Updated: Aug 17
A comprehensive guide to preparing your family for the unexpected.
When a disaster strikes, you may be subject to anxiety, fear, and panic . . . if you don't have a plan. While it is not possible to prepare for everything, if you plan ahead you will be in a better position to respond. True peace of mind does not come from thinking bad things won't happen, instead, it comes from being confident that you are prepared to face what happens.
Disasters are a reality. Floods, fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes cause billions in damage annually. Add in civil unrest, terrorism, and blackouts, you will start to understand why so many people are determined to be self-reliant. Each of these disasters can force people to evacuate their homes. Often a severe disaster will destroy homes completely and leave people stranded with no electricity, food, or clean water.
These disasters are not as rare as you might think and the toll they take is immense. They bring loss of life, property, and emotional stress that cannot be measured. There is also a huge financial cost left behind by major disasters. In 2018 natural disasters cost $160,000,000 in damages. The hardest part may be starting over. Once the calamity is over and people can return to their homes many find that the cleanup and stress of starting over can be very emotional. The realization that things may never be back to “normal” can be hard to overcome.
Despite these facts, most Americans are alarmingly unprepared. According to FEMA, only 39% of Americans have developed an Emergency plan even though 80% of citizens live in counties that have been affected by a weather-related disaster in the past 15 years. Many Americans either believe that they will not be affected, or that emergency personnel and government agencies will provide rescue and support.
Although in the US we are blessed to have the best emergency service people and resources, disasters affect them too. If there is flooding or fire, rescue personnel will be there putting their lives on the line for others but they may be limited in their ability to access disaster victims. If rescue teams can reach you or you are able to safely leave your home, you are then forced to rely on whatever food and water they can provide. When large groups of people are affected the local resources can be stretched thin.
Many other people find the idea of emergency preparedness overwhelming. Without knowing exactly what to prepare for, they decide to leave it up to chance.
If you have not taken any precautions or made a plan to handle the unexpected, you are leaving your family's needs up to others. Imagine your family in a crowded shelter competing with hundreds of other people for limited food and water. This may never happen but you don’t want to leave it to chance. You can take simple steps to ensure your family's safety and maintain your self-reliance.
This post will explain how to identify your risk, and then determine how to mitigate these risks. You will learn how to prepare your family by making a plan, learning survival skills, building an emergency kit. You will also find valuable information about disaster recovery and helping members of your household cope.
If you only take one thing away from this guide, remember to keep calm. This may mean the difference between life and death. In many disasters, people have been killed or injured needlessly because they were not taking time to think clearly and make sound decisions. If you can control your emotions and rely on your knowledge you will be in the best chance to succeed.
This post will provide you with information on the topics below:
Identifying Your Risk
Making a communication Plan
Emergency Warning Systems
Assemble an Emergency Kit
Identify Your Risk
What disasters or emergencies are most likely to affect you? If you live in the mountains, flooding may not be very likely, but if you live near a major river obviously it would be prudent to prepare for high water. What type of natural disasters can occur in your area? Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes? What local and regional features could pose a possible threat? Nuclear power plants, large urban centers, high crime areas? For example, if you live in Miami, you probably don’t need to keep a parka, but obviously, if you live in northern Minnesota, you would want warm clothing and matches/firestarter included in your kit. This will help you when making your disaster/survival plan.
You can also do a mental walkthrough of your normal day. Think about every part of your daily routine from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. Think about the things you do that require electricity, what requires freshwater? You need to have something included in your emergency pack to fill the void of these crucial needs if you were without electricity or access to food/water or medical care. Start with a need you would have in an emergency then think of the item(s) that would meet this need rather than thinking of specific items and what uses they may have.
List all the possible “disasters” that are possible in your daily life. (this can be daunting. Focus on disasters that will leave you without one of the following: food, water, transportation, weather protection, electricity, communication/phone, and access to medical care.
Rank these possible events from least likely to most likely to occur using a 1-5 ranking. This helps you to prioritize what you should plan for first, and what is the most threatening to your household and loved ones.
Things to Consider:
Proximity to power plants, toxic chemical plants, or other dangerous facilities.
Family size and ages of the members of your household
Mobility needs of household members
Health issues or needs
Local disaster history
It might be obvious to an adult, but for kids, it is important to have a list of emergency contact information available in a location where it can be easily accessed. These contacts should include your doctor, the family pediatrician, fire department, utilities, police, and other emergency service providers. Also include family members, neighbors, and friends your children are familiar with that may be able to provide assistance. This list should be labeled as an Emergency Contact list and it can help first-responders in the event that the injured individual is unresponsive.
Choose a local, out of town, and out of region contact if possible. You will want someone in your neighborhood who can lend a hand in a medical emergency or home fire. However, if a major disaster threatens your neighborhood you will want to have a contact out of state who is unaffected by the event that you are dealing with. Ideally, your contacts will be someone that your whole family is familiar with. Texting is the recommended method of communication during a disaster. This leaves phone lines/networks open for emergency workers.
You probably spend 1/3 of your time away from home and separate from you and your family members. Should a disaster jeopardize your normal routine, what would you do?
You need to have a prearranged meeting place for specific events. You also need a plan for how everyone will get there. If you have young children the best option may be having them wait at school/daycare until an adult member of your household can get them. Just as with the emergency contacts, designate a local, out of town and out of state/region meeting place. (Your out of town/region contacts could serve as meeting places.)
Determine who children should contact if they are away from home, and how. Cell phones may not work, pre-arranged meeting places and contact information of trusted friends/neighbors are essential for kids to know. It may be the best option for kids in an emergency to remain at school with staff or seek out local authorities (IE police, medical personnel.)
Emergency Alert Systems
EAS is a national wide warning system that was put in place in the US to provide timely and dependable systems that can alert the American citizens in the event of natural calamities or man-made disasters. The emergency system is designed to provide mechanisms that allow the US president to address the nation through all TV and radio stations in case there is a national emergency. The system can also be used by state and local governments to convey important emergency information to their people. All these measures are put in place to promote a culture of disaster preparedness in the case of harsh weather conditions such as hurricanes, flash floods, and AMBER Warnings in case of family emergencies.
How the Emergency Alerts Systems Work.
The Federal Communications Commission works in collaboration with FEMA to implement the emergency alert system at the national level. At this level, only the president is legally allowed to decide when the EAS can be activated and has delegated this responsibility to FEMA. This body activates the national Emergency Alert System and leads the national Emergency Alerts Systems checks and exercises. The National Weather Service, on the other hand, uses EAS at the state and local levels to convey important alerts and warnings to the public about dangerous weather and other disastrous conditions.
The Emergency Alerts Systems allows emergency responders to rapidly and automatically send and receive emergency information. The equipment put in place by the EAS provides a mechanism of automatic disruption of regular programming. In some instances, emergency messages are transmitted in other dialects other than English. At the family level, FEMA has put in place, family emergency preparedness programs that aim at educating the community about disaster preparedness. These programs target everyone in the community to educate, promote, and assess their disaster preparedness. FEMA also trains and assists local government officials, private companies, and volunteers on how to design activities aimed at testing their emergency plans.
Emergency alert apps available in the US
For individuals living in the US, technology has made it easier for them to access emergency alerts. This is through the use of emergency alert apps on cell phones. You quickly receive wireless emergency alerts by signing up for either text or email notifications in your jurisdiction.
You can also sign up for the CodeRED community notification system. This mobile alert app enables users to receive emergency alerts directly to their mobile phones anywhere around the country. CodeRED delivers location-based emergency alerts. The free emergency alerts available are emergency alerts, community alerts, and missing person alerts.
How can you find out about Local Emergency Alerts in Your Area?
Receiving Emergency alerts directly to your phone can save your life. Sometimes, these notifications can be annoying, but in reality, they can save you a big deal. The good thing with these alert apps is that they follow us everywhere. The only thing you have to do is to sign up, and all those emergency notifications will pop up on your screen.
Many medical emergencies will be beyond the average person’s ability to treat, and a doctor or emergency medical personnel will be needed. Obviously, it may not be feasible to contact a doctor or you may not have access to a phone or transportation during a disaster. If it is not possible to contact emergency medical help then it is crucial that you seek ways to find help as soon as possible. Keeping a medical reference book or first aid guide can provide you with more instructions on how to keep a severely injured individual alive until you can get help. There are also first aid apps for your smartphone that are very user friendly. You may not want to rely on these during an emergency due to network down, dead battery, damaged phone, etc.
First aid is the initial treatment given to an injured or sick person that is intended to stabilize their condition and prevent death. Disasters bring danger to you and your family, but your children may be at an even higher risk because they lack the maturity or experience to recognize real threats. Being prepared and knowing how to provide first aid for children is therefore a very good idea. Below are guides for how to handle some common injuries that can happen to a child and when appropriate the differences between treating a child and an adult are pointed out. Besides having the know-how, you may also want to invest in a first aid kit to have at home in case of an emergency to easily help your child should the need arise.
How to stop bleeding
In the event of an evacuation, urgency and panic can result in accidental injuries like cuts and lacerations. Children are smaller than adults and therefore more sensitive to blood loss. If the wound is on the head or neck you should contact a doctor for advice (more on head trauma later). You should also contact a doctor if the wound becomes red, warm, and leaks pus as it might be infected. Call an ambulance as your child may need immediate medical attention when:
the bleeding spurts from the wound
the bleeding has not stopped in 5 min
the wound is on the chest
you suspect internal bleeding
First, make sure you wash your own hands before performing first aid to minimize the risk of infection. Then wash the cut with water and some gentle soap to clear out any dirt. If you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, bring it out and take some clean gauze or a bandage to cover the cut. An adhesive or surgical tape can help keep the gauze in place or it can be used to keep the edges of the cut close together. Typically these smaller cuts heal rapidly to form a scab. Once this has occurred the bandage is no longer needed. Make sure you keep an eye on the cut, preferably every day, to catch an infection early on.
As with smaller cuts, clean your own hands before helping the child. Start by rinsing the wound to estimate the size and depth. If the wound is more than half an inch in length or you can see bone or ligaments, seek medical help as soon as possible, as the wound probably needs to be sown by a doctor. For wounds smaller than that, you can provide first aid by covering the wound with clean gauze or cloth and applying pressure. This is most easily done with the palm of your hand. Should the bleeding soak through the gauze, simply put more gauze on top of the previous one and keep applying pressure. If the wound is on a limb, raise it as high as possible (preferably above heart level) to help stop the blood flow. As mentioned before, blood loss is more severe in children so when possible, contact a doctor if their general state worsens and the child becomes pale, weak, or sweaty.
How to tend sprains and dislocations
Sprains are injuries to ligaments and can easily occur after sudden, severe movements or falls. These sorts of injuries are not very common in children but become more likely in older children and adults. A sprain is associated with swelling, pain, warmth, and stiffness or difficulty moving the limb. Sprains typically heal themselves after a while but there are things to do to speed up the process. The standard methods for tending to a sprain is normally abbreviated as RICE, and stand for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In short, you should cool the injured area, apply pressure, and keep the limb elevated whenever possible. However. convincing a child to rest can be somewhat difficult. Depending on the location of the sprain, a splint or cast of some sort may aid in keeping the injured limb immobile and limit further use and damage. To manage the pain, over the counter painkillers can be useful. Just make sure you follow the dosage appropriate for a child as that can vary from the adult dosage.
A dislocation is similar to a sprain but is due to joint damage and not ligaments. The symptoms are also similar to a sprain (swelling, pain, warmth) but a dislocation can in addition make the joint seem deformed. RICE is the common way of treating dislocations as well. Sometimes the joint does not come back into place on its own and needs to be manually repositioned. Incorrect repositioning can make matters worse so if you suspect this is the case (deformed joint or low mobility), call a doctor when possible to have a professional put the joint back into place. For both sprains and dislocations, having ice packs and maybe some splints and a sling in your emergency kit is good preparation in case this happens.
How to deal with head and neck injury
Head injuries in adults can range from a mere bump to a concussion or skull fracture. Typically, medical attention is not needed unless the person starts experiencing symptoms such as severe dizziness, becoming very tired, losing consciousness, or vomiting. For children, some of these symptoms are more difficult to assess especially at a younger age. Therefore, contacting a doctor for advice can be a good idea even when you are not sure how bad the injury was. Children otherwise exhibit many of the same symptoms as adults, only you may need to be the one seeing them as they may not know or be able to put words on what they are feeling. Keeping a close eye on them for two days after the injury is recommended after any hit or trauma to the head. Even though it may be hard, try to limit any excessive activities as these increase the risk of further damage. As many types of painkillers can worsen potential bleeding, contact your doctor or a medical professional about what types are suitable after a head injury and make sure you follow the appropriate dosage for a child.
Neck injuries can have a wide range of causes too. Some are mild and can be treated at home whereas others require medical attention. For milder injuries, rest, and cooling or heating the area can be used as a first-aid if the injury is related to the muscles. However, if the pain comes from a traumatic event or stiffness is also present you should contact a doctor for a more complete examination. As was mentioned earlier, you should contact a doctor after any head or neck injury that results in bleeding.
First Aid Kit Checklist:
Sterile eye pads
Feminine Hygiene items
Bandages of Varying Sizes
Roll of Gauze
Elastic Wrap Bandage
First Aid Guide
Assembling an Emergency Kit
A 72-hour kit is a bag or backpack filled with items that will help you in the event of an emergency. Some refer to it as a bug-out bag, an emergency kit, or a survival backpack. Whatever you call it, it is an important tool to help protect your family.
What is the significance of 72 hours? The length of time is not arbitrary. 72 hours (3 days) is the length of time that has been identified by disaster response and emergency management agencies that it can take for rescue or emergency personal to arrive after an unexpected disaster. This is known as “lag time” and if a disaster strikes, you may find yourself without food, water, electricity, communication, and much more during this time. That is why you need a 72-Hour Kit and this article will help you build one!
FEMA provides guidelines for putting together a kit that will help your family be safe and self-reliant during an emergency or disaster. They recommend that you keep 1 gallon of water per person each day. Additionally, 1200 calories of non-perishable food per person for each day. Along with food and water, they advise keeping a radio, flashlight, and first aid kit. You should also keep items that may be relevant for you personally, such as medications or insurance cards. There are many other items that you may need depending on your situation.
When building your 3-day emergency kit, it doesn’t take long for the weight to start adding up. When you add enough food and water for each person along with hygiene items, flashlights, and first aid, your bag can start to fill up fast. One of the most important attributes of any good go-bag or bug-out bag is the ability to be easily grabbed from your storage spot and loaded in your car or carried on foot. If your bag is too heavy to heavy to easily carry then you are limiting the effectiveness and value of your emergency kit. This is why it is important to prioritize what you pack in your 72-hour bag.
However, this is easier said than done. The potential items you could pack is essentially limitless. The main issues are 1) disasters by their very nature are unpredictable and 2) your family's daily needs are not going to be the same as everyone else.
You know that food, water and shelter are the basic necessities for everyone and you need to include items to meet these needs in your 72-hour kit. However, different natural disasters or emergencies bring different problems and every household will have unique needs. If you take medication or If you have someone in your home who requires any medical equipment daily, this is going to need to be a part of your survival pack. If you have small children or pets you may need an entire bag just for them.
You should keep your 72-hour kit stored in a safe location that all adults can easily access. Store small items in watertight plastic bags. If you live in a floodplain, store on the highest level of your home. If you spend a lot of time on the road or have a long commute, consider keeping a car/roadside emergency kit as well. A sturdy backpack works well and is easy to carry. Use a backpack or bag that's the color will stand out if someone is searching for it in a closet or storage room.
Personalizing Your Kit
In addition to the essentials, you may consider packing items in your survival kit that are relevant to your personal needs. Medications, family photos, spare keys, insurance cards, etc.
When you have a list of all you need for your family to survive 72-hours, you can get creative and find the most efficient and lightweight way to get these items in your survival kit.
You can find a detailed list of items to keep in your 72-hour emergency kit in our blog post: "Bug-Out Bag Contents".
How to Declare If It Is Safe to Return Home
Once the authorities have allowed you to return home after a major disaster, it is imperative to do so in an orderly manner. You should also be prepared to live short term without the resources and services that were available before the evacuation.
In most cases, you will need a special pass issued by local authorities to residents of affected communities.
Before leaving home, make sure you bring enough fuel in your vehicle. There could be snow on the roads in the mountains. Also, you should bring enough winter clothes and blankets. Do not forget to travel at a prudent speed and be alert to find obstacles on the road.
Do not expect to find gas stations and shops open in affected communities. Include food and drinking water for several days, for you and your family.
It is possible that in the initial stage of return there are too many vehicles on the route and the authorities will surely allow only the indispensable vehicles. Do not carry trailers, whether mobile homes, cargo, or to tow boats in the initial stage of return; wait for the situation in your community to normalize.
When entering your home, remember the following things:
-Check that the electrical circuit is in good condition.
-Examine the food and discard any that have been spoiled, either due to lack of refrigeration or that have been in contact with the smoke and toxic substances used to fight fires.
-When cleaning, use gloves, and other personal protection items. Do not use substances to clean that are flammable; especially, if there was a fire and could still be smoldering embers.
-Inspect items in your home that may have been damaged and disinfect your refrigerator and other kitchen appliances before using them. This helps eliminate dangerous bacteria. Read the instructions for use of cleaning products.
-New emergency preparation plans have to be adjusted to the current local conditions and based on adequate knowledge of the social, political, and economic context. In addition, such plans must be flexible and dynamic and must be revised and readjusted periodically depending on the circumstances and new risks.
The following resources will provide more information to prepare for and handle emergencies.
American Red Cross Apps: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/mobile-apps.html
National Safety Council: https://www.nsc.org/safety-training/workplace/emergency-preparedness
FEMA Guidelines: https://www.ready.gov/plan