The devastating tsunami that hit many of the tourist areas of Indonesia and Thailand in December offered a cruel lesson about the importance of safety awareness even while vacationing. The good news is that with proper preparation, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself, knowing you’re prepared if anything should happen.
“When you travel to a new area, you need to understand the region’s hazards,” says Heidi Taylor, a preparedness expert for the American Red Cross. Think earthquakes on the West Coast, hurricanes in Florida and the Southeast, and tornadoes in the Midwest. If traveling internationally, learn the potential risks in the area you plan to visit. A few moments on the Internet (www.fema.gov/hazards) or a visit to your local library can provide safety pointers on a vast array of subjects.
Regardless of your destination, there are a few emergency supplies that are worth taking along:
• Travel flashlight, battery-operated radio and extra batteries. Consider getting a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio. These are tied into the Emergency Alert System, so emergency information of all types is broadcast.
• A small first-aid kit containing adhesive bandages, antibiotic cream, sunscreen and a small supply of any medications taken regularly.
• Cell phone, charger and spare battery. Also have some change and/or a phone card in case you’re in a remote area. If you’re traveling in a foreign country and don’t have an international cell phone, a phone card or local currency is a “must.”
• Identification. For international travel, carry your passport and pack two photocopies in separate places. In some countries, hotels require you to surrender your passport, so carry a photocopy with you while you’re out and about.
• A little cash. In a large-scale emergency, electronic money distribution (ATM machines) can be disrupted. Distribute money among family members. This protects against losing it all to a pickpocket and also provides each person with an emergency stash if you are separated.
• A water bottle for each family member. Safety experts say that water, personal identification and currency are the prime necessities to get through a crisis.
• If you’re traveling by car, have with you jumper cables, three reflective triangles, and basic tools, and carry extra water, nonperishable food, and a sturdy pair of shoes for each family member. You don’t want to have to cope with an emergency in flip-flops.
• Leave your itinerary with someone at home. If you’re caught in a disaster, this will help emergency personnel locate you.
“If you’re going on a cruise or traveling by plane, personnel will review safety procedures, and it’s important to listen,” says Randy Duncan, director of emergency management in Sedgwick County, Kan.
“Flooding is the number one weather-related killer for people who are traveling in vehicles,” says Robert Sinclair, manager of media relations for AAA New York. “If you’re on vacation and don’t know the terrain, don’t drive into moving water—ever. It’s impossible to judge depth.” Six inches of moving water is enough to sweep a person off his feet; 12 inches can sweep a car away.
And whether you’re staying at a campground or a multi-story hotel, find out about emergency procedures. Campgrounds will have evacuation information posted or available from a park ranger station. When you check into a hotel, note the emergency exits, and count the number of doors between your room and the exit in case you have to get there in the dark.
“Make a habit of assessing where you are,” Duncan says. “When you enter a museum or a restaurant, take a quick look around for emergency exits. Having a plan automatically increases the odds of your getting out safely in an emergency.”
Children should be included in the family’s safety awareness, and Taylor says that the key to not alarming them is to focus not on the possible emergency, but on what will keep them safe: “If a fire alarm goes off, we won’t take the elevator. We’ll go down five doors and take the stairs.”
Once at your destination, children should be told where you are staying so they will have that vital information if lost or separated.
With these few simple measures, you can relax and enjoy your vacation, knowing that you’ve taken precautions to safeguard your family.