Lately, we have seen more than our share of natural disasters. Hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes the world over have set new records in terms of lost lives and of costly destruction. Recent natural disasters have caused unprecedented damage, causing dozens of deaths, thousands of people to lose property, and millions to evacuate their homes in search of safe refuges.

What would you and your family do if you were forced to evacuate, but you only had a short time to do so? Most natural disasters strike very quickly, giving little or no warning before life-threatening conditions arise. A disaster plan is a critical tool in the arsenal of protection, helping to provide a blanket of safety for your loved ones, your property, and your financial assets. In this series of blog posts, we will discuss the steps needed to create a disaster plan, including tips on protecting personal records, health, and finances.

Creating a Family Disaster Plan

What is a family disaster plan? In simple terms, this is a set of steps you and your family can take if an emergency should occur. Once it is developed, it is of absolute importance that every family member understands what the plan is and how to implement the steps at a moment’s notice.

Each disaster plan is different; every family has their own unique circumstances, and these should be addressed as you develop your own plan. In general, here are some helpful suggestions to get you started on your plan:

  • Be aware of the types of natural disasters that are likely in your area. Some areas may experience the effects of hurricanes, while others will have to worry about tornadoes, wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes. When discussing which disasters could occur in the region where you live, make agreements about what each family member is expected to do if one a disaster strikes.
  • Identify the safest place(s) in your own home to shelter if you are unable to evacuate. This could be a door frame, a cellar or basement, or an interior room with no windows.
  • If an evacuation is ordered by authorities, know your evacuation route(s). Mapping evacuation routes in advance, even identifying shelters or hotels along the way, is a great way to stay ahead of the game if you should be forced to evacuate your residence.
  • Identify meeting places should your family members be separated during an evacuation. Sometimes referred to as “rally points”, you should pick two or three places to meet – one close to your home, and others away from your area.
  • If you have children, teach them about dialing 911, including how to make the calls and the appropriate times to call fire stations or police.
  • Create a checklist of property-protecting steps to take in the event of a natural disaster or emergency evacuation. This should include how to turn off utilities (water, electricity, gas), a plan for removing and securing outdoor property, and even things like hanging window shutters.

Disaster Supply Kits for Home and Personal Use

A great way to get prepared for the potential of a natural disaster is to assemble disaster supply kits. Many people choose to place these kits in both the home and family vehicles so that they are ready at a moment’s notice. A disaster supply kit should be in something easily portable, such as a duffel bag or backpack or even a plastic tote. That way, if you need it, you can grab it and go.

A disaster supply kit should include:

  • A gallon of water per day, per person, for at least three days. Water is critical for survival if fresh water supplies are compromised by a disaster.
  • Shelf-stable foods (freeze-dried or canned/packaged) that require minimal preparation. Cans of soup, freeze-dried meals, energy bars, and snacks are great choices for quick meals on the go. Be sure to include plates, cooking utensils and vessels, and plastic tableware in your kit.
  • At least one change of clothing per person.
  • Bedding or sleeping bags.
  • An emergency radio, flashlights, and the batteries needed to power them for several days.
  • Basic hand tools, such as a multi-tool, a Swiss Army knife, and a selection of wrenches and screwdrivers. Do forget about including a can opener!
  • Copies of all vehicle and house keys.
  • Any prescription medications needed, including copies of prescriptions to be filled elsewhere.
  • Cash to cover expenses for at least three days during an evacuation event.

Remember that if you have pets, you’ll need to provide for them during an evacuation. Be sure to include food and any necessary medications for your furry family members. Additional information about disaster kits and emergency preparedness can be found at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website or the website of the American Red Cross.

Protect Lives, Health, and Income When Disaster Strikes

In the event of a natural disaster, your and your family’s physical well-being are of utmost importance. Lives and health are precious. However, you should also consider financial well-being, protecting your assets from loss in case of the inability to work due to a disaster or health issue.

If you were to die in a disaster, would your family be able to survive without your income? Life insurance policies are designed to help families manage financially when the income-earner should die unexpectedly. Health insurance is another important aspect, not only for you but for your entire family. Be aware of what your health insurance covers and what it may not cover, especially in a disaster event.

Finally, an emergency fund is a great way to ensure financial security, regardless of what happens. If you’re injured or develop an illness, this emergency fund can pay for household expenses while you are unable to work. Financial experts recommend setting aside funds for three to six months of family expenses, and this money should be kept in a place that is easy to access, like a money market fund or a simple savings account. Keep cash on hand for emergencies as well. One other way to protect your family is by purchasing disability income insurance, which can help cover expenses if you become disabled.

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