Routing # 321076470

How to Prepare for a Disaster

June 12, 2024 5 min

You never think it will happen to you. Maybe you’ve seen disasters strike neighbors, coworkers, friends or even close family members. Yet somehow you assume that your good luck (so far) will continue to keep you safe. But disasters can impact anyone.

Being prepared will help you and your family feel more confident if a disaster strikes — and might even save lives.

Know which disasters you are likely to face

Depending on where you live, you may face wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and more. It’s important to find out which disasters are most common in your area. You wouldn’t evacuate for an earthquake, for example, but you might for a wildfire, flood or tsunami. And your escape route might be different for a wildfire than for a flood.

Have a disaster plan and practice it

A disaster can happen quickly. Your best defense is creating a readiness plan for you and your family. Having a solid plan in place will help everyone better respond, cope, and recover.

Your local authorities can offer advice on preparing for specific disasters. But here are some key steps everyone can take:

Get emergency alerts. The sooner you know about an approaching disaster, the better. Most newer mobile phones receive emergency alerts from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Set up your notifications so you’ll get alerts when something’s coming. Check your mobile phone’s settings for “Government Alerts” or “Emergency Alert Messages.” Or download the FEMA app to your mobile phone to receive real-time weather and emergency alerts.

Review the basics. Equip your home with a flashlight, a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket, and make sure everyone in your home knows where to find them. If you have kids, teach them to dial 911 in an emergency. Someone in your household should learn CPR and first aid too. You should also know how to shut off your utilities, in case the authorities ask you to do so.

Plan home escape routes. Identify at least two exits from each room in your home, and make sure they aren’t blocked. If you have second-story bedrooms, consider installing escape ladders. (If you’re at home during an earthquake, stay indoors. Move into a hallway or next to a wall.)

Practice escaping your home. Share your escape plan with your family and do practice runs twice a year, including at night. If you have young children, pets or older family members at home, assign someone to help them escape. And make sure to designate an outdoor meet-up place.

Plan a neighborhood evacuation. Depending on the situation, you may need to evacuate your neighborhood. Local authorities can share the best routes for various disasters. In a flood, for example, it’s often best to head inland (but avoid driving through flood waters, which might sweep you away). The FEMA app provides the locations of shelters in your area.

If you need to evacuate, don’t return home until the authorities give you the thumbs-up. And if your home gets damaged, have an inspector check it out before entering.

Create a family communication plan. If you get separated from family and your phone loses power, you’ll have a hard time finding loved ones. So create a paper document that lists family members’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Then give each family member a copy to store in their wallet. The federal government suggests using this handy form.

Prepare your kids. If you have children, teach them what to do in a disaster. Make it fun with these disaster prep games.

Create a disaster kit with supplies to last several days. An emergency kit should include:

  • cash and a credit card
  • water and food that won’t spoil (such as canned food and protein bars)
  • sleeping bags
  • a change of clothes and shoes
  • special baby items, if needed
  • pet supplies, if needed
  • a first aid kit (including any prescription medications)
  • a blanket
  • matches (stored in a waterproof container)
  • a signal flare
  • a battery-powered radio
  • a flashlight
  • extra batteries

It’s also smart to keep a blanket and water in your car.

Organize important documents

If you need to evacuate, you’ll want to have access to drug prescriptions and other key information.

So make sure you have both digital and hard copies of important documents. Paper copies, stored in your disaster kit, will come in handy if your phone dies or you can’t get Internet reception.

Helpful documents include:

  • personal identification (such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses and passports)
  • medical records (including prescriptions)
  • insurance policies
  • your home deed, lease or rental agreement
  • financial account information
  • emergency phone numbers (for employers, schools and social service providers)
  • a list of belongings that you would want insurance to replace, along with the purchase prices; for big-ticket items like appliances and electronics, it’s helpful to have receipts

Have emergency funds ready

If a disaster happens, the last thing you need is trouble accessing money. It can be helpful to set aside actual cash. If you have a safe, store a couple hundred dollars in it.

You should also have an emergency fund to help get you through a disaster. Most financial experts recommend having three months’ worth of expenses, held in a savings account. If you have kids, work in a volatile industry or are self-employed, consider setting aside enough money to pay expenses for six months.

Make sure you know where your checkbooks, credit cards, and debit cards are located. Your emergency fund should be with a bank that has a network of ATMs and a reliable mobile app.

Once you’ve recovered from a disaster, work on rebuilding your emergency fund so you’ll be prepared for whatever comes next.


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