In October 2012 during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, more than eight million households on the east coast of the United States were without power after the most devastating storm to hit the region in over two centuries.
The majority of grocery store shelves were bare and resource rationing was in effect in many areas. Even with emergency responders flooding the region from all over the world, services were stretched beyond capacity. Some households would wait over two months before services like power and water were fully restored.
Severe weather, civil unrest, infrastructure failure – it’s clear that emergencies can come in many forms. Emergency responders are typically on-site immediately after an emergency, but depending on the scope of the incident, it could be several hours, or several days until they reach you.
Here are four simple steps you can take to sustain your household and protect your family until help arrives:
Have a 72-Hour emergency kit
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having 72-hours of supplies on hand at all times. An emergency kit is an array of items your household would need in the event of an emergency until help arrives
Make sure your kit is ready to be transported in case you are unable to remain in your location.
FEMA provides an example of a starter kit at their Ready Campaign website. They recommend including:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
(We recommend keeping food on hand that requires minimal fuel and water to prepare)
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
A few other items we also recommend keeping on hand:
- $100 cash per person (ATMs or card transactions may not be available)
- Spare propane tank, to ensure fuel for water sanitation and food preparation
- Spare medications (Discuss with your doctor, many will provide you a prescription for backup medications)
Develop a plan
- Many cities and counties have services available that will send local emergency alerts to your phone, e-mail, and other devices. Check your city or county’s website to sign up for alerts.
- In times of emergency, cell phones and internet may not be available. When cellular networks are congested short text messages have a better chance of getting through than phone calls, but do not rely solely on cell phones as part of your plan.
- Establish emergency meeting places in case meeting at your home is not an option. Decide on a location in the neighborhood, another outside your neighborhood, and one outside your city/town.
- Make sure that everyone in the household is familiar with multiple routes home or to emergency meeting places from their work or school.
- Designate a single person outside the affected area to leave messages with and coordinate with household members who cannot communicate directly.
- Keep a paper copy of important numbers and locations on each person.
If you need help getting your plan started, FEMA makes sample plans available at the Ready Campaign website.
Practice your plan and review your kit
At least once a year, practice your plan with your household. This includes double checking your emergency routes home and backup meeting locations. Rehearsing your plan will allow you to respond quicker to an emergency, and will relieve a great amount of the stress from the situation, especially for children.
Also take this time to review your kit and make sure you replenish any items that may have been used over the course of the year. Be sure to cycle out perishable items with upcoming expiration dates.
Get started now
If you wait to prepare until danger is on the horizon, it’s too late.
Once an emergency becomes known there is a rush for supplies. It is unlikely that you will be able to secure the items you need to sustain your household.
Additionally, in times of emergency, you may not be able to communicate with the members of your household. With a well-rehearsed plan in place, your household won’t need to rely on communications before taking action.
Other steps you can take to shift your preparedness to a whole new level include:
- Take a First Aid/CPR course, available via the Red Cross and others.
- Talk with your neighbors, friends, and families to coordinate plans.
- Take a Community Emergency Response course from FEMA.
- Take an amateur radio course.
- Keep your car fueled and maintained. You may have to travel dozens or hundreds of miles unexpectedly. Never drive on empty.
- Familiarize yourself with historical emergencies and strategize how you might prepare your family for such an event.
Hurricane Sandy caused $65 billion in damage in the U.S., making it the second most damaging hurricane in American history behind Hurricane Katrina. Many of the lessons learned during Katrina helped improve disaster response to Sandy.
A survivor in New Jersey survivor recalled being without electricity in the wake of hurricane Sandy. All of the food in his fridge and freezer was spoiled, and he was unable to use his electric stove. Additionally, most of the gas stations in the area were closed, and those that were open were rationing fuel and had 3 to 4 hour waits.
Luckily he had taken the necessary steps to prepare in advance. He made sure he had sufficient food, water, flashlight batteries, and propane to provide for his family. On the 3rd day, electricity was restored, and the region slowly began to rebuild.
FEMA and other federal, state, and local agencies have made great strides in disaster response over the past 20 years, nevertheless it’s important to the safety of your household that you take the necessary steps to be ready to sustain yourself until help arrives.
None of us expect an emergency to happen, and the steps you take today could save your life, or the life of a loved one.
Learn more at the Ready Campaign website.