Is Your Family Prepared for a Natural or Man-made Disaster?

The fact is, far too many of us are unprepared when disaster strikes. This guide will help you and your family set up an emergency plan; build an emergency kit; plan how to care for children, the elderly, people with access and functional needs (PAFN) and pets; and educate you about shelters and returning home. Family preparedness involves developing an emergency plan and practicing it.

Family preparedness also includes understanding the types of emergencies and disasters and knowing how you will address them. The type of emergency for which you and your family should prepare greatly depends upon where you live. When preparing your family’s emergency plan and kit, make sure that you consider what your risks are.

Make a Plan for Your Family

Your family’s plans should include situational plans for when you are together at home, and when family members are at work, at school or at other facilities (such as a nursing home). Click below for some helpful tips to make sure you and your family are prepared.

Be Prepared for Disasters

Building and maintaining emergency kits for your family

When disaster strikes, you and your family might have to survive on your own and shelter in place. Essential to your family’s survival is being prepared with enough food, water and other supplies (at least 72-96 hours’ worth).

It might not be possible to get the supplies you need once the emergency has occurred; therefore, you need to build several emergency kits: one for your home, one for each car, as well as first aid kits (home and car) and a go-bag.

First Aid Kit

Prepare every member of your family for communicating during an emergency

Communication is vital to your family’s safety when disaster strikes. Make sure that your family’s emergency plan includes a communication plan, a plan for reuniting and a plan for what to do in different situations.

Detailed Contacts List

Keep a copy in your at-home emergency kit and post a copy in an accessible location. The list should have information that includes:

  • The addresses, phone numbers and evacuation locations of home, work and schools.
  • The name, birth date and important medical information of each family member.
  • The name, phone number and email address of an out-of-town contact.
  • The neighborhood meeting place and its phone number.
  • The out-of-neighborhood meeting place and its phone number.
  • The names, phone numbers and policy numbers (as applicable) of your doctors, pharmacists, medical/home insurance, homeowner/rental insurance and veterinarian.

Each family member should have an emergency contact card that includes the family’s meeting place and contact information for each family member and your out-of-town contact.

Download and print a plan at:

Emergency Communication Plan

Preparing in case you need to shelter in place

Authorities have long recognized that it would be extremely difficult to evacuate whole counties in the event of as disaster. The population is too great with too few exit routes. Evacuation is preferable when possible, but if it isn’t an option, people can do what is called “sheltering in place” with some simple preparation.

This means a person or persons sets up a shelter in their own home until the emergency or disaster is over, which could be in several hours to days or even weeks. In a minor emergency such as power outages, severe lightning storms, extreme cold, or minor flooding you should plan to stay in your home where you will be safe. You will most likely not have any power, so plan to have warm clothing and blankets for keeping you warm. Plan to have a cooking and feeding plan for your family. In the event of a disaster never use charcoal, gasoline or kerosene inside your home because of the toxic fumes can be deadly.

Depending on the emergency, you will have to make a decision on whether to shelter in place or evacuate. Your family should be prepared for both scenarios.

When local officials direct people to shelter in place, they are telling people to stay in their homes or indoors. This is not the same type of sheltering that requires you to seal the room.

While the order to shelter in place might be given for minor emergencies, it can be for a nuclear, biological or chemical event or accident when there isn’t enough time to evacuate the affected area. In the latter case, families will be advised to seal the room.

Sheltering In Place

Making a plan for if you have to leave your home

Some evacuation situations leave you little time to prepare, which is why you need an emergency kit and evacuation plan.

Things to consider include:

  • Keep your vehicle at least half fueled.
  • Know what to do if you don’t have a car.
  • Make sure that you know the officially designated routes.
  • Avoid taking shortcuts as these may be closed or blocked.
  • Bring your emergency kit and lock your home’s doors.
  • Bring your pets and the supplies needed for their care.

If you Evacuate

  • Plan where to go and how to reunite your family.
  • Preselect several destinations in different directions to provide options.
  • Set up several meeting locations for different emergencies (near the home and outside the immediate area).
  • For example, if your home catches fire, plan to meet in front of a neighbor’s house. Or if the emergency affects the neighborhood, meet at the corner store.
  • Practice your plan and explain to your children which plan to use in which situation.

If you Have Time

  • Inform your out-of-town contact where you’re going.
  • Shut off your home’s utilities.
  • Leave a note to inform others where you’ve gone.
Evacuating Your Home

Understand how public sheltering could help your family and neighbors

Shelter services are a critical part of disaster operations. Local, tribal, state and Federal shelter programs must be in place to provide short-term refuge for disaster victims. Emergency shelters are not intended for extended periods of time.

Emergency Shelters

Emergency shelters may be available and provide immediate refuge, food, water, basic first aid and access to community services. They can be designed for the general population or for people who require additional support.

  • Child care or eldercare
  • Recreational activities
  • Spiritual and emotional support
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Clothing and blankets
  • Personal hygiene items
Public Shelters

Prepare to keep you and your family safe in an emergency

In the event that you do shelter in place (usually at home) during an emergency, you will have to know how to safely turn off utilities such as gas, electricity and water.

Shutting Off Gas

  • Shut off the gas if you see a broken gas line or if you smell or hear natural gas escaping and cannot locate the leak, which may cause a fire or an explosion.
  • Do not use candles, matches or electricity if you suspect a gas leak.
  • Find the gas meter and the shutoff valve.
  • If the shutoff valve appears corroded or malfunctioning, contact your utility company.
  • Keep the required tools near the gas meter.
  • If you smell natural gas in your home, evacuate.
  • Teach your children what natural gas smells like.
  • Call the utility company to turn the gas back on.

Shutting Off Water Supply

Disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, can damage water lines. To preserve your property from water damage, and to avoid electrocution hazards and water contamination, you should know how to turn off the water to your house.

  • Locate the shutoff valve (usually in the basement, garage or where the water line enters the home).
  • If a tool is required to close the valve, make sure one is always at hand.
  • Test the valve a few times a year.

Checking Your Sewer System

You do not want a damaged or malfunctioning sewer system contaminating your home or your supply of drinking water.

  • Make sure that your sewer system is functioning properly before using it.
  • If the sewer lines are damaged, do not flush the toilet.
  • Shut off the water to the house.
  • If your sewer lines are intact, pour three to five gallons of non-potable (non-drinkable) water into your toilet to flush.
  • If it is malfunctioning, use a bucket lined with plastic bags or a portable toilet instead.

Shutting Off Electricity

Extreme caution must be used when dealing with electricity. A damaged electrical system could cause electrocution and electrical sparks that may result in a fire or an explosion. It’s important to:

  • Know where your main electrical switch or fuse panel is located.
  • Learn how to shut off the electricity.
Utilities Shutoff

Prepare and store the right food and water supplies for your family

Food Safety

Cleanliness and sanitation are important when preparing food. Avoid leftovers or use them within four days if they’ve been stored at or below 40°F.

Preparing Food

Candle warmers, fondue pots or fireplaces can be used for cooking. In addition:

  • Prepare only enough food for immediate use.
  • Keep food preparation surfaces clean and avoid contact between raw and other foods.
  • Use only prepared canned baby formula for infants; do not use powdered formulas with treated water.
  • Commercially canned food can be eaten without warming. If you do heat in the can, remove the label, wash and disinfect the can, and open the can before heating.
  • Properly wash, rinse and sanitize utensils or use single service utensils.
  • Keep hot food at or above 140°F and cold food at or below 40°F.

Storing Food

Store food four inches off the floor in a dark, dry, cool site that is well sealed to prevent pest and vermin attraction.

  • When refrigeration is not available, use perishable food as soon as possible.
  • Discard food in contact with contaminated floodwater.
  • In a power outage, look for alternative storage space.

Drinking Water Safety

After an emergency, especially after flooding, drinking water may not be available or safe to drink. Do not use water that may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, make ice or make baby formula.

Safe Sources of Water

  • Melted ice cubes
  • Water drained from the water heater
  • Water drained from pipes
  • Liquids from canned goods

Unsafe Sources (some can be used for flushing toilets)

  • Radiators
  • Hot water boilers (home heating system)
  • Swimming pools and spas (can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning and related uses)
  • Local reservoirs, lakes and rivers (if not treated)
  • Water from the toilet bowl or flush tank
  • Water beds

Guidelines for Managing Water Supply

  • Never ration water unless ordered to do so by the authorities. Allow people to drink according to their needs, which vary by age, physical activity, physical condition and time of year – generally at least four cups a day.
  • Do not drink carbonated beverages instead of water.
  • Turn off the main water valves.
  • Water sources already in the home/shelter must be protected from contamination.
Food and Water Safety
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