How to prepare for an emergency before it happens

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Prepare for a natural emergency at home before it happens

  1. Natural disasters are occurring more frequently, with greater severity. Learn steps to take to keep your family and home safe.
  2. Have an emergency supply kit ready at all times. Keep reading to see what to include.
  3. Learn how to protect important documents, your home and its contents and your pets.
  4. Practice an emergency evacuation plan. Decide beforehand where you’ll go and how to meet up with family members.

Knowing how to prepare for an emergency is a life skill that can save lives and minimize the economic damage to your family. As many severe weather events are broadcasted on media, you typically have days or hours to prepare for them. Here’s a checklist of what you need to know and do to establish a crisis plan.


1.  Learn what disaster to expect

There are predictable crises you can prepare for, such as floods, wildfires winter storms and hurricanes. Local officials or media will announce when you’re at high risk of such disasters, so you’ll have limited time to prepare for an emergency.

Preparation for an upcoming winter storm differs slightly from flooding, so knowing what type of disaster is approaching helps you set the best action plan.

Related: How to prevent flood damage from natural events

Preparation can make a difference in survival for disasters that are difficult to predict accurately, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. One of the things you can do is to know the risk of these disasters in your area. Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast are areas prone to tsunamis. If you live in these locations, prepare for surges or tsunamis all year round.


2.  Check for emergency alerts

During a disaster, information is one thing you need to survive. Check Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) on your phone. Government bodies use WEA to warn people whenever their life or property is at risk. They broadcast presidential alerts, imminent threats like disasters and America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alerts.

WEA is entirely free and no need to sign up for it. You can receive disaster warnings if you’re in an area with a signal. Otherwise, coordinate with your local officials or tune in to radio updates for information.


3.  Pack an emergency supplies kit

Step three in how to prepare for an emergency is packing an emergency supply kit that will help you survive for days until help arrives. It should consist of food supplies, a first aid kit, sanitation tools and other survival items. Here are some essentials in an emergency kit.

  • Drinking water
  • Non-perishable food like canned goods
  • Battery-powered radio and flashlight
  • Cell phone with a solar charger
  • Towelettes
  • Dust mask
  • Wrench or pliers for turning off utilities
  • Food can opener
  • Local maps

Pack these items in an airtight plastic bag or a duffel bag you can quickly grab and carry. Keep it in a cool, dry place, such as the garage or near the entrance of your home. Check for expired items from time to time and replace them.

Related: How to prepare your home for a hurricane [infographic]


4.  Prepare for an emergency by creating and practicing a family disaster plan

You could be separated from your family when things become chaotic. Make sure everyone knows what to do in the event of different emergencies. If you’ve had days to prepare for the crisis, discuss the following critical factors with the family members:

  • Where to find shelter
  • How to get emergency alerts and warnings
  • Which route to use for evacuation
  • How to communicate with other family members

Designate a family escape route and a meeting place after a disaster. Save emergency numbers on your family’s phone and print out a physical copy to keep in their wallets if their phones run out of battery power.


5.  Secure important documents

Secure documents and records that are hard to replace in a fireproof and waterproof safe. These can include the following:

  • Passports
  • Social security cards
  • Shot records
  • Birth and adoption certificates
  • Titles
  • Wills
  • Leases
  • Rental agreements

Prepare for an emergency by keeping them in a protected container ensures they’d be dry, valid and usable even after a fire, earthquake or flooding. Include your pet’s vaccination records if you have them.


6.  Prepare your home accordingly

After receiving a warning for a predictable crisis, prep your home accordingly. If you expect to flood, anchor the fuel tank in your basement to prevent severe damage. Disconnect electrical appliances. Move furniture and valuables to the highest level of your home or above the predicted flood levels and plan what to do with your pets.

In case of storms or hurricanes, stock up on food and drinking water supplies. Get your car ready if you need to leave — fill the gas tank and move it under shelter. Include an emergency kit inside your vehicle. Clear your yard of anything the wind can blow away and cause damage to your home and your neighbors. Transfer lawn equipment, bikes and building materials in your basement or garage.

Preparing your home can protect your family and your property from costly damage.

Related: 6 types of winter storm damage to avoid for your home


7.  Protect your pets

If your local officials ask you to evacuate, this automatically includes your pets. Get a list of pet-friendly hotels or locations to temporarily find shelter during a calamity. Make a reservation if an evacuation is necessary.

Remember to assemble an emergency pet supply kit, including food, water, medicine, sanitation kits, ID tags and grooming items.


8.  Review your insurance

As of July this year, 12 confirmed weather disaster events have resulted in over $1 billion loss each. You may be able to file a claim for property damage caused by catastrophic events if you have comprehensive insurance. Claim benefits can help you with repair costs. Review your policy to know your protection or call your agent or insurer to verify your coverage.

Standard home insurance often doesn’t cover natural disasters. Some insurers cover wildfires but not earthquakes. In such a case, you’ll need a special policy, but be mindful of the timing, as most insurers won’t approve a policy if the predicted weather event is set to happen soon.

Reviewing your insurance will help you determine gaps that could leave you vulnerable if a particular disaster happens.

Related: Wildfire mitigation at home: How to protect your property


9.  Return home safely

After the disaster passes, exercise precautions when returning home. Before you get inside, inspect the outside and look for signs of vulnerabilities, such as foundation cracks, sagging roof, dangling power lines and loose cables. If you smell gas, leave the area immediately and call your local emergency department for help. Only return once they’ve confirmed it’s safe.

When inside, open the doors and windows to ventilate the air. Check for any exposed cords on your appliances. You may need to call a service company to restore the power connections of your devices safely. There’ll be a lot of cleaning, but ensure you take photos or videos of the damage if you file a claim.


Protect your family and property by preparing for a home emergency

People face substantial financial damage because of the lack of preparedness for emergencies. Even worse is a loss of life. You can avoid significant losses and protect your family by preparing for the disaster. As most crises are predictable, you’ll likely have days or hours to create a disaster plan, pack emergency essentials and prep your home.

Information is crucial in times of emergency. Inform everyone how to stay connected, get updates and remain safe wherever they are.