The United States experienced 79 declared disasters in 2015, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). From wildfires in California to snowstorms in New Hampshire, the disasters varied widely and occurred in every region of the nation.

While that devastation often feels far from home, Chief Operating Officer Richmond Ambulance Authority Rob Lawrence says disaster preparedness is important, and advises everyone to follow this simple advice: get a kit and make a plan.

Know the basics

FEMA recommends stocking a basic supply kit with the following: one gallon of water per person per day fro three days, three-day supply of non-perishable food, battery-powered or hand crank radio and NOAA weather radio, extra batteries, flashlight, first-aid kit, whistle, dust mask, plastic sheeting and duct tape, towelettes and garbage bags, wrench, local maps and a can opener.

"For individuals with chronic health problems, advance knowledge is critical for disaster preparedness."

In the absence of a kit, however, Lawrence says knowledge of how to make it through a power outage could be useful. For example, he says “In a full freezer, food can stay good for around two days if things are only taken out as needed. When it’s half full, it’s only 24 hours.” Some refrigerated foods, however, might only keep for four hours.

Refrigerated medications are also a point of concern for some, but Lawrence says many will remain unspoiled for up to 28 days if the temperature is between 59 and 86 degrees. Even so, he says, “People should consult their pharmacist when they get the medication–don’t leave it until it becomes an emergency”

Make a plan before you need it

For individuals with chronic health problems, advance knowledge is critical for disaster preparedness. Lawrence suggests talking with relatives and health care providers about needs that may arise in the wake of a disaster. For example, dialysis patients will need regular treatment, and, “it’s a two-part responsibility between patient and health care provider to deal with long-term conditions.”

Similarly, Lawrence says individuals with special health needs should act immediately when warned about events such as hurricanes. For example, patients dependent on medical supplies like oxygen “can plan ahead and anticipate how much extra to get beforehand.”

He says while 9-1-1 is always there, agencies will be strained in the aftermath of a disaster, and prepared citizens make response easier.