Disaster & Emergency Preparedness 101

Disasters can strike with little to no warning, and despite advances in technology, we cannot halt cataclysmic weather events like hurricanes or tornadoes.

Knowing that a disaster can affect you and your loved ones at any moment doesn’t need to cause anxiety or alarm. Instead prepare for disaster scenarios with the 3-step emergency preparedness plan below. Following these steps will give your family the tools and confidence to be disaster ready.

How to Be Prepared for an Emergency

  1. Make an emergency preparedness plan
  2. Put together an emergency preparedness kit
  3. Sign up for and know where to check for emergency alerts in your area

1. Make an Emergency Preparedness Plan

Your family will be most prepared for a disaster if you have a family emergency plan. Regardless of the disaster type, any emergency preparedness plan should address the issues below:

Know disaster risks in your area: Certain locations are at higher risk for specific threats. For example, the Eastern Seaboard is at high risk for hurricanes. The plains states in “Tornado Alley” face an increased tornado threat. Learn the disaster risks in your area by going to your state or county emergency services website.

Know secondary disaster hazards in your area. In addition to the initial impact of a disaster, many types of disasters have secondary hazards. For instance, power outages after a tornado, fires after an earthquake, or flooding after a hurricane. Be sure you know and are prepared for secondary risks arising from disasters that are prone to your area.

Identify safe shelter: When disaster strikes, you may need to shelter-in-place, or evacuate to a safe location. Prepare for both situations by identifying safe spaces in your home, and nearby safe shelters. (These may be designated by local emergency services).

What you consider a safe place will depend largely on the disaster. During a flood or tsunami, you should move to higher ground. On the other hand, during a tornado, you should head to a basement or an interior room on the first floor. This is why it’s important to know disaster risks in your area first, so you can determine appropriate safe locations.

Know your evacuation route: For disasters requiring evacuation, like hurricanes or tsunamis, routes may be designated by local authorities. Identify local routes and formulate your own family evacuation route if necessary.

Make a family communication and reunification plan: A disaster may take down power lines and affect cellular service. Since communication post-disaster is challenging, make a family plan on where to meet. You should also designate an out-of-town friend or family member that everyone will call to report on their health status and whereabouts. Be sure to factor school or workplace emergency response plans into your family plan.

2. Make an Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Kit

After a disaster, you may be without power or water. To make matters more difficult, it can also take a few days for emergency services to reach you. Be prepared for that possibility with your own emergency preparedness kit. Essentially, an emergency preparedness kit is designed to keep you optimally safe, hydrated, fed, and comfortable during the challenging time between the emergency and emergency responders reaching you.

The golden rule with an emergency/disaster preparedness kit is to have enough supplies for each family member for at least three days. Put the items in a container that is easy to grab and carry, like a duffle bag or plastic bin. Families may need multiple bins or bags. Store your kit in a secure and accessible place, ideally your shelter-in-place location.

  • Three gallons of water per person (for drinking and hygiene)
  • Nonperishable foods like granola bars and canned goods
  • Can opener, if you pack canned food
  • First aid kit
  • Prescriptions and medications
  • Pet food and medications
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Batteries for flashlights and radio
  • Emergency cash
  • Copies of important identification, insurance, personal, and financial documents in a water-resistant container

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Gather the items you already have in your home that you are not using, like extra scissors or flashlights. Make a list to purchase the remaining items.

3. Sign up for Emergency Alerts

Know where to check for emergency alerts and updates. Disaster alerts can buy you a few hours to secure your property or provide those critical moments to move to a secure location. Download or sign up for the following tools to stay up to date with emergency alerts in your area:

Use the FEMA app: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a mobile app you can download. It provides weather warnings for up to five locations of your choosing, as well as disaster, assistance, and shelter information.

Get WEA alerts: Enable your smartphone to receive notifications from Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). You can turn on Emergency Alerts under the Settings section in your phone. This public safety system sends out alerts for disasters, national emergencies, and severe weather.

Receive National Weather Service alerts: Receive text or email alerts about weather events in your area by signing up at weather.gov.

Check for your local alert systems: Sign up for state or county alert systems that are specific to disasters in your area by visiting your county’s emergency services website.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Sign yourself and each family member up for at least one of these alert systems.

While you certainly can’t stop disasters, you can prepare for them by following emergency and disaster preparedness best practices. Even a little preparation can go a long way.

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