It’s difficult to turn on the news without hearing about people’s lives being turned upside down because Mother Nature had a bit of a temper tantrum and they didn’t have a disaster preparedness plan in place. According to surveys, Americans are far more concerned about the possibility of tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfire than they are about terrorism. For good reason:
In 2017, natural disasters hit Americans with a bill of at least $306 billion. No matter which side of the climate change debate you fall on, it can’t be disputed that:
- It was the third-hottest year on record, and for some states, it was the hottest ever
- Hurricane Harvey broke the record for rainfall from a single tropical storm with four feet of rain
- Hurricane Rita left Puerto Rico in darkness and killed more than 1,000 people. The island still hasn’t recovered
- Several states saw record rainfall and many experienced flooding
- Despite its wettest year on record, California suffered devastating wildfires in both the north and south part of the state
- More than 5,600 structures, including much of wine country, were destroyed and 22 people died
Still, few Americans have a real disaster preparedness plan. From HealthcareReady.org:
Less than two in five Americans (38 percent) could list all of their prescription details including dosage if they had to evacuate their homes without their medications or medical supplies, down from 2016 (43 percent).
15 percent of Americans reported they could only be away from their medications or medical equipment for two to three days before they began to experience serious effects, while 22 percent indicated they could go a month or longer.
More than half of Americans (53 percent) do not have any emergency preparation plans in place, yet 44 percent are concerned about an emergency happening.
Why You Need a Disaster Preparedness Plan
Natural disasters are frightening, but until they’re knocking on your door, they’re easy to shove to the back of your mind. Unfortunately, natural disasters take people by surprise, and nearly half the country is at risk of a natural disaster destroying their home, or worse. There isn’t a state in the union that’s immune from natural disasters. If you don’t have a disaster preparedness plan, you should get one ready now.
Types of Emergency
There are several things that should be a part of every disaster preparedness plan, but that doesn’t mean that all plans should be the same. For example, you would respond to a wildfire differently than you might react to a tornado, but in both cases, you need food, water, first aid kits, and medications. All disaster preparedness plan kits should include:
- Non-Perishable Food (don’t forget food for your pets)
- Diapers (if necessary)
- Toilet Paper
- Disinfectant Wipes
- Medical Supplies, Including Prescriptions
- A Battery Operated or Wind Up Radio
- A Portable Generator
- Critical Documents like Passports and Social Security Cards
Your disaster preparedness plan should include where to meet in case your family is separated, and you lose cell phone service. Keep a smaller disaster preparedness kit in your car as well.
Run frequent backups on your computers and store a thumb drive with all critical computerized data. You should also consider scanning important photos and including those on the thumb drive.
While most people think of earthquakes as just another of California’s quirks, every state in the nation is at risk. Earthquakes can occur any season, at any time of the day, and without warning. They can range from a minor vibration to a devastating shaker that can down skyscrapers and turns homes into piles of rubble. Overall, earthquakes are by far the deadliest natural disasters.
To prepare for an earthquake, secure any items that could fall. Bolt freestanding furniture like bookshelves, and your TV to the wall. Secure hanging pictures and mirrors, especially if they hang over a bed or over a place where people sit. If you can afford it, have a seismic specialist inspect your home and find out where your vulnerabilities are.
Earthquakes are not the time to evacuate your home. Instead, you should learn to “drop, cover, and hold on.” Practice dropping to the floor, finding cover, like under a table or in a windowless room, and wait it out. Be aware that when an earthquake is over, it may not be over. Aftershocks can be as large or larger than the original quake, and they can come hours to days afterward.
Note that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover earthquakes. For that, you need to buy separate earthquake insurance.
If you live within 100 miles of an ocean, you are at risk for hurricanes or tropical storms. The good thing about hurricanes is that they give you notice. The bad thing about hurricanes is that they can cause billions of dollars in damage. They destroy homes and even after the hurricane subsides, residents are left with lakes of flood water.
The best way to survive a hurricane is to leave. Your city or state might issue evacuation orders, but you don’t want to wait until the hurricane hits to make your plan. Make sure you know the escape routes, and during hurricane season, don’t get caught with an empty gas tank. Top off your tank as often as possible.
To prepare your home for a hurricane:
- Trim trees so they won’t break windows or fences
- Secure rain gutters and downspouts
- Reinforce the roof, all doors, and windows
- If possible, build a FEMA safe room in your home
- Have a stock of plywood to secure your windows
While floods generally occur at lower elevations, they can happen anywhere at any time. Some floods come with a warning while flash floods take everyone by surprise. Floods can follow hurricanes or even earthquakes. They are the most common natural disaster, and while a single earthquake or hurricane can be far more deadly, floods claim more lives most years just because there are more of them.
Floods are very costly. Billions of dollars are spent each year in flood cleanup, and most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t include flood insurance.
Fires are particularly frightening because they can happen anywhere and often without notice. Most wildfires have few fatalities, but property damage can be catastrophic. Last year’s wildfires in California killed about 40 people and injured 44. They caused billions of dollars in property damage.
When a fire bears down on your home, you have no choice but to evacuate. Practice an evacuation route in advance, especially during dry seasons. Keep your car fueled. If you are close enough to a fire to see embers, hose down your house to help keep it safe.
Hollywood loves tornadoes. The dramatic cyclones are riveting, and while a tornado is quick, it can leave a vast amount of wreckage behind. Still, tornadoes are among the least deadly natural disasters. In 2017, there were 35 deaths, and most were in Midwestern and Gulf states. Still, you should always prepare yourself for tornadoes. They can pop up almost without notice, and it’s not uncommon to see more than one in a single day.
It’s tough to prepare your home for a tornado, although homes with foundations fare far better than homes such as mobile homes, which do not. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that people in tornado-prone areas build a safe room. If that’s not possible, find a place with no windows, such as an internal bathroom or a basement. Stay away from all glass and away from all debris. Listen to the radio for updates.
Emergency Preparedness Scenarios
Prepare your family for every emergency preparedness scenario by having drills. Here is how FEMA recommends you prepare for every type of disaster:
Disaster Recovery Plan Sample Document
It’s always best to have your disaster recovery plan in writing, so you don’t forget anything. FEMA has several free templates to help you create a plan. Most importantly, FEMA recommends that you determine how family members will receive alerts and warnings, the shelter plan, the evacuation route and a family household/communication plan.
If you run a business, here are several disaster recovery plan sample documents to help you get back up and running with little downtime.
Disaster Preparedness Resources
The U.S. Department of Energy has a comprehensive list of resources for all types of disasters, from natural to terrorism. They recommend the following to keep you and your family safe under all circumstances.
Here is a list of PDFs available for you throught the US Department of Energy:
For most people, a disaster preparedness plan is the last thing they want to think about, but it could save lives.
Featured Image: Public Domain, by Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel, via U.S. Air Force