Be Prepared Before Disaster Strikes
When you’re in the path of a hurricane or wildfire, in the midst of rising flood waters or in the aftermath of an earthquake, being prepared is critical. Creating a plan ahead of time and having critical items on hand can mean the difference between life and death.
Build Your Own Kit
Having a disaster kit is an important aspect of preparedness. If you only have 10 minutes to evacuate your house, you’ll want to have the most essential items assembled in one place, such as a duffel bag, that can be grabbed and accessed at a moment’s notice. You’ll also want to know where exactly to find other items you may need, like important documents and medication. And you’ll want to ensure you have enough supplies for 48 to 72 hours. Being unprepared, or underprepared, can strain relief efforts.
Here are the things you should have ready should a disaster occur:
- Water: Make sure you have one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and hygiene.
- Food: Keep at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, along with a manual can opener for canned goods.
- Battery-powered or crank radio: Weather and other emergency updates will be important if other sources of information have been downed due to a disaster.
- Flashlight and batteries: You should have several flashlights that will allow you to move confidently at night. Have batteries on hand for several days of use.
- Clothing: Add a complete change of clothing that is appropriate for your climate, including sturdy shoes.
- First-aid kit: Take the time to learn how to use its contents. If you or a family member has severe allergies, verify that your kit includes an epinephrine injector. Always restock your first-aid kit after use and check it periodically to ensure that products have not expired.
- Whistle or other noisemaker: Making noise is the best way to signal that you need help, especially if you are trapped or injured.
- Tools: Stock your kit with a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place; and work gloves.
- Essential supplies and medications: Make sure to keep a supply of personal grooming essentials, feminine products, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Also, if you or a family member depend on prescription medication, talk to your doctor about issuing extra medication to be saved for emergency situations.
- Cash and credit cards: Know your card numbers and your credit card provider’s customer service number. Cash may be needed if the internet is down and credit card processing systems are offline.
- Cellphone and external batteries: It is a good idea to have an external battery or two on hand in case you are not able to charge your phone right away. It can sometimes take a few days for charging stations to be set up at shelters.
- Important documents: Save copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records electronically, or keep copies in a waterproof, portable container.
- A few other things to have on hand include a fire extinguisher; matches in a waterproof container; backup battery and phone charger; sleeping bag or blanket; prescription eyeglasses and contact lens with solution; paper plates, cups and plastic utensils; paper and pencil; and activities for children, such as books or puzzles.
And don’t forget additional emergency supplies to stay safe due to COVID-19:
- Masks: It is a good idea to always keep face masks in your kit for everyone ages 2 and above. Some disasters can lead to dust or smoke in the air, which can cause breathing problems and be quite dangerous.
- Hygiene items: Soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes help reduce spread of disease.
Make a Plan
But having a disaster preparedness kit isn’t enough. You also need to make a plan so that everyone in your household knows where to go and what to do.
- Every disaster is different, so make sure to pay close attention to emergency notifications and instructions from the fire department, police or other authorities.
- Know where to seek shelter in your house and in your community.
- Identify a meeting place. It’s a good idea to have a few different meeting places — one closer, one a little further away, some in different directions. You never know exactly where a disaster will have the greatest impact, so having options can help.
- Have an evacuation route. It’s important not only to know where you will go, but how you will get there.
- Write down the phone numbers of your emergency contacts and include them in your disaster preparedness kit. If your cell phone battery dies, you won’t be able to access your contacts.
- Think through the specific needs of your household. Do you live with older adults or someone with a disability, young children, pets, etc.? Incorporate specific needs into your plan.
Pet owners will need to do a little more preparation to ensure they and their animals are ready in case of an emergency.
- Build a preparedness kit for your pet. Make sure to store a supply of food, water and medicine (if needed) for several days. You’ll also want to include sanitation supplies, like a litter box or plastic bags, your pet’s registration/license documents, and a picture of you and your pet together in case you get separated and need to demonstrate ownership.
- Have an evacuation plan for your pet. Not all shelters will allow animals. Make sure to learn which ones do, and identify other places you can take your pet in case pet-friendly shelters are full.
- Reach out to your animal control office and local emergency management office for more information and tips.
Being Prepared Helps You and Your Community
Here are a few other things you can do to make sure you’re prepared.
Get to know your neighbors. The COVID-19 pandemic may make this more difficult, but knowing who lives around you and what assistance they may need can make all the difference. You may even be able to provide valuable information to first responders.
Take a first aid and CPR class. During and following a disaster, you may encounter people who have sustained injuries. Knowing how to help or how to get more advanced care can save a life.
Know how to locate and turn off utilities. A gas leak can pose a serious risk. Make sure you know how to turn off utilities to prevent a secondary emergency.
Know which natural disasters are most likely to occur in your area. Make sure you know which natural disasters are more common in your area and learn about any disaster-specific tips and considerations. Maybe you live in an area prone to hurricanes and typhoons, flooding, earthquakes or wildfires. You may see some disasters coming, while others may strike with no or very little warning. Here are just a few things to keep in mind.
- Hurricanes and Typhoons: These storms bring high winds and flooding, so prepare your home by cleaning out gutters and drains, boarding up windows and securing outside furniture. If you are told to evacuate, do so. Remember that returning home after a storm can also be hazardous, so make sure to wear protective clothing and be on the lookout for downed wires or other damaged electrical equipment.
- Flooding: Never walk, swim or drive through flood waters. Moving water at shin level can knock you down, and at just a bit higher can sweep your vehicle away. Move to higher ground, or evacuate if you are told to do so. Avoid bridges over fast-moving water — they can be quickly washed away. Underwater injuries are quite common, so be careful of hazards hiding below the water, such as sharp objects.
- Earthquakes: In case of an earthquake, crawl under a sturdy table or desk. If none are available, take shelter next to an interior wall, avoiding windows. You should expect and be ready for aftershocks. Remember that earthquakes can often cause damage to buildings, gas and water pipes, and power lines.
- Wildfires: Pay attention to the current weather conditions and fire risk — dry conditions and high winds can be significant risk factors. Clear the area around your home of debris, such as dry leaves. Evacuate if you are told to do so. N95 masks can help protect you temporarily from smoke inhalation. And when returning home after a wildfire, watch out for debris or ash that still may be hot and smoldering.
Finally, make sure to check your national and local emergency offices for the latest information in your area. It’s important to know what local officials and aid organizations recommend for your area. And make sure you know how to access important emergency notifications — if available, you may receive notifications automatically to your mobile device, or there may be an app you can download.
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