You never know when disaster will strike. But you can be ready. A disaster preparedness checklist can help keep you organized so that when trouble strikes, you won’t have to think twice. You’ll know exactly what to do.
How to Assemble a Disaster Preparedness Checklist
Things are calm, now. You have time to think. Take this time to think about what you will need most in the event of an emergency. Make a list. Go over it with everyone in your household. Your disaster preparedness checklist needs to cover all the members of your household. That includes adults, children, and pets.
Disaster Preparedness Checklist Item #1: Stay or Go?
Your first decision — and the first item on your checklist — should be knowing whether you should escape your house or shelter in place. You should have plans for both contingencies.
Make this plan together. If your family members have a part in making the plan, they will remember it better. And practice regularly, so that if the time ever comes, your response will be automatic.
In the event of an earthquake, fire, or flood, you may have to flee your home. The members of your household will have a greater chance of doing this successfully if you have a plan.
First, know your exits. Know several different ways to get out of your house, including from the top floors and the basement, if possible. Next, agree on a meeting place outside the house. Make sure everyone knows where that is. Your family should also have a signal that tells everyone that it’s time to leave the house now.
If your plan includes relocating to a municipal shelter, know the nearby shelter locations, and have a plan for getting there. The Red Cross has an interactive map at its website to help you locate a shelter near you.
Make sure everyone knows the plan and practice it regularly.
In other situations, such as a tornado or civil unrest, your family will need to shelter in place. So you will need a place to shelter. Ideally, this place will be secure. It will have a heavy, locking door. It should also be physically sound and not likely to collapse. In addition, it should have adequate ventilation. It should also have a place for supplies, such as water and non-perishable food, in case you have to stay a while.
Many houses in the midwestern United States have storm cellars. Additionally, some people build fortified panic rooms in their homes. If your house has a basement, you can convert it into a shelter as well. The FEMA website has information about safe rooms and shelters, including specifications, how to build one, and even how to apply for funding to help pay the building costs. When constructing your Disaster Preparedness Checklist, make sure you take any such structure into account.
Here are some different kinds of shelters you might consider, depending on where you live:
Your family should have a series of signals that everyone will hear and understand immediately. A whistle or air horn works well. Make sure everyone has one in their personal disaster kit. Make sure all members of your household know the signals and can produce them. Some signals you might include are:
- Get out of the house and to the meeting point
- I am in danger
- All clear
Disaster Preparedness Checklist Item #2: Vulnerable Family Members
In the event of a disaster, some family members will be able to get themselves to safety unassisted. Others will need help. If one of your household members has a physical or mental limitation, how can you help them get to safety and who will do that? If there is an infant, who will take them? What about the dog or cat? You need to have a plan that covers the following questions:
- Which family members will need help?
- What are their specific needs?
- Who will be responsible for making sure that each vulnerable family member is safe and accounted for?
Disaster Preparedness Checklist Item #3: Kits, Supplies, and Survival Tools
Ideally, you will have more than one disaster preparedness kit. You will have one in your shelter area for the group, and every group member should have their own kit close to hand in case disaster strikes at night. These kits will contain some of the same things, and some things that are different. Check out the Red Cross website for more information about putting together a disaster preparedness kit.
Personal Disaster Preparedness Kit
People who grow up in earthquake-prone areas are familiar with the under-the-bed earthquake kit. A general personal disaster kit will contain the same sorts of things to help every family member to get themselves to safety in the event of a disaster. This kit should be kept under the bed, or somewhere else where you can get to it easily in the middle of the night. These kits should include:
- Your signaling device: a whistle, air horn, etc.
- A flashlight.
- Your phone and a charger. You might consider a solar charger, in case the electricity fails.
- Shoes and socks, in case you have to walk over broken glass.
- Any medications you may need.
- An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses if you wear them.
- A spare hearing aid and batteries if you use one.
- Sanitary supply items, like tampons, if you use them.
- A bottle of water. Also consider a Lifestraw or other personal water purifier.
- A small non-perishable food item, like an energy bar.
- A small amount of cash.
- A utility knife.
- If you have an infant, an infant “go bag” is a good idea. It should contain diapers, wipes, formula, water, a blanket, and anything else your infant needs.
After making your disaster preparedness checklist, keep these things close at hand. In addition, keep them organized, in a bag or backpack that you can grab and go.
Family Disaster Preparedness Kit
In addition to a personal go bag, you should have a family disaster preparedness kit. Important documents, communications equipment, and medical supplies should be kept together in a centralized place. If disaster strikes, you don’t want to trust that your four-year-old can find his birth certificate, or that your eight-year-old knows where the walkie-talkies are.
A good family disaster preparedness checklist will lead to a kit that should include multiple means of communication. Everyone will, hopefully, have their personal phones. However, if cell phone service is out, walkie-talkies can help you to communicate with each other and with the outside world. A battery operated or crank powered radio can also help you to keep abreast of what’s happening.
Make a communications plan — not just with your household members, but also with people outside of your immediate area. Keep a list of important phone numbers and email addresses. In the event of a disaster, it’s important to stay in touch with the outside world.
Money and Documents
In the event of a disaster, it’s important to have cash on hand in small denominations. If the electricity fails, credit cards and ATMs will fail as well. Some sources recommend a minimum of $100 to $150 per person.
You should also have important documents secured safely and together. These may include passports, birth certificates, marriage, divorce papers, immigration documents, social security cards, bank account information, pet microchip numbers, and more. Consider making photocopies of important cards in your wallet: drivers license, credit cards, immigration cards, and so on.
Water and non-perishable food
Keep some non-perishable food items on hand. Items such as canned food and energy bars work well. Also, make sure that you have water. Many sources recommend one gallon of drinking water per person per day.
In addition to any prescribed medication, you should have a first aid kit. Your first aid kit should include non-prescription drugs like pain relievers (aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen), antihistamine pills and creams, and antibiotic salves. In addition, a first aid kit should contain medical tape, gauze bandages, bandages, disposable gloves, scissors, tweezers, and other essential items.
Sanitary supply items
Sanitary supply items like tampons and sanitary pads are essential for people who use them. However, even if you don’t regularly use these products, you should have them in your disaster kit. Why? Because tampons and sanitary pads are valuable, multi-purpose survival tools. They are sterile and can be used as bandages, to stop a bloody nose, to start a fire, and even to filter (but not purify) water. You can read more about survival uses of sanitary supply items at The Art of Manliness.
Pets are family members. Plan for their needs as well. Your family disaster preparedness kit should contain pet food, water, and any medications your pet may need.
Here are a few essential tools you should always have in your kit.
Gas turn-off lever. In the event of an earthquake or natural disaster, being able to turn off your home’s gas will prevent an explosion. (You might also consider installing an automatic gas shutoff valve if you live in an earthquake zone.)
Multi-tool. A good, well-made multi-tool that contains a knife, pliers, and other tools will serve you well.
Fire Starters. Sometimes you won’t have matches or a lighter. Time for some homemade fire starters. These are easy, cheap, and fun to put together. It can also be a fun, and educational family activity. Check out a few homemade fire starters here.
Keeping It All Together: Disaster Preparedness Checklist
To survive a disaster, you need a plan. That plan needs to cover all of the members of your household. Everyone needs to understand the plan, and everyone needs to practice. A checklist can help you stay organized. And staying organized can help you stay in control.
For more information about disaster preparedness, check out the U.S. government resources at Ready.gov.