How to Prepare for Emergencies: Five Essential Steps

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Note from the Editor: As part of the buildup to the launch of our “Ruin and Renewal” issue in mid-October, we present a guest editorial on preparing yourself and your neighbors for natural disasters and other community-wide emergencies.

By Derek Smith


Do you have a plan for what to do when community-wide emergency strikes? Whether you’re single and have only to worry about yourself, or you’re part of a family, there are five steps you can take right now to better prepare.

1. Have Readily Available Basic Supplies

You’ve probably heard that it’s a good idea to have a 72-hour kit, but equally as important is having that kit readily available wherever you may be. If your kit is safely stashed in your basement at home, but you’re stuck on the road or at work, it won’t do you much good. You may want to have at least two emergency survival kits (one mobile and one stationary) for this very reason. You can prepare your own kits or buy prepackaged kits. Just make sure they include the basic necessities: first aid, food, water, cooking supplies, utensils, matches, blankets, and any prescriptions or other medications beyond simple first aid.

2. Don’t Forget Clothing

Having an extra set of clothes can add to your comfort in an emergency situation. It can also save your life if you’re struggling with hypothermia and need a dry set of clothes to change into. Like food storage, clothing in your 72-hour survival kit should be rotated from time to time as children grow, waist sizes shrink or expand, and seasons change.

3. Designate Meeting Places

If you’re trying to prepare several family members and/or friends, you should all decide on a safe place to meet in an emergency. Come up with more than one option in case one place is compromised. A local church, civic center, or your own home are good options. Expect communication via cell phones and landlines to be disrupted, so don’t assume you’ll be able to find everyone the conventional way. Pick a spot for everyone to go, and stick to that destination.

72-hour survival kit4. Have Adequate Identification

Something that’s often forgotten in an emergency is having proper identification. This is especially important for children. Adults and teenagers usually carry ID with them in the form of driver licenses, student IDs, and the like. But little children often don’t have an easy way of identifying themselves. There are nongovernmental options for getting ID cards for your children if they get lost or are injured and unable to speak to medical staff. It just takes a little extra preparation.

5. Work with Neighbors

Emergencies can bring neighbors together in a common struggle for survival. You can coordinate with other people in your neighborhood or apartment complex or condominium building to make sure everyone has adequate supplies for many types of disasters. Combine your skills to accomplish more. If someone nearby is an engineer, ask him or her to explain how to shut off natural gas valves or perform other potentially lifesaving actions. If someone is a nurse or doctor, have her or him explain CPR or other basic medical procedures. Or take classes as a group. You can also pool your food and other supplies in case some people are more prepared than others. Many cities have emergency preparedness agencies and activities that can help neighborhoods coordinate, such as Ready Houston and Montana’s Neighborhood Preparedness Party.

A Good Start

There are many ways you can prepare yourself and others around you for natural and human-caused disasters. A great resource to learn more about being prepared is ready.gov. Start there, and be sure to follow through with these five essential steps.


Derek Smith is the owner of Acorn Supplies, an emergency preparedness company that helps people be prepared with emergency survival kits and food storage to sustain disasters.

Natural disaster image courtesy Shutterstock.

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