It's 3 a.m. and you wake up to the smell of smoke. Everyone in the house is sleeping. What's the plan? Do you have one? Have you talked to the kids about where to go or who to call?

September is National Preparedness Month and a perfect time to start or review an emergency plan.

"There's tons of stories of people getting trapped in a snow storm or their car breaking down in the desert," said Don Peyton, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) coordinator for the Phoenix Fire Department. "That could be your family member or even a stranger and they could need your help."

Though it may seem like a difficult or depressing task to prepare for emergencies, it's something that's important. When a disaster strikes, especially a large one, there may not always be someone around to help.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has many programs and resources for residents to help them prepare for emergencies. Their website ( contains information on what to put into an emergency kit, guidelines for a communication plan and guides for all kinds of natural disasters.

FEMA also gives a complete Are You Ready? Guide to Citizen Preparedness online for residents to read through and help with planning. For those just starting to prepare they suggest three simple steps:

• Make a plan: Make sure your family knows where to go during an emergency and who to call.

• Have an emergency supply kit: FEMA suggests having enough food and water for every member of your family for at least 72 hours along with a flashlight and basic first aid kit.

• Be informed and ready: Learn about what's going on in your community and where you can get information during an emergency.

"In Arizona, we have the Arizona Information Emergency Network," said Cheryl Bowen, community preparedness administrator for the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. "During an emergency, AzEIN will be posting real-time emergency information."

For those who don't want to just sit and read a manual, the Phoenix Fire Department has established the CERT program, which originated in Los Angeles to train residents to take care of themselves and their families for 72 hours after an emergency. The program has spread to cities across the country.

The class is 20 hours, typically offered over a weekend (eight hours Friday and Saturday, four hours on Sunday). It's free to the public, but the Phoenix Fire Department does ask that you R.S.V.P. The class teaches basic first aid, fire suppression, talks about terrorism and having a plan for different emergencies.

"I think it's important for us to have skills to help others," Peyton said. "Everyone has a responsibility to have these skills for themselves and not just rely on others to take care of you. We have a limited number of first responders and they may not always get there right away."

Once the initial CERT training is completed, volunteers are offered further classes and activities to increase their knowledge.

There are many ways for citizens to prepare for emergencies and plenty of resources to turn to. Don't look at the task as frightening or too much to do. Start with a 72-hour kit of food and basic needs and let your plans grow from there.

Allison Hurtado is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a junior at Arizona State University.


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