The recent flooding that impacted the eastern seaboard and particularly in Fairfax County underscores the need for everyone to be prepared should disaster strike. Being prepared for natural disasters—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes—is the best way to protect yourself and your family. When a natural disaster is imminent, you’ll have to act quickly, so it’s important that you do everything you can before disaster strikes. Some things can be done well in advance, and the information on the following information will help you get started.
The time to plan for disaster is before one occurs—you’ll greatly enhance your chances of staying safe. Important components of disaster planning include:
- Preparing a disaster supplies kit.
- Developing an evacuation plan.
- Listing actions you can take to protect your property.
- Assembling and securing important documents.
Also, consider taking CPR and a basic first-aid course, especially if you live in a disaster prone area. The American Red Cross offers CPR and first aid courses; your local municipality and community college may offer them as well. Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit A disaster supplies kit should contain enough food, water, and essential supplies to sustain each family member for a minimum of three days. General categories include water, food, basic tools, clothing, bedding, and special items for medical conditions. Following are examples of items to include:
- Essential medications for each family member.
- Canned food and a manual can opener.
- At least three gallons of water per person.
- Supplies and instructions for purifying water.
- Battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
- Essential supplies for particular family members (e.g., disposable diapers, pet food).
- A well-stocked first aid kit.
- If you don’t have one, get a phone that is not cellular and does not use household current. If you have no electricity, an old-fashioned phone will be valuable.
- An extra set of house and car keys.
- Some cash and an extra credit card.
In addition to the disaster supplies kit you assemble for your home, you should keep a small disaster supplies kit in your car. Include a well-stocked first aid kit, a blanket, booster cables, maps, a shovel, flares, a tire repair kit, and a pump. Store disaster supplies in waterproof containers, where they’re quickly accessible in an emergency (e.g., if you live in a flood-prone area store them on an upper floor—not the basement). Check your kit every six months, and review the contents to see if there is anything that needs to be added (e.g., new prescriptions, pet food for a new pet). Replace products that are nearing their expiration date (check with your pharmacist to verify the shelf life of prescriptions in the kit), and review written instructions to make sure they’re still valid. The American Red Cross is an excellent source of information on disaster preparedness. The Red Cross has a comprehensive list of disaster supplies that you can use as a model to assemble your own kit. You can also obtain detailed instructions for purifying water. Call your local Red Cross Chapter or visit www.RedCross.org.
Develop an Evacuation Plan
Depending upon the predicted severity of the disaster and the amount of time until it strikes, you may be asked to evacuate (leave) the area. Evacuation orders usually come from local government officials; if disaster threatens, listen to local television and radio stations so that you’ll know if an evacuation order is issued. Never ignore an evacuation order. Even though conditions may not seem bad where you are,
government officials have access to far more information than you do. Bear in mind that safe escape routes may be closed or impassable if you wait too long to leave. A good evacuation plan includes evacuation routes, destinations, and alternates (e.g., if roads are closed). Before making your plan, check with your local government (e.g., county, township) to see if they have disaster planning information. Many have helpful information on their websites.
- Identify where you’ll go if you evacuate. Possibilities include the homes of friends or relatives, motels, hotels, or a disaster shelter. Pets cannot be taken to disaster shelters unless they are assistance animals, so consider possible destinations with this in mind. Make sure you have more than one alternative. Once you’ve decided, write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your choices.
- Choose route(s) to your destination and alternate(s) and test them. Put written directions in your disaster supply kit, as well as in your car. Keep a good map in your car. Bear in mind that you may need to modify your plan based on specific information from local authorities (e.g., impassable roads, traffic conditions). Don’t be tempted to use untested shortcuts.
- Make a list of actions you can take to protect your property. If it’s possible to take the time without endangering anyone, there are things you can do to protect your property. Develop a list ahead of time, so that it will be there when you need it. For example:
- Secure items that could do damage in high wind or floodwater indoors (e.g., trash cans, lawn furniture).
- Prepare a list of written instructions for turning off utilities—water, electricity, and outdoor propane tanks. Do not turn off natural gas unless instructed to do so by authorities. The specific actions you list will depend on your individual circumstances. You might, for example, have instructions for securing a boat if you own one. Make sure family members understand the list and know what to do, and keep a copy in your disaster supply kit.
- Assemble and secure important documents. Keep important documents—legal, financial, and insurance—in one place so you can lay your hands on them quickly. Store these documents in a kit—something small, portable, and waterproof—so that you can grab it in a hurry if you evacuate. Social security cards, birth and marriage certificates, wills, and financial records should be included. Additionally, insurance policies—auto, life, health, and renters or homeowners—copies of prescriptions, and some emergency cash can be vitally important when fleeing from or dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster. Make a duplicate copy of these documents and store them in a remote, safe location (e.g., safety deposit box).
- Prepare an emergency contact list of friends and relatives— those persons you’d want to contact either to say you’re okay or to ask for help. Include addresses and phone numbers of all persons important to the welfare of you and your family (e.g.,physicians, attorneys, insurance agents). Keep your contact list with your important documents. Choose a friend or relative—one living out of your area—to be the designated contact in case famil members become separated during an emergency. Instruct family members to “report in” to your designated contact, so you can keep track of everyone.
Damage caused by natural disasters often can’t be prevented, but there are things you can do to mitigate personal and financial loss.
- Make a record—visual or written—of all of your possessions. Make the record as detailed as possible (e.g., receipts, serial numbers of expensive equipment or appliances). Include furniture, silver, jewelry, etc. Store the record in a safe place – not at home – like a safety deposit box. Keep a copy in your important documents kit. This record will help prove the value of damaged or destroyed possessions, and may help you claim a deduction on your taxes if you suffer a loss. You may also want to give a copy to a close friend or relative.
- Get advice from professionals. Schedule meetings with your advisors (e.g., attorney, accountant, insurance agent) specifically for the purpose of finding out how best to minimize your financial loss from natural disasters. You don’t want to find out your homeowner’s insurance is inadequate after the roof has blown off of your house.
- Consider your computer. Many people use their computer for storage of financial records, etc. Most computers are not portable on a moment’s notice. Consider storing computer records on a USB flash drive (a small device that holds a lot of data) and update i regularly. There are also online storage services you can use. Photos can also be stored on a USB flash drive, or you could use an online photo storage site.
A Word About Pets and Disasters
If you must evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. Due to state health and safety regulations, shelters, including Red Cross shelters, cannot accept animals, except for assistance animals. Plan where and how your pets will be cared for in advance. You might, for example, contact possible hotel destinations to find out what their policies are regarding pets. Ask if they make exceptions during emergencies. Keep important pet items, food, medications, leashes and carriers in an accessible place. Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. For more information, contact the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or the American Red Cross