Prepare for a Disaster: 12 Steps to Protect Your Family

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which caused billions of dollars in destruction to the New York City and coastal New Jersey areas, it’s a good time to think about how prepared your home and family might be for a similar disaster. Experts say that with climate change, we can expect more extreme weather events than ever before, and while we can never be fully prepared, there are important steps you can take to secure your property and ensure your safety during and after the event. Here are the basics of disaster preparedness; get more info at Ready.gov.

Make a Plan

(image via: ready.gov)

The single most important step to prepare for a disaster is to create a plan that addresses how you will deal with various situations, along with the special needs of your family members. Your plan should lay out the ways in which your family will communicate with each other in the event of an emergency, the best ways to escape from your home, and how to shut off your utilities like natural gas and electricity. Get a sample form at Ready.gov.

Stockpile Food and Rotate Your Pantry

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Many of us only have a few days to a week worth of food in our refrigerators, freezers and pantries, but it’s a good idea to stockpile as much non-perishable food as you can reasonably store. Not only is it smart to have backups for emergency situations or loss of power, but also in the event of a financial setback. Rather than purchasing expensive MRE’s and other long-term nonperishables, it may be best to focus on storing the food you actually eat on a regular basis. Then, just be sure to rotate through these items and replace them as necessary so they don’t go bad. Canned goods, peanut butter, crackers, cereal, rice, oats, white rice and freeze-dried foods are just a few ideas.

Store Water

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Emergencies might just be the only good reason to ever buy bottled water. Keep at least a few gallons on hand per person, stored in a cool and dark location. An alternative to buying water is to purchase non-disposable, preferably BPA-free water containers and rotate through the water inside them on a regular basis. You can also re-use food-grade containers that previously held beverages, like 2-liter soda bottles.

Build a Basic Emergency Kit

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When an emergency hits, there are certain items that you’ll need to safely hunker down in your home, evacuate or find your way to safety. FEMA provides a list of recommended items including flashlights, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a first aid kit, a whistle to signal for help, a manual can opener and mess kits.

Consider Medical and Special Needs

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Whether you just need an extra pair of prescription glasses or you’re on a ventilator, medical needs are one of the most important things to consider when preparing for an emergency. Diabetics should always have extra insulin on hand, and those who need oxygen tanks should have a backup source of power and a backup ventilator (get more information about that at VentUsers.org [PDF]). Special needs aren’t always medical in nature – for example, infants require certain back-up items as well.

Pack a ‘Bug Out Bag’

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Referred to as ‘bug-out bags’ or ‘go-bags’, emergency evacuation packs should be filled with items you can take on the go when you’re forced to leave your home in a hurry. Some items that you should place inside a backpack or duffel bag include a change of clothes in a resealable plastic bag, bottled water, non-perishable foods that don’t require water to prepare, a small first-aid kit, a mechanical or chemical method of water filtration, a can opener, local maps, a flashlight, a swiss army knife and a backup cell phone (such as a pre-paid phone) with charger. The exact items that you’ll need may depend on the type of emergency you’re likely to face in your area for the current season.

Keep Cash on Hand

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When the power goes out and/or communications go down, businesses in your area won’t be taking credit cards. Be sure to have some emergency cash stored in a safe place somewhere in your home; $300-$1000 may be reasonable depending on whether you’re single, or have a family. Small denominations may be best in case businesses run out of change.

Charge Mobile Devices & Cut Their Power Usage

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A solar or hand-crank gadget charger may not be ideal for charging your cell phone on a daily basis, but in the emergency, it could be the only thing keeping you connected to the outside world. Many chargers are available inexpensively at sites like Amazon.com. Before a storm hits, charge all of your mobile gadgets, and once the power goes out, use these energy-saving tips from Quartz to stretch your battery life as long as possible.

Keep Important Documents Safe

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Photocopy them and keep some in safe deposit box; scan and keep encrypted online. Your Own Home Store has a great breakdown of what documents you should store including important phone numbers, social security and insurance IDs, child and adult ID kits and financial information.

Have Office or Car Emergency Kits

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There’s a good chance that when an unpredictable emergency like an earthquake hits, you won’t be at home. Your disaster plan should include considerations for how your family will meet up in case you aren’t together when it happens. You may also want to pack mini emergency kits with 72 hours worth of supplies at your office and/or in your car.

Make Plans for Your Animals

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Don’t forget about the furry members of your family when preparing for an emergency situation. Do you have enough food, water, cat litter and other essential items on hand along with all of the supplies for yourself and your family? Where will your animals go if you have to evacuate? The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both offer tips for pets including getting a rescue alert sticker for your window, arranging a safe haven and packing an emergency kit.

Protect Your Home for Likely Weather Events

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Of course, you can’t plan ahead for every disaster, and as in the case of Hurricane Sandy, sometimes events that seem unlikely really do occur. But if you live on the coast, in an earthquake zone or near a river that floods during severe storms, it’s wise to keep supplies on hand that you’ll need to protect your home from that sort of disaster rather than waiting until days or hours before the event.

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