At best, you've got ample warning to get out of your house and out of town. At worst, you have minutes. What do you take? Where do you go? Your ability to make sound, safe decisions in this situation may be impaired. That's why you should prepare for disasters ahead of time. Create a disaster preparedness plan for your family to help you make it to safety. Use this disaster checklist as a guide.
1. Monitor the situation.
Advanced warning systems make it possible to prepare before a natural disaster strikes, so stay informed. The National Weather Service issues alerts across television stations, radio channels and even text message and email alerts. They also produce continuous Weather Radio broadcasts on a nationwide network that can only be picked up on special radios from the National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). If you live in an area prone to severe weather, consider purchasing one of their receivers to hear these broadcasts.
2. Know where to go.
If you need to evacuate the house due to fire, gas leak or other home-based emergency, pick a spot down the street for all family members to meet. Discuss this often as part of your disaster planning so everyone is prepared. In the event of a regional disaster resulting from a tornado, flood or hurricane, make plans to travel at least an hour away. Major roads could be jammed with traffic or blocked by debris, so plan alternate routes. Also, remember not to drive into water on the road or get out of the vehicle amidst downed power lines.
3. Locate shut-off controls for gas, electric and water in your home.
As part of your disaster checklist, make sure adults and teens in your family know where the shut-off valves are located and how to operate them. Leave the necessary wrenches and tools in an easily accessible spot so this can be done quickly.
4. Take inventory of your belongings.
It may seem time-consuming, but it's a good idea to take an annual inventory of your valuable possessions. Create a written list or record the items with a photo or video camera. Take note of particularly expensive items like furniture and electronics, including serial numbers if possible. If your belongings are damaged or destroyed, you'll have a recent record to give to your insurance company.
5. Create emergency preparedness kits that include the basics.
There are entire websites dedicated to building comprehensive emergency kits, but start by including the basics:
Have critical phone numbers stored in your cell phone, purse, briefcase, vehicle or other accessible location. While cell phone service may be unavailable, you can still access the phone book feature. Another good idea is to arrange for a family member or friend who lives out of town to act as a liaison in the event of disaster. It may be easier to reach them on a long-distance call rather than trying to place local calls on jammed signals. Everyone in your family, including children, should know how to reach this person so you can all relay messages and plans through him or her.
7. Include your pets in your disaster preparedness plan.
Animals, with the exception of service dogs, are not permitted in public shelters or places where food is served. Call kennels and shelters to see if they provide emergency care for pets. You can also contact the hotels where you plan to stay in the event of a disaster to see if they accept pets. Be sure to have identification and vaccination records easily accessible.