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2020 and 2021 were record-breaking years for weather and climate-related disasters. From extreme heat, droughts, and floods to severe storms and wildfires, natural disasters were widespread.
According to Climate.gov, in the last two years, 40+ different billion-dollar disasters occurred in the U.S. alone.
Disasters and other emergencies are not something anyone wants to experience. But no one is immune.
Yet, many of us need to prepare.
A recent survey indicates that over half of us don’t have basic supplies to withstand a natural disaster. That’s not to mention an emergency plan and adequate insurance.
‘In case of emergency preparation’ benefits everyone. It helps keep you and your family safe in a crisis. And it can lessen the psychological impact of a traumatic event.
So, if you’re among those who feel unprepared, read on.
Below are five basic steps to prepare for an emergency. They include an emergency plan, emergency kit, family meeting, insurance review, and more.
In Case of Emergency Preparation
How you prepare for an emergency isn't as important as getting started. Even if you don't get everything done right away, it's better to be somewhat ready than not ready at all.
As you prepare, consider your family's unique circumstances and needs. For example, location, health, medical issues, age, and even finances could factor into your plan.
#1 Make an emergency plan.
Consider the types of emergencies most likely to occur where you live. For example,
- Are you in a flood-prone area?
- Do you live in a region that experiences earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes?
- Do wildfires or extreme heat pose a threat?
See FEMA’s National Risk Index and learn about risk factors in your area.
Once you assess your risk, determine how you can lower it. For instance, can you get specific insurance or take precautions to lessen the impact?
Next, decide what you would do if faced with different emergencies. How will you respond? Where will you go?
How will you respond?
Different emergencies call for different responses. So first, consider the most common risks you and your family face. Then create and write down a plan for those emergencies.*
For example, house fires are a common risk for nearly everyone. So, your plan should include preparing for and dealing with fire.
Everyone should know basic fire safety and how to use fire extinguishers in this case. And, of course, they should know how to escape a fire.
*Your family members' ages and health needs will impact your emergency plan. And if you have pets, remember to include them.
Where will you go?
Whether you need to shelter in place, evacuate your home, or leave your local area, know where to go.
- Where can you safely shelter at home if you must shelter in place?
- How will you escape your home in case of fire or flooding?
- What evacuation routes will you use if you have to leave home in a widespread emergency? What’s a backup route?
- What are the emergency procedures if you're at work or school?
- How will family members connect if they cannot return home?
- Where can you safely shelter if you need to leave home?
If you have time to prepare for evacuation, you might take extra steps:
- Shut off utilities to the home and unplug unnecessary electronics (if needed).
- Grab your emergency kit (go bag)
- Wear and bring appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Let others know where you are going and your route.*
*Use Facebook and the American Red Cross Safe and Well websites to let others know you’re okay.
#2 Build an emergency kit and “go bag.”
Gather emergency supplies beforehand to save time and ensure you have what you need to stay safe. Below are some suggestions to get you started.
Gather the basics.
Everyone needs a few critical items in their emergency kit; basic survival needs like food, water, and shelter dictate the essentials.
Three days' worth of food, water, first aid, and medication is a recommended minimum.
Consider special needs.
Remember your family's unique circumstances and needs when building your kit.
For example, prescription medications, assistive devices, and eyeglasses are some items to include. Also, add supplies for your pets.
Update it regularly.
Mark your calendar every few months to update your kit and replace food and water supplies. That way, your emergency kit is ready to go at all times!
What to include in an emergency kit
- Water (one gallon per person per day)
- Infant formula
- Pet food and supplies
- Can opener
- Mess kit/disposable dinnerware
- First Aid Kit
- Water purification filters or tablets
- Face masks
- Non-prescription medications
- Hand sanitizer/moist towelettes
- Toilet paper
- Lantern or flashlights
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio (+ extra batteries)
- Plastic sheeting (or tent)
- Garbage bags
- Duct tape
- One sleeping bag or blanket per person.
- Essential documents: ICE binder, insurance info, etc., in a waterproof container
- Paper & pencil
Store items in a plastic bin or tote that you can carry if needed.
What to put in individual go bags
- Prescription medications
- Snacks and water
- Change of clothing
- Face mask
- Small first aid kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Personal hygiene items
- Phone charger and portable power bank
- Spare keys
- Phone numbers (emergency contacts)
- Books/games/comfort items
- Add your wallet and identification before you go!
Use a duffel bag or backpack for your “go bag.”
See Ready.gov for more information on building an emergency kit.
#3 Meet with loved ones
A family meeting is a crucial part of emergency preparedness! Even if you’re all together during an emergency, everyone must be on the same page.
Plus, communicating important details can help keep your loved ones calm and safe in a crisis.
In your meeting, you might cover the following:
- Your emergency plan – how to respond to specific emergencies.
- Where to seek shelter inside your home (if it’s safe there).
- How to escape in case of fire or another emergency.
- Where fire extinguishers and ladders are and how to use them.
- Where to meet if you must exit your home (mailbox, neighbor's house, etc.)
- What to do if you’re at school or work during an emergency.
- How to communicate with each other if you aren’t together.
- Provide each person with an emergency contact list (for backpacks, wallets, & purses).
- Except for the very youngest, everyone can make their own go bag.
It’s hard to think straight when an emergency happens. But if you have a plan and rehearse what to do, you don’t have to think so much, and you can act faster.
Practice drills help everyone become more familiar with locations and be more confident if an emergency strikes.
#4 Check insurance coverage and make a home inventory
Not everyone has adequate insurance, and those who do might not have coverage for all events.
Another excellent thing to do is make a home inventory. A home inventory will help you file a claim and recover things lost in an emergency.
Dealing with a significant loss after a traumatic event is bad enough. But trying to get through an insurance claim relying on memory is challenging.
#5 Create an ICE Binder
An ICE Binder (In Case of Emergency Binder) is essential when facing an emergency. But it's a must for everyone, no matter what the circumstances.
The binder organizes vital information to help loved ones navigate an emergency, especially if you cannot.
In other words, an ICE binder contains all information and documents for an emergency.
For example, it holds personal records, medical information, insurance policies, website logins, and financial information.
It’s also a great place to note where you store your original estate planning documents – will, financial power of attorney, advance care directive, trust, etc.
- Power of Attorney, Why it is so Important
- Advance Care Directive: What is it, and do you need one?
- What Happens if I Die Without Creating a Will?
- Do I Need a Living Trust in My Estate Plan
You can create your own ICE Binder. But there’s good news if you need help getting started! Some excellent printable pdfs are available to help you get organized.
We recommend The Family Emergency Binder – it has forms you can fill out, print, and update as needed! (You can print it out or use the fillable pdf provided.)
Preparing is worth it!
Preparing for an emergency can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.
But think about it this way – if you are ready and disaster strikes, you'll be able to handle it much better than if you didn't prepare at all.
It would be best if you never need your in case of emergency preparations. But being ready to handle one will help keep you and your loved ones safer in a crisis.