This month marks the fifth anniversary of the disasters that happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Since that date, much has changed in our world, nation, state and community. We have become more aware of the devastation that can be caused by unexpected disasters, whether they are caused by nature, by accident or by terrorist attacks.

We often worry about the “what ifs” and wonder what we can do to protect ourselves and our families. To reduce the threats to Texans many local, state, and national agencies are working together to help prepare our state for potential disasters.

If a disaster does occur in our area, community, local government and disaster relief organizations will try to help you. But you need to be ready as well. Although we cannot prevent disasters, we can reduce the risk of injury and even death by becoming informed.

In Texas there are many sources of health available when disaster happens. It is important that everyone takes time to become familiar with these resources. They can provide emergency assistance and critical information during a time of disaster. They include:

• Emergency 9-1-1, the universal emergency phone number for residents. During a disaster, do not call 9-1-1- unless the situation is life threatening. Parents should also teach children how to use 9-1-1.

• 2-1-1, Texas First Call for Help. This is a non-emergency information and referral hotline. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to every resident of Texas. The people who work the 2-1-1 are especially trained to provide callers with current information such as evacuation routes and locations of food and shelter during a disaster. For more information about 2-1-1 visit the Web at

• Texas Poison Control Center. If you suspect that someone has ingested or inhaled a toxic substance, immediately call the poison control center at (800) 222-1222. A trained professional will give you specific instructions on how to handle the incident. This center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

• Texas Department of State Health Services. This group offers current information on emergency preparedness for families, professionals and responders. For more information you can go to the Web site at

You can help protect your family during and immediately after a disaster by making a family disaster plan and by creating a family disaster kit for your household. You and your family need to be able to take care of yourselves without outside help for at least three days.

It is important to create a family disaster plan that will fit your families needs. Your plan will need to include:

• Escape routes: You will need escape routes from each room in you house as well as from you neighborhood. One of the most important things you can do is to practice your plan, so that when disaster happens you will know what to do.

• Family communications. Plan how your family members would contact one another if they were separated when disaster strikes. Fill out a contact card for each family member. The card should include an in-town contact name as well as an out-of-town contact name.

• Communication with emergency personnel. If you are injured during an accident or disaster you may be unable to speak with emergency medical help. You can make their job easier by simply adding an entry in the contacts list of your cell phone ICE. ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency. Under ICE you should enter the name and phone number of the person whom the emergency services should call on your behalf.

• Utility shut-off and safety. For some disasters, you may need to disconnect services to your home. Natural gas leaks are the number one cause of fires after a disaster. Contact your local utility company for proper shut-off procedures.

• Insurance and vital records. Before an emergency happens, make photocopies of your important documents and secure them in a safe place away from your home. You may also want to keep an extra set of copies in your disaster supply kit along with a small amount of cash.

• Special needs. Elderly, unhealthy and disabled people may have special needs. You must take additional steps to protect them.

• Safety skills. Responsible family members should know how to administer first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use a fire extinguisher.

• Pet care. If you must evacuate your home, what will you do with your pets? Emergency shelters generally do not accept pets, so you need to make plans for a safe place to take your.

When preparing for a disaster you should have a disaster supplies kit for your home, car and office. These can be back packs and have essentials including food; water; clean air items; extra clothing; first aid kit; emergency items such as flashlights, radios, and batteries; and special needs items. You should have enough for 3 days. This kit can be in a backpack or bag. Be sure to maintain your kit, replacing batteries every six months and replacing foods according to expiration dates.

Disasters are most often unpredictable and they can be devastating. But the more you prepare, the better you will know exactly what to do and where to go and the more likely that you and your family will be safe.

Texas Cooperative Extension has available educational resources on disaster preparedness, response and recover. The Texas Extension Disaster Education Network can be accessed at

Kathy Smith is the Parker County extension agent. Her column appears Sundays. She may be contacted at (817) 598-6168.

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