Dealing with Disaster: A Brief Guide to Emergency Preparedness

As a resident living fairly close to the Gulf Coast, I’m familiar with evacuating for a hurricane. There’s no way around it — evacuating for a natural disaster is a pain. But, there are things you do to make the process less stressful. Here’s a short list of the things I consider when evacuating.

The most important thing is to have a plan.

Where are you going to go?
My wife’s job requires her to be back to work as soon as the storm blows through, which makes it tricky for us to evacuate &madsh; we can’t go too far away. Our evacuation route is decided based on where we think the storm is going to go. For instance, when Hurricane Gustav came in well to our east, we headed west to my sister-in-law’s house. When Hurricane Ike came in to our southwest, we headed north.

During an emergency, your local government will have an evacuation route that they want everyone to follow, but if you leave early enough you can go pretty much wherever you want to go.

The most economical way to evacuate is to stay with friends or family. This is the best way to go because it’s hard to find an empty hotel when everyone else is evacuating. Just be sure you’re a good guest. Don’t overstay your welcome. If you don’t have friends or relatives that you can stay with and you don’t have money for a hotel, consider a shelter.

What are you going to pack?
For the most part you need to pack like you’re taking a vacation. If you need to evacuate for a natural disaster or other emergency, consider the following:

  1. Clothes and toiletries. Be prepared to be away from home for at least a week — more likely two.
  2. Important papers. I use one of those portable filing boxes to store our most important papers (insurance information, social security cards, birth certificates, employee benefits information, etc.). (Some of these documents may be stored in a safe deposit box.)
  3. Pets. Don’t forget Fluffy. Be sure and take a bottle of water and some pet food. Also, if you have an outside pet, you might want to give a good scrubbing before you load it into the car. I don’t like traveling with a dirty, smelly dog. Washing the dog is my kids’ job.
  4. Food and water. There’s no need to go overboard but it is a good idea to pack some bottled water and maybe a few canned goods.
  5. Computer. This is easy if you own a laptop. It’s important to be able to go online to check in with your local news station and newspaper for important information.
  6. Road atlas. Never leave home without one.
  7. Money. It’s a good idea to have some cash on hand. I usually take $300, which isn’t a lot but is better than nothing.
  8. Phone numbers to your neighbors. I have the cell phone numbers of most of my neighbors so that we can check in with each other to get status reports. One of my neighbors called me to tell me when our power was back on.

Finally, be sure and check on your older neighbors. Are they evacuating? If you have room, take them with you.

What are you going to do with the things you leave behind?
As important as the things you take with you is what you leave behind. Proper preparations can save hassle when you return.

  1. Board up the house. For the first time ever, I boarded up some of the windows of my house. I never did this before because I thought it was too expensive to do. This year I bought six sheet of 1/2-inch plywood and one bag of clips and spent over $114. I then spent an afternoon cutting the pieces to fit my windows and marked each one for storage. When I boarded up for Ike, it only took me a few minutes to secure the boards. [J.D.’s note: Not every disaster requires boarding up, of course.]
  2. Take an inventory of your stuff. My wife went room-by-room and took pictures of everything we owned. Chances are good that you won’t need to use these pictures but you never know. I also have an itemized list of my CD collection.
  3. Unplug all your appliances and electronics. I do leave my answering machine plugged in so that I can check in to see if I have power (if the answering machine doesn’t pick up, I don’t have power).
  4. Pick up loose items in the yard and empty out the shed. One of the biggest problems with hurricanes, tornadoes, and other wind storms is all the debris flying through the air. (And in the case of flooding, there’s plenty of debris in the water.) You can do your part by moving all your patio furniture other loose items into your garage. This is a great job for the kids. Don’t forget that portable basketball goal.
  5. EMPTY THE REFRIGERATOR! For some crazy reason, we didn’t empty our refrigerators for Hurricane Rita. BIG MISTAKE! By the time we got to come back to check out our house, our power had been off a week. I can’t tell you how bad the smell was!
  6. Lock the house. I usually lock the garage doors and unplug the garage door openers.

A little preparation before the disaster can save a lot of headache later.

What about AFTER the emergency?
This is a whole topic by itself but I will say that if your area is hit by a hurricane, tornado, or flood, it could be weeks before you get back power and drinkable water. You have to decide if you’re going to go back and rough it or if you are going to stay away.

Because I’m a big wimp, I always opt to stay away. I don’t have a generator and am not really interested in buying one. I realize that not everyone will have the option to stay away if their job requires them to be back as soon as possible.

You may also be interested in reading The Simple Dollar’s recent guide to surviving a natural disaster.

J.D.’s note: Kris and I don’t have any sort of emergency preparedness plan. Oregon isn’t subject to many disasters, but we do have the occasional flood or earthquake. JLP’s experience is a reminder that advance preparation beats future regret.

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