Four conversations every African-American family needs to have this holiday season | 12/23/2008, 6 p.m.

The soon-to-be “First Family” has elevated the profile of the African-American family.

(This timely series first was published in the Tri-State Defender during last year’s holiday season. We are running it again this season as a public service.)

As African American families gather together over the holidays, they can make life much easier for the generations to come by scheduling a few important conversations in between the laughter.

Generations from each family need to come together to discuss four key issues: home safety and emergency preparedness, family wills and family finances, death and estate planning issues, and family health and recent disease diagnoses.

An investment of an hour or two this holiday season could end up saving the family wealth, the family home, or the life of a loved one. Many more years could be added to a generation’s life span if families organize and share health information with each other and take steps to prevent those diseases for which members are at greater risk.

Safety Issues and Emergency Preparedness:

When Hurricane Katrina hit, scattering families to other states, loved ones lost contact with each other. Many had to depend on nonprofit groups or the Internet to find each other.

This disaster underscores the need for families to assemble a disaster response plan and emergency preparedness plan. Much of the information you need (including checklists) are available on, a web site of the Department of Homeland Security.

Among the key items:

• Establish a Emergency Contact Person: Designate a relative in another state that all family members will use as a contact in event of a hurricane or local disaster. This person will agree to compile lists of all family members, locations, and contact info during an emergency.

• Program an “In Case of Emergency” Contact Person into Your Cell Phone: If you are unconscious and need medical assistance, emergency technicians need a way to determine if you have allergies or medical conditions. Program an ICE (in case of emergency) number into your cell phone. Ambulance drivers and doctors look for that designation when treating people who can’t provide this information for themselves.

• Put together an Emergency Preparedness Kit for Your Home and Car: The kit should include basic items like water, food, battery-powered radio, flashlight and first aid items. For your home kit, include a complete change of clothing and shoes for each member of the house. Rain gear, sleeping bags, hats and gloves, and thermal underwear are advised.

• Learn How to Turn off Utilities: In some emergencies, you may be required to turn off your utilities. To prepare for this type of event: Locate the electric, gas and water shut-off valves. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Teach adult family members how to turn off utilities.

• Make Arrangements for Pets: Determine in advance how to care for your pets and working animals when disaster strikes. Pets should not be left behind, but could be taken to a veterinary office, family member’s home or animal shelter during an emergency. Also be sure to store extra food and water for pets. For more information, visit the Animal Safety section on or visit the Humane Society Web site at

Home Safety Tips:

• Every family also should have a plan to deal with potential home invasion or break in.

• Designate a safe room in the house. If intruders break in, family members should proceed to the safe room as soon as possible and close the door, which should be locked from the inside. Hide an extra cell phone and set of house keys in the room. The cell phone can be used to call 911. The keys may be thrown out the window to law enforcement personnel who respond to the call.

• Conduct fire drills and practice evacuating your home twice a year. Drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on a map in case main roads are blocked or gridlocked. Practice earthquake and tornado drills at home, school and work. Commit a weekend to update telephone numbers and emergency supplies, and review your plan with everyone. Hold home safety drills regularly along with fire drills. The goal is to reduce the time it takes family members to exit the house or enter the safe room.

(Next Week: Family Wills and Family Finances)