19 Small, Everyday Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for a Natural Disaster
Spending a little extra time on disaster prep now can make a big difference in an emergency.
When emergencies strike, it’s important to have the big things taken care of—having an emergency checklist, storing supplies, stocking up on emergency food, and knowing emergency contacts, to name a few. But there are actually little things we can be doing, too, to be prepared for an emergency such as an epidemic, quarantine, or natural disaster.
Some aspects of figuring out how to prepare for an emergency entail properly maintaining home fixtures and wiring or playing the long-game of emergency prep, but not all are that way. Most of these small ways to prepare for emergencies take less than 10 minutes, and they set us and our spaces up to be better prepared in case of emergency.
Take a video and written log of your whole house
In case of disaster, you’ll have a record for insurance purposes after a full-house assessment. Send those videos to your email account for safe storage: This will come in handy when you're trying to deal with the aftermath of an emergency.
Scope out danger
While you are looking around your house, make sure flammable cleaning supplies aren’t near a heat source (which can be a fire hazard) and that artwork or mirrors aren’t hanging directly above your bed in case of an earthquake.
Tend to your electronics
Are your appliances and electronics safe? While you should unplug electrical devices during a powerful storm, it’s ideal to also purchase a surge protector, which prevents damage to your devices in case the power goes out. Electronics (and important documents) are susceptible to water damage if they are low to the ground, so move them up to a higher level if you live in an area where flooding is common.
Print a family photo
Store it with your important documents. If your family gets separated and your phone dies, it’s good to have a hard copy photo to show first responders.
Sleep with your bedroom door closed
Make sure to close all the bedroom doors in your house at night. According to the Firefighter Safety Research Institute, it’ll keep you better protected if a fire breaks out in your house and give you extra time to escape.
Store closed-toe shoes under your bed
In an emergency, you won’t want to be looking around for shoes: Put them under your bed for a quick evacuation.
Stash a flashlight in your nightstand
Keep the batteries unopened in the same drawer or the batteries upside down (yes, the wrong way) in the flashlight so you can preserve their power until you really need it.
Have important documents by your bed
Save printed copies of your most important documents (home deed, license, birth certificate, homeowners insurance, passports, etc.) in a waterproof and (if possible) fireproof container next to your bed. (In a pinch, a freezer bag can work.) If you have pets, make sure their important information is included, or they may be turned away from wherever you stay.
Keep an old suitcase
If you are in an area that often has evacuation events such as floods or hurricanes and have extra time to gather belongings, it’s not a bad idea to have an old suitcase in an easily accessible spot. You want to be able to throw important info and other essentials into it and wheel it out the door at a moment’s notice.
Never store water on the floor of your garage
That floor can leach toxic chemicals and absorb water: Always elevate bottled water off the ground.
Have a full tank of gas
If you know an emergency is coming (i.e., a storm is predicted) and it’s one you can evacuate early for, plan ahead and keep a full tank of gas in your car. You’ll avoid the three-hour lines at the pump and get to safety faster.
Have a smaller emergency supply kit stored in your car at all times
This mini emergency preparedness kit will be helpful not only if your car breaks down but also if you need to drive a ways to reach safety in an emergency.
Always keep a charged phone near your bed
A ready-to-use phone means you are ready to call 911 if a fire or other emergency occurs. It also helps to have a portable phone charger ready to go in case the power goes out for an extended period of time.
Keep poison control in your contacts
It’s a good idea to store the number for poison control (1-800-222-1222) in your phone in case of an emergency: You may not have the presence of mind in the moment to look it up.
Know how to change your phone service from 5G to a lower bandwidth
5G may be great for daily use, but it’s not ideal for disasters because it's harder for a call to connect. You can manually change your phone settings to 3G or 4G for a better chance of dialing successfully. It’s helpful to know how to do this in advance. Some phone carriers have this happen automatically during a crisis while others allow users to do this with a few clicks in your cellular settings. (If you still can’t connect, send a text—it often goes through faster in an emergency situation)
Practice using phones in an emergency with your kids
In the event that you are unable to, make sure your kids can open a locked phone, dial 911, give the address, and know what to say to the fire or police department.
Download disaster-specific apps
If you are in an area prone to a certain kind of natural disaster, download the Red Cross app specific to that disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.). An alarm will sound on your phone if one of those disasters is impending, and the app allows you to find safety resources and mark yourself safe in a pinch.
Change your voicemail to alert others you are safe
If you find yourself in an emergency situation and you want to let people know you are safe, change your outgoing voicemail to “I’m OK” or “I am safe” or direct them to your out-of-state designated contact. (Calls will often go straight to voicemail anyway in an effected area). That way, if your phone dies people will know you are OK.
Set a reminder to review your emergency plans often
Kids get older, medical necessities change, doctors’ numbers change, and emergencies change based on geographic location. Set a calendar reminder to review plans at least once a year.
Soraya Sutherlin, MPA, Certified Emergency Manager, Emergency Management Director of JUDY, an emergency preparedness kit provider
Jim Judge, EMT-P, CEM, Emergency Management Director for Volusia County, Florida, and member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council
George Hernandez, IICRC Master Water Restorer, IICRC Master Fire Restorer, Florida Certified Building Contractor and Mold Remediator, and Vice President of PuroClean, an emergency restoration service