When a disaster hits, it can be stressful to think about worst case scenarios. There’s an overwhelming amount of information that you may need to know before, during or after a hurricane, tornado, or flood—and it’s scattered all over the internet, held by different state or federal government agencies with an alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms. 

From alerts and warnings, to what you should put in an emergency kit, to where you can access free legal aid, this glossary covers key things to know during three distinct phases of a disaster: What you need to know to prepare, how government agencies respond to crisis, and resources to help you recover

Amal Ahmed and Carly Berlin contributed to and fact-checked this glossary.

Have a term or topic you need more clarity on? Want to add a resource?


Know Your Risks

What types of disasters are there? What’s the difference between a watch and a warning? What are signs of heatstroke?

Make a Plan

How do I put together an emergency kit? When should I evacuate?


How do I find my evacuation route? What do hurricane categories mean? When is hurricane season?


How do I shelter in place? How do I know when a storm is coming?

Heat Waves

What do I do when there’s an excessive heat warning? How do I check for power outages?


Government Agencies

Which agencies set up shelters? Who is responsible for clean up and aid?


FEMA Guide

How do I apply for aid? What programs am I eligible for?

Legal Aid

What rights do I have as a renter? Can I do anything if my aid application is rejected?