It seems we read and hear about natural disasters nearly every day in the news, yet for most, it’s still so easy to take on that “it’ll never happen to me” mindset.
The truth is, though, a disaster or emergency situation could happen to anyone. In fact, even FEMA says far too many people think they don’t need to worry about disasters where they live.
“Emergency preparedness is not only for Californians, Midwesterners and Gulf Coast residents,” the organization notes. “Most communities may be impacted by several types of hazards during a lifetime. Knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.”
According to Robert Richardson, founder and writer at Off Grid Survival, a top emergency preparedness and survival website, when it comes to preparation, one of the first steps you should take involves assessing your risk based on where you live.
“When preparing for any type of disaster, the first place you need to start is to take a good look at what types of disasters have historically affected your region of the world,” Richardson said. “Next, you want to find out how people reacted to those disasters in the past. How did first responders handle the situation, were there localized dangers that happened as a result of the disaster that you need to be aware of?”
Richardson explained that in his experience, people make the mistake of diving into a preparedness plan without having a good understanding of the threats they face. On his site, he offers a complete risk and threat assessment guide.
September is National Preparedness Month, so if you haven’t already reviewed your risks and created an emergency preparedness plan, right now is a better time than ever to get started.
To get started, Richardson suggests first focusing on the basic necessities of life. “That means stocking up on water, food, shelter and self-defense protection,” he said. “For small scale-disasters you should have at least two-weeks’ worth of emergency supplies on hand at all times — plan on being without access to outside services for at least that amount of time.”
Richardson also recommends developing an emergency evacuation plan.
“Depending on the disaster, there may come a time where staying inside your home becomes a threat to your health and safety,” he explained. “Natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes can quickly cause a situation where you are forced to leave.”
This, Richardson noted, means you should also have an “emergency go-bag” (filled with emergency gear) ready and waiting to go and a concrete plan detailing where you will go and how you will get there.
Beyond that, once you’ve determined which types of disasters you're most at risk for, it’s important to know the unique challenges you may face with each and what to do if they arise.
Here’s a look at some of the most common natural disasters that occur in the U.S. and what you can do to prepare for each.
According to the Unites States Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. states most likely to be hit by an earthquake include Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Washington. However, FEMA notes that all 50 states and even the five U.S. territories are at some risk for an earthquake, which can happen at any time of the year.
How to Prepare: “Before an earthquake occurs, secure any items that could fall and cause injuries,” said Sean Scott, a disaster restoration contractor by trade and the author of the disaster preparedness and recovery book, The Red Guide to Recovery - Resource Handbook for Disaster Survivors. “Museum putty works great for small items and wall anchors can be used to secure furniture.” He also said you should identify safe places for cover, like under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an interior wall in your home, office or school. “Practice how to ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On,’” Scott added. “When the shaking starts, you drop to the ground, cover your head and neck with your arms, and hold on.” Additionally, beforehand, you’ll want to make sure you’ve stored critical supplies for you, your family and any pets, and don’t forget to establish a plan for how you will communicate with family members. Scott suggests the American Red Cross Safe & Well website as a critical communication resource.
AccuWeather reports that Florida (Miami, Tampa and Key West particularly), North Carolina (Cape Hatteras) and Louisiana (New Orleans) are among the top U.S. areas most at risk for hurricanes. Of course, like with most of Mother Nature’s wrath, no area is immune to this type of disaster.
How to Prepare: Again, in the event of an evacuation, it’s important to know where you plan to go and what route you’ll take to get there. Scott also suggests that you have a disaster supply kit on hand. It should include a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies and copies of your critical information. If you’re not advised to evacuate and choose to stay, it’s important to make sure you’re stocked with adequate supplies including light and water in case utilities become unavailable. Additionally, if you know a hurricane is on the way, you should trim or remove damaged or dead tree limbs to help protect your home and property.