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How Can I Prepare for a Disaster?

Many of us are optimistic. Whether it's a flood, tornado, hurricane, or something else, we hope and pray that disasters miss us. But as we all know, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. How can you get prepared for a disaster? Here are some simple steps you can take today.

1. Get informed about the area you live in.

What possible hazards are there? Does your local community already have a general disaster plan in place for possible emergency situations? Talk to your local EMT crew, Fire or Police Department and see how you can get involved in or contribute to that plan. Find out more about emergency plans and resources at places you and your family spend the most time (e.g. school, work, gym, daycares, etc.).

Local authorities will warn of impending disasters and what you should do. Find out how they will relay this information. Also, learn more about NOAA Weather Radio and how it can help you in an emergency. Here is their Nationwide Station Listing: Find the one closest to you.

2. Make a Plan.

Get with your family and review in detail the information you've gathered about your local area and community. Work together as a team so that your family is fully prepared. Be sure to involve any caregivers in this planning.

Choose an out-of-town contact. This can be a family friend or relative who family members will call after an emergency to inform them of their location. Everyone needs to know this person's phone number.

Pick a location to meet in case you and your family are separated. One should be just outside of your home in case of fire, another in your neighborhood in case you can't get to your home, and a third might be your out-of-town contact should evacuation be necessary.

Complete a Family Communication Plan that includes all of the above information. You can find free printable sample plans from the Red Cross online. Make sure each family member has a paper copy and that one is posted close your home phone (if you have one).

Map out escape routes and safe places in your home for the various types of disasters and practice these with your family at least two times a year.

Plan for those with disabilities or special needs. Have a spot that can be easily accessed to store necessary medications, life-support equipment, paperwork and more. Have a contingency plan in place for alternate power sources for any life-support equipment. Again, be sure to inform caregivers.

Plan to take your pets with you if you evacuate. However, it’s important to note that most emergency public shelters don’t allow non-service animals for health reasons. Make sure you have a list of family, friends, veterinarians, boarding facilities, and “pet-friendly” hotels that can shelter your pets in an emergency situation.

Complete the following checklist before a disaster strikes:

  • Know how to turn off utilities such as water, gas and electric.

  • Have working fire extinguishers in your home that everyone knows how to use properly and where they are stored.

  • Install working smoke detectors on every level of your home. Be sure to follow manufacturers instructions and local codes to meet installation requirements. You might also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.

  • Make sure you have the right insurance coverage. Homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage and may not cover other hazards. Talk with your insurance agency to make sure you can your family will be fully taken care of in the aftermath of a disaster.

  • Be First Aid/CPR & AED certified. Classes are held in most communities or are offered in some school programs. Some of these may be free, while others will charge a fee.

  • Inventory your home possessions and keep the list in a safe deposit box or other flood/fire safe location.

  • Store vital records and documents in a safe deposit box or other safe spot. These might include birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, recurring prescriptions, wills, deeds, financial and insurance papers, immunization records, and other medical paperwork.

  • Reduce home hazards by:

  • professionally repairing such things as faulty wiring, leaky gas connections, cracks in the ceiling or foundation, chimneys, flue pipes, connectors, gas vents, etc.

  • Place large/heavy objects on lower shelves and hang picture frames and mirrors away from beds/couches.

  • Secure tall cabinets, bookshelves, appliances to wall studs.

  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products away from heat sources.

  • Place oily rags or waste in covered metal cans and dispose of them according to local regulations.

3. Assemble Disaster Supply Kits

Should you need to evacuate at a moment's notice, have kits with basic supplies you and your family will probably need to stay safe and comfortable in the days following a disaster. These need to be kept up-to-date so make full use of calendar reminders to change out expired items or any clothing as needed.

  • Three-day supply of nonperishable food and manual can opener.

  • Three-day supply of water (one gallon of water per person, per day).

  • Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries.

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.

  • First aid kit and manual. Medications.

  • Sanitation and hygiene items (hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, etc).

  • Matches in waterproof container.

  • Whistle.

  • Extra clothing and blankets.

  • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils.

  • Photocopies of identification and credit cards.

  • Cash and coins.

  • Special needs items such as prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solution, and hearing aid batteries.

  • Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers.

  • Tools, pet supplies, a map of the local area, and other items to meet your unique family needs.

Supplies for your vehicle include:

  • Flashlight, extra batteries, and maps.

  • First aid kit and manual.

  • White distress flag.

  • Tire repair kit, booster/jumper cables, pump, and flares.

  • Bottled water and non-perishable foods such as granola bars.

  • Seasonal supplies: Winter - blanket, hat, mittens, shovel, sand, tire chains, windshield scraper, fluorescent distress flag; Summer – sunscreen lotion (SPF 15 or greater), shade item (umbrella, wide brimmed hat, etc).

4. Maintain your Plan and Kits

Once you have these things in place, be sure to go over them as a family at least 2 times a year. Quiz yourself and your family, run drills on all scenarios, replenish/replace supplies when needed, and test all emergency items like emergency radios, flashlights, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

**Reference FEMA's Preparing for Disaster brochure for more on each of these tips and other resource information.

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