Why Everyone Needs an Emergency Plan:

Three Emergency Scenarios That Anyone Might Face

I have heard it stated by more than one person that they had no need for an emergency plan. The idea was that they weren’t going to give in to fear over what “might happen.” I respectfully disagree with that sentiment. Unfortunately, many people approach preparedness from the wrong perspective, one of fear. In truth, preparedness planning is all about taking away the fear and empowering oneself with options should one face an emergency.

So, what are the three types of emergency scenarios that anyone might face? First, there is the possibility of a long-term loss of income. The second scenario is that of needing to shelter-in-place, and the third is a general evacuation emergency.

A long-term loss of income can occur as the result of layoff, illness or injury and can take a tremendous toll on a person or family. Having experienced both long-term loss of income from job loss and long-term decrease in income while out of work due to an injury, I know how far-reaching the effects of a partial or complete loss of income can be. It is especially difficult if one is not prepared.

Your emergency plan should include working toward a goal of storing at least 1 to 3 months’ worth of extra food and non-food consumables in your home at all times, savings that equal 3 to 6 months’ worth of monthly expenses, and a list of would need to be done if the unthinkable happened. Consider things like auto-pay subscriptions you’d need to cancel or place on hold and no- or low-cost alternatives you could choose to decrease your bills (e.g. using the Wi-Fi at the library so you could cancel your internet, Netflix instead of Cable TV). Determine who you would rely on as an emotional or financial support system within your family, friends, church or civic group.

The second scenario, sheltering-in-place, can happen as the result of a variety of emergencies. No matter where you live, or what time of year, power outages can take place. They are the most common shelter-in-place emergency, and they can be caused by either natural, weather-related events or can have a more ominous origin. While in most cases this type event would be a shelter-in-place situation, one exception would be for those who use medical equipment that requires electricity.

In June 2012, U.S. citizens experienced the deadly power of a derecho when a series of powerful and fast-moving thunderstorms rolled across the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic United States. The storm killed at least 20 people and caused millions of residents to lose power. Many of those without power were in our own area in southwestern Virginia.

Emergency planning will prevent you from being one of the people left scrambling to grab supplies from the grocery store shelves before they run out. It will assure that you always have fresh batteries in your flashlight, a backup supply of essential medications in case the pharmacies are without power, as well as adequate food and drinking water for your family.

Other Things to consider in a power outage:

  • • How will you cook or preserve your refrigerated foods without electricity?
  • • Do you require electricity to run a well pump or medically necessary equipment? If so, do you have an alternate way to power them? If not, would you need to evacuate?
  • • Do you have a non-electric alarm clock so that you wake up on time for work?
  • • If the power outage is wide scale, does it affect your employment and, subsequently, your income?
  • Are you financially prepared for a weeklong loss of wages?
  • • Do you have a way to charge your cellphone while your electricity is off?
  • • Do you know what to do with electrical appliances, electronics and breakers to prevent damage from potential power surges or power restoration?
  • Other emergencies can also cause a shelter-in-place scenario. One such example took place on January 9, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia after a chemical spill into the Elk River contaminated the water supply of 300,000 people. Confusion and miscommunication elevated the fear level of those affected, who were “warned not to use their tap water for any purpose—no drinking, no showering, not for washing dishes or brushing teeth.” According to Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue reporter, “Nearly two months later, following a chorale of mixed messages about safety, many Charleston residents are still afraid to drink from their taps.”

    Not even one month after the Charleston fiasco, a storm water pipe at Duke Energy’s Dan River coal plant in North Carolina failed and up to 39,000 tons of coal ash flowed into the river. Although the breach did not contaminate the public drinking water in that incident, the potential was there.

    On August 1, 2014, only six months later, 400,000 Toledo, Ohio-area residents received a “Do not drink the water” order after an overgrowth of poisonous algae toxins in Lake Eerie caused high concentrations of Microcystin in their water supply. Although the residents were instructed that the water could be used for bathing, it had a potential for causing skin irritation and rashes at higher concentrations. Any accidental ingestion while showering could cause nausea, vomiting and liver damage. Contamination levels were high enough to kill dogs and livestock.

    In both the Ohio and the West Virginia incidents, it was unsafe to boil the water to purify it, because boiling would only concentrate the contaminants, making them even more dangerous. If bottled water was not available and you were a resident affected by one of these incidents, would you know how to purify your water safely? If you did know that you could distill your water to purify it, would you know how? A good emergency plan includes educating yourself on topics such as water purification, food preservation, and other safety issues.

    We have explored both a loss of income emergency and various shelter-in-place emergencies, which leads us to the type of emergencies that would require at least a short-term “general” evacuation from your home. What do I mean by a “general” evacuation emergency? I mean any emergency that would cause you to leave your home due to safety issues. Emergency planning is crucial in these cases to assure a speedy evacuation, to prevent you from forgetting important items, and to guarantee that you can evacuate safely and maintain communication with others in your group.

    Let’s look at the horrific tragedy that took place in Lac-Mégantic, a small Canadian town, in 2013. The world stood riveted in front of televisions and online news reports that followed the breaking news event of a runaway train, hauling crude oil, which had careened off the tracks, exploding and incinerating a large part of that small town.

    Quoting an article from CBC News, Montreal:

    “The Lac-Mégantic disaster was one which caused everyone who lives in a small Canadian city, or town that has freight trains rumbling through it, (to) stop and ponder, ‘That could happen to me some day,’” said Murray Guy, assistant managing editor for the Times & Transcript in Moncton, N.B.

    “From the sheer enormity of the death, destruction and upheaval for a small community's way of life, to the shaken trust we all have in our rail safety laws, Lac-Mégantic will likely become a red-letter day in the world of railway safety. ”

    The event took 47 lives, and the ensuing fire was visible from space. Officials evacuated two thousand people, with an average evacuation length of three to six days. Residents only had a few minutes to gather their belongings and had no idea if, or when, they might be able to return.

    While not everyone lives near a railroad track, trucks hauling hazardous materials fill our highways. In addition, there are the factories that use or produce hazardous materials. All too often, residents in the surrounding area are blissfully unaware of the danger lurking in their quiet neighborhood or city.

    Natural disasters are often general evacuation type emergencies. Most people are familiar with events such as Hurricane Katrina, Post-tropical Storm Sandy, and the many forest fires that lead to an evacuation. In some cases, as in the case of then Hurricane Sandy when New York Governor Cuomo closed mass transit and schools and ordered evacuation of low-lying areas, emergency authorities will make a decision to order a mandatory evacuation ; in others, you must be the one to weigh in on the safety of your family and yourself.

    Your prior preparation will determine the number of options that you have when facing a dangerous situation. Have you prepared financially for an evacuation? Are you familiar with alternate, less congested routes to prevent becoming a victim of traffic jams? Would you remember to take all of your essential items such as medications, important papers, your computer, pet items, etc.? More importantly, even if you didn’t forget important items, how long would it take for you to assemble them all and actually evacuate?

    In the 2013 Black Forest fire in Colorado, 2 people died and 379 homes were destroyed. Sadly, “the bodies were discovered in what was the garage of the home that the blaze leveled. They were next to a car with its doors open. The car’s trunk was packed full of belongings. In an emergency situation, even seconds can mean life or death. No one will ever know how long it took the victims to get their vehicle loaded…or even how long it took to make the decision to leave. One thing is known for certain though. It was too long.

    An emergency plan cannot stop a disaster from happening; however, as survival expert Richard Duarte has stated, “Preparedness and planning expand your available options when you need them the most–during and after a crisis. ” You might say, “We don’t have natural disasters like that where I live…” Your point? Living a lifestyle of preparedness will assure that you are ready, no matter what disaster may come your way.

    Everyone needs an emergency plan.

    • • Preparation helps decrease fear.
    • • Preparation empowers you.
    • • Preparation gives you options.

    Benjamin Franklin said it so simply, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Be prepared. Create your family’s emergency plan now, before it’s too late.


    Aldridge, S. B. (2014). Why do 'I' need an emergency plan? In S. B. Aldridge, The Amateur Prepper's Pocket Guide to Creating an Emergency Plan (pp. 6-24). New Castle: Audeamus Publications.

    Dan River response. (2014, September). Retrieved January 24, 2015, from Duke Energy: http://www.duke-energy.com/dan-river/

    Kozacek, C. (2014, August 02). Toledo issues emergency 'do not drink water' warning to residents. Circle of Blue, Water News. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/

    Kozacek, C. (2014, February 26). West Virginia chemical spill reflects dramatic weakness in U.S. resolve to enforce drinking water safety. Circle of Blue, Water News. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/

    Lac-Mégantic train disaster voted top news story of 2013. (2013, December 25). The Canadian Press. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/

    Parker, R. S. (2013, June 6). 2 confirmed dead in Black Forest fire; 379 homes destroyed. The Denver Post. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.denverpost.com

    Peltz, J. (2012, October 10). NYC evacuations begin over Hurricane Sandy; Public schools closed. Huffinton Post. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com

    The Derecho of June 29, 2012. (2012, July 27). Retrieved April 27, 2014, from National Weather Service: www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/events/svrwx_20120629/