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Emergency Preparedness: How to Be Ready in Case Disaster Strikes

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Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio were slammed with tornadoes in April, during what the National Weather Service called a “particularly dangerous situation.” Even those not directly affected by the casualties and destruction took to social media to express their concern for the people in the Midwest after seeing photos and videos of the clouds and funnels.

The thing is, natural disasters can occur anywhere, at any time. Have you put together an emergency preparedness plan for yourself and your loved ones? If not, here’s how to get started.

Know Your Area’s Risks and Make a Plan

Knowledge is power, so make a list of the types of disasters that occur where you live. Beyond searching online, contact your local health department, emergency management office, or the American Red Cross to determine whether you should prepare for flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, wildfires, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Next, make a simple plan for your family to follow. This should include at least one out-of-town emergency contact and a location for everyone to meet if they can’t make it back home.

Have a Disaster Kit Ready, Plus Food and Water

A disaster kit should be portable and easy to grab should you need to evacuate, and it must include such items as comfortable walking shoes, first aid supplies, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, batteries, waterproof matches, blankets and/or a sleeping bag and jackets, and emergency medicine. The Red Cross sells basic and deluxe kits online, which can give you an idea of what to pack.

The CDC recommends having three days of food and water on hand. Canned food and dry mixes are fine, and you should store one gallon of water per day for each person and pet. Two weeks’ worth of water is ideal.

Protect Important Documents

Keep copies of important documents, including driver’s licenses, credit cards, bank statements, and insurance policies, in a fireproof and waterproof safe. Hold everything together in a Ziploc bag that you can easily grab in case of emergency. You may also want to store electronic copies of each document, along with photographed proof of the items in your home. Be sure to have emergency cash on hand, too, in case you can’t access your bank account or an ATM after a disaster.

Be Financially Prepared

Having the right insurance is another vital step. Talk to your insurance agent about exactly which disasters your policy covers, because homeowners’ or renters’ insurance may not be enough. A typical policy covers losses from hail, hurricanes, fire, and wind storms (including tornadoes), but not from earthquakes and flooding. You may need to buy special policies for these natural disasters, such as a flood policy under the National Flood Insurance Program. Remember to also look into whether your insurance policy pays for replacing personal items lost in a disaster or if it just covers their depreciated values. If insurance seems too expensive, consider a higher deductible to get your premium lower so you can still have some coverage.

Disaster can strike unexpectedly, but you can be ready for it (as ready as possible, anyway) by having an emergency preparedness plan with both physical and financial contingencies clearly laid out.