(Family Features) Organizations often send out an all-staff email if bad weather is predicted, but would you know what to do in a serious emergency if you or family members were at school, a house of worship or work? Where would you take cover? What is the safest route to get there? And what is the plan should you be forced to shelter in place, separated from family during a time of duress?

All organizations, not only businesses, need to think about these issues, and they also must consider how to carry on some level of business operations if a weather event disrupts power, water, office operations or other services.

“Emergencies can hit without warning, and the aftermath can affect small businesses and schools the most,” said Dominick Tolli, vice president of preparedness and health and safety services for the American Red Cross.

The good news is that pre-planning tools exist to enable businesses and organizations to measure how ready they are to deal with emergencies. The self-paced Red Cross Ready Rating program (www.readyrating.org), for example, begins with a self-assessment that measures an organization’s ability to handle a disaster and gives instant customized feedback on how to improve.

The first assessment provides a score on how prepared an organization is and provides steps and resources needed to improve disaster and emergency preparedness. The assessment covers items from hazard vulnerability to continuity of operations and employee readiness. More than 12,000 Ready Rating Members have joined the program to improve their preparedness level.

The program, which the Red Cross offers at no cost thanks to sponsor participation, encourages members to recognize five essential components of preparedness. Though geared toward businesses, schools and other organizations, the guidance applies to individuals as well:

1. Commit to preparing.

Increasing your ability to be ready when an emergency strikes involves several steps. Among the most important are: making preparedness a priority, engaging senior leadership and appointing someone to assess your readiness level.

2. Understand threats to your place of work.

Gather information about possible emergencies that could impact you or your business, and understand your ability to respond to and recover from a disaster or other emergency. This means knowing the types of disasters you are most likely to encounter in your location and workplace environment and having plans to address them.

3. Ensure you have the right equipment and your facility is ready.

An emergency response plan describes, in writing, the steps you will take to protect your business, employees and customers before, during and after an emergency. You’ll need to make sure that you have supplies, equipment and other resources on hand to support your emergency plan.

4. Practice your plan.

The key to implementing your plan is to make preparedness a way of life. By conducting drills (at home or at work), you can test your plans and make sure everyone knows what to do, and where to find and safely use equipment and emergency supplies. An emphasis on preparedness ensures you are better equipped to respond to and recover from an emergency.

5. Help your community get prepared.

Preparedness cannot be done in a vacuum.

“In order to be a truly resilient community, all its parts (households, businesses, schools, non-profits and the government) rely on each other in many ways,” Tolli said. “If everyone is prepared, that positively influences how well the community bounces back from a disaster situation.”

Hosting blood drives, contributing supplies or services to emergency response efforts, and adopting a local school or school district in support of its disaster and emergency preparedness programs are all examples of how you can help.

Emergency Help in the Palm of Your Hand

For instant access to expert guidance, the official Red Cross First Aid app gives advice on how to handle the most common first aid emergencies. Also try the Red Cross Emergency app, with more than 35 real-time weather and emergency alerts and safety information. The apps are free and available in app stores for smartphones and tablets. Search for American Red Cross or text “Apps” to 90999.

Training to Save a Life

Accidents or emergencies can happen anywhere: at home, in someone’s community, at the local school. Having someone nearby who is properly trained substantially increases the likelihood a victim will survive a medical emergency.

However, simply knowing how to administer life-saving support isn’t enough, said David Markenson, M.D. of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and chief medical officer at Sky Ridge Medical Center. He points to a recent study by the Institute of Medicine that suggests the rate of death from cardiac arrest could be significantly reduced if more people stepped forward to help.

“There seems to be a great fear of doing greater harm, or not doing enough,” Markenson said. “The reality is that in the majority of cases, doing something is better than doing nothing at all, and most people will feel more comfortable taking that step when they’ve been trained in the basics.”

Not only is it important to know how to perform life-saving techniques, it’s also necessary to understand when to use them.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating. A person experiencing cardiac arrest is unresponsive and not breathing or gasping. Death is imminent. Administering CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) within a few minutes may help reverse the effects.

Heart attacks happen when the heart stops receiving blood flow; they can cause cardiac arrest. Symptoms may be immediate and severe or escalate slowly. Pain, shortness of breath and nausea are all symptoms. Unless cardiac arrest occurs, immediate emergency care is the best response for someone who may be suffering a heart attack.

Hands-only CPR is a technique involving no mouth-to-mouth contact that is a perfectly acceptable option if you see a stranger collapse in public.

Infant/child CPR incorporates special techniques to accommodate the physiological differences between a child and an older victim, such as more flexible bones and a narrower airway.

The American Red Cross offers a variety of courses in first aid, CPR and the use of AEDs, which can give you the skills to act if an emergency occurs. To learn more, visit www.redcross.org/TakeAClass.

Photos courtesy of American Red Cross