You never know when a disaster could happen. They can destroy belongings, decimate homes, and take lives. Being prepared can help you and your family be safe and avoid catastrophic injuries.
Here are some tips for supplies you should have on hand and what to do in several different disaster scenarios.
Disaster Preparedness Step 1: Making an Emergency Kit
The first step when preparing for a disaster is to have a complete emergency kit. It’s a good idea to keep your emergency kit in a safe and easily accessible place, preferably in one bag that can be grabbed quickly if needed.
Items in the emergency kit will depend on your family’s needs, but we’ve listed things you will likely need in an emergency:
- 3-day supply of food
- 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day)
- Battery powered radio and flashlight, along with extra batteries
- Sturdy shoes and long sleeved clothes
- Blankets, sleeping bags, and towels
- Matches or a reusable fire starter
- Copies of important documents (birth certificates, social security cards, driver’s licenses, etc.)
- First aid kit
- Personal hygiene items (soap, toilet paper, etc.)
- Cooking utensils (tongs, spatula, manual can opener, pots and pans)
- Special needs items (glasses, medications, baby items, pet supplies, toys, etc.)
- Trash bags/tarps
- Small tool box (duct tape, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, scissors)
- Maps of your local area
- Emergency cell phone with charger
- Gas camp stove and extra fuel
- Extra set of keys
Disaster Preparedness Step 2: Storing Food and Water
When preparing for an emergency, you may have questions on how best to store emergency food rations. Below are some tips that help you know what kind of food to buy and how to keep it until it’s needed.
Buy Foods That:
- Have a long storage life
- Are suitable for the dietary needs of everyone in your family
- Can be fed to pets if need be
- Don’t require much, if any, cooking, water, or refrigeration
- Aren’t too spicy or salty, as eating these will require more water than necessary
Storing Emergency Food Rations:
- Canned foods and dry mixes should keep for up to two years.
- Write the purchase date on all food items and check them every 6 months to ensure expired products are thrown out.
- Canned and dried foods are best stored in a cool, dry, dark place away from any source of heat. Ideally where the temperature is between 40 and 60 degrees.
- Keep food in an air tight container to protect it from pests like rodents and insects.
- Store food supplies away from chemicals or fuels so the smell isn’t absorbed.
- Keep food rations on a high shelf to protect them in the event of flooding.
Another important part of emergency planning is preparing a water supply. As mentioned above, you should have at least a 3-day supply of water consisting of one gallon per person per day. If you have pets, they will also require a gallon of water per day, so plan accordingly. Additionally, if you live in a hot climate or have a sick or pregnant family member, you may want to keep even more water on hand.
Storing Water for Emergencies:
- Commercially bottled water is the safest way to store water for emergencies. Be aware of the expiration date for store bought water.
- If you are storing your own water, replace it every six months to ensure freshness and keep it in a food-grade water storage container.
- Mark water clearly by labeling it “drinking water” and date it with the day it was bought or bottled.
- Clean water containers before use. First, wash the container with dish soap and warm water and rinse with clean water. Next, sanitize the container with 1 teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach and one quart of water, coating all surfaces inside the bottle for at least 30 seconds. After sanitizing, rinse the container with clean water and allow it to air dry before using.
- Keep water in a place with a consistently cold temperature, such as a basement or cellar.
- Do not store water in direct sunlight or in the same place as fuel, chemicals, or pesticides.
- Do not store water in any of the following containers: those that cannot be sealed tightly, glass bottles, those that have been used to store toxic chemicals, plastic or cardboard bottles or jugs (such as those used for milk and juice.)
Disaster Preparedness Step 3: Building a Car Kit
Certain emergency scenarios, like hurricanes, may require you and your family to evacuate your home. You may be at home when this happens, but you may not, in which case it’s a good idea to have an emergency car kit in your vehicle at all times. Below are some items to keep in your car if you need to evacuate quickly:
- Bottled drinking water
- Non-perishable foods, like nuts, jerky, or dried fruit (check every 6 months for expired items)
- Small tool kit or a multipurpose tool
- Spare tire, tire iron, and jack
- Jumper cables
- Rain ponchos and space blankets for each person in your family
- Battery powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Flares, reflective triangles, and reflective vest
- Phone car charger
- Fire extinguisher
- Items for winter weather (windshield scraper, jackets, gloves, shovel, etc.)
Disaster Preparedness Step 4: How to Handle Disasters
There are two kinds of natural disasters. Those that can be predicted and those that can’t. Most of the time, if a hurricane or bad thunderstorm is coming, meteorologists will know about it well in advance, giving communities time to plan. Other disasters, like flash floods, fires, and earthquakes, can come with little to no warning. Leaving families only minutes to react and protect themselves.
Regardless of what kind of disaster may strike, proper preparation and knowledge of what to do can save your family’s lives. What follows is a quick overview of what to do if your family is trapped in the middle of one.
Floods – After significant rainfall, flash floods can happen very quickly. Flood water is fast moving and can easily reach 30 feet or more in depth. Keep the following in mind if you live in an area that is at risk for flooding:
- If you are driving and come across a flooded road, turn around and head for higher ground. Cars can stall in as little as 6 inches of water. It only takes 2 feet to float a vehicle.
- If you are in your home and flood waters come into your house, get to a higher level or climb onto the roof if needed.
- Know how close you are to rivers, streams, and dams, and what the likelihood of them flooding is.
- Avoid low lying areas, like valleys, underground park structures, underpasses, and basements.
- Do not hike or camp if significant rain is predicted.
- Develop an evacuation plan for your family, complete with emergency meet up locations and evacuation routes.
- Turn off electricity to your house if floodwater is about to make its way inside.
- Never walk in water higher than your ankles. It only takes 6 inches of rushing water to wash a human away.
Hurricanes – Hurricanes are often predicted well in advance. If evacuation is necessary, know where your closest evacuation point is and have a plan to get there. If you plan on staying in your area, do the following:
- Stay inside, away from windows or doors. If possible, get your family into an interior room or basement. Do not leave your house until authorities give the all clear.
- Board up your windows.
- Anchor loose outdoor items, like patio furniture.
- Listen for warning sirens and monitor emergency broadcast messages on a battery powered radio.
- Hurricanes can cause significant flooding, so consider implementing the same plan you’d use in a flood.
- In case a family member is out of the house, establish a place to meet up after conditions improve.
Thunderstorms – These storms can generally be predicted but it is possible for a thunderstorm to develop suddenly and without warning. If you are trapped in the middle of a severe thunderstorm, remember the following:
- Cancel outdoor activities until lightning and thunder have not been heard for at least 30 minutes.
- If you are outside, get inside a building or hard top automobile ASAP. You are much safer in a vehicle than you are outside.
- Secure outdoor items that could be blown away.
- Secure outside doors and pull shutters, blinds, shades, or curtains over windows.
- Do not use indoor plumbing fixtures, as they can conduct electricity.
- Avoid using corded phones. Cell phones or cordless land lines are ok to use.
- Unplug anything inside your house that is using electricity.
House Fires – House fires can be caused by accidents, lightening, or even foul play. Regardless of cause, educate your family on what to do if your house is on fire:
- Have multiple escape routes planned for every room of your home.
- Know how to operate a fire extinguisher and where they are located in your house.
- If your home has multiple levels, keep a rope ladder on each floor to allow for an easy escape through windows.
- Don’t touch doorknobs without something to protect your hand from being burned.
- If trying to exit your home, crawl along the ground where the air is less smoky. Close doors behind you to slow the spread of the flames.
- If the fire catches your clothes, remember: stop, drop, and roll.
- Once out of the house, stay out. Do not reenter under any circumstances.
A few simple measures can ensure your safety and your family’s safety in the event of an emergency situation.