How to: Prepare in Case of Emergency or Disaster

by Noah Edelblum Mar 8, 2010

THE KEY to getting through an event, be it an anthropogenic or natural disaster, is to develop a solid plan and prepare yourself for the most probable scenario. Taking steps in advance can seriously reduce your risks and potentially be the difference between catastrophe and inconvenience.

There are so many potential hazards, how do I identify risk?

Hazards can be categorized into three main categories: Natural, technological, and terrorism. A comprehensive list of hazards as well as an excellent manual for preparation can be found at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Identify the events that have the most probability of occurring and not necessarily the one that is most personally frightening to you. Yes, it is possible that a terrorist group will target Sawgrass Mills mall near Boca Raton, Florida in an attempt to send a message to the United States government, but odds are that you are more susceptible to flooding, hurricanes, and extreme heat.

Hurricanes generally do not hit states such as California but there you have a greater possibility of experiencing an earthquake or responding to a wildfire. View this strategically unless you wish to devote unnecessary time preparing for every eventuality.

Resources for determining risk

Consult your local insurance agent and discuss hazard probability with them. They are in the business of assigning value based on available historical data. You can purchase a plan from them if you wish.

FEMA’s Hazard Maps, the United States Geological Survey has a customizable earthquake probability map, and your closest government planning office should have reliable local information.

Planning and preparation

Once you’ve isolated your potential risk, it’s time to begin preparations. As it turns out there are much overlap and a few steadfast rules that apply in most situations.

Determine the emergency evacuation route that your community has established. This can be found online or at your local government planning office.

Mark the route clearly on a map to be stored in your vehicle. It is important to follow the exact route and not deviate or take short-cuts as you could find yourself in a bad situation with no one around to provide assistance.

Take photographs or video of your house and catalog your personal belongings before a catastrophic event. This can help you get properly compensated when dealing with insurance companies. Also, discuss your policy with your agent in advance to find out what you are covered for under your current home policy.

Scan or photocopy important documents like the deed to your house, birth certificates, medical history, passports and insurance papers. Store original documents at a well-fortified location (a bank vault for example) if possible. Scanning is a good solution as you can fit most important documents on a small and inexpensive USB flash drive or a micro SD card from your cell phone.

Become acquainted with how to shut off your water, gas, and electricity systems. Earthquakes have been known to rupture gas lines and cause secondary explosions. By turning off your gas you can avoid this unfortunate situation. Imagine your house survives a magnitude 7.0 earthquake only to become a fireball ten minutes later when you forget to turn off the gas.

Potable water is a priceless commodity during most hazards. By turning off your home’s water main it will prevent water already accumulated in your hot water tank, toilets and pipes from contamination. Water stored in your hot water tank is an excellent source of potable water during emergencies.

Remember to share this information with your housemates so that the responsibility does not entirely depend on you.

Establish a meeting point and contingency plan. Hazards don’t occur on your schedule, thus it is highly possible that you will be separated from your friends or family.

Remember that plans are created to keep you safe, not to expose you to greater risk. If your path or meeting place is blocked or dangerous, find the most secure place for yourself before trying to make contact with family and friends.

Establish a contact person who does not live in your region so that they can relay messages and coordinate meeting points in times of crisis and cell phone failure.

EXAMPLE: If there is a fire in the house, meet by the large oak tree in the neighbor’s yard. If that becomes impossible, then meet at the supermarket around the corner. If both become impossible and your entire area has become dangerous, find the best place for yourself and when possible call your contact person for more information.

Getting your disaster kit ready

Potable water is by far the most important supply you can have. While it is possible to live for weeks without food, you will perish in a matter of days without water. Figure at least a half gallon per day per person. Also keep in mind that this is a baseline amount. For example, nursing mothers require more water than an average individual.

FEMA recommends that you put together three disaster kits: home, school/work, and car.

At Home:

  • Enough food and water to last you anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks
  • A battery powered or hand crank radio to get latest news and advisories. Often these devices have other features like cell phone chargers, flashlights, and alarms
  • Appropriate clothing — that could be additional coats for cold weather, long pants and long sleeved shirts to protect your arms and legs, rain gear, protective footwear and extra socks
  • A first-aid kit
  • Moist toilettes or toilet paper
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Basic tool set
  • Any other special medical or personal hygiene supplies you might need

Pack your kit in a duffle bag or backpack and put it in a place that is accessible to everyone in the house.

At work/school:

This should be a small bag that you can grab and run. It should contain food and water. If you are able to store a pair of sneakers or good walking shoes in your office this also might come in handy.


  • Water and food
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight
  • Basic tool set
  • First aid kit and a map with your evacuation route highlighted

I keep a small tent and a couple of sleeping bags in my trunk. We usually use them for camping, but in case of emergency, it could be extremely useful as well.

Additional Resources:

Accurate and timely information will save your life and help you understand the threat at hand.

Early warning systems and other types of signals are in place in most developed countries around the world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio is broadcast throughout the United States. NOAA also has an excellent real time map of weather conditions across the country.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) can be found on many participating radio and television channels. EAS will interrupt regular programs with a long, high pitched siren and warn of potential hazards.

FEMA provides a complete and downloadable e-book with extensive information and checklists for every eventuality. It’s called Are You Ready?

Remember, having a clear and concise plan will not only educate you about potential risks but also put you in a better situation for reducing collateral damages and expediting recovery. If you can avoid panic-induced decisions in favor of a more rational approach it is possible for you to be there for family, friends, and your community in a more expansive way.

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