Be Prepared for an Emergency

Some emergencies give warning, like a storm or flood. Others, like an earthquake, wreck or broken bone give no warning at all. A natural disaster can even force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. Families can cope with an emergency by preparing in advance and working together as a team. Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility. Here are a few tips to help you get prepared for an emergency – big or small.


Have a family emergency plan. It’s a good idea to have a plan that puts it all together. In an emergency, the plan can provide direction for you and your family. Be sure to meet with family members and discuss what to do in an emergency and don’t forget to include your pets in your plan!

  • Meeting place. Pick two meeting places: a location near your house (stop sign at the end of your street) and a place outside of your neighborhood (the local library).
  • Family contact. Choose an out-of-state friend or relative as your contact for family members or others to call in the event of an emergency as it’s often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.
  • What to do. Teach responsible family members first aid and CPR as well as how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
  • Practice. Maintain and practice your plan annually. Remember, practice makes perfect!
  • Other ideas. Contact your school district to obtain their policy regarding how children will be released from school. Know the location of the nearest police and fire stations as well as the route to the nearest hospital emergency room. Keep photos of family members in your wallet/phone in case they turn up missing.

Build an emergency fund. Keep 3-6 months of living expenses (the more, the merrier) in a safe and accessible account (i.e. money market or savings account). If your property is damaged from a disaster, you’re going to want to make repairs and replace damaged goods after it’s over and if your child gets injured playing football, his hospital stay may be a few days longer than you expected; there’s nothing like having a few thousand dollars in emergency savings for this purpose. If you’re just getting started, aim for an extra $1,000 and build from there.

Keep an inventory in a safe place. Having an up-to-date inventory of the contents of your home can help speed up the payment of an insurance claim. It’s much easier to make an inventory of everything you own before a disaster, rather than trying to remember what you had while you’re still in shock. Take pictures/videos of your belongings so that you can compare the “before” shots with the damage afterwards.

Review your insurance coverage. No matter how much you have saved, it may not be enough to cover the cost of repairs to damaged property or the extensive stay in the hospital. Beyond the basic coverage (health, homeowner’s, auto, disability, life, etc.), look for any gaps for things that may apply to you; consider getting additional coverage for risks that aren’t covered by a homeowners insurance policy, such as flooding, earthquakes or mold. Also, be sure to update your insurance coverage if you’ve done any major home improvements. In the event a natural disaster hits, be sure to notify your insurer, your employer and key family members as soon as possible. And keep receipts for your lodging, food and other living expenses while you’re away from home so you can seek reimbursement from your insurer.

Create an emergency file. Store cash, insurance policies, tax records, special medical information, birth and marriage certificates, passports, deeds, property inventory and key contact information in a portable, waterproof, fire resistant (if possible!) file you can grab-and-go in the event of an emergency or if you are evacuated. It’s always a good idea to keep a back up emergency file, too. But be sure to keep it in a different place from your original file (i.e. a safe deposit box or with an out-of-state relative or friend).

Create an emergency supply kit. A good rule of thumb is to have enough supplies to cover your household for at least three full days. Keep these items in an easy to carry, waterproof container in a convenient place known to all family members. You could be just about anywhere when an emergency situation occurs, so keeping a smaller version in the trunk of your car and at work wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Below are some guidelines to consider for basic disaster supplies. And to save money, buy in bulk from a wholesale store.

  • Water: Store 1-2 gallons of water per person per day (don’t forget to include your pet in the mix). If it comes down to it, don’t forget your home’s water heater is typically 50 gallons and may be used as a backup water supply.
  • Food: Select nonperishable items (about 3 cans per person per day) that don’t require refrigeration, preparation or cooking. Pet food should be included in your supplies if you have one. And don’t forget the manual can opener!
  •  First Aid Kit: First aid manual; extra prescription medications; Aspirin/Ibuprofen; adhesive tape; scissors; sterile gauze pads and rolls; tweezers; antiseptic spray; ointments for burns and cuts; latex gloves.
  • Clothing: Include at least one complete change of clothing and footwear per person. Rain ponchos and sunglasses should also be considered.
  • Shelter/Bedding: Pillows, blankets and a sleeping bag/tent.
  • Tools: In preparation, place a wrench in your water meter box and on your gas meter to easily (and quickly) turn them off when needed. Include games and toys in your kit to help pass time. Other helpful tools you might consider: fire extinguisher, crow bar, leather gloves, multi-function pocket tool or knife, nylon rope, duct tape, plastic tarp, power converter (for running 120 volt items from car battery), a portable generator and a small shovel.
  • Cooking: Cooking materials such as a charcoal, starter fluid, aluminum foil, water proof matches or lighter, silverware and zip lock bags are also important.
  • Light: Flashlight with 2 sets of spare batteries (LED flashlights run much longer).
  • Communication: AM/FM radio with extra sets of batteries, pen, pencil, paper pad and stamped postcards (all stored in a zip lock bag). A weather radio and police scanner may also be helpful.
  • Special Items: Don’t forget family members with special needs, such as infants and elderly persons. Other helpful items include: phone change (quarters), spare keys, photo copies of ID, sanitation items (toilet tissue rolls, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, hygiene products), map of local area, a brightly colored cloth to use as a flag and a whistle to call for help.
  • In Your Car: Along with the small emergency supply kit in your car’s trunk, be sure to keep tools, jumper cables and a spare tire. It’s also a good rule of thumb to replace your battery every 2-3 years; in an emergency, your car battery will need to run the radio and heater/air conditioner for extended periods of time. And remember, always keep your gas tank full!

For more information, contact your local American Red Cross.