Preparing for Disaster
Experts give advice on how to prepare disaster plans and emergency kits for you and your family.
Emergency Phone Contact
Circumstances may prevent meeting, so it's a good idea to have an
out-of-town emergency contact. During disasters, it may be easier to call long
distance, since cell phone lines and local telephone networks may be down or
If the family contact is Grandma in Iowa, for instance, then have everyone
call Grandma to check in. "Grandma can take roll. OK, Dad called and he's
at the office, and Mom called and she's on the way to school to pick up
Debbie," explains Gossel. She says the ability to relay information to a
live person can make a big difference in easing worries and calming nerves in
time of confusion.
To further ease confusion, check out disaster plans at school, daycare,
work, and places where you and your family tend to spend time in the community.
Try to coordinate the evacuation procedures at each place to ensure everyone
will be able to reach each other, or will end up on the same side of town.
Emergency plans for children, the elderly, and the disabled may require more
attention to detail. For example, parents may have to tell their kids to obey
the school's evacuation orders while they are on campus, instead of following
the family's home plan.
Also, don't forget to think about how to care for pets during an emergency.
Many shelters may not allow them inside because of health laws. The American
Red Cross web site has information on animal safety.
This is all a lot to remember, so make sure to write down your family's
plans and emergency contact numbers, and give everyone copies.
"You can't plan for every eventuality of life. But by planning and
thinking of some of these things ahead of time, people tend to make themselves
calmer and more able to deal with the situation," says Gossel.
Assemble an Emergency Kit
There's no telling what could happen in a disaster, but essential utilities
such as running water, electricity, and phone lines could become unavailable.
Services or aid might not arrive for days. You might have to flee your home. Or
you might not be able to get to your house. In such cases, it will help to have
a few things handy.
The Red Cross recommends storing disaster kits in the home, the office, at
school, and/or in a vehicle. It's a good idea to have a more comprehensive kit
at home and then have a portable bag of essentials. Wherever your disaster kits
are, make sure they are good for at least three days of survival.
At home, the Red Cross suggests stocking up on six basics:
- Water. Have 1 gallon per person per day. For each
individual per day, designate at least two quarts of the water for drinking,
and the other two quarts for food preparation and sanitation.
- Food. Choose items that are compact, lightweight,
nonperishable, and require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking.
Suggestions include ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables; canned
juices; staples (salt, sugar, pepper, spices); high-energy foods; vitamins;
food for infants; and comfort/stress foods. Make sure to store food that you
normally like to eat. Familiar foods can lift spirits in tough times. If you
must heat up food, store a can of Sterno.
- First aid kit. Make sure there is a kit at home and for
each car. It's a good idea to have nonprescription drugs for pain, diarrhea,
upset stomach, vomiting, and constipation.
- Clothing and bedding. Have at least one complete change of
clothing and footwear per person, including sturdy work shoes or boots, and
rain gear. Don't forget seasonal items such as hats, gloves, thermal underwear,
jackets, coats, and sunglasses. Also have blankets or sleeping bags for
- Tools and emergency supplies. Stock up on kitchen
necessities such as can openers, utility knives, and disposable cups, plates,
and utensils. Don't forget sanitation musts such as toilet paper, towelettes,
soap, liquid detergent, feminine products, and other personal hygiene items.
Have an emergency preparedness manual handy. Include a battery-operated radio
and flashlight in your kit. Make sure there are extra batteries for both items.
Stash some cash or traveler's checks. Have coins handy. Other recommended
materials include matches in a waterproof container, a compass, pliers,
aluminum foil, plastic storage containers, a signal flare, paper, pencil,
needles, thread, medicine dropper, a shut-off wrench, a whistle, duct tape,
plastic sheeting, and a map of the area to locate shelters.
- Special items for medical conditions. For babies, this may
mean formula, diapers, bottles, powdered milk, or medications. Adults need to
remember needed insulin or medications, denture products, contact lenses, and