How to Prepare for Natural Disasters

It’s important to prepare your family for any potential natural disasters, whether it’s hurricane, tornado, flood, or earthquake. Learn House Call Doctor’s tips on how to create an emergency plan and kit for your family.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read
Episode #107

How to Prepare for Natural Disasters

For the past few weeks I’ve felt helpless and full of deep sorrow as I watched Hurricane Sandy unfold its angry wrath on the grief-stricken people living on the East Coast. All the homes filled with memories and hard-earned businesses, along with the numerous innocent lives taken, left all of us on the West Coast feeling somber and feeling rather guilty for being so far away. But we also felt grateful for having the basics in life – like the roof above our heads, food, and most importantly, our lives.

Yet even for those of us who live on the West Coast, there’s always whispers about “the big one,” an earthquake bigger than anything we’ve ever experienced, that could change our lives forever. And it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” The recent hurricane has prompted me to revisit my disaster kit, one that I created after I started working for the department of public health. That’s why I thought now would be an opportune time to share my knowledge and training with House Call Doctor listeners to hopefully impel you to develop your own disaster kit and emergency plan. Whether you live on the East Coast, West Coast, or somewhere in between, you will likely experience a natural disaster at some point in your lives. So let’s be as prepared as possible.


Tip #1: Create an Emergency Plan

First and foremost, sit down with your family and household members after dinner one evening, soon, and devise an official Emergency Plan. Place it in writing and in an easily accessible location (like pinned to the fridge). You may want to make a copy for each family member. In your plan, include:

  • Escape Routes: An exit strategy from every single floor of the home in case a disaster requires an evacuation. Devise at least two escape routes from the home and designate a meeting place outside.

  • Household Member Contacts: A list of every household member’s cell phone number and email address.

  • Emergency Contacts: A list of emergency contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. 

  • Service Providers: A list of names and phone numbers of your service providers – such as gas, electricity, cable, and telephone companies.

  • Healthcare Providers: A list of names and phone numbers of your family’s health care providers, physicians, and care takers.

  • Other Numbers: A list of important numbers – such as for banks, credit cards, licenses, insurance companies.

  • Medication List: A medication list for all family members. Include the name of the drug, the dose, number of times a day taken, and the reason you are taking that medication (for example: high blood pressure).

  • Out of Town Contact: Select a family member or friend who lives out of town that your family members can reach to check on each other – this person should be far enough that they would not be affected by the same disaster.

  • Utility Education: Learn and review how to shut off the water, gas, and electricity. Turn off utilities only if you suspect damage or if you are instructed to do so. If the gas line is shut off, it requires a professional to turn it back on – do not attempt to do this yourself.

  • Review CPR: Your family may want to consider learning CPR and/or first aid. Contact your local Red Cross for certification courses. 

Tip #2: Call Your Insurance Company

Many home insurance plans do not include fire, flood, and earthquake coverage. Call your insurance company and ask if you have natural disaster coverage. Dealing with the loss of your home (and hopefully never a loved one) is enough to suffer through. What you don’t want is the added financial stress of having to rebuild without insurance coverage. Find your state’s Department of Insurance online and read through their helpful guides on how to purchase insurance prudently while avoiding insurance scams.

To learn more about earthquake insurance go to EarthquakeAuthority.com and Insurance.ca.gov

Tip #3: Create an Emergency Supply Kit

Taking the time to create a good emergency supply kit is very important. Use a large duffle bag or an unused trash can with wheels and a lid to store your supplies. Keep the heavier items and the clothes and bedding on the bottom, the food in the middle, and lighter items on the top. Here’s a checklist of what to include:

  • Bottled water: at least a 3-day supply at 1-2 gallon per day per person in the household

  • Non-perishable food: at least a 3-day supply at 1-3 pounds per person per day. Good examples: canned goods (don’t forget the non-electric can opener), dry milk, nuts, crackers, dried fruit, peanut butter, granola, etc.

  • Plastic utensils

  • Battery-operated or crank-powered radio (to listen to the news or messages)

  • Extra batteries

  • Flashlight

  • Blankets

  • Poncho/rain Gear

  • Sturdy shoes

  • Warm clothing, gloves, jackets

  • Prescription medications (at least a 7 day supply)

  • Non-prescription medications: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, antacids, etc.

  • First Aid kit: gauze, bandages, tape, scissors, disinfectant, latex gloves, antibiotic ointment.

  • Personal hygiene products: toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, soap, towels.

  • Special items: for infants, pets, or people with disabilities.

  • Extra eyeglasses

  • Credit card and cash (preferably small bills or quarter rolls)

  • Extra plastic trash bags

  • A whistle: to use if trapped or threatened

  • Matches (in a waterproof container)

  • Swiss Army knife/multi-purpose knife

  • A small fire extinguisher (ABC type)

  • A wrench: for gas valve 10 inches (25 cm)

  • Duct tape

  • Important documents: wills, insurance, investments, birth certificates, household inventory and photos. Place these in a water- and fire-proof container.

  • Photos of your high value belongings (for insurance purposes)

  • A copy of your family emergency plan

See also: How to Document for Homeowners Insurance

Make sure to note expiration dates on food, medications, and water and replace them accordingly. Non-perishable foods often need replacement every 6 months. In general, however, it’s a good idea to revisit your Emergency Plan with your family every 6 months and revisit your kit at the same time.

Be prepared, without regrets. And most importantly stay calm.

Have you ever experienced a natural disaster? What item did you find very useful? Share it with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Duffel Bag image from Shutterstock

Medical Disclaimer
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.