It doesn’t matter what area of the country you live in, the potential for a natural disaster is a very real threat. Whether it’s wildfires in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, or hurricanes on the East coast, Mother Nature can be fickle and arbitrary sometimes. That’s why it’s important that you have a disaster preparation plan for you and your family.
A well thought out disaster preparation plan doesn’t have to be complicated. There are three basic things that you need to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and secure. First, you need a disaster readiness kit. Secondly, review your area to find out what types of disasters you’re likely to encounter, and third, have a disaster preparation plan that everyone in your family knows.
Keep in mind that when we talk about disasters, they don’t have to be ones of world-ending, biblical proportions type disasters. Anything that could cause you to have to either leave your home or be confined to it counts. Whether it’s a severe snowstorm that knocks out power everywhere, or a forest fire or flood that necessitates evacuation, you should have a plan.
As part of your disaster preparation plan, you should have two types of emergency kits. One for hunkering down in your home and one that you can grab if a first responder knocks on your door and says you need to beat feet. The latter is often referred to as a go-bag, a bugout bag, or less commonly, a SHTF bag. Whatever you call it, both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security recommend having one on hand.
You want one bag for every member of your family; distribute the heavier items among the adults. In general, you want 72-hours’ worth of food and water for every person. Water can be bulky and heavy so consider a reliable method of water purification as an alternative. A LifeStraw or a small bottle of bleach with a dropper, combined with a method of storage, like a 1/2 liter water bottle will do. When packing food, consider energy bars or MRE’s to save space and weight.
A complete list of recommended items that you should place in a typical go-bag follows:
- 72 hours’ food and water
- can opener
- 72 hour (or longer) supply of medication
- basic emergency first aid kit
- personal hygiene items
- spare eyeglasses
- hand-crank radio
- multipurpose tool
- emergency mylar blanket
- identification, including passports, social security cards
- medical records on a thumb drive formatted to .txt
- emergency contact information
- $50 in small bills with $10 in quarters
- spare batteries for flashlight
- at least one complete change of clothing, seasonally appropriate
- tear resistant map of the region
There are certain items that you should pack into plastic zip-loc style bags. Your identification, the clothing, and medication should be made waterproof. If you wear contact lenses, put your spare eyeglasses in the bag, as cleaning or replacing the lenses may become difficult. When packing your bag, put your flashlight on top of everything so that you can reach it quickly.
Disaster Preparation Plan
When a disaster that requires evacuation hits, it’s imperative that you and your family are all on the same page. FEMA has a great handout that can help you get started. Plan together with your family and know where everyone will meet in case of different types of disasters. After all, the place you meet during a flood will be different than the location for a wildfire. Choose different distances as well. The corner at the end of the street, a local library or church, and someplace outside of your town are all great meeting places depending on the severity of the disaster.
Install emergency alert apps on everyone’s phones. If you don’t have a smart phone, you can sign up to be called in the event of a disaster. Look on your local emergency management page or local government to see what is available.
Talk to family members about your disaster preparation plan. Have a family meeting to go over it and make sure that everyone has a hard copy of the plan. Include contact numbers and email addresses for everyone. Put a hard copy on the refrigerator where everyone can see it as well. FEMA has an excellent blueprint for a wallet card on their website, here.
Review Your Home
Knowing what types of disasters are likely to strike in your area can help you ensure your home is safe. For example, making your home safer in Southern California is different than it is in Florida. Talk to your local emergency services to find out what the history is. In general, however, there are steps you can take no matter where you live.
Remove all hanging objects near your bed. This includes frames, knick-knacks, and shelves. It may look pretty, but if something causes them to tumble down, they can cause serious injuries.
Use restraining straps with bookshelves taller than 24-inches. Bolt the straps to wall studs to keep the shelves from falling over in an earthquake or disaster that shakes your home.
Know how to shut off your primary utilities. This includes gas, water, and electric. Know how the gas routes through your home so you can inspect it after a disaster for leaks.
Keep fire extinguishers in your home. Don’t just keep one in the kitchen; put one near bedrooms as well. Outlet fires can happen anywhere.
Ensure that your smoke detectors are working and replace the batteries annually.
Planning for a disaster takes time and some hard work, especially when you think that it’ll never happen to you. But in the event that your home or area does feature a disaster, the few hours you spent will pay off in spades.
While you're at it, you can also try these Spring Cleaning Tips so you can plan and prepare better without a cluttered house and mind.