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As South Africans, we face numerous dangers every day. High up on the list is the possibility of being a victim of crime, either at home or on the road, or being involved in a car accident. Other traumatic events can include being caught up in a violent protest, a house fire, even the occasional natural disaster. Whether a small or major event, it’s not a matter of if but when something will happen.

Ideally we want to avoid a dangerous situation, but when something happens it helps to be prepared. In an emergency event, decisions have to be made quickly, and the stress of the moment could stop you from thinking clearly. Being prepared will not only help you handle the situation as it happens, but could reduce the effects of the trauma and help you to recover from it quicker.

Here are some precautions you can take to help you prepare for and deal with an emergency situation.

Have a plan
Having a plan of action in case anything should occur could help you emerge safely from a dangerous situation. Also, knowing what to do ahead of time will help you keep your composure and feel more in control during the event. A plan of action is a series of steps to take to remove yourself and family members from the danger. It does not have to be complicated.

At home, assign a safe area where the family should gather in an emergency. Make sure you have a safe place both inside and outside the house, which would be used depending on the threat. For example, meeting in your safe room during a home invasion versus meeting at the safe spot outside during a house fire. Plan the routes to those meeting points, with alternatives in case one can’t be used because the threat, for example, fire, is blocking it.

Communication before and during the threat is important. Explain things to younger children in a way that they will understand but without causing unnecessary alarm. Have a family safety code word that could be yelled in emergency situations so that everyone immediately knows there is a threat and can act accordingly.

Also, have a plan for when you are outside of home. For instance, have a spot to meet in your regular mall in case family members get separated. Have a plan to exit the car quickly in an emergency, for example, a hijacking. Teach older children how to undo their safety belts, climb to the front of the car, then get out of the car with you and move to safety. They can also be taught how to help younger children, and to hold onto you while you all exit the car at once.

Think through various scenarios
In order to formulate an efficient plan you will need to think about what steps can be taken in different scenarios. In an emergency situation you will have high stress and little time, so it’s important to make decisions beforehand. Mentally running through the situation ahead of time will help you act appropriately when a real incident arises.

If you will need to run or get away, determine which way is best to ensure your safe escape. If you will need to hide or take shelter, figure out which spots will keep you out of harms way of weather elements or bullets, but from which you can still escape if needs be. In some cases, you might need to fight, so determine what you can use to create pain or distraction so that you can escape. For example, a simple item like salt can be used to sting the eyes.

Maintain situational awareness
Closely tied to a plan for the various scenarios is situational awareness. Know the places that you visit often and the routes in and out of those places. For example, as you enter a mall or a restaurant determine the best escape routes and places to hide. Always pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. That way you will be able to notice any warning signs.

Anticipate how you will react
When you’re under duress, you’ll have one of three immediate reactions – fight, flight or freeze. Until you’re actually in the situation, you won’t know how you will react. But you might have some idea based on past events or, for instance, how you reacted when someone gave you a fright. Your reaction can get in the way of how you deal with the situation, so you’ll need to know how to manage it. For example, it’s best not to fight during a hijacking situation, so think of ways you can calm yourself. Or, know how to break out from a freeze or how to manage a panic attack.

Make an emergency kit
Have an emergency kit ready for the various scenarios – at home and in the car. This can include essentials like food and water, a first aid kit, a copy of important documents, medical information such as allergies, emergency contact numbers, wheel changing equipment, a vehicle escape tool with a seatbelt cutter and safety hammer, and a torch. Also, keep your cell phone charged or keep a charger at hand.

“Although nobody wants to think about it, it’s important to adequately prepare yourself and have a plan in case of an emergency,” says Duma Ngcobo, Chief Operating Officer at Tracker. “Being prepared could potentially save your life and the lives of those around you.”