General Family Preparedness
Table of Contents
Disasters can affect any part of the United States at any time of the
year, swiftly and without warning. Most people don't think of a disaster
until it is too late; then they suddenly realize how unprepared they are
for the massive changes it makes in their lives. Local officials can be
overwhelmed and emergency response personnel may not be able to reach everyone
who needs help right away.
Each type of disaster requires clean-up and recovery. The period after
a disaster is often very difficult for families, at times as devastating
as the disaster itself. Families which are prepared ahead of time can reduce
the fear, confusion and losses that come with disaster. They can be ready
to evacuate their homes, know what to expect in public shelters and how
to provide basic first aid.
Family Disaster Supply Kit
One of the first steps toward preparedness is the creation of a family
disaster supply kit. This will help families get through the first few
days after a disaster. Public shelter after a disaster may not offer some
of the basic necessities. The development of a kit will make a stay in
a public shelter more comfortable, should it be necessary. Store the kit
in a convenient place known to all family members. Store items in airtight
bags or containers. Replenish the kit twice a year.
Include six basic items:
- Store water in clean plastic containers such as thoroughly washed and
rinsed soft drink bottles with tight fitting screw-on caps.
- Store 1 gallon per day per family member (2 quarts for drinking, 2
quarts for food preparation/sanitation). Children, nursing mothers and
ill people will need more
- A 3-day supply of water should be stored for every family member.
- Store at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods
that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no
water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno.
- Rotate these foods into the regular diet frequently to keep the supply
fresh. In a disaster supply kit include:
- Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
- Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, store extra water)
- Staples such as sugar, salt, pepper
- High energy foods such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola
bars, trail mix
- Vitamins, infant food and food for special diets
- Comfort/stress foods such as cookies, hard candy, instant coffee,
3. First Aid Kit
Assemble a first aid kit for the home and one for each vehicle. An approved
American Red Cross kit may be purchased, or one may be assembled with the
- Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
- 2-inch and 4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6 of each)
- Hypoallergenic adhesive tape
- Triangular bandages (3)
- 2-inch and 3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls each)
- Moistened towelettes
- Tongue blades (2)
- Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
- Assorted sizes of safety pins
- Cleansing agent/soap
- Latex gloves (2 pairs)
- Aspirin or nonaspirin pain reliever
- Anti-diarrhea medication
- Antacid (for stomach upset)
- Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison
- Activated charcoal (use if advised by the Poison Control Center)
4. Tools and Supplies
Various tools and supplies may be needed for temporary repairs or personal
needs. Include these items in your disaster supply kit:
- Battery operated radio and extra batteries
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Non-electric can opener, utility knife
- Map of the area (for locating shelters)
- Cash or traveler's checks, change
- Fire extinguisher: small canister, ABC type
- Tube tent
- Matches in waterproof container
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic storage containers
- Signal flare
- Paper, pencil
- Needles, thread
- Medicine dropper
- Shut-off wrench, to turn off household gas and water
- Plastic sheeting
- Mess kits or paper cups, plates and plastic utensils
- Emergency preparedness manual
- Toilet paper
- Soap, liquid detergent
- Feminine hygiene supplies
- Personal hygiene items
- Plastic garbage bags, ties (for personal sanitation uses)
- Plastic bucket with tight lid
- Household chlorine bleach
5. Clothing and Bedding
Your disaster supply kit should include at least one complete change
of clothing and footwear per person. Items to include are:
- Sturdy shoes or work boots
- Rain gear
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Hat and gloves
- Thermal underwear
6. Special Items
Family members may have special needs. Other items you may add to your
- Powdered milk
- Heart and high blood pressure medication
- Prescription drugs
- Denture needs
- Contact lenses and supplies
- Extra pair of eye glasses
Important Family Documents:
Keep these in a waterproof, portable container.
- Wills, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
- Passports, social security cards, immunization records
- Bank account numbers
- Credit card account numbers and companies
- Inventory of valuable goods, important telephone numbers
- Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)
4-Step Family Preparedness Plan
In addition to your family disaster supply kit, develop a family preparedness
plan. This plan needs to be known to all family members. A basic preparedness
plan has four steps: - Do your homework. - Create a family disaster plan.
- Make a checklist and periodically update it. - Practice and maintain
1. Do your homework
Find out what disasters could happen in your area. Contact your local
emergency management or civil defense office and American Red Cross chapter
- Learn which disasters are possible where you live and how these disasters
might affect your family.
- Request information on how to prepare and respond to each potential
- Learn about your community's warning signals, what they sound like,
what they mean and what actions you should take when they are activated.
- Learn about local, state or federal assistance plans.
- Find out about the emergency response plan for your workplace, your
children's school or day-care center, as well as other places where your
family spends time.
- Develop a list of important telephone numbers (doctor, work, school,
relatives) and keep it in a prominent place in your home.
- Ask about animal care. Pets may not be allowed inside shelters because
of health regulations.
2. Create a family disaster plan
Discuss with your family the need to prepare for disaster. Explain the
danger of fire, severe weather (tornadoes, hurricanes) and floods to children.
Develop a plan to share responsibilities and how to work together as a
- Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to occur and
how to respond.
- Establish meeting places inside and outside your home, as well as
outside the neighborhood. Make sure everyone knows when and how to contact
each other if separated.
- Decide on the best escape routes from your home. Identify two ways
out of each room.
- Plan how to take care of your pets.
- Establish a family contact out-of-town (friend or relative). Call
this person after the disaster to let them know where you are and if you
are okay. Make sure everyone knows the contact's phone number.
- Learn what to do if you are advised to evacuate.
3. Make a checklist and periodically update it
- Post emergency telephone numbers by phones (fire, police, ambulance,
- Teach your children how and when to call 911 or your local EMS number
- Show each family member how to turn off the water, gas and electricity
at the main valves or switches.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type)
and have a central place to keep it. Check it each year.
- Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near
- Conduct a home hazard hunt.
- Stock emergency supplies and assemble a disaster supply kit.
- Learn basic first aid. At the very least, each family member should
know CPR, how to help someone who is choking and first aid for severe bleeding
and shock. The Red Cross offers basic training of this nature.
- Identify safe places in your home to go for each type of disaster.
- Check to be sure you have adequate insurance coverage.
4. Practice and maintain your plan
- Test children's knowledge of the plan every 6 months so they remember
what to do.
- Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills.
- Replace stored water and food every 6 months.
- Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries once a
And... In conjunction with the preparedness plan, working with neighbors
can save lives and property. Meet with neighbors to plan how the neighborhood
could work together after a disaster until help arrives. Members of a neighborhood
organization, such as a home association or crime watch group, can introduce
disaster preparedness as a new activity.
Know your neighbors' special skills (medical, technical) and consider
how to help neighbors who have special needs, such as disabled and elderly
persons. Make plans for child care in case parents can't get home.
Preparing Children for Disaster
As you develop your preparedness plan, include children in the planning
process. Teach your children how to recognize danger signals. Make sure
they know what smoke detectors and other alarms sound like. Make sure they
know how and when to call for help. If you live in a 9-1-1 service area,
tell your child to call 9-1-1. If not, check your telephone directory for
the number. Keep all emergency numbers posted by the phone.
Help your children to memorize important family information. They should
memorize their family name, phone number and address.
They also should know where to meet in case of an emergency. If children
are not old enough to memorize the information, they should carry a small
index card to give to an adult or babysitter that lists the emergency information.
Special Preparations for People with Disabilities
People with disabilities may need to take additional steps to prepare
for disaster. If you are disabled or know someone who is, the following
precautions should be taken.
- Ask about special assistance that may be available to you in an emergency.
Many communities ask people with disabilities to register, usually with
the fire department or emergency management office, so needed help can
be provided quickly in an emergency.
- If you currently use a personal care attendant obtained from an agency,
check to see if the agency has special provisions for emergencies (e.g.
providing services at another location should an evacuation be ordered).
- Determine what you will need to do for each type of emergency. For
example, most people head for a basement when there is a tornado warning,
but most basements are not wheelchair accessible. Determine in advance
what your alternative shelter will be and how you will get there.
- Learn what to do in case of power outages and personal injuries.
Know how to connect or start a back-up power supply for essential medical
- If you or someone in your household uses a wheelchair, make more
than one exit from your home wheelchair accessible in case the primary
exit is blocked.
- Consider getting a medic alert system that will allow you to call
for help if you are immobilized in an emergency.
- Store back-up equipment, such as a manual wheelchair, at a neighbor's
home, school or your workplace.
- Avoid possible hazards by fastening shelves to the wall and placing
large, heavy objects on the lower shelves or near the wall. Also hang pictures
or mirrors away from beds. Bolt large pictures or mirrors to the wall.
Secure water heaters by strapping them to a nearby wall.
Special Preparations for the Hearing Impaired
Deaf or hearing impaired individuals will have a more difficult time
communicating after a disaster. People may not realize you can't hear warning
signals and instructions, and may leave you behind. If there is a power
failure, your teletypewriter will be useless, and communicating in the
dark will require a flashlight.
Special Preparations for the Visually Impaired
Blind or visually impaired individuals will have a difficult time after
a disaster if surroundings have been greatly disrupted. In addition, seeing
eye dogs may be too frightened or injured to be reliable.
Have an extra cane at home and work, even if you have a seeing eye dog.
If you are trapped, make noise to alert others. Also keep in mind that,
if electricity fails, blind people can assist sighted people and potentially
- Evacuations during a disaster are a common event. Evacuation procedures
vary by location and disaster. Contact your local emergency management
or civil defense office for specific evacuation plans.
The amount of time you will have to evacuate depends on the disaster.
Some disasters, such as hurricanes, may allow several days to prepare.
Hazardous materials accidents may only allow moments to leave. This means
that preparation is essential since there may not be time to collect the
Evacuations can last for several days. During this time you may be responsible
for part or all of your own food, clothing and other supplies.
Preparing for Evacuation
Advance planning will make evacuation procedures easier. First, you
should have your family disaster supply kit and plan ready. Additional
steps that can aid preparedness include:
1. Review possible evacuation procedures with your family.
- Ask a friend or relative outside your area to be the check-in contact
so that everyone in the family can call that person to say they are safe.
- Find out where children will be sent if they are in school when an
evacuation is announced.
2. Plan now where you would go if you had to evacuate.
- Consider the homes of relatives or friends who live nearby, but outside
the area of potential disaster.
- Contact the local emergency management office for community evacuation
plans. Review public information to identify reception areas and shelter
3. Keep fuel in your car's gas tank at all times. During emergencies,
filling stations may be closed. Never store extra fuel in the garage.
4. If you do not have a car or other vehicle, make transportation arrangements
with friends, neighbors or your local emergency management office.
5. Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main
switches and valves. Make sure you have the tools you need to do this (usually
pipe and crescent or adjustable wrenches). Check with your local utilities
When you are told to evacuate there are four steps you need to take:
1. If there is time, secure your house.
- Unplug appliances.
- Turn off the main water valve.
- Take any actions needed to prevent damage to water pipes by freezing
weather, if this is a threat.
- Securely close and lock all doors, windows and garage.
2. Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts, they
may be blocked.
3. Listen to the radio for emergency shelter information.
4. Carry your family disaster supply kit.
Returning Home After the Disaster
1. Do not return until the local authorities say it is safe.
2. Continue listening to the radio for information and instructions.
3. Use extreme caution when entering or working in buildings-- structures
may have been damaged or weakened. Watch for poisonous snakes in flooded
structures and debris.
4. Do not take lanterns, torches or any kind of flame into a damaged
building. There may be leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
Use battery-operated flashlights for light. If you suspect a gas leak,
do not use any kind of light. The light itself could cause an explosion.
5. If you smell leaking gas, turn off the main gas valve at the meter.
If you can open windows safely, do so.
- Do not turn on lights--they can produce sparks that may ignite the
- Leave the house immediately and notify the gas company or the fire
- Do not reenter the house until an authorized person tells you it
is safe to do so.
6. Notify the power company or fire department if you see fallen or
damaged electrical wires.
7. If any of your appliances are wet, turn off the main electrical power
switch in your home before you unplug them. Dry out appliances, wall switches
and sockets before you plug them in again. Call utility companies for assistance.
8. Check food and water supplies for contamination and spoilage before
9. Wear sturdy shoes when walking through broken glass or debris, and
use heavy gloves when removing debris.
10. After the emergency is over, telephone your family and friends to
tell them you are safe.