The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina provides graphic evidence of just how destructive natural disasters can be. Residents of the Gulf Coast were forced to evacuate from their homes at a moment's notice in an atmosphere of panic and chaos, and many of them will not be able to return for months. In light of this disaster and its aftermath, it has become clear that preparation for the unknown is of the utmost importance.
No matter where you live in the United States, you are vulnerable to some sort of natural disaster such as a blizzard, earthquake, flood, hurricane, or tornado. In addition, terrorist attacks on America are also possible. Both natural disasters and terrorist attacks can disrupt power, communication, and transportation for days or even longer.
It is best to be prepared in advance so that if a disaster occurs, you know what to do and have the supplies you need on hand. Regardless of the type of event, three basic steps will help you cope.
Step 1: Collect disaster supplies
To be prepared, collect the following items and store them so that you can find them easily in an emergency — but not so easily that you end up raiding and depleting the supplies without realizing it. Some people store these items in a section of the basement or a closet that is used infrequently. Decide what will work best for you.
- Disaster-supply list
- Bottled water (1 gallon per person per day; three-day supply ideal)
- Cash (ATM and credit cards may not work or be accepted by businesses)
- Cell phone (with nonelectrical charger)
- Clothing and underwear
- Contact information (phone numbers of friends and family)
- Documents (driver's license, passport, birth certificate, etc.) in a waterproof container
- Dust mask (one per person)
- Eating utensils (plastic or disposable)
- Emergency numbers of local, state, and federal agencies (see "Emergency numbers," below)
- Financial inventory (a list of bank and investment accounts, mortgages, and loans, including account numbers and location of original documents)
- First-aid kit (see "Your first-aid kit," above)
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Food (canned goods and other nonperishable items that don't require cooking)
- Masking tape, duct tape
- Medical information (list of your medications, any chronic conditions, and medical history)
- Medications (three-day supply of all daily medications)
- Paper towels, toilet paper, and sanitary products
- Pet supplies and carrier (include food, water, leashes, records of shots)
- Plastic sheeting
- Radio (battery-operated) with extra batteries
- Sleeping bags or blankets (one per person)
- Toiletries (soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc.)
- Tools (can opener, knife, pliers; a Swiss army knife may suffice)
- Trash bags
Kits for sale
Step 2: Create a portable supply kit
In case you have to evacuate your home, it is good to put the supplies you think you would need the most in a portable container. Think about what supplies you need, what you can reasonably carry or store in your car, and how many people will be available to help you transport the supplies.
Step 3: Develop and practice an emergency plan
All the planning in the world won't do much good if you don't practice ahead of time. Not only does this enable you to go through your plan while calm, so you can think clearly, but it also enables you to fine-tune the plan before you have to put it into action.
- Identify emergency evacuation routes and shelters in your community and near your workplace.
- Decide where family members should meet if you are separated in an emergency.
- Identify a backup location to meet at, in case the first location is impossible to reach.
- Identify a point-person in the family who will serve as the central contact to call in case of confusion.
- Choose an out-of-state friend or relative to serve as a backup contact, in the event that local lines are tied up or out of service.
- Provide every member of the family with a cell phone or prepaid phone card to make sure they can make a call in an emergency.
- Consider family members with special needs while making plans. (For example, who will help someone in a wheelchair?) Don't forget your pets, either. (For example, where can you leave pets if you have to evacuate to a hotel that does not allow them?)
- Practice the plan at least once a year.
When disaster strikes
- Listen for official news and instructions on what to do next.
- Communicate with family members according to your plan.
- If the disaster takes place near your home, follow instructions on whether to evacuate.
- Check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly or have young children.
- If you have gas appliances such as a stove or water heater, smell for gas leaks. Do not light matches, candles, or turn on electrical switches if you smell gas. Open windows and doors and leave the house immediately.
Life-threatening: Dial 911 • Poison Control Center Hotline: 800-222-1222
Local emergency numbers
Doctors and pharmacists
Family and friends
October 2005 Update