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Disaster Prep and First Response

When an Emergency Strikes, Will You Be Ready?

Your first step is to learn what to expect. Research the natural disasters common to your area, such as floods, earthquakes, or tornadoes, so that you can customize your emergency kits and escape plans based on the expected conditions.

Stock your emergency kits now

Emergency kits can help you prepare for the worst, but only if they are properly stocked and regularly refreshed. Your home emergency kit should be very accessible and contain:

  • Enough nonperishable food and water for each family member (including pets!) for three days – plan for one gallon of water per person per day
  • A hand-crank or battery-powered flashlight and radio with extra batteries
  • A first aid kit, including hand sanitizer, can opener, and garbage bags
  • A tool kit with basic tools, in case you need to shut off utilities
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape for broken windows or a leaky roof
  • A whistle to signal for help so rescuers can locate you

Your car emergency kit should contain:

  • A properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, tripod jack, and jumper cables
  • A tool kit, compass, duct tape, and car charger for your phone
  • A flashlight with extra batteries, rain poncho, and fire extinguisher
  • Reflective triangles and vest, as well as brightly-colored cloth to make your vehicle more visible
  • A first aid kit
  • Drinking water and nonperishable, high-energy foods
  • Cold weather items such as a snow brush, shovel, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, blankets, and cat litter for traction

It is best to keep your emergency kits in easy-to-grab plastic containers, and don’t forget to update them every six months.

Create a plan

All of these supplies are crucial to ensuring your family’s safety, but when a fire, flood, or other disaster occurs, how will your loved ones know what to do or where to go? This is where a family communication plan becomes essential.

This plan covers important details like how to evacuate your home, how your family members can expect to get updates on the situation, and even where you and your loved ones can regroup if you become separated. The specifics of this plan might change based on the anticipated emergency – you might seek shelter from a tornado in the basement, for example, but escape outside for a fire – so be sure each family member understands what to do for different situations.

In addition to these details, the National Safety Council recommends taking these precautions:

  • Have all family members’ and other important phone numbers written down or memorized
  • Store all important documents – birth certificates, insurance policies, etc. – in a fire-proof safe or safety deposit box
  • Assign one family member the responsibility of learning first aid and CPR
  • Know how to shut off utilities

Remember that when facing a natural or man-made emergency, television, internet, electricity, and cell phone service may be disabled, making communication nearly impossible. Establishing a meeting place can help keep your family together and accounted for, while a hand-crank or battery-powered radio can keep you aware of official announcements.

Practice, practice, practice

The final piece of this puzzle is to review and practice your communication and escape plans. Include young children in drills and have a plan for who will be responsible for carrying out infants and pets.

Regularly reviewing and practicing these plans as a family can ensure no time is lost when an emergency strikes. Depending on the situation, you may only have seconds to act, so take the time to prepare now. The National Safety Council offers free resources for many different types of emergency planning. Visit to learn more.

Tammy Franks, Home and Community Program Manager, National Safety Council, [email protected]

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