What to Do When Disaster Strikes

Disasters happen, usually unexpectedly and often to a greater degree than one might have thought. There are ways to be prepared and things to have in place before a disaster hits, but there are things that are good to do even after a disaster has struck.

The U.S. Department of Defense has a quiz available to let people determine their level of readiness for disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers information on how to prepare to keep from being completely blindsided by a disaster. Their recommendations include:

Know your needs.

Consider the items that would be needed after a disaster – food, water, medications, light, first aid, batteries, hygiene items, clothing, blankets, pet supplies, and cash – and prepare a tote or backpack that is ready to get if you need it. Something portable is good in case you have to evacuate, and it will also be useful if you are able to stay in place. Depending on the size of your household, it may be necessary to have more than one tote or backpack. The recommended amount of water is one gallon for each person and pet for each day, and it is recommended to have at least three days’ worth. For a family of four and their dog, this is 15 gallons of water, which will take up a fair amount of space. Since each gallon weighs about 8 pounds, this will also be quite heavy (over 100 pounds!) if they are all in one tote or backpack.

Have an evacuation plan.

If evacuation becomes necessary, have a set place for meeting up with family in case of separation and have exit paths for every direction, in case roads are blocked. In cases where evacuation may be necessary, leaving before everyone else, if possible, may be a wise plan. Have fuel in the car, since fuel may be difficult to get in the case of an evacuation.

Have a communication plan.

Some disasters will knock out phone access. Have a way to contact people you may need. Have numbers and addresses for doctors, schools, childcare, and family members. Have a copy for each family member to keep with them.

Get information through FEMA’s official app.

The app is available for Android and Apple and will provide up to date alerts and safety tips, as well as providing locations for shelters and help centers.

Know your neighbors.

If you have neighbors who do not have local family, and who live alone, are elderly, are disabled, or have many people in the home who may need assistance, make a plan with them for situations where they may need assistance. If your neighbors do not fit these criteria, it is still good to plan to help each other as needed.

Be informed.

Check with your community for text or email alerts in your area. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) offers alerts for most areas that can be accessed and subscribed to online.

Remember to include pets when preparing for disasters; they will also need food and water and may need medical attention in some cases.

Different disasters will require different responses. Some require evacuation while others are best handled by staying put. Most natural disasters will require being displaced at least temporarily, if your home is damaged by fire, flood, storms, or earthquakes. However, health emergencies can be disastrous, as well, and usually require staying put.

When a situation threatens health – or even life – it can be stressful. However, there are some things that can be done to lessen the risk. Start by boosting your immune system as much as possible. Protecting your health also includes having proper amounts of food and water, sufficient prescription medication, and the skills to take care of situations that arise.

If the advice or requirement is to shelter in place, then get the whole family inside and make sure your supplies are also inside. Listen to the radio or check the news on television or apps to keep informed about what is happening. Let your emergency contact know your location and confirm who is with you. Update them on how you are doing. Then stay off the phone in case emergency services need the connections. Watch to see if evacuation is required and stay put until told it is safe to leave.

Have a toilet place for your pets, since it is not safe for them to go outside if it is not safe for you. If the situation is such that the yard is safe, the pets can still go outside as needed, but be sure to keep them close by.

If the house needs to be sealed – if the outside air is dangerous – then it may be necessary to have a sealed room. To do this, remove all air movers and close off any air from entering the room. When the air outside has cleared, go outside and let the rooms inside air out.

If you are in your car when the recommendation to stay put happens, pull over and stop. If the outside temperature is warm, park under shade, if possible. Stay put and listen to the radio for updates or instructions.

When possible, during a shelter in place situation, connect with friends, family, and neighbors through phone, text, social media, or other ways that allow you to retain relationships while maintaining distance. Make use of telehealth if needed, for both physical and mental health situations.

The CDC has information available for a variety of emergencies to assist people in protecting themselves and their loved ones. These include diseases, weather, radiation, biological warfare, influenza, and chemical emergencies.

Some people are at a greater risk when disasters happen, including older people, new parents, people who have disabilities and chronic illnesses, and homeless people, among others. Helping these people is going to look different than helping an average person, so those who have people who fit these categories may want to look over the information provided by the CDC.

If you have suffered loss due to a natural disaster, you may be able to recoup some of the loss on taxes, or you may qualify for grants or other assistance. More information is available at the following government sites: