Many disasters strike without warning. If separated, how will you get in touch with your family? Will you have the supplies you need? Will everyone know what to do?
Preparing for emergencies starts at home. Developing and implementing a plan involves every member of the family.
It’s important to make a plan now, ahead of storm season. Write it down, review it with all members of the household and test it out before confronted by an emergency.
No area of the country is immune from severe weather. Hazards vary by region, but include flooding, thunderstorms, damaging winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms with snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Tailor your plan to the disasters most likely to affect your area, and the unique characteristics and needs of your family.
Step 1: Develop the Plan
Determine how you will receive emergency alerts and warnings. Wireless Emergency Alerts are received like text messages and require no signup. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All Hazards works with federal, state and local emergency management officials, and connects to the Emergency Alert System. It requires special eq uipment.
Next, create a family communication plan. Know how you will reconnect with one another if separated. Pick someone out of town that everyone should contact. They may be easier to reach in a disaster. Text rather than call. In an emergency, phone lines may be tied up.
Establish a family meeting place that is safe, familiar and accessible. If you have pets or service animals, think about animal-friendly locations. Consider places in your house, neighborhood and outside your town where you can take shelter.
Keep in mind that the coronavirus may have altered your community’s usual plans. If sheltering with others, take cloth masks for anyone over 2 years old, soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and general household cleaning supplies.
Identify multiple evacuation routes. Your preferred path may be blocked. Keep a full tank of gas in your vehicle. Some disasters may require you to depart on foot.
Finally, put your family emergency plan and contacts in writing. You can download a guide from ready.gov or create your own.
Step 2: Build Your Emergency Kit
Being prepared for an emergency isn’t just about staying safe. It’s also about how to stay clean, fed, healthy and comfortable when a disaster has knocked out electricity.
If you lose power, how will you eat? The refrigerator won’t keep your food cold. The microwave won’t warm things up. You might not have access to clean water. The grocery store or bank may be closed.
Keep in mind the ages of family members, medical and dietary needs, and pets or service animals. Supplies should last at least three days—longer if you are in a remote or hard-to-access area.
Store the following items in airtight plastic bags in easy-to-carry containers, and replace expired items as needed:
- Water—1 gallon per person per day, for drinking and sanitation (extra for pets).
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio, preferably a NOAA Weather Radio.
- Flashlight and extra batteries.
- Nonperishable food and a manual can opener; infant formula and bottles.
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils.
- First-aid kit, prescriptions and nonprescription medications such as pain relievers, antacids and laxatives.
- Hygiene items, diapers, diaper rash cream, feminine supplies, wipes, garbage bags and plastic ties.
- Eyeglasses and contact lens solution.
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person; change of clothing and shoes.
- Pet food and supplies.
- Whistle, to signal for help.
- Dust mask, plastic sheeting, duct tape, and wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
- Cellphone, charger and backup battery.
- Cash or traveler’s checks.
- Copies of important documents such as insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container.
- Matches and fire extinguisher.
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice!
Make sure everyone in the family has copies of your plans and contacts, and keeps them in a safe space, like in a backpack, wallet or taped in a notebook. Also put them in your cellphone.
Meet regularly as a household to review and practice your plan.
Safely Operate Your Generator
- Place the generator on a level surface. Otherwise, fuel may leak from the fuel cap.
- Use an appropriately sized extension cord—usually 10, 12 or 14 gauge. The lower the number, the thicker the cord and the more electricity it can carry. Do not run it under a rug. Heat can build up and spark a fire.
- Do not run a generator indoors or in an enclosed space. Internal combustion engines produce deadly carbon monoxide gas.
- Fill your generator with clean, fresh fuel in a well-ventilated area while it is turned off. Keep the fuel level 2 inches below the top of the fuel tank to allow expansion in hot weather and prevent overflow.
- Check fuel levels periodically to be sure you have adequate fuel for emergencies.
- Use the correct amount and type of oil. Refer to the engine manual included with your generator. Check the oil level prior to starting.
- Allow the generator to run about two minutes before plugging in extension cords, appliances or equipment. Do not start a generator with items already plugged in.
- Start items from the largest power user to the smallest. Keep in mind many items—especially those with electric motors, such as well pumps, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and plug-in space heaters—require a surge of power to get them started.
- To avoid the possibility of a voltage surge, unplug all cords in the reverse order they were plugged in, then wait about two minutes before shutting down the generator.
- Diligently perform manufacturer’s suggested maintenance or checkups on the system. If necessary, hire a professional.