Disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and even terrorist attacks are nothing new. However, today it is more important than ever to prepare.
According to Borgen Project, the rate of climate-related disasters increased by 80% from 1980 to 2009. More people are living in densely-populated cities, which means that the devastation from disasters is worse.
Even more worrisome is that, despite the increased risk of disaster, fewer people than ever seem to be prepared for disaster.
As one study on The Lack of Disaster Preparedness by the Public and Its Affect on Communities found, most people believe that the risk for natural disaster is much lower than it really is.
If disaster does strike, they believe that the government will bail them out (which recent major disasters have shown us is not the case).
It is no wonder then that, according to a recent national poll:
- Less than half of Americans have prepared copies of crucial documents
- 48% of Americans lack emergency supplies to use in event of a disaster
- Less than half of parents have a designated place to meet in case of a disaster
- 42% of cell phone users do not know the phone numbers of immediate family
This guide is meant to help you with disaster preparedness so you can come up with a plan, know how to respond, and have all of the crucial supplies you need to be ready for any major disaster which may strike.
Read more about the many different types of natural disaster.
Step 1: Make Your Disaster Preparedness Plan
As Huffington Post writes, you probably aren’t going to get hit by raining giant meatballs. While ideally, everyone would prepare for all types of disasters from flooding to nuclear attacks, it is more important to first focus on the disasters which are most likely in the region you live in.
- At CNN, you can find a map of the riskiest places in America for natural disasters.
These are the most likely disasters you will probably have to worry about:
- Hurricanes – Read how to survive a hurricane
- Earthquakes – Read how to survive an earthquake
- Flooding – Read how to survive flooding
While not likely, a widespread grid outage — such as one which took out the electric supply of an entire state or the entire nation – would be devastating.
Thus, it is important to be prepared to live without electricity, running water, and other modern conveniences.
Stay Informed about Disasters
The first part of your disaster preparedness plan is how you will stay informed about any events. With weather-related disasters, there is usually an advanced warning.
The earlier you hear about the event, the more time you will have to react.
- Emergency Alerts on Cell Phone: You can sign up for alerts at Ready.gov
- Emergency Radio: This is absolutely one of the most important disaster preparedness items to have. Choose an NOAA emergency radio (Amazon link) that has an alarm that goes off if a disaster strikes your area. Read how to choose an emergency radio.
Know How to Prepare Your Home
Natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes can cause severe injuries and damage through broken glass, debris, and fires. Much of this can be avoided by knowing how to prepare your home for a specific disaster.
You may need to:
- Switch off the utilities in your home (gas, electric, water) if instructed to do so
- Close storm shutters
- Board up windows
- Secure objects in the yard or bring them indoors
- Unplug appliances
Decide Where You Will Go
In a tornado, it is best to go into the basement for safety or an above ground storm shelter.
During an earthquake, the safest place is underneath a table or desk.
It is important to learn this information and identify where you will go in case a disaster hits your region.
- The safest places in your home during disasters
- Evacuation routes
- Shelter locations
Be Prepared If Caught in a Disaster while Away from Home
This is another aspect of disaster preparedness that often goes overlooked. As a result, many families are separated from each other after disasters.
The image below shows a missing persons board after Hurricane Katrina.
Many of these cases could have been avoided with a plan for what to do if disaster strikes while away.
You will need to:
- Make an Emergency Communication Plan: Cell phones often don’t work during emergencies. Thus, do not rely on your cell phone as a means of getting in touch with family members. Here is how to make an emergency communication plan.
- Know School Evacuation Policies: This will make it easier to get in touch with your children if they are evacuated from their school.
- Determine a Safe Place: In case it is unsafe to go home, determine a safe place to meet, such as a relative’s home.
- Write Down Phone Numbers: Store important phone numbers (including the numbers of family members, the safe location, work, and school) someplace other than just your phone. Having these available in the cloud is one smart option, as is putting them in a waterproof emergency binder. Need a template for storing your emergency information? Check out our fillable emergency binder PDF)
- Keep Disaster Supplies Away from Home Too: These include having some basic supplies in your vehicle, work, school, or any other locations you spend a lot of time at.
- Make a Get Home Bag: Pack a survival bag that contains everything you might need to help you get home during an emergency. Here is a complete Get Home Bag checklist.
Run Disaster Drills
Not only should you have a specific plan on what to do during a disaster, but you must also practice this plan. Running drills is a good way to mentally prepare for the disaster and ensure everyone knows what to do.
Step 2: Get Disaster Supplies and Kits
Disaster supplies include much more than just canned food and bottled water! To make it easier, we’ve broken down the disaster supplies by type:
During natural disasters, the water treatment centers often don’t work. So, even if there is running water, it may not be safe to drink.
You must have a supply of clean drinking water. FEMA and the Red Cross recommend having at least 3 days’ worth of emergency water. However, it is better to aim for a 30 day supply.
You’ll need at least 1 gallon per day for drinking, cooking, and sanitation.
For more on this, read:
- How much water to stockpile for disaster preparedness
- How to store water safely
- Methods of purifying water in emergencies
- Storing water in milk jugs
- How to choose water containers
Emergency food should consist of foods that are non-perishable and well-sealed so they won’t be damaged by floodwater or debris, and require little or no cooking. Consider that you may also need emergency food for evacuation.
As with water, FEMA and the Red Cross advise that you have a 3 day supply of emergency food.
Many preppers aim for at least a 30 day supply as well as off-grid methods of cooking.
For more on this, read:
- Best Emergency Survival Food: Top 5 Brands Reviewed
- List of emergency foods to stockpile
- Types of emergency food
- How to cook without power
- How to store food
- Where to store emergency food
Human Waste and Hygiene
Natural disasters almost always result in disease outbreaks due to hygiene threats such as sewage in floodwater.
To avoid the hygiene risk (in your home at least), it is crucial to have an emergency method of dealing with human waste. This aspect of disaster preparedness is often overlooked and to dire consequences!
One of the cheapest, easiest, and most-effective solutions for waste management after a disaster is a two-bucket toilet system.
During disasters, injuries from debris and flying objects are common. It isn’t always possible to get to the hospital, and hospitals are often overcrowded.
Having a first aid kit at home could mean the difference between life and death.
See this Complete First Aid Supplies Checklist.
Don’t forget to have first aid supplies at your work, school, and in your vehicle as well.
Other Disaster Supplies
In addition to the above disaster supplies, you will need things like:
- Supplies for boarding up windows and doors: such as plastic sheeting, boards, nails, duct tape, etc.
- Supplies for cleaning up debris: Such as heavy-duty gloves and trash bags
- Face masks: Read How to Choose a Face Mask and Guide to N95 Face Masks
- Fire extinguisher (Amazon link)
- Emergency lighting
- Emergency heating
For more on this, read:
Step 3: Build Your Evacuation Kit
As part of your disaster preparedness plan (as talked about above), you will need to know evacuation locations and routes. In addition, you will need to have an evacuation kit packed. This is also sometimes called a Go Bag or a Bug Out Bag.
Don’t forget that you will also need a binder with all of your crucial documents. Without documents proving your identity, you might be refused shelter or services!
Step 4: Prepare for Pets
If the situation is dangerous for you, it will also be dangerous for your pets. Never leave your pets at home if you must evacuate! They could starve to death or be injured.
Abandoned pets after disasters can also cause problems when they form packs.
Step 5: Learn Disaster Preparedness Skills
Having disaster supplies is a good first step, but you must also know how to utilize these supplies when it really matters.
Further, there are always some aspects of disasters which can’t be accounted for. It is in these situations that disaster preparedness skills come in handy.
Below are some of the key preparedness skills everyone should know:
- First aid: Read Most Important First Aid Skills to Know
- Water treatment: Read Ways to Purify Water in Emergencies
- How to Make a Fire: Read How to Make a Fire
- Shelter Building: Read How to Build an Emergency Shelter
- Mental Preparedness: Read Mental Training Techniques
Step 6: Get Your Community involved
Finally, remember that strength comes in numbers.
If your entire community is for disasters, then it is less likely that other problems – such as mass infection, looting, or rioting – will occur in the disaster aftermath.
The Citizens Corps is one group which aids in community disaster planning.
Are you preparing for disaster in any other ways? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!