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Disaster Preparedness

It Never Hurts to be Prepared


Updated January 14, 2013

empty grocery store shelves

Disaster preparedness means not waiting until the last minute.

(c) Mike Stobe

If the greatest disaster threat in your neighborhood is the cancellation of the annual block party barbecue, you may not think preparing for a natural or man-made disaster is worth your time. Unfortunately, the need to be prepared isn't just for those of us living in earthquake country or the tornado belt.

The truth is regardless where you live, disasters can affect you. You may not be the family hit by the tornado or the earthquake directly, but you could lose power or water from nearby catastrophes. Not to mention, as we all learned on September 11, 2001, not all disasters are natural.

So, whether you're planning for a plain old power failure, natural disaster, the next ice age or an attack by space aliens, it's not a bad idea to have a bit of food and water tucked away as well as a plan for staying safe and healthy when regular services just aren't available.

The Basic Needs

Everybody has three basic necessities in this order:
  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Shelter and warmth

You can go without shelter (and to a lesser extent, warmth) longer than you can go without food. Water, however, is the most important item we need to survive.

The safest water supply is bottled water. The FDA considers bottled water to have an indefinite shelf life -- the kind of bottled water you buy, not the kind you bottle at home. I don't want anyone to be growing any science experiments in the garage while thinking you have a safe supply of water. Keep 3 gallons per person in the household on hand. If there is a possibility you could be evacuated, make sure the water can be moved with you.

Food supplies may need to be stored for a long time, so don't count on anything that requires refrigeration. Stick with dry and canned goods. Only store foods that are ready to eat and avoid those that require water or cooking for preparation. Avoiding salt will help you conserve limited water supplies, but it's hard to find foods with long shelf lives and little salt.

Shelter is about keeping the body warm or cool enough and avoiding harmful environments. If you won't have to evacuate, then shelter is easy -- you're staying home. Evacuees will have to take shelter with them. Your car will be good for one or two people. Make sure you have a tent if all the evacuees can't fit in the car. Carry a sleeping bag for each person. Blankets will work, but sleeping bags are warmer and more versatile.

Packing a Disaster Evacuation Kit

If you live in an area that gets hit with disasters fairly regularly, you probably need a disaster evacuation kit packed and ready. It can seem overwhelming to obtain supplies and pack a disaster evacuation kit, but by breaking down the kit into smaller parts it can be done over time.

Disaster Supplies for Your Home

Certain types of disasters aren't going to result in evacuation. Earthquakes, tornadoes, large-scale power outages and man-made disasters provide little or no warning in advance. So the best bet is to be ready for the unexpected wherever you live. Usually, two-weeks' worth of food and water with a few other disaster items will be enough.

Caught Unprepared in a Disaster

In case you were unprepared (but still happen to have internet access), you can do some things to make your water supply safe and hunker down for the long haul at home. If you need to evacuate quickly, here is a list of the bare essentials you truly must take with you.

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