Stuff happens. NYC has random blackouts; snow and ice storms take down power or pipes freeze. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, volcanoes, and wild fires all happen within the United States. This isn’t a climate change or political rant, this is a fact of life. If you live east of the Mississippi, you probably saw 24/7 news coverage of Hurricane Matthew in October, which hit the south-eastern US. There were evacuations, empty store shelves, and people lining up for hours just to buy gasoline.
File this under the list of “Adult things I have to think about now that I’m an adult,” but you should be prepared for a disaster. We’re not talking tin foil hat making and building a bunker in your backyard prepared; we’re talking basic FEMA-recommended prepared. FEMA does amazing work, but let’s not make their jobs harder by being ill-prepared. To quote the Department of Homeland Security Website “Although local officials and relief workers will be around after a disaster, they cannot reach everyone immediately. Your help may arrive in hours or it might take days. Electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be off for days or even a week, or longer.” So you can prepare instead of panic, here’s a list of 25 Things You Can Do To Prepare Now For When Disaster Strikes.
No one expects a fire or flood or major storm, and that’s why we have homeowner’s and renter’s insurance. Do your research, talk to an actual insurance agent about the risks in your area, and get insured.
Keep some cash on hand.
I know this is difficult for some, and more likely to be relevant if you’re in a situation where you have warning that there might be an issue – say, a hurricane heading towards the Eastern Seaboard – but keep $50 in cash, mostly in small bills on hand. Even if power is just out for a few days, or if the grocery store has a generator, you may not be able to buy ice and water with a credit card. Cash: it’s still useful.
Store some food.
The general rule is that you should have enough food stored up for three days, for each person in your house. Don’t forget about snacks, shelf stable milk, fuel for your grill or camp stove to cook with, and a french press or other non-electric coffee maker. Be aware of what you have on hand and “rotate stock” as necessary. Aside from disaster preparedness, storing some non-perishable foods helps in case of sudden job loss or if you have an expense and your grocery budget gets cut, or if someone you know is in a bad spot and needs help.
Make a plan for your family.
If you’re on different sides of town when something bad happens, do you know where to meet up? Do you have an evacuation plan? Think about the most likely scenarios for your area and make a plan and a backup plan, and go over it with your family at least once a month.
Flashlights and extra batteries, solar powered lights, waterproof matches, and candles will all be very valuable when you can’t flick a switch.
Have a first aid kit prepared
Have it prepared, and make it specific to members of your family. You don’t necessarily need to be able to do minor surgery, but you want more than band-aids and Neosporin. Consider things like a brace or sports wrap in case someone gets a sprain or brake until you can safely get to a medical facility and prescription medications. If you take something regularly – such as blood pressure medication, blood thinners, or seizure medications, talk to your doctor about having some extra on hand. You don’t want to be snowed in for a week without vital medications.
Learn some basic skills.
CPR, basic first aid, shutting off utilities to your house if necessary (frozen pipes burst, you guys!), how to cook without power, advanced shadow puppeting, etc can and will come in very handy should the unexpected happen. Read some books, watch some things on YouTube, talk to people who have been in weird and unexpected situations before. Bonus, you’ll be more confident instead of scared and panicky.
Know where your local emergency shelters and evacuation routes are.
It’s well worth taking a few minutes to drive to see where and how far the nearest shelter is, and they’re usually schools anyway. Evacuation routes are picked for a specific reason, and even though these might get busy if you’re evacuated due to say, a giant storm or flood, there’s a reason that designated evacuation routes are there. That shortcut you know and possibly want to use may be unsafe. Doing something else, particularly in an emergency when you’re being evacuated, is not the smartest idea.
Have diapers and wipes, and if necessary formula, ready.
Just like food, you should have at least enough for 72 hours if not longer. Even if you regularly use cloth diapers, in an emergency or disaster you may not be able to rinse/soak/wash, so put a package of disposables away.
Invest in a solar charger for your cell phone.
It’s not uncommon, particularly in the South, to have power lines taken out by storms but still have cell signal. So imagine sitting around your house, sans electricity for two days with cell phone signal but no way to charge them. If you think you can just run down to Starbucks or Walmart and plug in, remember that hundreds if not thousands of other people will have the same idea. You can easily find a solar charger on Amazon or similar online stores.
Know the emergency plans for places you frequent.
You should know the emergency plan for places such as work and your children’s schools or daycare. Know protocol for emergency situations and how information will be relayed to workers/parents.
Get to know your neighbors!
If you’re going to be stuck at home after a huge storm without power, it’s worth it to know your neighbors. You might not be able to use the gallon of milk in your fridge that’s going to spoil before the power comes on, but your neighbor with three little ones might, and vice versa. Also, if it’s Sport You Like Season, it pays to be friends with other Sports Fans on your block who might have a generator hooked up and the game on. For more practical reasons, you can all pitch in to help clear the street of debris and look out for each other. A united front of a whole neighborhood against looters or nefarious persons is safer than an individual.
Have a tarp, rope, and duct tape handy
These things can be used to cover broken windows, assist with clean up, tie down things, cover a hole in a roof, collect rainwater if needed, and in a pinch, make a shelter.
Plan an emergency indoor heat source.
If you live someplace that gets cold seasons, you will want to strongly consider a heat source/heat sources for your home if you’re snowed or iced in without power. Keep in mind that FIRE and CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING are serious risks to consider when planning an emergency indoor heat source. Make sure if you have a fireplace or wood stove that it’s properly maintained to minimize risk.
Keep printouts of your important documents.
Important documents include things like birth certificates, identification, insurance documents, bank information, and specific medical info like current medications or allergies in a waterproof and easily portable container. Honestly, one of the best things for this is a gallon sized ziplock freezer bag. Having to evacuate and then having none of your financial information when you get home is an easily preventable headache, so take a bit of time and prepare now. FEMA and Citizen Corps have even gotten together and made a helpful PDF to get you started!
Have a good multi-tool or hunting knife.
There are a million ways these things can be used, and in the most practical use we can think of, multi tools often include bottle openers AND scissors. On the same item.
Be prepared to not have police readily available to respond.
If you’re a pro Second Amendment person who owns firearms, have an extra box of ammo. If you’re against having a gun in the home, have a plan of some kind for if looters come a knocking and phones are down or police are unable to respond. This isn’t to scare anyone, but it happens. Have a plan to protect yourself and your loved ones, and if your personal moral code will not allow that, strongly consider evacuating.
Have general household chlorine bleach (stored safely well away from children and pets!) and a medicine dropper.
Disaster clean up is gross (mold, mildew, and other ickyness), and nine parts water to one part bleach can be used as a disinfectant. In an emergency, 16 drops of regular liquid bleach per gallon of water can make questionable water safe to drink, but ONLY use this as a last resort, and NEVER use scented, color safe, or bleaches with added cleaners – just ye old liquid bleach.
Pack a bug out bag.
The basic premise behind a bug out bag is that it contains what you would need to survive for 72 hours if you evacuate. Some people take this to the extreme, but it’s for exactly that: survival. They are also known as go-bags, 72 hour kits, or personal preparedness kits. If the thought of putting your own together is daunting, the red cross and Amazon both sell them, though be aware most pre-made kits don’t come with instant coffee or anything for children. The Red Cross, The Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA all recommend you have a bag of essentials packed in case of evacuation, whatever you choose to call them.
Consider your pets!
If you have to evacuate you should NEVER leave your pets behind. Make sure you pack backup food on hand for them (canned works very well for this), and consider their water needs as well. Have your pets micro-chipped if possible, have a sturdy, safe carrier they can be placed in if they’re small, keep copies of their vaccinations on hand, and consider their needs when packing a bug out or evacuation bag.
Keep gas in your car.
While there’s some argument on this, the general consensus is that you shouldn’t, for various reasons, let your car get below 1/4 a tank anyway. If you live someplace that has a hurricane season, or wildfires in the area, or any time of year that’s more likely to have severe weather or a natural disaster, don’t let your tank get below 1/2 full. If you have to evacuate, you don’t want to spend two hours waiting for gas.
Pick an emergency contact out of state.
If you don’t have power or internet or phone for several days, you can’t contact everyone you’ve ever known to let them know you’re okay, but you can probably borrow someone’s phone to call your mom/aunt/best friend out of state and have them update everyone else that you’re unharmed. If everyone’s called Aunt Kate in Colorado to let her know they’re fine, she can relay information, and we cannot stress enough how important that is. Pick an emergency contact, memorize their phone number.
Don't forget the kids.
Little people need different things than big people, and while adults can process and understand, “we suck it up and sit in the local hurricane shelter for 24 hours being bored and scared,” children often can’t. If you’re preparing to evacuate or packing a bug out bag, consider putting in a spare but familiar blanket, their favorite non-perishable snack, a book or coloring book and crayons, and a toy to keep them distracted from the mayhem. For older children perhaps pack favorite non-perishable snacks, and a new chapter book or card game to keep them occupied.
Make sure you're getting emergency alerts.
There are a few ways to do this – TV, text alerts, and radio are the easiest. Make sure you’re aware of how local officials will be communicating updates, know how to and if there’s an AM/FM app on your cell phone, and if possible, invest in a hand cranked radio so even if you’re without power, you’re not without information.
Have extra water on hand.
Water is essential, and one of the first things you’ll miss if you can’t get it readily. Plan for one gallon per day, per person in your house for drinking, cooking, and washing. The general rule is a three day supply if you need to bug out and a one to two week supply at home.