What To Do When Disaster Strikes

At A Glance – No matter where you live, you are probably prone to natural disasters. Be prepared and know what to do when disaster strikes.

Disasters come in many different flavors. Your vulnerability to a natural disaster probably depends on where you live. Coastal areas are vulnerable to hurricanes. Hot and dry regions experience wildfires. Other areas, like California, are prone to earthquakes and the middle of the country is often called “Tornado Alley.”

We can’t prevent these natural disasters, but we can be prepared for them. Some preparedness steps are common to almost any disaster, like having adequate stores of food and water. Other steps are disaster specific.

I will cover the basics of preparing for the most common natural disasters. To get more specific information, check with your local fire and police departments or the American Red Cross.

General Preparedness Steps – Applies To All Disasters

Emergency Preparedness Survival Kit

Basic Kit

  • Water – one gallon per person per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home). See details for water usage below.
  • Food – non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home). See details for food usage below.
  • Manual can opener
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • extra batteries
  • First Aid kit
  • Extra medications – 7-day supplies
  • Baby supplies (formula, bottles, baby food, diapers)
  • Pet Supplies
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phones, laptops, and charges
  • Emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Extra set of car and house keys

Other Items To Consider

  • Whistle
  • Masks
  • Extra Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Matches
  • Rain gear
  • Towels
  • Work Gloves
  • Extra clothes, hat, sturdy shoes
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Entertainment items for kids and adults


You need adequate drinking water to function. At least two quarts per day of clean drinking water and more for washing and food prep. The best way to plan for a loss of drinking water is to store it ahead of time. Store at least one gallon of water per person per day. This can be in the form of commercially bottled water or water you store yourself. You can store your own tap water in clean containers. Do not use milk jugs or paper cartons. 2-liter soda bottles are a good option. Wash and rinse them. Then sanitize them with a teaspoon of unscented bleach in one quart of water and rinse thoroughly. Fill with water, seal tightly and label them with the date. These will be good for about 6 months.

Water for flushing toilets can be stored in any container. I used to live in a coastal area with hurricanes and we would fill our bathtub with water to use for this purpose.


Canned, dry and other foods in your pantry make excellent long-term food supplies. Tuna and peanut butter are excellent sources of protein that need no refrigeration. Don’t forget food for your pets.

If you keep a one to two-week supply on hand at all times, practice the First In, First Out storage method. Place new canned goods or packaged foods on the back of the shelf and use the older ones first. Throw out any cans that are swollen or corroded.

If you lose power during your emergency event, you can cook in a fireplace or on an outdoor gas grill (do not bring the grill indoors). Canned food can be heated and eaten straight from the can. Open the can and remove the label before heating.

In a power outage, use perishable and refrigerated food first. Open your refrigerator as little as possible to keep the cold air from escaping. If you know a power outage is likely to occur, fill a cooler with ice and use it for milk or other items you might need several times a day. The ice should last a day or two and keep you from opening the fridge.

Next, use frozen food. Food in your freezer should have ice in the center for 2 days. When we would experience a hurricane that took our power out for several days, we kept the fridge and freezer closed as much as possible. Then when the meat in our freezer had thawed, we cooked it all on the outdoor grill.


Make sure your insurance is up-to-date, complete, and covers the disasters that are likely in your area. For example, floods may not be covered by your regular homeowners insurance. Sometimes the same policy will have different deductibles depending on what caused the damage. Check your home and auto policies for things like rising water, hail, wind, hurricane, or fire damage. Keep in mind also, that once a disaster is imminent, your insurance cannot be changed.

Take photos or videos of everything in your home and record serial numbers. Then keep this record somewhere other than your home. In a safe-deposit box, with a family member not in your area or on the cloud. If you have major damage or lose your home, you don’t want the added stress of trying to prove what you owned.

Preparedness For Specific Disasters

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Fires can occur in your home, workplace, or in wilderness areas. Prevention is your first line of defense against fire.

Fire Prevention Tips

  • Electrical outlets should have cover plates and no exposed wires.
  • Do not overload outlets.
  • Faulty electrical wiring can cause fires. Have your home’s wiring checked by a professional electrician.
  • Extension cords should not be frayed. Do not exceed the wattage limits on an extension cord.
  • Be careful with space heaters. Make sure there is adequate airflow around them and do not use them near flammable items like drapes or blankets. Unplug them if the cord gets hot.
  • Keep your fireplace chimney clean and install a spark arrestor at the top.
  • Be careful when storing flammable liquids.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

Safety Tips

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each bedroom, and near the kitchen. Smoke is the number one killer in a home fire.
  • Test smoke alarms and replace batteries frequently.
  • Have fire extinguishers in your home and know how to use them.
  • Make sure you can open windows and doors.
  • Have family fire drills and identify two escape routes from every room.
  • Install escape ladders on upper floors.

In Case Of Fire

  • Remain calm and you and anyone else in your home leave your house immediately. Fire spreads quicker than your think.
  • Most deaths occur from breathing smoke and fumes. The best air is near the floor, so crawl to your exit point.
  • Do not open doors that are hot. Check a closed door with the back of your hand at the top, middle, and bottom.
  • Call 911 from outside or a neighbor’s home.
  • If your clothes catch fire, Stop Drop, and Roll. Do not run.


It is important to be ready for a wildfire long before it happens. Wildfires can spread fast and be harmful to your property and deadly to you and your pets. Wildfires are getting bigger and more dangerous. More people are now living in areas at risk for wildfires.

Preparing for a wildfire includes these 3 steps:

  1. Get Ready – Prepare your home and property. Create defensible space in the home ignition zone.
  2. Get Set – Be alert. Prepare your home and family for evacuation. Create a wildfire action plan and prepare an emergency kit. Subscribe to community alerts.
  3. Go – Act early. Follow your wildfire action plan, gather your emergency supplies, and leave early.

Prepare Your Home

The majority of homes lost to wildfire are first ignited by embers and small flames. By reducing the susceptibility of the area immediately around the home and the home itself, the chances of a home surviving are greatly increased. Work in the Home Ignition Zone is also called creating defensible space.

The Home Ignition Zone is an area 1-200 feet from the foundation and includes vegetation, the home itself, and other structures or attachments like decks, furniture, fences, and outbuildings.

  • Talk to your local fire department about preparing your home for wildfire. (My local area has fire management seminars several times a year)
  • Clean up or relocate combustible material from around your home.
  • Keep grass mowed short and the area around your home watered.
  • Trim trees and bushes to allow ample space around your home.
  • Wherever possible, use non-combustible materials on the outside of your home or anything attached to your home such as fences and decks.

Prepare Yourself

You may have to leave your home quickly. Be prepared with the following:

  • Prepare a Go-Bag that you can literally pick up and GO! Include prescription meds, emergency supplies, and important documents. (see General Preparedness Steps above) Have 2 or 3 days of clothes and chargers for your phone and laptop. This may sound crazy, but include masks and swim goggles to help keep the smoke out of your nose and eyes.
  • Determine multiple evacuation routes from your home and neighborhood. The smoke from a fire can reduce visibility to almost zero.
  • Arrange a meeting place in case you and your loved ones are separated.
  • Know how to disconnect your garage door opener manually. The electricity can be cut off early in a neighborhood fire and you may need to disconnect your garage door from its opener to get your car out.
  • Sign up for any emergency alert systems in your area.
  • If you are instructed to evacuate, DO NOT HESITATE! Your life may depend on it.


Floods are among the most frequent natural disasters. Flooding can occur after a hurricane, because of snow melt, or after several days of sustained rain. Flash floods can occur quickly due to rising water near rivers and streams. Now that I live in an area that is subject to wildfires, I have learned that flash floods can occur in burn scars.

  • Talk to your family about what to do in case a flood watch or warning is issued for your area.
  • Find out if you are located in a flood plain.
  • Check your auto and homeowners’ insurance. Remember, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover floods. Get information about flood insurance at www.floodsmart.gov.
  • Find out if local streams or rivers flood easily.
  • Store important documents where they cannot get wet. Keep a copy on a flash drive or in a safe deposit box.
  • Be prepared to evacuate quickly and know your routes and destinations. Have full tanks of gas in your cars.


A hurricane or tropical storm is a storm system that forms over ocean water and often moves toward land. Hurricanes can bring, damaging wind, heavy rain, storm surge (rising water), flooding, and tornadoes. These storms can be dangerous and can cause damage far inland.

Have a plan to evacuate and a plan to shelter safely. Take time now to gather the supplies and knowledge you will need when the storm arrives. 

Plan To Evacuate

  • Determine ahead of time where you will go, how you will get there, and where you will stay.
  • Plan in advance if you will need help leaving.
  • Mobile/manufactured/trailer homes and RVs do not provide shelter during a tropical storm or hurricane.

Plan To Shelter

  • Plan to live without electricity, gas, water, phone, or internet for a long time.
  • The safest place in your home is a small interior windowless room on the lowest level not likely to flood.
  • If you might flood, designate an area you can move to before floodwaters reach you.

Securing Your Home

  • Secure items outside, such as lawn furniture, trash cans, grills, and propane tanks that could be picked up by high winds. If you have a pool, put anything that won’t be damaged by water in the pool. Lawn furniture and other water-proof items can easily ride out a hurricane at the bottom of your pool.
  • Trim tree limbs that could fall on your house.
  • protect windows with storm shutters or plywood.

Staying Safe

  • If you are instructed to evacuate, LEAVE as soon as possible! I can’t stress this enough. I’ve watched people risk their lives trying to protect their stuff. Make sure your “stuff” is insured and let the insurance company deal with it! Your stuff is not worth your life.
  • If possible, stay connected with local news.
  • Be aware of the locations of local shelters.
  • Don’t return until the local authorities say it’s safe.
  • Avoid downed power lines.
  • Stay out of floodwaters.


A tornado or twister is a violent wind storm that can completely destroy structures, uproot trees and hurl debris through the air like a missile. While early warning systems are improving, there is usually not much warning for tornadoes. The key is to be prepared in advance and have a plan.

Before A Storm

  • Identify a safe place in your home where your family and pets will gather during a tornado: a basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • In a high-rise building, pick a hallway in the center of the building. You may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor. 
  • In a mobile home, choose a safe place in a nearby sturdy building. If your mobile home park has a designated shelter, make it your safe place. No mobile home, however it is configured, is safe in a tornado.
  • Make a list of items to bring inside in the event of a storm.
  • Make trees more wind resistant by removing diseased or damaged limbs, then strategically remove branches so that wind can blow through.
  • Remove any debris or loose items in your yard. Branches and firewood may become missiles in strong winds.
  • Consider installing permanent shutters to cover windows. Shutters can be closed quickly and provide the safest protection for windows.
  • Strengthen garage doors. Garage doors are often damaged or destroyed by flying debris, allowing strong winds to enter. As winds apply pressure to the walls, the roof can be lifted off, and the rest of the house can easily follow.


An earthquake is a sudden, violent shaking of the earth caused by the shifting of rock beneath the earth’s surface. They strike without warning, at any time of year, day or night. Forty-five U.S. states and territories are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes.

Preparing For An Earthquake

  • Talk about earthquakes with your family so that everyone knows what to do in case of an earthquake. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children
  • Check at your workplace and your children’s schools and daycare centers to learn about their earthquake emergency plans.
  • Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace, and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you.
  • Practice DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON in each safe place.
  • Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. Have a professional install flexible fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Do not hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, near beds, couches, and anywhere people sleep or sit.
  • Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home and keep a wrench handy for that purpose.
  • Place large and heavy objects and breakable items (bottled foods, glass, or china) on lower shelves.
  • Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to joists.
  • Anchor top-heavy, tall, and freestanding furniture such as bookcases or china cabinets to wall studs to keep these from toppling over.
  • Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports, and garage doors.


It is up to you to be prepared for whatever disaster may strike in your area. Do the work ahead of time so you are not caught unaware.

Key Takeaway – No matter where you live, you are probably vulnerable to some type of natural disaster. Know how to prepare yourself and your property. It could mean your life!

Assignment – Talk with your local police or fire departments or American Red Cross to determine the type of natural disasters that occur in your area. Prepare yourself and your property for those disasters and sign up for any emergency alert systems in your area.

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