Disaster Preparedness, Part 1 of 3: Preparing Your Home

It’s February, and the winter weather has so far been wonky all over. While my part of the country is enjoying an unseasonably warm winter (which we will pay for with drought this summer), we have been hit with flooding and windstorms. Meanwhile, the east coast just suffered through blizzards last week, and the weather forecasters say more cold will be coming.

That’s winter for you: not necessarily warm or cold, but usually crazy. And that’s why we have to be prepared in order to keep ourselves and our families safe. We can’t know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us, but we can be ready to survive it.

Although you’ve likely seen plenty of advice about stocking up on supplies at home in case of a disaster, we’re going to tackle three kinds of disaster preparedness over the next three weeks. The first will be what you need to do to be prepared at home, but we’re also going to use the next two posts to talk about how to be prepared when disaster strikes when you’re not home. Stay tuned for those…

To get us started in developing a safety-first mindset in the face of natural disasters, here are 5 steps toward disaster preparedness at home:

Step 1: Get started
The first step in any disaster preparedness plan is to get started. Thinking about doing it, telling yourself you should do it…none of that moves you or your family any closer to safety. The only thing that gets you closer to being ready is to get started.

An easy way to get started is a visit to Ready.gov. This website is chock full of information and can take you from start to finish. It even offers advice for disaster planning for businesses.

Step 2: Know what to prepare for
The supplies you’ll need to stock up on and the steps you’ll need to take depend on where you live, and I don’t mean just where in the U.S. For example, we live far outside of town. If a disaster were to strike, we could very well be cut off (and have been) by fallen trees or flooded rivers. We need to be prepared for that. If we lived in town, on the other hand, we would be walking distance from other people and possibly stores and supplies. Plus the distance from town means we always have extra gas on hand for our vehicles.

Your region does affect your preparedness too though. If you live in New England, you need to be ready for snow and very cold temperatures. If you live in the South, tornadoes might be your biggest threat. And California? Earthquakes. Ready.gov can help you here too. There’s a whole section on “Know Your Risks.”

Step 3: Make your list
You’re probably not going to be able to do all of your disaster preparation all at once, due to both time and money limitations. So start with your list. Know what you need in the way of groceries, water, fuel, batteries, heat, communications, etc. and then make a commitment to regularly check things off that list, keeping in mind the costs. Buying extra flashlights, for example, won’t cost as much as buying a generator, so budget accordingly and spread your costs out if you need to. If some items are a higher priority than others, prioritize the list.

A note about stocking up on food: When I first started stocking up on emergency supplies of food, I worried about keeping track of how old things were, and how smart (or stupid) it was to stock up on canned foods only. Then a friend taught me her trick: She keeps at least two of everything in the house, and rotates through them so she always has a backup supply but she doesn’t have to worry about food getting too old. For example, if I buy two bags of flour, I have a backup, but I don’t put the extra away indefinitely. The backup becomes my new bag when I use up the first one and then I replace the backup. This system has worked great for me, and I don’t ever need to worry about food getting too old, whether it’s a bag of flour or a can of chili. Plus it means I have more than canned food and peanut butter on hand!

Step 4: Train your family
All the disaster preparedness is for naught if the rest of your family is not prepared. Make sure everyone in the household knows what is on hand for emergencies, on an age appropriate basis. In our house, for example, our daughter knows where in the kitchen to find the emergency flashlights and lantern, but she doesn’t know anything about the generator because that’s not something we’d ask her to fire up if she were home alone. (On the other hand, we do need to teach her how to get the fire in the woodstove started!)

Also make sure the family knows any protocol to follow in the event of a disaster striking when you’re not home. We are going to cover more about this in the next blog post.

Step 5: Know what didn’t work and adjust
With each little disaster, like a lightening strike that takes out the power plant (which is what happened to us two years ago), you’ll discover what you are or are not prepared for. Keep track! Make lists of what you needed but didn’t have, or that you used up and need to replace. Make each incident a learning experience for being better prepared the next time.

The first time the power went out at our farmhouse (during the lightening storm), we realized we couldn’t use the cordless phone (and cell phones don’t work where we live). It was while my husband was deployed and the power was out all night long, for over 8 hours, with no phone, no radio or TV, no way to know what was going on. I am embarrassed to admit we still haven’t replaced that phone with a regular phone that will work in a power outage, but it is on the list!

Above all, be prepared
My Eagle Scout son used to say, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” as a Boy Scout motto, and that’s about the best advice anyone can offer when it comes to preparing for a disaster. We certainly never want one to happen! But neither do we want to be caught unprepared if it does! Take the first step toward being ready, and then keep on getting ready, so you’ll be able to do the best for your family if something does happen.

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