Emergency Preparedness

by Stephanie Stambaugh

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When most of us are just trying to get by day to day and pay check to pay check, it seems impossible to even consider planning for some unimaginable emergency like a hurricane, a blizzard or a flood. However, the reality is that if it costs more for us to live day to day, it will cost more for us to survive a disaster.

Taking immediate action to be prepared for any "what if" that may come along does not necessarily have to be stressful or costly. If you do a little preplanning and start a steady building up of supplies, getting through any disaster, natural or otherwise, is possible. In fact, most of the planning you will do won't even cost you a dime.

Here are the six most crucial steps to help get you started.

1. Make an emergency action plan.

Begin your action plan by immediately gathering up everyone in your household, even children, and discuss the "what ifs." Talk about various scenarios even if you feel they are unlikely to happen. Decide where you will come together as a family if you are separated. For instance, if there is a fire, everyone should meet at the mailbox, or if you cannot reach your home, then everyone should meet up at the grocery store a few miles away. Reassuring everyone that they will be accounted for and that you have a safe place to be together must be your first priority.

2. Make an emergency contact list.

Make a list of important phone numbers. Generate a list that is appropriate for every family member. Have children keep their list in their backpacks, or for infants, place it in their diaper bag and car seat. Parents should also consider carrying copies of driver's licenses, birth certificates, important passwords and recent photos of each family member in case you cannot reach your home.

3. Make a supply list.

Before you even consider buying any emergency supplies, you need to make a detailed list of everything you will need in case of a disaster. First begin with calculating how much water and non-perishable food you will need for yourself and your family for no less than three days. Consider eventually increasing that amount to a three-week supply, but do it in increments after you have your initial three days' worth of supplies accumulated. Check your state's emergency preparedness website for a complete list of supplies and how much you should have on hand for each person, or you can visit www.ready.gov or www.redcross.org.

4. Check the cupboards before you buy.

Just because you have a cabinet full of food today, doesn't mean you have enough to survive an emergency. Nor can you count on your water to work or be safe to drink. So when determining how much you need, do not count any water or non-perishable food you currently have on hand unless it's meant for emergency use. You should also not count other supplies on hand that you use on a regular basis like candles, batteries, or medications.

5. Stock up without breaking your budget.

Do not buy everything at once; instead, add one to five things to your shopping list each week, making emergency water supplies your first priority. Food, extra medication, batteries, and first aid supplies should be next. If you need high dollar items, such as plywood for windows in a hurricane zone, then start buying a sheet of plywood every few weeks until you have enough on hand to cover all of your windows.

6. Store your supplies.

As you begin to build your emergency supplies, do not store them with similar items you use everyday. Instead, store supplies in a place that is easily accessible, such as a ground floor closet. Even a set of plastic containers that you can stack are excellent for storage and portability. You can also make individual emergency kits in backpacks, so they can be grabbed quickly if there is an evacuation. Do not, however, place water and food items where they can be exposed to extreme heat or cold, as in a garage or a storage shed. Also, be sure to periodically check expiration dates on items and replenish supplies if they are used.

Remember, taking no action at all puts you at greater risk should an emergency arise. Work on each of the six steps in order as best you can. Even if you can only accomplish the first four steps listed here, you will feel more empowered knowing you can work on the last two as your budget allows.

Stephanie Stambaugh lives in Denver, Colorado where she cyber schools her two children and works as a freelance writer. She began emergency preparedness plans for her family nearly ten years ago after toughing it out during a Colorado winter storm.

Take the Next Step:

  • First, you'll want to make an emergency action plan. Begin your action plan by immediately gathering up everyone in your household, even children, and discuss the "what ifs." Then move on to Step #2.

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