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10 Important Ways to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

Are you prepared for a natural disaster?

I live on an island with an active volcano.  It would be foolish not to prepare.  But, I haven’t done so.  Have you?

Even though we’ve had two tsunami warnings and two small (4.5 and 4.9) earthquakes in the last year, until the disaster in Japan, my mind did not turn to disaster preparedness.

Thailand, Katrina, Haiti, Queensland, Christchurch, Japan.  Disasters seem to be happening in rapid succession.  It’s possible more are on the way.  We don’t need to panic.  But, it’s clear we need to prepare.

10 Basic Tips to Prepare for a Disaster

So how do you prepare for a disaster?  This is what I’ve learned from my recent research.

Disaster preparedness is actual complex if you start thinking about actions like bolting down your gas water heater and bracing overhead light fixtures.  All these types of actions are important to consider, but the first step is to create a disaster preparedness kit.

The following tips cover only the essential items you need to help you cope in response to a disaster.  There’s more to consider, but these steps will give you a good start.  Remember, the bottom line is water, food, and shelter.  In Japan, more than 2 million people are without water.  Another 500,000 are homeless.  These are real possibilities.  So focus on the priorities first.  Then, add the other items to your kit.

Keep your supplies in an easy to carry kit.  There’s actually quite a lot on this list so use your imagination when it comes to an appropriate container.  Store your kit in an accessible place, one that will be within reach once a disaster strikes.  It’s also wise to have a set of basic emergency supplies in your car and at work.

These are the most essential items:

1.  Water

1-2 gallons of water per person, per day.  A 3-day supply for evacuation, a two-week supply at home.

2.  Food

Easy to prepare, non perishable items and a mechanical can opener.  Canned soup, meat, vegetables, and fruit.  A 3-day supply for evacuation, a two-week supply at home.  For food preparation, have on hand a simple barbeque, charcoal and starter fuel or 1 propane unit with 2 canisters of propane and some basic cooking utensils.  Don’t forget waterproof matches or lighters.

3. Shelter

An emergency blanket, sleeping bag or regular blankets, and tent.

4. Medical

First aid kit, a supply of essential medicines for at least a week, other crucial medical supplies like an inhaler.

5. Light

Flashlights, extra batteries, and extra bulbs.  Candles.  Waterproof matches or lighter.

6.  Radio

A battery-powered AM/FM radio.

7. Cash

Cash machines won’t work without electricity.  Have a minimum of $50 on hand in small bills plus phone change.

8. Cell Phone and Charger

Although a cell phone may not work in a disaster, it might also be your line to life-saving support.

9. Sanitation and Personal Hygiene Items

Toilet paper, toothbrush, soap and other essential supplies.

10. Personal Documents

Driver’s license, birth certificate, passports, insurance policies, proof of address or lease, medication list and medical information, copies of credit cards, checks.

Everyone’s situation will vary so you need to adapt the list to your own circumstances and the types of disasters that might occur in your region.  If you are able to drive, there’s no guarantee you will be able to obtain gas since fuel pumps depend upon electricity.

In addition to creating a disaster preparedness kit with the items like the ones listed above, the Red Cross also recommends taking time to:

  • create an emergency plan with your family;
  • educate yourself and your family about the type of disasters that might occur in your community;
  • have one household member trained in first aid and CPR/AED.

Overwhelmed, hesitant, or indifferent? Some of us find it challenging to prepare for a disaster.  What holds us back?  The Vizier explored this question in his excellent article 5 Factors that Hinder Preparations.  You might want to start there if you find the thought of disaster preparation difficult to embrace.

Keeping It Simple

I suggest tying to prepare in a simple but complete way.  Do only the necessary without going overboard. Given the fragility of the environment, it’s not useful to over-buy unnecessary, ecologically unsound items.

Not all the supplies above will necessarily make the grade from a green living perspective.  I would love to hear your suggestions for a greener approach to disaster preparedness.

There’s more to disaster preparation that this basic list, but I hope this list will inspire you to begin or fine tune your preparations further.

Life is precious.  Preparation saves lives.  It’s that simple.

Resource: The Red Cross offers a full range of Emergency-Specific Preparedness Information.  Whether you need to prepare for a tsunami, earthquake, winter storms, oil spill, or another threat, you will find the comprehensive information you need at the Red Cross.

Are you prepared for a disaster?  Do you find it hard to prepare?  Are there other important items that you would add to the list?  How can we prepare in a greener way?

Photos:  NY Times

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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32 Comments

  1. My wife and I have everything on your list except the sleeping bags and tent. Living for a few years in Salt Lake City we learned from our Mormon neighbors all about the importance of emergency food, water, and supplies. We have dedicated the bottom of our pantry to a two week stockpile of food and water in gallon jugs. Extra batteries, medical stuff, charcoal and lighters are in the garage.

    One thing to remember about stocking up on canned and boxed food: every 9 months or so go through and replace those items that have passed their “best by” date. It wouldn’t be helpful to someday need that food and find what you are eating is making you sick because it was canned in 2007.

    While we certainly hope we never need it, we sleep better knowing it is available. Great list, Sandra. Everyone would benefit from being prepared.

  2. Yeah, we got in the habit too from living in earthquake-prone Southern CA. Good, simple, useful tips and info in this article, Sandra. Here’s the other part of disaster preparedness, which I know you understand well:

    Do these kinds of sensible things to preserve yourself and protect your family, but also carry an attitude comfortable with the possibility that any day could be your last. You’ll tell others that you love them more often, and carry less burden when tragedy strikes. Hold valuable your relationships above all possessions. Stuff gets lost, tossed, misplaced and stolen, even without disasters. Loving alliance weathers all storms – even death.

    • This is beautiful, Mike. And my sentiments exactly. Recognizing impermanence can help us get our priorities straight. You’ve expressed this so exquisitely. Thank you.

      • An important post Sandra and some great comments here. I too especially relate to Mike’s comments. From one perspective our time on the planet isn’t all that long even in the best of circumstances. But it’s a very precious time. Recognizing impermanence, facing impermanence can yield surprising benefits …including peace of mind.

        • Christopher,

          You’ve really touched upon the heart essence – recognizing the preciousness of this life and the opportunity it provides for recognizing some far great than our ego-self. Understanding and accepting impermanence is definitely key to true peace of mind! Thanks for sharing your profound insights.

  3. Great tips, Sandra! I will come to this post when I prepare my disaster kit. I live in SF, and should probably prepare a disaster kit as well since we are also on earthquake/tsunami alert. Simplifying is good advice. I often feel overwhelmed when trying to put together a kit. I’m sure everyone could use a disaster kit!

    • Hi Lynn,

      I lived in California during the Loma Prieta earthquake in Santa Cruz and when part of the Bay Bridge collapsed in the Bay Area. So I’m well aware of the vulnerability to earthquakes in many parts of that State myself. Being prepared is a good idea, but I fully understand your feeling of overwhelm. I think many people never start for this reason. I’m going to start, but I’ll be approaching it gradually taking one step at a time.

  4. Kevin and I actually started assembling an emergency kit earlier this week, though judging by your list, we missed more than a few things. (No soap or toilet paper, but we did remember to put in some cat food for the kitty — you can tell where my priorities are!) The question we’re running into is where to keep the kit. We live on a second story, so we’re not sure what might happen in a major earthquake, or what we’d have access to.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Ooops, I forget to put pet food on the list. Good point. I also read that some shelters won’t allow pets if you have to evacuate so it’s recommended to have a pen to set up with a three-day supply of food and water for your pets. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to leave your pets in danger’s way. So I don’t know where you would set up the pen or how this would work exactly, but it’s something to think about.

      Where to keep the kit is another good question. One article I read suggested putting your supplies near the corners of your house, which presumably are either more likely to stay standing or more likely to be accessible if all crumbles down. On the other hand, it should be easily accessible in the event you need to grab it quickly. There’s certainly more to learn and understand on this topic.

      I’m glad you’ve got a start on this. Good luck with it.

  5. My first thought (what disaster meant to me) after reading the blog title was the loss of a loved one (such as a spouse). I guess I’ve been reading too many business journals on risk management and diversification because the thought that popped into my mind was “don’t put all your emotional eggs in one basket”. Melody Beattie might call that a hedge against co-dependency.

    Riley

    • Riley,

      That would also feel like a disaster for almost everyone. Every though we know life is impermanent, the loss of a loved one is always jarring to some degree. Remembering impermanence is my hedge against taking a total dive at these sad times. Loss is a very intertwined issue with disaster. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. I am lucky to be living in Singapore where we are mostly shielded from many types of natural disasters. Still, I am glad to know that the events in Japan are causing many others to be aware about being prepared. Your post has reminded me to be grateful for my blessings. I am appreciative of the water that is still available from my tap every day. Thanks!

  7. Evelyn,

    I’m happy for your auspicious conditions. May you continue to enjoy such protection throughout your life. Gratitude is so relevant when we realize how water from a tap is an amazing gift indeed. I think of all the women in Africa who have to walk miles each day for their water. We are lucky indeed and I thank you for reminding us of that. Stay well!

  8. Living in the middle of North Carolina, it does not feel too imperative to me to make a disaster kit….however, if something does occur where I need one, I will sure think “Why didn’t I..?” My fathers house basically got ripped apart by a tornado a year ago. You never know. Good tips!

    • Hi Debbie,

      Some places are safer than others. It seems like North Carolina is a good place to be if it’s not prone to natural disasters. Your father’s experience drives the point home though that we never know. I hope it wasn’t too devastating for him.

  9. I’m fortunate that my husband takes the preparations quite seriously. All I have to do, is buy fresh water and cans at Costco, once in a while. We end up eating them so they don’t go bad, and then replace them. Thanks for reminding me to pay more attention, especially as I live in Southern California.

    • Hi Sonia, Fantastic! It’s great to have a partner that looks after the preparations. My husband did that when we lived in California years ago. Now, we’re sharing the preparations. He’s also been researching solar power options for us. Southern California is one of the more vulnerable places. Hope you never need to use these items. Thanks for telling us about your approach.

      • Sandra, Believe me. I worry with all these disasters around the world, California will not be far off. Don’t even want to go there.

        • Hi Sonia,

          I know what you mean. California is one of those shaky places. I lived there for many years and have been through earthquakes and a flood while there. I pray a disaster never comes near you…or anyone else there.

  10. Hi Sandra,

    Wow, I never knew you lived next to an active volcano or that you experienced earthquakes in the last year. But if anyone is to be prepared to face a disaster, it would be you, given your fine eye for no nonsense details in your 10 tips. I like what you say here a lot, “So focus on the priorities first. Then, add the other items to your kit.” When coping with disasters, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by fear that we don’t even know where to begin. By going back to the basics and focusing on our priorities, we can manage better because we know where to start.

    I also like that you keep things simple. In our fear, we could easily get carried away and pack too many useless things. And in the end, these things might hinder instead of helping us when we need to move quickly.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article and for mentioning my article as well! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving, Yes, I do! We’re part of the ring of fire. The Big Island is made up of 5 volcanoes and, apparently, none of them are truly dead, but Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the two that are sometimes active. Kilauea was regularly spilling lava into the ocean for months at a time. A part of the crater recently caved in and shifts have happened in the lava flow now so there’s no lava flowing into the ocean.

      I really like the point you’ve made by how too much might hinder instead of help us. It’s really smart to have a balanced approach to these preparations. Thanks for your added thoughts.

  11. Hi Sonia .. good thoughts – and am surprised really that people are prepared or even thinking about .. but I guess if you live in that sort of area .. it’s something that needs to be taken care of .. I hope England doesn’t get hit! I’m not prepared …

    Good luck to everyone & I hope the Ring of Fire has stopped for a while .. Hilary

    • Hi Hilary,

      I too was happily surprised and impressed that many of the readers here are so well prepared. We all have such different personalities. Some of us have more of a bent for preparation than others. But even if it’s not our usual thing, we can still get a handle on it. I don’t know the vulnerabilities of England. It seems some people are in far safer places than others. I hope there won’t be any more disasters on the horizon. The world is already filled with sorrow. Nice to see you!

  12. Having grown up in Wisconsin and now living in Boston I feel somewhat shielded (albeit a false sense of security) and have never had a disaster kit. I love what Mike had to share and try to live by those principles-living in the moment and not living in fear. Your list of tips is extremely helpful during this time when we see the real possibility of natural disaster and the devastation in can cause.

  13. Lori,

    It sounds like those might be safer places than others! Winter storms may be the only significant challenges. So perhaps it’s not a false sense of security. I love Mike’s thoughts as well and agree that it’s important not to live in fear. So I will fearlessly prepare my disaster kit since I live with a volcano. 🙂 Nice to see you!

  14. Sandra.

    Thanks for the great list. Although we have all these items about the house, it really is time to gather them in one place.

    After experiencing a couple volcanoes and the ensuing ash shower, medical/surgical masks are a must for heading outside. Goggles are also very helpful too.

    Here’s to being prepared. Thanks again.
    Susie

    • Susie,

      Those are really great points abut the masks and googles, which can be necessary in a whole range of disasters. I’m very sensitive so I would definitely need a mask. I really appreciate these additions to the list. We all need to adapt our list to the particular dangers we might face. I would love to know where you decided to put your “kit.” Thanks for the comment.

      • Sandra,

        I too have sensitivities to those miniscule particles that can be rather damaging to our bodies. Ah yes, the placement of the “kit” is crucial. We will place it in our utility room that is right next to our main entry. I’d be curious where you and others are thinking of locating yours.

        Many thanks.
        Susie

  15. Hi Sandra,
    I don’t have an emergency stash and don’t feel the need to get one. Is something wrong with me???

    What I do have is what Mikey talks about…an atitude. I realize that studying A Course In Miracles has prepared my mind for any emergency situation. I don’t want it to be proven but I think I have the mental skills to survive anything and be st rong enough to calm those around. In fact they just may share their supplies with me;)

    I think my strength comes from growing up in the middle of 10 kids, working in the fields 8+ hours a day with our migrant workers. Of course then I decided to be the mom of four at the ripe old age of 22. Yes that’s why I think I’m strong…hopefully not to cockey;)

    • Hi Tess,

      Confidence and clarity of mind are important qualities to have in an emergency. I don’t doubt that you will come out on top if and when an emergency arises. There’s no right or wrong. I think we are all different and some people are more prone to prepare for an emergency than others. I’m not the kind of person that generally would prepare for an emergency. I also don’t think it’s useful to succumb to fear. But I wrote this article because I see that preparation saves lives and I want to support people who feel inclined to get an emergency kit together. When I read Susie’s experience with volcanic ashes, it seems smart for me to make some preparations living close to an active volcano! As always, we each need to follow our own inner voice. That’s what’s right for each of us.

  16. Thank you for bringing this up. In a disaster, many feel sorry for the victims they watch half a world away without thinking about what could happen in their own area and what they need to do to prepare.

    • Thanks for your support. The key is to look at your own area and see what the challenges might be there and then prepare accordingly. Love the gorgeous photos on your blog!

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