No matter where you live, there’s a natural disaster waiting to happen. Tragically, residents of the Texas Gulf Coast region are learning that lesson all over again this week.
You can’t prevent a disaster, but you can take steps that will help you navigate the mayhem that ensues. Here are some key steps to take now, including how to assemble an emergency kit that can make a big difference for your family in a crisis.
1. Gather your important records
One often overlooked item in disaster planning is financial records and other key documents such as birth certificates and the title to your car. It would make sense to have a contact list with important phone numbers — your insurance company, your bank and your doctor — for instance.
Be sure to have two copies. One copy can be stored in a watertight container that you can easily grab from your house. The other one should be kept elsewhere in the event that the house is destroyed or unsafe. You can store them in the cloud, or send them to a relative or trusted friend who lives in a different state, in case a large region is affected.
It’s hard trying to rebuild your life after major losses, but this step will at least make it easier to get started. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a financial preparedness checklist to help you identify essential items that should be stored.
2. Have a plan
What if this hypothetical disaster strikes in the middle of the day? Both spouses are at work — in different places, most likely — and the kids are at school. You need to have an idea of where to connect. The family residence is an obvious first choice. However, in many disasters, that’s just not viable.
Make sure you have a backup location. Local governments have designated areas for shelters, often places like city halls, schools or community centers. These can be good choices and are the sort of place that should be on your radar screen anyway. It would not hurt to have an alternative backup location, one that everyone knows about and knows how to get to.
Don’t rely on using your cellphones to keep in touch. When disaster strikes, networks tend to be overwhelmed as everyone tries to call or text. Power outages also may disrupt the number of available cell towers. Texting uses less data than calling, so try that first. But make sure everyone knows to meet at your preset location if technology fails you.
If you have small children, make sure your caregiver –be that a long-term nanny or short-term baby sitter — knows the plan. Have instructions written down, and let the caregiver know where those written instructions are located. Familiarize yourself with plans at your child’s school. In the event of a disaster, know what the school plans to do, and how you might communicate with staff there.
3. Build and maintain an emergency kit
The federal government suggests you have a kit prepared that will see you through three days without assistance. Depending on where you live, that may not be enough. In rural areas, with less dense populations it may take longer for government resources to get on the scene.