must.

  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Much of the damage done to structures comes from the aftershocks. Often times, the primary quake weakens structures while the aftershocks bring them down.

  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television. Listen for the latest emergency information.

  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.

  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.

  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.

  • Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.

  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.

  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.

  • Inspect utilities.

  • Check for gas leaks. Do not turn off the gas unless you have a definitive reason. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. Keep a gas wrench next to your valve. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional. This could take days for them to make it out to your house, so only turn it off if you smell gas.

  • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

  • Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Fire Safety

I once read a statistic that basically said there are far fewer casualties in school fires than there are in home fires. And the reason for this is very interesting. Schools have periodic fire drills, and therefore, the kids know exactly what to do when the fire alarm goes off. But at home, fire drills are rarely run leaving kids confused as to what they are supposed to do in the event of an actual home fire. And this confusion often has tragic consequences. But it does not have to be this way. Please talk to your kids about fire safety and run periodic fire drills at least twice a year. Here are some things to talk about with your family:

Egress (2 ways out)

Discuss with your kids at least two (2) ways to get out of each and every room in your house (this should be at least a door and a window). Take them in each room and discuss all their options with them. Discuss the risks of each. Discuss how to prioritize each option. Teach them how to feel the door handle to see if it is hot. Make sure they can unlock and open each window. And if needed, show them how they would break the window to get out. Discuss all the precautions they need to take to avoid getting cut while evacuating through a broken window. Make sure your basement windows don't have heavy window well covers on them, and if they do, make sure your kids know how to remove these. They make covers that are secured from inside the window well. These keep intruders out, but have a quick release mechanism that allows for easy egress out the window well. It is great practice to have them unlock, open, and actually use the window for egress. Younger kids may not be able to climb out of the window well. They make window well ladders for this. You may want to look into this. If you have a house with a second story, make sure you have escape ladders for each room, and show your kids how to use these ladders. These ladders come folded quite small so you can store them somewhere near your windows. Then, when needed, just hood them over the window ledge and drop the ladder down. Make sure the ladder you have or plan on getting is the correct length for its intended use. These ladders are not very expensive, and this is one safety item that you do not want to wait until you need to go buy. The consequences of not having a safety ladder FAR outweigh the cost of buying one. Do not put a price on your kid's safety (especially when that price is in the double digits). A 13-foot ladder is about $33 and a 25-foot ladder is about $53. Amazon and Home Depot both sell these. Get the size that is right for your house. So if you have a second story house, please look into these.

Fire Extinguishers

Do you have fire extinguishers in your house? At the very least, keep one in the kitchen (where the majority of house fires start), the garage, the utility room in the basement, the laundry room, and I keep one in the master bedroom next to my bed kit. I figure, if a fire alarm wakes us up, I'll have an extinguisher within arms reach. But you can put them where ever you feel you need them. Make sure your kids know where all of yours are. Take this opportunity to add the locations of all the extinguishers to your home manual. I hadn't let my kids know where ours were until my daughter asked if we have any in the house. Check to make sure they have a good charge (in the green). They do eventually lose their charge. They are usually good anywhere from 5-15 years. Make sure your kids know how to use them. If you have an old one, let the kids discharge it in the yard so they can see first hand how it works. Teach them to aim at the base of the fire, sweeping back and forth. Make sure they know that fire extinguishers spray between 5 to 20 feet, depending on the size, and only last 10 to 25 seconds, again depending on the size.

A common fire extinguisher type is called an A-B-C extinguisher. For A, think of Ash: this is anything that burns and leaves ash, such as paper, wood, etc. For B, think of Boil: this is flammable liquids such as gasoline, solvents, paints, etc. For C, think of Current (as in electrical): this usually deals with electricity and electrical fires. There are other classes of fire extinguishers as well, but the A B C extinguishers cover most everything. See the chart below for more information.

Smoke Alarms

Make sure you have enough smoke alarms installed. Here are some general guidelines on where smoke alarms should be installed (put out by the National Fire Protection Association):

  • Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.

  • On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.

  • Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.

  • Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.

  • Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).

  • If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak (four inches down from the peak).

  • Don't install smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where drafts might interfere with their operation.

  • Never paint smoke alarms. Paint, stickers, or other decorations could keep the alarms from working.

  • For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms. When one smoke alarm sounds they all sound. Interconnection can be done using hard-wiring or wireless technology.

  • When interconnected smoke alarms are installed, it is important that all of the alarms are from the same manufacturer. If the alarms are not compatible, they may not sound.

  • There are two types of smoke alarms – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms or combination ionization-photoelectric alarms, also known as dual sensor smoke alarms, are recommended.

  • Change the batteries every 6 months. And change all of them at the same time.

  • Test each detector periodically. I do it when I change the batteries. Make sure your kids are around when you test them. They need to know what they sound like when they go off. They need to know what to do when they hear that sound. The last thing you want your kids to do when a smoke alarm goes off is ask "What's that?" I experienced this first hand with my kids. I used to test them while the kids were gone so I didn't scare them (I realize now that that is the point of that deafening sound). But recently, I decided to test them while the kids were in the room, just to see their reaction. The younger ones didn't know what it was (but they do now). So let your kids hear them. They need to recognize that sound. And explain what they will sound like when the batteries get low (that annoying chirp).

  • Keep manufacturer’s instructions for reference.


Fire Drills

Make sure you run fire drills at least twice a year, and for effect, use the actual smoke alarm to signal a fire. Maybe tell them beforehand the first few times you do this. I know it will upset the younger ones, but if you do it enough, they will get used to that sound triggering their routine. As your kids get better at it, start introducing surprise fire drills. After all, that is what the real one is going to be...a surprise. If you feel overwhelmed, consider assigning tasks to older family members. Maybe someone is responsible for calling 9-1-1. Maybe someone else is responsible for the initial headcount at the rally point. Maybe you will need help with an infant, younger children, or special needs persons. Up to you, but make sure it is drilled often, so everyone knows what they are supposed to do.

Drill your meeting or rally point as well. Make sure everyone knows which point is going to be used. For more information on this, please reference the end of this article.

Home Invasions

If you're not comfortable with the topic of home security and dealing with home invasions, you can skip down to the next section, Meeting or Rally Point. But for the rest of you, I'll continue. According to the department of justice, approximately 3.7 million burglaries occur every year. Nearly 28% of these are home invasions, which are defined as when you are home during a break-in. The scary statistic is next: Around 26% of these home invasions are violent. Having a plan is the most important thing that you as the homeowner can do. So, do YOU have a plan? Discussing this may not be comfortable, but neither is being a victim of a home invasion. Remember this: Sometimes there's Justice and sometimes there's Just Us.

I'm going to keep this part vague as to not advertise our own family security plan, but suffice it to say, I have talked to my family (including my kids) about home invasions and in particular, alarm activation protocol, and everyone knows what they are to do in the event that this happens. Make sure your kids know what they are supposed to do. The last thing you want is your kids to panic and run through the house looking for you. Make sure someone is calling the police. Make sure your kids know they are to remain silent, as noise will identify their location. Decide what defensive measures you are willing to take. Decide what your position is on having a firearm. And if you do have a firearm, please please please identify all potential targets first (using a light at night). There is nothing more sad than hearing about a homeowner shooting their own child who was a little too noisy or accidentally tripped the alarm. Work all of these scenarios into your plan.

There is a great article that covers all these home invasion considerations. If you are concerned about home invasions and want some great insight, please take the time to read over this: Home Invasion Defense Planning by ThreatScenarios.com.

Here are some other things you may want to consider. Always keep your cell phone by your bed. And always have a light by your bed. I have an LED lantern in my night stand as well as a small flashlight next to my lamp. You may want to keep your key fob next to your bed as well. In the event you hear someone inside outside of your home, pressing the panic button just might be enough to deter them and scare them off. And of course, you've got your bed kit which can be as entailed as you choose. Have a dog? They are great noise makers and will deter most would-be thieves. And finally, discuss this with your kids periodically. Keep it fresh in their minds. Make sure they can recite back to you what they are supposed to do.

While these are just a few scenarios that pose a threat to us, please identify what your greatest threats are, and start working out your own mitigation plan. Include your kids and drill these plans often. Just a little bit of preparation and discussion could literally be the difference between life and death.

Meeting or Rally Point

Do you have a predetermined meeting or rally point? You don't want your kids running through the house or all over the neighborhood looking for you while you're running all over looking for them. That is extra chaos you just don't need. Schools designate a meeting place for each grade. Your kids are already used to this, so adopt the same practice. If everyone knows where the meeting point is, accounting for everyone will go much smoother. This spot should be in an open area, away from buildings, street lights, power or utility lines, and other structures that might be compromised during an earthquake. Also, consider a location that may be a little further away from your house, in the case of a house fire. Also, consider not using a location near the street, such as the mailbox. Why? You do not want your kids near the street if emergency vehicles expected to be racing up, such as in the event of a house fire. Think of something close by, but away from your home. Maybe you live across the street from a park. Or maybe you pick a spot on your neighbor's lawn. But wherever you choose, make sure everyone in your family knows about this location. Remind them often.

Page updated on 12/2/20