Five Things You Need to Do Right Now to Be Prepared For a Natural or Man-Made Disaster

In today’s world we need to be vigilant and prepared for sudden changes in our environment which may be brought on by Mother Nature or Political Activities. We all want to protect our family from harm, and preparedness for disaster emergencies should be one of our top priorities. I’m not advocating that you pack up your family and move to some isolated location to hide from the world, but I am offering simple preparations for ice storms, floods, hurricanes, or terrorist activities will make your existence much more palatable during the disaster.

1. Be prepared – Yes, the first thing on the list is to use the list to be prepared. It is one thing to take a glance at the list, but unless you actually put this list into a workable plan for your family, then reading this is just wasted time on your part. Just making the preparations will give you a sense of calm when faced with the disaster.

This sense of calm will work in your favor because you will be less likely to be one of the hordes of people acting in a reactionary, fear driven, panic when the reality of the disaster is recognized (usually when the news anchors start saying things like “This is going to be bad.”… or… “We can’t stress enough the dangerous nature of this storm.”… or… “Here is video of people fighting over the last of the bread at this grocery store.”… or… “The police have lost control of this area of town.” While the crowds are rushing to the grocery store and emptying the aisles of bread and milk, you will be safely at home making last minute preparations to keep yourself and your family safe.

Because I realize that there is a definite cost factor in making these preparations, I will try to prioritize the items on the list as to which are absolutely necessary and which ones can be added as funds are available. Any item with an * next to it is a priority item and needs to be included from the beginning. To my Prepper Friends, I do realize that this list will not satisfy your need to prepare for any and all situations and it is only a short term duration solution, so don’t pounce on me with a long list of items that you think I have left off. It is intentionally a short, condensed list which is meant to help an average family through a short term disaster situation, not a nuclear holocaust. I also have not addressed any need for firearms or ammunition. That is for another article.

A big part of the preparation is being organized. There will be enough things to be concerned with when the situation presents itself, trying to remember where all of your supplies might be stored should not be one of them. Buy one of the following. We will be storing everything possible in them, so your preparedness items will be readily available to you when you need them.

a. Storage Locker* – Find a well built, heavy plastic storage locker that is large enough to hold a lot of gear, but still small enough to fit in the trunk of your car or the bed of your truck. This is not one of those plastic storage bins that people use to store winter clothes in during the summer, this thing needs to be a bit more durable than that. Find one with handles to make it easier to move into and out of your vehicle. Most stores like Academy will have them starting at about $20.

b. Backpack* – This is not a child’s school backpack. Go to the camping section and find one that is well made, durable, and large enough to hold lots of stuff. Don’t worry about it being too big, we are not going to have to backpack across the Grand Canyon with it, and my experience is that you ALWAYS need more space to store stuff. The starting price for a good one will be around $39, but if you can only afford a back-to-school type backpack, go ahead and get it, we can always upgrade later.

2. Shelter from the weather – Unexpected disasters will likely subject you to the elements. This could be due to a fast developing situation where you are caught away from home when the disaster strikes, or it could result from a storm that has caused widespread power outages, broken windows in your home, or taken off a portion of your roof. Exposure to the weather is not just annoying, it can be dangerous. The combination of being wet and cold is deadly.

a. Polyethylene tarp – These come in a variety of sizes and are quite inexpensive. (a 6×8 tarp is only about $5 if you check some camping supply stores). These are great for keeping out the weather if windows are broken during a storm. They can also be used for a makeshift tent if you happen to be caught out of your home when the disaster strikes. They will be great for keeping you dry and holding off the wind. Get 3-4 of them. Put them in your storage locker.

b. Plastic rain poncho* – One for every member of your family, plus a few extra (they are cheap (as little as $1) and will get torn when being worn for any length of time). Get the kind that fold up into a small pouch. Put into your backpack.

c. Quart – ½ Gallon sized plastic zip-lock bags* – These will be used to store some of the items on this list as well as storage of food and medicines. These are important, but cheap. Put in the storage locker.

d. Wool, Cotton, Fleece pullover or Hoodie – One for every member of the family. My preference would be wool, but anything is better than nothing. They are about $12 each for Haynes brand at most stores. If the power goes out, or if you are caught away from home, the cooler temps at night are deceptively dangerous. One main goal is to stay dry and warm. Roll up and place into a zip-lock bag and then put in your backpack.

e. Extra wool or cotton socks* – Two or three pair for every member of the family. Style is not important here, regular white tube socks are just fine (about $8 for a pack of 3). Cheap, but a fresh change of socks can do wonders, and will help keep your feet more healthy and comfortable during the disaster situation and can act as emergency mittens if needed. I can’t say enough about taking care of your feet. I know it sounds trivial, but it is not. Put unopened packs into zip-lock bags and then into your backpack (keeping them dry is key).

f. Change of clothes* – A complete change of clothes for each member of the family. This is not time for a fashion statement, we are after durability and function here. Long pants (blue jeans) and a long sleeve shirt. Don’t forget a change of underwear. Also include a pair of shoes that you would be comfortable wearing for long periods of time. An old pair of tennis shoes might be the answer. Really no costs here, we are going to use clothes we already have in the closet, but probably don’t wear because it has a stain on it, or it is not a color we wear often. Put in the storage locker.

g. Sleeping Bag – One for each member of the family. In this case, I am recommending a specific product, SOL Emergency Bivvy Bag* (do a Google search for stores selling it). Sells for about $17 each but packs up very small and will save your life. Much smaller than a standard sleeping bag (starting price, around $20). If you have the room for a sleeping bag for each person, by all means get them. Store the SOL Emergency Bivvy Bag in your backpack, and the Sleeping bags in a single location near where you will store the backpack and storage locker.

3. Safety and Security – There are several items that you will need to make sure that you and your family remain healthy and safe.

a. Medical Kit – You should get two kits.

I. The first is a small, compact first aid kit* that can easily be stored in a zip-lock bag and placed in your backpack and are designed to take care of minor medial issues like blisters, splinters, sprains, etc. They sell for less than $20.

ii. The next is a more complete kit, sometimes called a trauma kit. It contains more supplies and tools and is usually marketed as a Sportsman’s First Aid Kit, or an Outdoors Adventure Medical Kit (starting price is about $49). Store this in your storage locker.

b. CPR Training* – At least one person in your family needs to be CPR certified. The Red Cross and American Heart Association offer classes on a regular basis, but usually charge for the certification class ($70-$110). Most fire departments also offer classes but these classes do not provide a certification needed to fulfill any job requirements (usually free).

c. Know your evacuation routes* – Think about where you could go if you had to quickly leave your home due to the disaster. Keep in mind the destinations that would be appropriate for the situation (going to stay with your Uncle on the coast may work well if your home is threatened by a fire, but is not a good idea if you are fleeing a hurricane). Get an old fashioned paper map ($5-$10) and learn how to read it, don’t rely on your navigation app to get you anywhere, the system could be down due to the disaster. Have more than one route mapped out for each destination, roads may be impassable and you may need to find a secondary route. Keep the map in your vehicle.

d. Make a list of contacts* – Everyone in the family should have a list of important contacts they carry with them. Make sure you include numbers for your office, your partner’s office, your children’s schools, day care, doctors, and close family members. Include the numbers of your health and home owner’s insurance companies, as well as your policy numbers. On this list include information of any medical condition and medications needed for all family members (for young children, also include the date of birth). Also designate a family member or friend that will serve as the point-of-contact if your family is separated. Choosing someone out of town is a good idea because they may be less likely to be experiencing the same issues in their area as you are experiencing in yours. Put this list inside of a zip-lock bag and place in your backpack (and an emergency contact list in your child’s school backpack).

e. Money – In disaster situations, ATM’s, credit cards and debit cards may not work or may not be accepted by merchants. Have a stash of emergency funds available in cash. It doesn’t need to be lots of money, but make sure that you have both small bills and some change (probably quarters) already packed in your backpack. The amount that you choose is up to you, but I suggest that it is enough to get a tank of gas, a few meals for the family while on the road, or buy some last minute item needed for the situation at hand.

4. Food and Water – It is a good idea to have a minimum of three days’ emergency supply of food* on hand at all times. My preference would be two weeks. Keep in mind that this does not mean regular full blown meals, these are meals during emergency situations. If you are remaining at home and the power is gone, here are some guidelines to follow:

a. First, use perishable goods from the pantry (apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, hard packaged salamis, sausages, pepperoni, etc.) and food items in the refrigerator. Do not open the freezer!

b. Second, use the items stored in your freezer. Limit the number of times the freezer door is opened. Foods stored in a well-stocked freezer will still have ice crystals in the center even after two days of no power and will be safe to eat. Place zip-lock bags ¾ filled with water into the freezer so that you will have ice bags already in the freezer if the power goes off. These bags will fit into the spaces between items and will help keep them frozen and safe for longer periods of time after the power is out.

c. Third, use non-perishable items from the pantry. If you don’t already have them on hand, these are also the things you want to stock up on if you have a warning that a storm is headed your way. Don’t worry about bread and milk. The following items should be a part of your emergency supply because will last a long time and will be a perfect supplement for your family’s nutrition: Peanut butter, nuts, canned meats, canned vegetable soups, canned fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, instant cereals that only require water, white rice, hard candy and canned nuts, crackers, trail mix, granola bars, power bars, sports drinks.

d. Water is essential for life. It is also needed for cleaning utensils, cooking, bathing, and brushing teeth. Maintaining personal hygiene is a top priority in a disaster situation. Not only does it keep you physically healthy, but it gives you a morale boost as well. Store your water near the storage locker so that you know exactly where it is when the disaster strikes.

I. A minimum of one gallon of water per family member per day. This will supply the needs of each person for personal hygiene. This water can be stored in plastic containers and filled when making last minute preparations for the disaster (time permitting). I suggest getting several 5-gallon collapsible containers* from the camping supply store (about $7). When not in use, they take up very little space. While water supplies are usually not totally disrupted during storms, the water supply may become contaminated. If these containers are filled at the beginning of the storm or disaster preparation, the water will be good for personal hygiene or for drinking (if needed) for several months.

ii. Bottled water for drinking packaged in small containers is great for almost any situation. They can be included in a backpack, carried in your pocket, or loose in the vehicle for use at any time. A case of bottled water can be as little as $2 at the grocery store and has a relatively long shelf life.

5. Tools – There are certain things that you need to have on hand to be prepared for a disaster situation. Place these in the storage locker.

a. Flashlight – Having working flashlights is a must. Do not make the mistake of buying flashlights for your disaster kit and then using them around the house. If you do, then you will inevitably find them with dead batteries when they are needed most. Get several LED flashlights with a minimum brightness of 15-20 lumens*. If you have children, get a multi-pack of LED flashlights. This will give them something to keep them from being scared of the dark and a light that they can play with and will keep them from playing with your flashlights. Both single flashlights and small multi-pack flashlights can be found for as little as $5 each.

b. Extra Batteries – In many flashlights, the batteries are good for about 12-16 hours of use. Get enough spare batteries to replace the batteries in your flashlights 5 times.

c. Manual Can Opener – If the power goes out, you need to have a way to open the cans in your pantry.

d. Moist Towelettes – These are useful for all kinds of personal hygiene and cleaning household surfaces.

e. Garbage Bags* – Tall kitchen bags are probably the best size to use. You do not want any garbage to build up in your home.

f. Dust Masks – In the aftermath of a disaster gas explosion, earthquake, hurricane, volcano, tornado, tsunami, winter storm, terrorist attack, flood, fire, accident or other emergency, contaminants may be released into the air. It is important to have an air filtration mechanism such as a dust mask or particulate air filter.

g. Pry Bar – In an emergency situation, the basic reason for having a pry-bar is to open a door or window. If water, or heat from a fire, causes wood to swell, or an earthquake causes a door to jam, or a file cabinet or book case keeps the door closed, and we must get through it, having a pry-bar is the only way to go. The flat bar type, 18″ – 24″ in length is just fine and should cost $10-$15 for a quality one.

h. Fire Extinguisher* – Get a small to medium sized ABC extinguisher, available for $15 – $20.

I. Channel Lock Style Pliers – A quality channel lock pliers of at least 10″ length is a must for your disaster tool box. Do not buy a cheap one, it will not work properly and will slip when you need it most. They are available for as little as $15 at most hardware supply stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc).

j. Adjustable Wrench – You need to have a quality adjustable wrench in your disaster tool box, and it needs to be at least 10″ in length to be able to have the leverage that you might need. They are available from the hardware supply stores for about $12 each.

k. Screwdriver Set – Get a basic screw driver set that has various sizes and both flat and Philips style tips. Again, a quality set is important, because a cheap set will not hold up at all. A basic 10 piece set will cost approximately $20 at any hardware supply store.

l. Claw Hammer – This tool is one of those multi-purpose tools that you will find quite useful. Available from $10 everywhere.

m. Camping Style Cookware – If the power goes out you may find the need to cook on a camp fire or in your fireplace. You will not be able to use your everyday cookware for this, and something as simple as a hot cup of coffee in the morning can make a huge difference in your day.

I. Dutch Oven – a Dutch oven will provide you with a great meal that you can cook right on an open flame, such as your fireplace.

ii. Coffee Pot – Get an enamel coffee pot, you will be glad you did. You will be able to make coffee, tea, or even just boil water for use in cooking.

n. Multi-tool – A Leatherman style Multi-tool will be the solution for a multitude of situations and is available for around $15 at most camping or hardware supply stores.

o. Folding Knife – There is no need to buy a giant knife like the one Crocodile Dundee used in the movies. A folding knife with a blade length of 4 inches is just fine. Make sure that the blade locks open so that you can use it more safely. Starting at $15 at most camping supply stores.

This is a good starting point for your family disaster preparedness. It is only a starting point, there is so much more that you can do to be prepared. However, if you do nothing more than the things on this list, you will be far ahead of many others who will be floundering around when the time for action comes.

If you have any dissatisfaction with my content, you can tell me here and I will fix the problem, because I care about every reader and even more so about your opinion!

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