For many of us, this is the time of year when disaster preparedness moves to the forefront. An active Atlantic hurricane season, wildfire season moving into full swing in California and the Southwest, and a recent earthquake in LA are all indicators that it’s time to start taking disaster preparedness seriously. For many folks, particularly busy working people with families, this raises the question of how to get started. What steps should you take? What preparations do you need? It’s a complex subject, but we’ll go over some fundamentals here.
The first step is to take realistic stock of your situation both environmental and personal. Environmental meaning the environment in which you live; what are the most likely disasters you could face? On the Gulf Coast and in the Atlantic South, these might include hurricanes and the resulting power outages or flooding, extreme heat, or tornadoes. In the Midwest, you may be more concerned about tornadoes or extreme winter weather. Southern California has its earthquakes and wildfires, while New England faces blizzards and nor’easters. After that, you’ll want to consider your personal circumstances. What kind of home do you have? Single-family homes may need different disaster preparations than apartments, which in turn would be different than a mobile home. Are you in a densely populated urban or suburban area or a smaller town? A solid understanding of your circumstances is important.
Depending on where you are, how you live, and what disasters you may face, the next step is to assemble your emergency kit and plan. There are some excellent resources available at Ready.gov and the Red Cross websites, which will both walk you through what you may want to do to prepare for your most likely disaster. You’ll learn how to make your own disaster plan, and how to put together the kit you need. A disaster kit is important for every individual or household. While the exact contents of your kit will vary depending in your circumstances, a good basic kit would likely include some of the following:
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food that you can eat without cooking)
- Water (minimum one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation; those of you living in warmer climates may want to have more than a gallon a day)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries of the appropriate size(s)
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place, temporarily repair broken windows, etc)
- Moist towelettes, personal hygiene items, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities or make basic repairs as necessary)
- Manual can opener (for food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
You should store your kit in a designated place, which ideally will be cool and dry and easily accessible. You should regularly inspect your kit to make sure batteries are still good, nonperishable foods haven’t expired, and the water is still fresh. Those of you who drive may want to consider keeping your vehicle fueled up and in good working order. If circumstances permit, you may also want to keep a smaller emergency kit in your vehicle. If you do so, please remember that the interiors of most vehicles experience extremes of temperature and that may affect the longevity of the batteries, food, and water in your kit. Paper maps of your local area and state are a must; GPS and Google Maps may be unavailable during an emergency.
Please do not forget your pets when putting together your emergency/disaster kit. They’ll need food and water, too!
Some disasters may necessitate evacuation, which is an often unpleasant and time-consuming process. Your vehicle kit supplemented by an overnight bag can do a lot to make this a bit simpler. Doing some research in advance and knowing your evacuation routes and your destinations will also help things go smoothly. Your ultimate evacuation destination depends on your personal circumstances and could vary from a government shelter to a motel outside of the disaster zone to a friend’s house in a safe place. If you’ll be staying with friends or relatives, make sure you discuss this with them in advance.
Disasters and emergencies happen, and we will all likely face some version of it over the course of our lifetime. A little planning and preparedness can help mitigate the stress and damage of a disaster and keep you and your family safe during a difficult time. So please consider your circumstances, assemble a kit, and make a plan. If worst comes to worst you’ll be glad you did.