A disaster can happen anywhere – with little or no warning. If a storm or a wildfire were headed your way, would you know how to secure your property? If you had to evacuate on short notice, could you grab essential items for your family quickly? Although it’s impossible to completely disaster-proof your home, there are steps you can take to keep your loved ones and your belongings a bit safer. Every moment matters when a disaster is looming and being prepared can make a huge difference. This guide will help you plan ahead.
General Disaster Preparedness
Knowing which threats are most common in your area is important, but some preparedness tips apply to any disaster you might face, whether it’s fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, or something else.
How will you get news and information? When foreseeable disasters like hurricanes are churning off American shores, there’s no shortage of news about it. But what about disasters like tornadoes or a terrorist attack, which might only come with a few minutes warning? If you watch network television or listen to live radio, you will probably hear Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages. But if you’ve “cut the cord” and don’t get broadcast signals or don’t tune in often, you might want to make a plan.
- Ask how local authorities in your community send urgent warnings. Are there sirens that you will be able to hear?
- Make sure your cell phone is set up for emergency text alerts.
- Consider purchasing a NOAA National Weather Service radio receiver.
Do you know where the nearest hospitals and evacuation routes are? Evacuations are more common than many people realize. Every year, fires, floods, and chemical spills force tens of thousands of Americans to leave their homes. If you’ve lived in your community for any length of time, chances are you know your way around. But you may not know where your evacuation routes and emergency shelters are.
- Learn the escape routes from your home.
- Make note of the hospitals in your community.
- Familiarize yourself with your specific evacuation route. (Don’t try to take shortcuts in an evacuation emergency. They may be blocked.)
- Try to keep your car’s gas tank at least half full at all times. You might not be able to fill up if something happens suddenly.
Where would you stay if you had to evacuate your home? Staying in an emergency shelter should be a last resort. They are often strained to capacity and many do not accept pets. If you have other options, it is usually best to use them.
- Identify several places you could go in a crisis, such as a motel or a family member’s home in another town. Choose destinations in different directions so you have options during an emergency.
- If needed, identify a place that will accept pets.
- During a disaster, the Red Cross keeps a list of open emergency shelters.
- You can also search for open shelters by texting the word SHELTER and your 5-digit Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA).
How will you communicate and reunite with family members if you are separated? Emergencies can happen any time, including in the middle of the day when family members are at school and work.
- If you have children, talk to them about who could pick them up in an emergency.
- Designate safe meeting places where your family should go in an emergency – in your home (ex. basement or interior room), in your neighborhood (ex. by a tree or mailbox), outside of your neighborhood (ex. church or friend’s home), and outside of your town.
- Choose someone who lives outside of your area to be your family’s designated contact person. This will be the person your family members should contact if they are separated from you. (Make sure all family members know the contact’s phone number by memory or have it written on a small emergency contact card that they carry with them.
Do you know how to shut off your utilities? Natural gas leaks and electrical sparks cause a significant number of fires following disasters. Water leaks can cause flooding and waste clean water when supplies are scarce. Every member of your family should know where the shutoff valves are for your natural gas and water lines, and should know how to flip the switches on your electric circuit box to cut electricity to the whole house.
Do you have a “go bag” or disaster preparedness kit? This is one of the single most important things you can do to keep your family safe. Sometimes, aid doesn’t arrive until several days after a crisis hits. Whether you’re sheltering in place or evacuating, you should be able to meet your family’s immediate needs for at least three days. If you live in a disaster-prone area, it’s a good idea to keep your emergency items in a few easy-to-carry plastic tubs or duffel bags. These should be kept in a place where you can access them quickly. Here are some of the things your disaster kit should contain.