How to Better Weather a Disaster: Tips for You and Your Family

Oct 23, 2017

Emergency kit with radio, lantern, batteries, first aid kit
Virtually every area of the U.S. is prone to certain disasters, and those of us who live in the Bay Area need not be reminded of this given the recent wildfire destruction of October. Natural disasters and other emergencies often strike quickly and without warning, and this is no less true in Northern California, where in addition to fires, we face potential threats from earthquakes, mudslides, flooding, tsunamis and more. To be ready to cope with a catastrophe, it’s important to consider that emergency services will likely be unable to respond to every household’s needs in the immediate aftermath of the event and that essential services may not be immediately restored. Following are tips on how to prepare yourself and your family to cope on your own for the first 72 hours following a major disaster:

Get emergency kit(s) prepared: You can create them yourself or purchase pre-made disaster supply kits from various providers like the Red Cross, but you should have quick access to basic emergency items assembled together for your home, vehicles and possibly even your workplace. The key is to have provisions for the entire family, including food and water, for at least three days. Find a complete list of essential items to include at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also provides a helpful video on assembling a disaster preparedness kit at

Put a plan in place for your family: As it’s entirely possible that your family won’t be together when a disaster occurs, it’s critical that you have a clear strategy on how you will communicate with members of your household and determine responsibilities for each person as appropriate. Make sure that you have set a meeting place and designate an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of communications. Also review escape routes out of your home and neighborhood, and rehearse different disaster scenarios with your family members. For help in creating and practicing an emergency plan for your family, find a template at

Think ahead about your pets’ care: Pets are especially vulnerable during a disaster, as they may easily become frightened and run away from familiar surroundings or become separated from caretakers. Make sure that you have current photos of your pets and that animals such as dogs and cats wear up-to-date collars and identification tags. Also consider having them microchipped with your current address and phone number.

In general, you should never leave your pets behind if a disaster strikes. Plan to take them with you if you are forced to evacuate but know that many disaster shelters cannot accept animals because of safety and health regulations. Check the policies of shelters near you ahead of time, and locate pet- boarding facilities and animal hospitals on evacuation routes if necessary. Also research pet policies at hotels and motels outside your immediate area and/or ask friends or relatives if they could take your pet temporarily if necessary. And put together essentials for your pet in an easy-to-carry bag or container, including feeding and care instructions and medical records (don’t forget vaccination information). For more tips on how to keep pets safe in natural disasters and other emergencies, visit

Learn safety fundamentals for typical emergencies in your area: It’s not uncommon to feel out of touch with current safety practices and proper procedures to follow in a disaster. After all, for some of us, it may have been decades since we’ve undergone any formal training to prepare for catastrophes. To learn what to do in typical emergencies such as earthquakes, floods and fires, visit Of course, basic training in life-saving skills is also invaluable during a disaster. You can find courses and certifications in areas such as First Aid, CPR and AED at

Get familiar with how the alert systems work in your area: Lastly, don’t neglect to learn how emergency notifications are provided in your community. As an example, San Francisco has a text-based notification system for residents and visitors called AlertSF that sends emergency alerts to wireless devices and email accounts. 

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