Catastrophic weather or other major disasters can impose hardships on your family, pets and property. Hurricane Michael offers a valuable reminder to take a proactive approach and prepare ahead of time for the unexpected.
BBB and Consumer Reports compiled a list of smart steps you may need to take to protect yourself in the event of an emergency.
Emergency Preparedness Kit
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends pre-packing an emergency supply kit in case you need to evacuate your home in a hurry. This “go bag” should include vital supplies to take care of you and your family for the first 72 hours following a disaster. Your emergency preparedness kit should include food, water, a first aid kit, plastic bags, and a flashlight.
Whether you buy a kit or build it yourself, a well-stocked medication bag could save your life during an emergency. Your first aid items should be packed in an easy-to-carry, water-resistant kit and stored in a secure, dry, cool place in your home that’s easy to access in a hurry. Remember to check your kit periodically and dispose of and replace any out-of-date supplies.
Here’s what to include in your medication bag:
- A copy of your health insurance card
- 7+ days’ worth of over-the-counter and prescription medications you take on a regular basis
- An antihistamine, such as Benadryl or Claritin for allergic reactions
- Pain relievers, including Tylenol, Advil, Motrin IB or Aleve
- Stomach and antidiarrheal remedies, such as Imodium, Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol
- An antacid, such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids or Tums for heartburn
- Antiseptic wipes
- An antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, Bacitracin Plus or Curad for infected wounds
- Bandages, gauze, and tape for treating burns, cuts and wounds
- Mosquito repellent to prevent bites, and aloe gel, hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to soothe skin irritation
- An eyewash solution for flushing out eye irritants
- Water-purification tablets
- Scissors, tweezers and a thermometer
Disaster Planning for Your Pets
Like their owners, pets should also have a “go bag” at the ready. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) strongly urges that pet owners always bring their animals with them if they must evacuate their homes in an emergency. If it’s not safe for humans, it’s not safe for animals.
You can contact your local emergency-response agencies and find out which shelters allow animals and what requirements they may have, such as medical records. Boarding and kennel facilities, veterinary offices, and animal shelters may also provide housing during natural disasters or other emergencies.
The ASPCA recommends stocking your pet’s go bag with the following:
- 3-7 days’ worth of food (dry or pop-top cans)
- 7+ days’ worth of bottled water
- Medical records and a two-week supply of any medication your pet requires
- Traveling bag, crate or carrier
- Feeding dishes
- Extra collar and leash
- Recent photos of your pets
- Cleaning supplies (paper towels, dish soap, garbage bags, disposable litter trays, disinfectant)
Prepare Your Home Before Evacuating
For peace of mind during an emergency such as a hurricane, try to complete as many of these tasks as possible, while it’s still safe to do so, before evacuating your home.
Document your belongings. FEMA suggests taking photos or video of what’s in your home to provide useful documentation if you must make an insurance claim. Take pictures of each room from different angles, individual shots of valuable items, and in the case of electronics, a shot of the model number and the serial number.
Clear your yard. Make sure water can flow away from your home by storing loose debris like patio furniture, grills, bikes, and planters inside. You don’t want anything to become a projectile or potentially blocking storm drains because any water buildup could cause your home to flood.
Brace every opening. Cover all your home’s windows. Additionally, seal any cracks around windows and door frames. Open holes in a house during a hurricane can cause depressurization – the calm air on the inside meets a whirlwind on the outside – which can cause a house to collapse.
Elevate items that rust or corrode. Unplug appliances and move any portable appliances and electronics to higher ground. TVs, speakers, and generators need to be several feet off the ground, such as on counter tops or on the second level of your home in case of the ground floor floods.
Turn off the power and water lines. FEMA recommends shutting off the electricity and main water valve if you can do so safely before evacuating. To turn off power, find your circuit breaker panel and set the main circuit switch to off. To shut off the main water valve, find the water meter typically mounted on the side of your house, then the water main valve below it, connected by a pipe. You may need to use a wrench to turn the valve clockwise to shut off the water supply.
Digital Tips for an Emergency
While the top priority in storm preparation remains securing the safety of people, pets and property, packing the right electronics, keeping them powered, and using them wisely can make a huge difference in staying connected and safe during an emergency.
Here’s how to prepare your electronic devices for a natural disaster:
Pick the right gear. The most important electronic device to bring with you is your smartphone. It could become the primary way you summon help and track your relatives in a disaster. If you’ll be away from home for weeks at a time, a laptop or tablet may provide a vital tool for everything from contacting relatives to looking for a hotel room or transferring money between accounts.
Conserve device power. You can save energy on most phones with the battery-saver mode, which disables automatic updates and notifications. You can also reduce your phone’s display brightness and turn off the auto brightness feature to conserve device power. Consider turning off Wi-Fi capabilities if you’re away from a Wi-Fi network and refrain from using power-draining apps unless they’re totally necessary.
Pack it in plastic. To keep your devices safe and dry pack them in a variety of zipper-seal bags. Use sandwich-sized for smaller phones, quart-sized for larger phones and AC adapters and gallon- or jumbo-sized for tablets and small laptops.
Get help with 911. Text to 911 service has been rolled out in some areas. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggests trying to make a voice call first, however, texting can offer an important backup option at times when the cellular system is stretched too thin that voice calls fail while text messages can get through.