Preparing for a natural disaster

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Natural disasters have added an extra layer of mayhem in a year that the country is already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. From devastating wildfires in the West, to deadly hurricanes in Texas and Louisiana, to a destructive derecho in Iowa, 2020 has been an unforgettable year for weather extremes across the nation. It’s more important than ever to get prepared for an emergency.

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Natural disasters won’t wait, so I encourage you to keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets.” 

Depending on the type of disaster you’re facing, you may need to shelter in place to stay safe. Other situations may require you to evacuate your home. With threats from hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and man-made disasters like chemical spills or explosions, no one is immune to these types of emergencies.

A recent national survey showed that 75% of Americans think they are not well prepared for natural or man-made disasters. Here are some tips to help you prepare your ‘go-bag’ if disaster strikes:

A go-bag is usually a small, lightweight backpack you can grab in a moment’s notice on your way out the door. It should include personal items, toiletries, food, and water. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to add additional items: extra face masks, hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, disinfectant supplies, tissues, and as well as personal hygiene items. This is how you set up your kit:

What type of bag?

Pick something small, portable, and lightweight. A lightweight suitcase with wheels might work as well, but remember, you could be running while carrying this bag!

Essential COVID-19 items:

Basic electronics:

Use your electronics only when necessary. Keep your phone handy in case you need to report a life-threatening emergency. Try to avoid phone use to keep lines available for emergency responders.

Personal items:

Layer clothes that can be easily added or removed, depending on temperature. It’s best to be prepared for all types of weather. Include toiletry items, backup eyeglasses, bug spray, matches, a pocketknife or multipurpose tool, and a first-aid kit including any prescription drugs.

Have emergency cash and change on hand in case of a widespread power outage in which credit cards won’t work. And don’t forget keys to your house and vehicles.

Water and food:

Bottled water is a must. You should have at least a day’s worth of food and water, enough for each person. Nonperishable foods, such as granola or energy bars, are good since they are small and compact.

Copies of important paperwork:

Keep photocopies of important household paperwork such as proof of address, driver’s license, insurance, adoption papers, or naturalization certificates. Include copies of your Social Security cards, medical records, and credit card information. They should be stored in a waterproof bag.

Be sure to check out the Red Cross Emergency Library for safety checklists and more information.

If sheltering in place, your emergency kit should include supplies that will last up to two weeks. Dried and canned food, water, prescription medications, a first-aid kit, household cleaning and disinfectant supplies, and personal hygiene items should be on hand. Supplies can be kept in a large plastic container and stored in a designated place for easy access.

Pick a safe place with few windows and doors to shelter in. Stay inside your shelter location until officials say the danger has passed.

If you have a portable generator for power outages, never run it inside your house or connected garage. Always keep it outside. Carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas – is dangerous and kills more than 150 people a year.

Pets should never be left behind during an emergency. They are likely to get lost, injured, or worse. Creating a pet emergency kit ahead of time will help.

Have a pet carrier for each pet, with your pet’s name and contact information printed on the carrier. Have at least two weeks’ worth of food and water, litter for cats, and poop bags for dogs.

Make sure to have copies of pets’ medical records, which include vaccination status for rabies and other diseases. It’s a good idea to practice an evacuation including your pets so everyone knows what to do.

If circumstances require you to leave your home, try to keep calm. Unplug major electrical equipment such as televisions and small appliances. Do not unplug your refrigerator or freezer unless there is a flood risk. And don’t forget to secure your home by locking all the doors and windows.

Pack go-bags for each family member in advance and don’t forget your pets. Stay alert and don’t drive aggressively. Follow all traffic signs and resist the urge to speed – a car accident will only delay your evacuation. 

According to Amy Rolph, in consultation with FEMA, start by talking with your kids about the type of disaster that is likely to happen in your area and why it’s important to have a plan for staying safe. Answer their questions honestly, but keep details age-appropriate. 

Younger kids might have questions about what causes natural disasters, and you can research the answers together. FEMA’s Ready.gov/kids website can help you navigate this conversation and find kid-appropriate information about what type of natural disasters you should prepare for based on where you live. 

If a disaster does require you to evacuate your home, identify places you could go to in an emergency, such as a friend’s house in another town, a motel, or a public shelter. 

If you decide on a public shelter, find out if it’s open and has space available. Be sure to check if they accept pets, as needed. 

At a shelter, maintain at least 6 feet of space between you and those who aren’t in your immediate family. Avoid touching surfaces such as handrails as much as possible. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers after touching surfaces. Try to keep your living space clean. 

Learn more by visiting: http://www.disasterassistance.gov/.

SOURCE American Red Cross; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ready.gov; Belfor Property Restoration

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