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How to prepare prior to and during a disaster

The following article has been edited and updated from the original work on Hurricane preparedness (author Howard Middleton-Jones) from the Ambilac site at:

However, no matter what type of natural, or man made, disaster the premise and preparations to cope with the event remain the same.


During the unfortunate experiences of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita many hard lessons were learnt, unfortunately not without major loss of life.


For the history and round up of Katrina go to:


For Rita go here


One of the main issues that came out of both hurricanes was the confusion, and lack of organisation (especially Katrina) in the evacuation process. It appears from these two events, we witnessed confirmation of what many already knew… - When it comes to the crunch, you are on your own!


Well-rehearsed and safe preparedness is essential if one is to overcome many of the challenges faced in situations such as these natural disasters.

Many of the tips and advice included here are also relevant for any natural (or man made) disaster. Be sure to check the many links and files available, and discuss the issues and preparedness ideas with your family and friends.


Remember: – Be safe –Be wise -Be prepared – Survive



Whether you live in an area subjected to severe diverse weather events, such as hurricanes or storms, or not, it would be advisable to plan your preparations well in advance of the season. As many have witnessed from Katrina and Rita, the adage of “it will not happen in my backyard” no longer applies. Hurricanes and other natural disasters may strike anywhere with no consideration for property or life.


Note – UK recent major floods are a case in point


Evacuation route:


Discuss and plan a safe evacuation route with your friends and family. Practice driving this route well in advance, making a day out or weekend trip, so that you will get used to the procedures and know what to take.




Planned Survival:

Whether the emergency is a natural disaster or one implemented, below are a number of contingency ideas and methods for your imminent safe survival, and the deployment of a strategic longer term plan.

Types of Emergency or disaster.


This type of disaster, in the main, we are all too familiar with these days, earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis (tidal waves), floods, monsoons and tornadoes etc. In addition there has been much discussion lately of induced weather phenomena, such as earthquake activity via electromagnetic means.
also, we are currently observing high solar activity in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) resulting in high electromagnetic activity, which in turn has an affect on the earths’ magnetosphere.

Where you live

  • Do you have a safe location
  • Where is your 'dig in' site?
  • Do you live in the city?
  • Do you live in a rural area 
  • Do you have any children, pets and/or are responsible for elderly relations

Once a disaster strikes, you may plan on relocating to a safer area if possible. In the case of a natural disaster you should consider that it could take up to 5 days before organisation of any assistance is possible.
Naturally, this depends on the type of disaster, but in any case expect cuts in the power grid, gas and water. Thus if you do intend on staying out ensure that you have adequate supplies, at least 3-5 days, for the duration, A list with the necessary essentials is discussed below.

If you reside in a city you may consider evacuating, as there may be extended periods of power outage and no water available. Consider moving to a more rural aspect where you are able to control and monitor your daily requirements more efficiently.

Evacuation procedures.

If you have to evacuate from your location it is important to have several pre-planned exit routes in order for a safe and immediate evacuation. You must decide on a safe prearranged meeting place if you are to rendezvous with other members of your family or close friends.
This may be a place where everyone is familiar with, it could be near a familiar landmark, a building or prearranged campsite etc.
Consider drawing route maps to avoid confusion for others, but be wary in how you distribute the maps.

Remember, the old adage of safety in numbers may not work in this scenario, unless you know and trust the people well, in general, the fewer around you the safer you and yours will be.
Be prepared for all contingencies, the more supplies and equipment you have, then the more options you have available on short notice.

You must remember to have at least 1 gallon of water for every one of those days per person in storage. (Water can be stored for up to 6 months in an unbreakable container before having to be purified or recycled.)

Emergency procedures

Survival packs

Special circumstances

In the event of imminent danger and therefore an inducement for the authorities to round all civilians up for their own safety.

1. Be extremely cautious as to the procedures involved...if it comes to being rounded up to a centre of safety, be very wary. Depending upon the local circumstances, do not be allowed to be escorted to any centre...make your excuses and inform them to call later, or exit via a pre-arranged back route


However, ensure that if you decide to evacuate take sufficient fuel for the journey, remember the high increase in gas/fuel prices at the pumps, and even worse, look to the examples of the shortages during Katrina and Rita.

Make sure you have a full gas tank, and if you do have spare fuel, ensure safe storage in the correct containers.


Be prepared to drive at least 50 to 100 miles inland in order to locate to a safe area. So, as above, not only ensure you have sufficient fuel to get there, but you may want to return too!


Study the topography of your area such as access to side roads and trails, as you may have to avoid the highways when the crunch comes. Get to know the local terrain, rivers and boggy areas are to be avoided, search out for the high grounds, you may need them.



Disaster supply kit::


  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Radio – preferably the wind up and solar version to keep informed of events. Know which station emergency broadcasts transmit
  • First aid kit – including current medications any of the family are taking
  • Food and water – for at least 3-5 days
  • Spare suitable clothing – including waterproofs and strong boots
  • Hand can opener (“morfa” type or army type light weight are ideal)
  • Cash and credit cards


  • Personal documents and ID


  • Pets – ensure you have made arrangements for their safety, remember if you are thinking of heading to a community shelter, pets may not be allowed to come with you


  • Make sure all the family know how and where to shut off the domestic utilities, such as water, gas and electric.


  • Check flood insurance etc on your home



  • Batten down any loose materials and keep a supply of timber and boards on your property ready to board up windows and doors etc. If you leave it until the last moment, you will find all the local D.I.Y stores and timber merchants have run out of stock. Remember to have nails and screws on hand, also – a hand screwdriver and a hammer!


  • There is a possibility that a disaster may strike with minimum of warning, so ensure your family know who to contact in case they are separated, and importantly WHERE to meet.


Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster.

Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. Keep it simple enough so people can remember the important details. A disaster is an extremely stressful situation that can create confusion. The best emergency plans are those with very few details.

  Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing disasters ahead of time will help reduce fear and anxiety and will help everyone know how to respond.

  Pick two places to meet:


  Develop an emergency communication plan.

In case family members are separated from one another during floods or other disasters, have a plan for getting back together. Separation is a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school.

  Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to be your "family contact."

 Your contact should live outside of your area. After a disaster, it is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call. Family members should call the contact and tell him or her where they are. Everyone must know the contact’s name, address, and phone number.

  Discuss what to do if authorities ask you to evacuate. Make arrangements for a place to stay with a friend or relative who lives out of town and/or learn about shelter locations.

  Be familiar with escape routes.

Depending on the type of disaster, it may be necessary to evacuate your home. Plan several escape routes in case certain roads are blocked or closed. Remember to follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will direct you to the safest route; some roads may be blocked or put you in further danger.

  Plan how to take care of your pets.

 Pets (other than service animals) are not permitted to be in places where food is served, according to many local health department regulations. Plan where you would take your pets if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted.


  Post by telephones emergency telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.).

You may not have time in an emergency to look up critical numbers.

  Teach all responsible family members how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity at the main switches or valves.

Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Turn off utilities only if you suspect a leak or damaged lines, or if you are instructed to do so by authorities. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Paint shut-off valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase visibility. Attach a shut-off valve wrench or other special tool in a conspicuous place close to the gas and water shut-off valves.

  Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.

Ask your insurance agent to review your current policies to ensure that they will cover your home and belongings adequately.

  Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms.

Smoke alarms cut nearly in half your chances of dying in a home fire. Smoke alarms sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can detect both smouldering and flaming fires. Many areas are now requiring hard-wired smoke alarms in new homes.

  Conduct a home hazard hunt.

During a disaster, ordinary objects in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire is a home hazard. For example, during an earthquake or a tornado, a hot water heater or a bookshelf could turn over or pictures hanging over a couch could fall and hurt someone. Look for electrical, chemical, and fire hazards. Contact your local fire department to learn about home fire hazards. Inspect your home at least once a year and fix potential hazards.

  Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit.

Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three - five days. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, clearly labelled, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffel bags.

  Keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car.

 If you become stranded or are not able to return home, having these items will help you to be more comfortable.

  Keep a portable, battery-operated radio or television and extra batteries. Maintaining a communications link with the outside is a step that can mean the difference between life and death. Make sure that all family members know where the portable, battery-operated radio or television is located, and always keep a supply of extra batteries.

  Plan home escape routes.

Determine the best escape routes from your home in preparation for a fire or other emergency that would require you to leave the house quickly. Find two ways out of each room.

  Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster.

 Different disasters often require different types of safe places. While basements are appropriate for tornadoes, they could be deadly in a major chemical emergency.

  Make two photocopies of vital documents and keep the originals in a safe deposit box. Keep one copy in a safe place in the house, and give the second copy to an out-of-town friend or relative.

Vital documents such as birth and marriage certificates, tax records, credit card numbers, financial records, and wills and trusts can be lost during disasters.

  Make a complete inventory of your home, garage, and surrounding property.

The inventory can be either written or videotaped. Include information such as serial numbers, make and model numbers, physical descriptions, and price of purchases (receipts, if possible). This list could help you prove the value of what you owned if your possessions are damaged or destroyed and can help you to claim deductions on taxes. Be sure to include expensive items such as sofas, chairs, tables, beds, chests, wall units, and any other furniture too heavy to move. Do this for all items in your home, on all levels. Then store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box


Practice and maintain your plan. Practicing your plan will help you instinctively make the appropriate response during an actual emergency. You will need to review your plan periodically and you may need to change some parts.

  Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills at least twice a year.

Actually drive evacuation routes so each driver will know the way. Select alternate routes in case the main evacuation route is blocked during an actual disaster. Mark your evacuation routes on a map; keep the map in your disaster supply kit. Remember to follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will direct you to the safest route away from roads that may be blocked or put you in further danger.

  Replace stored food and water every six months. Replacing your food and water supplies will help ensure freshness.

  Use the test button to test your smoke alarms once a month. The test feature tests all electronic functions and is safer than testing with a controlled fire (matches, lighters, or cigarettes). If necessary, replace batteries immediately. Make sure children know what your smoke alarm sounds like.

    Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years. Smoke alarms become less sensitive over time, it is recommended to replace them every 10 years.

  Check fire extinguishers to ensure they are properly charged.

Fire extinguishers will not work properly if they are not properly charged. Use the gauge or test button to check proper pressure. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacement or recharging fire extinguishers. If the unit is low on pressure, damaged, or corroded, replace it or have it professionally serviced

Evacuate immediately if told to do so. Authorities do not ask people to leave unless they truly feel lives may be in danger. Follow their advice.

Listen to local radio or television and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. Local officials will provide you with the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.

Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes. Disaster areas and debris contain many hazards. The most common injury following disasters is cut feet.

Lock your home. Others may evacuate after you or before you return. Secure your house as you normally would when leaving for extended periods.

Use travel routes specified by local authorities. Don’t use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.

If you have only moments before leaving,

Grab the following items and go:

First aid kit, including prescription medications, dentures, extra eyeglasses, and hearing aid batteries.

      • Disaster Supplies Kit basics and Evacuation Supplies Kit.
      • A change of clothes and a sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each household member.
      • Car keys and keys to the place you may be going (friend’s or relative’s home


For People with Disabilities

  Persons with disabilities, or those who may have mobility problems (such as elderly persons), should prepare as anyone else. In addition, they may want to consider some of the following steps:

Create a network of relatives, friends, or co-workers to assist in an emergency. If you think you may need assistance in a disaster, discuss your disability with relatives, friends, or co-workers and ask for their help. For example, if you need help moving or require special arrangements to receive emergency messages, make a plan with friends. Make sure they know where you keep your disaster supplies. Give a key to a neighbour or friend who may be able to assist you in a disaster.

Maintain a list of important items and store it with your emergency supplies. Give a copy to another family member and a friend or neighbour. Important items might include:

      • Special equipment and supplies, for example, hearing aid batteries.
      • Current prescription names and dosages.
      • Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors and pharmacists.
      • Detailed information about the specifications of your medication regime.

Contact your local emergency management office now. Many local emergency management offices maintain registers of people with disabilities and their needs so they can be located and assisted quickly in a disaster.

Wear medical alert tags or bracelets to identify your disability in case of an emergency. These may save your life if you are in need of medical attention and unable to communicate.

Know the location and availability of more than one facility if you are dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment. There may be several people requiring equipment, or facilities may have been affected by the disaster.

  • Store a writing pad and pencils to communicate with others.
  • Keep a flashlight handy to signal your whereabouts to other people and for illumination to aid in communication.
  • Remind friends that you cannot completely hear warnings or emergency instructions.
  • If you have a hearing ear dog, be aware that the dog may become confused or disoriented in an emergency.
  • If you have a hearing ear dog, store extra food, water, and supplies for your dog. Trained hearing ear dogs will be allowed to stay in emergency shelters with their owners. Check with local emergency management officials for more information.

If you are blind or visually impaired:

  Keep extra canes well placed around the home and office, even if you use a guide dog.

  If you have a guide dog, be aware that the dog may become confused or disoriented in an emergency.

  If you have a guide dog, store extra food, water, and supplies for your dog. Trained guide dogs will be allowed to stay in emergency shelters with their owners. Check with local emergency management officials for more information.

Senior Emergency Preparedness - for senior citizens (thanks to Peyton Clarskon for the heads up to this very useful site)

Disaster Planning and Emergency Preparedness for Students

Storm and Emergency safety guide for kids - thanks to Abigail Lynwood and her Girls' Scout troop for the heads up on this link

Medication disaster plan: Building and storing a first aid kit

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