Catastrophic incidents and severe weather events can strike without warning. Even with advanced storm warnings, an impending disaster still causes a lot of anxiety and stress. Depending on where you live, you might be susceptible to tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, or other vicious natural phenomena. Protecting your family, pets, and loved ones is the first priority in any emergency or disaster. In many cases power, water and emergency services could be out for days or weeks, leaving you without access to basic necessities. Having a disaster readiness plan in place for your home and family is crucial in these moments. A few hours of planning will pay huge dividends if disaster strikes and you need to survive using your emergency supplies.
Make a Disaster Plan
The most important part of your disaster plan is sitting down and actually making a plan. Hopefully you’ll never need to implement it, but it’s vitally important. Don’t assume that everyone will instinctively know what to do when disaster strikes. There will be confusion and disorientation in an emergency, and it’s likely that adrenaline will be activating your flight-or-fight response, making rational decisions difficult. There won’t be time to weigh difficult choices when a catastrophe is upon you. Many people survive disasters because they spent just a couple of minutes to learn basic safety information, such as the locations of exits and fire extinguishers, and were able to recall that information in the moment of truth.
- Ready.gov is a disaster planning resource from the federal government that can help you with the basics of a disaster plan.
- Start by making a list of the essentials your household members need for a typical week. This includes food, water, toiletries, and medicine for everyone, pets included. This should be done in a household/family meeting during which you go over your plans for disaster response with everyone, including children.
- Have a family meeting with all household members and discuss your emergency preparedness plan and where your preparedness kit is located.
- Choose a central meeting location in your neighborhood or town in case you and your loved ones get separated during a disaster. Know how to get there from any exit of the house, as conditions might be deteriorating and you may be disoriented in an emergency.
- Make a floor plan of your house that includes possible exits in case of fire or other emergency.
- Make sure your plan includes contingencies for an extended power loss, especially if you live in a coastal state prone to hurricanes. Consider buying a generator and learning how to safely operate it.
- Disabled people and those with special needs may require additional resources in an emergency.
- Don’t forget to plan for your pets, too.
Disaster Planning Actions
- Designate an out-of-town relative or friend as a contact person for your household. In the event of a catastrophe in which family members become separated, they can all contact a single person unaffected by the disaster.
- Do a home walk-through to you note the locations of important safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, flashlights, first aid kits, etc. Use a home safety checklist during your walk-through.
- Secure any important papers or documents that you need to save in case your home is destroyed. A fireproof safe is your best bet.
- Many small home emergencies can be prevented with proper maintenance once a year. Check breakers, wiring, and other critical home systems on a regular basis.
- All capable family members should take a basic first aid and CPR course.
- Avoiding small emergencies and disasters is part of living safely. Following simple safety rules in your daily life can make a huge difference by preventing avoidable emergencies.
Create a Disaster Supply Kit
The Scout motto is “be prepared.” In fact, both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have badges for which they learn about being prepared for an emergency and how to put together a first aid kit. Your disaster supply kit is a crucial item that should be fully stocked and ready to go at all times. Keep items together in a large, clearly labeled waterproof storage bin that can easily be accessed.
- Start by assembling enough nonperishable food and water for three days for each person in the household.
- Make sure you have any necessary toilet items for several days and at least two weeks worth of medication if anyone has prescriptions. Pharmacies may not be operating for some time after the disaster strikes, and emergency medical services will likely be overwhelmed.
- A good first aid kit is a must-have. You can buy a premade one or build your own using the most common items you may need during a disaster.
- If there’s a risk of structural damage, make sure you have tarps and plastic sheeting in your kit to protect yourself from exposure to the elements.
- A NOAA weather and emergency radio is a critical piece of hardware. Not only will it pick up the weather and emergency bands, but cell towers might be inoperable in a disaster, so the radio might be your only source of information. Pack extra batteries, too, or better yet, get a hand-crank radio.
- Consider the elements you’ll likely be exposed to in the event of a disaster. Will you have to deal with sweltering heat or frigid cold? Loading up your emergency kit with heavy blankets is necessary if you live in the mountains but not so much if you’re in a tropical climate.
Maintain the Plan and Kit
It’s easy to forget about your disaster kit after it’s assembled and stored away in your basement or garage. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use your disaster kit in an emergency, but it’s important to keep it replenished and regularly test the equipment and replace the food and water supplies if necessary. Your disaster plan isn’t just for when you’re at home, either: Take these skills and strategies with you when you’re staying at a hotel. After you check in, spend a moment looking at the fire map on the back of the door of your room and learning the exits. Know where to find a fire extinguisher if needed. These little changes in daily behavior can make you a safe, vigilant, disaster-ready citizen.
- Review your disaster plan twice a year so your family members are refreshed on the knowledge. Quiz them regularly to make sure they retain the information, especially children.
- Check fire extinguishers and smoke detectors every six months to ensure that they are operational.
- Perform regular home maintenance.
- Find out which disasters are most likely in your area by checking the Red Cross emergency preparedness map.
Additional Information for Disaster Planning
- Safety Checkup
- Hurricane Safety Checklists
- The Essential Guide to Hurricane Preparedness
- Defy Disaster: Prepare and Build a Kit
- What to Do Before, During, and After a Hurricane
- How to Shelter in Place in Your Garage
- Tornado Preparedness
- Earthquake Preparedness
- Prepare for a Wildfire
- How to Prepare for Wildfires
- AARP Home Safety Checklist for Caregivers
- Tip Sheet: Emergency Prepardness for Seniors
- Surviving Blizzards, Cold Snaps, and Power Outages