How to prepare for a disaster: planning ahead and emergency kit essentials

In 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recorded 102 emergency declarations in the U.S., including wildfires, severe storms, flooding, hurricanes and more. These disasters affect more than 200 million people each year, so it’s important that you and your family are prepared in the event of an emergency.

Having essential items on hand and knowing what to do to keep your loved ones safe are two some of the most effective ways to prepare yourself and your family for a disaster. Keep reading to learn how to make a plan for your family to stay safe in the event of a disaster, as well as tips for creating a home emergency kit.

Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan

Be prepared for unexpected emergencies by creating a Family Emergency Communication Plan that gives clear instructions on who to contact, where to go and what to do.

  1. Make a list of emergency contacts. Include contact information for family, friends, medical facilities and service providers.
  2. Designate emergency meeting places. Decide on familiar meeting places that are inside, outside and in your neighborhood where your family can convene during a disaster.
  3. Make copies of your communication plan. Each family member should have a copy of the Family Emergency Communication Plan. Place it in an accessible place like your wallet, briefcase, purse or book bag.
  4. Practice your plan! Review, update and practice your communication plan each year so everyone is familiar with the instructions.

Tips for staying safe in every season

Changes in season are a force for natural disasters, which means you will may need to take additional cautionary measures. Here are tips on what to do when you encounter these conditions:


  • Storms and extreme cold

    • Stay inside and off the roads during and after a winter storm.
    • Layer warm clothing.
    • Take caution and follow instructions when using heating devices.
    • Double check that your carbon monoxide detector works properly.


  • Flooding

    • Do not walk or drive through flooded areas.
    • Do not touch wires in your home or outside.
    • Contact your insurance company to see if you have flood coverage.


  • Extreme heat

    • Stay inside if possible or in a cool area.
    • Wear cool, breathable clothing.
    • Stay hydrated.
    • Do not leave kids or pets in the car.
  • Wildfires

    • Stay inside your vehicle or home.
    • Report wildfires to your state’s Forest Service or Commission.
    • Close windows and vents.


  • Hurricanes

    • Follow instructions from local officials.
    • Do not walk or drive through flooded areas.
    • Secure doors and windows.

Fires and earthquakes: how to stay safe year-round

Disasters like fires and earthquakes can happen at any time, in any season. Having an emergency plan for these disasters will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe. Below are steps and precautions to consider for fires and earthquakes.


  • Identify a meeting location for those you live with.
  • Do not go back inside fire for anything or anyone.
  • Test smoke detectors every month, and change them every 10 years. 


  • Take cover under sturdy furniture.
  • Stay inside.
  • Stay away from windows, walls, doors, lighting fixtures or anything that can fall.

Home emergency kit essentials

Having a home emergency kit can make the difference between life and death when disaster strikes or in the case of an evacuation. The Department of Homeland Security recommends that you include the following items in your basic home emergency kit:

Food and Drink

  • Water – Each person should have 1 gallon per day for at least 3 days
  • Food – At least a 3-day supply of nonperishable food for each person
  • Pet food and supplies

Medical Supplies

  • Medications – 7-day supply and medical supplies
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Medical tape
  • Scissors and/or tweezers
  • Cotton balls/Q-tips
  • Hydrogen Peroxide/Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Iodine
  • Thermometer
  • Sunscreen
  • Splints/braces
  • Rubber gloves
  • Vaseline/burn alleviants

Personal hygiene

  • Soap and detergent
  • Shampoo
  • Towels/wash cloths
  • Toilet paper
  • Tooth brushes and toothpaste
  • Razors
  • Feminine hygiene products

Weather/environmental concerns

  • Warm cloths
  • Coats/jackets
  • Boots/treads
  • Rain gear
  • Sleeping bags
  • Hats, masks and gloves

Tools and technology

  • Wrench or pliers – to turn off utilities
  • Wire clippers, utility knives, soldering iron, axe, shovel and saw
  • Lighter with fuel and/or matches in waterproof case
  • Masking, electrical and duct tape
  • Radio with extra batteries
  • Communication devices
  • Whistle/flare signals
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Camping supplies with portable stove or grill
  • Maps/GPS device
  • Manual can opener 

Stay informed and stay safe

Emergencies and disasters are often unexpected, but it’s important to be prepared for even the worst case scenarios. Creating a Family Emergency Communication Plan and an emergency kit are great ways to practice important safety protocols and have essential items accessible when you need them most.

Your emergency kit may consist of any number of items necessary for survival in dire situations. These items, if chosen wisely, must reflect some form of necessity as to sustain human health and everyday life. The actual list of items strongly depends on you, where you live, your family size and type, the extent and type of damage, and where you are at the time the disaster strikes. Putting together a workable emergency kit should take time and be well thought out.

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