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Disaster Preparedness: How Would You Withstand the First 72 Hours?

disaster preparedness

Think that, because you’ve got a pantry full of canned foods, you would fare well in the aftermath of a major disaster? Unfortunately, most people are not nearly as prepared as they should be. Studies into disaster preparedness have found that Americans have a false sense of security. Even with the aftermath of disasters like Katrina, Sandy, and flash flooding still fresh in our minds, over 54% of Americans still believe that disaster will not affect them and nearly 60% are not prepared for a disaster of any kind.

The first 72 hours after a disaster are critical. Are you ready? Check your disaster preparedness in the following areas.

Image credit: Adna by Nate & Tilly Ritter; found on Flickr; CC SA 2.0
Gary Dorning of Adna, Wash. carries a young girl through flood waters as the Chehalis River rises over state Route 6 west of Adna Monday, Dec. 3, 2007. The girl was one of nine in a family trapped at their home by flooding conditions west of Adna. She and her brother were rescued by jet ski as the rest of the family remained on the rooftop of their rural Lewis County home.

Communication Plan

With some types of disasters, like hurricanes, we are usually lucky enough to get some warning. But with other types of disasters, such as flash flooding, there is virtually no warning at all. With tornadoes, for example, the average warning time is just 13 minutes. What would you do if disaster struck while you were at work? How would you get in touch with your family?

Do you:

  • Have a communication plan with your family?
  • Have an established meeting point? A backup meeting point?
  • Have a backup communication method in case cell phones fail (such as a two-way radio)?
  • Know the evacuation plan at your children’s school?
  • Have you PRACTICED the plan?

Water Prep

Many people do have a stockpile of food in their homes for a short-term disaster. However, it isn’t food that they should be mainly worried about. It is water.

We can only go about 3 days without water before dying (compared to upwards of a month without food!). We also need water for basic hygiene, cooking, and things like flushing a toilet.

It is common for plumbing systems to completely fail during emergencies like hurricanes and earthquakes, leaving residents without water for days. Even if the plumbing is functional, there are often “boil warnings” in effect because the water treatment centers aren’t working.

Do you:

Electricity and Gas

Living without electricity won’t necessarily kill you during a disaster. You might even appreciate a few days respite without the TV blasting and constantly checking your emails. But there are some cases where you need electricity. For example, let’s say that your fuse box is in the basement and you need to turn it off for safety reasons. How will you do that safely if you cannot see?

Then there are the issues of heating and cooking. Without electric and gas to fuel your stove, how are you supposed to boil water to purify it (boil advisories are common after disasters!). And how will you heat your home without gas or electricity?

Do you:

NJ disaster

Aerial photos of New Jersey coastline in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy by DVIDSHUB; found on Flickr; CC SA 2.0

First Aid

A scary fact is that only 44% of people in America have a first aid kit at home. Even if you do have a first aid kit, when was the last time you checked it? Chances are that your first aid kit is missing some crucial supplies which you would need in the aftermath of a disaster.

One of the core prepper mottos is “no one is coming for me.” People who went through disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy know this all too well. They waited days to be rescued, and often even longer to receive medical attention. Hospital workers had to prioritize when deciding which of the many patients to treat first. Even in smaller disasters like the blizzard which hit NYC in 2010, many people died because ambulances couldn’t get through the snow.

If you are injured during the disaster (such as if a piece of broken glass gives you a deep gash), you probably aren’t going to be able to get medical assistance. Even if by some miracle you manage to get to a hospital, you aren’t going to get treated first when there are other patients in much more critical conditions.

It is up to you to know how to perform essential first aid (like CPR, dressing wounds, treating hypothermia, etc.). And you must also have the supplies to perform these tasks.

Do you:

  • Have a completely stocked first aid kit at home?
  • Have a first aid kit in your car?
  • Know basic first aid?
  • Have emergency contact numbers written down?


This is the situation which everyone dreads; the moment when you have to flee your home with just the belongings you can carry with you. You leave knowing that you may never see your home again.

The idea of evacuation is so frightening and terrible that most people want to believe it will never happen to them. But, specifically because the idea is so terrible, we should be prepared for it.

Depending on the disaster, evacuation could mean many different things. If your home catches on fire, for example, you would evacuate to a friend’s house nearby. If it was a community-wide disaster like an hurricane, then you might get into your car and drive to a relative’s house in the next state. If these is no time to get away, then evacuation might mean going to a storm shelter with thousands of other refugees.  Are you prepared for these evacuation scenarios?

Do you:

  • Have a full tank of gas in your car or in a gas can?
  • Have a map of the local and state roads?
  • Have a safe place to evacuate to, both locally and further away?
  • Have a survival retreat (aka Bug Out Location)?
  • Have an evacuation route planned?
  • Have a Bug Out Bag packed?
  • Have a Bug Out Binder packed?
  • Have a cash reserve ready to go?

How many of these questions did you answer “yes” to? Do you think you are ready for a disaster?