Firefighters hand out bottled water during Jackson's month-long boil water notice. Photo by Imani Khayyam

The best time to prepare for a disaster is well before it’s on the horizon. But putting together a kit, planning for an evacuation, and stocking up on essentials can be expensive and time consuming. Some states, like Texas, offer tax-free holidays for emergency supplies which can help reduce the costs.

Below we offer a starter guide for disaster planning. Consult your local government, mutual aid organization, or local nonprofits for more information about low-cost or free resources.

Making an Emergency Kit

If you live in an area where threats like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires or other natural disasters are frequent, having emergency supplies on hand in an easy to reach place will help you shelter in place for a few days before or after the disaster. You can also take this kit with you in your car if you need to evacuate to a nearby shelter or out of town.

Put these items in a waterproof backpack, box or bag:

  • One gallon of bottled water for each person in your house, for 3-5 days.
  • Nonperishable canned goods and a manual can opener
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • First aid supplies: bandages, antibacterial creams, ibuprofen or aspirin, tweezers, antiseptic wipes, tissues and gauze.
  • Supply of essential medications that you and members of your household require.
  • Hygiene products like travel size toothpaste, soap, menstrual products
  • Baby products like diapers, formula, etc. if needed
  • Pet care items, if needed
  • Written list of emergency contacts
  • Cash
  • Electronics chargers
  • Personal protective equipment for COVID-19: face masks, hand sanitizer
  • Games, toys, books or other fun items to entertain yourself and your family
  • Copies of important documents (See below.)

(Source: FEMA)

Get a generator, if you can

Make copies of your important documents

After a disaster strikes, it is important to have documents establishing your identity, medical needs and your financial information. Government agencies or insurance companies may require you to submit some of these documents and information if you need to apply for aid, especially if your home is damaged during the disaster. You can upload copies of these to a flash drive, and store it in your waterproof emergency kit. Or, print physical copies and place them in a waterproof document folder or cover, so they do not get destroyed, lost or damaged.

Store copies of these documents in your emergency kit, and remember to take them with you if you evacuate.

  • Government issued ID, such as a drivers’ license for for each member of your household
  • Proof of citizenship or legal residency for each member of your household (passport, green card, etc.)
  • Social Security card for each member of your household
  • Documentation of your medical needs, such as medications or special equipment such as oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, etc.
  • Health insurance card
  • Car title and registration documents
  • Pre-disaster photos of the inside of your house and belongings
  • Copies of your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy
  • For homeowners: copies of your deed, mortgage information, and flood insurance policy, if applicable
  • For renters: a copy of your lease
  • Financial documents such as a checkbook or voided check

(Source: Ready.Gov)

‘Make copies of everything’: Documents to have in case of a hurricane

Many Americans turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help in the long road to recovery after a disaster. The agency is tasked with providing individuals with financial assistance for a variety of situations, from home repairs to medical expenses.  You can only apply for aid if the natural disaster you were impacted…

Evacuation Plan

In extreme situations, the safest course of action might be to evacuate– and in some cases, local governments might call for a mandatory evacuation across a particular region ahead of an emergency. Making a plan ahead of time could save valuable time in a crisis. 

How Will I Get Out?

  • If you will drive your own car: Try to fill up gas as soon as local watches are issued. Gas stations and other services may be closed later. 
  • If you do not have a car: Check with your local emergency management office at the county or city level about transportation assistance. You may need to register in advance of hurricane or fire season for assistance.
  • Special Needs Assistance: Some counties and cities also offer specific assistance for elderly and disabled people in case of emergency. Call your local emergency management office to find out what assistance they may provide. Typically, you must register in advance of hurricane or fire season. 

Where Will I Go?

  • Determine if you can stay with relatives or friends in another area that’s unlikely to be affected by the same event.
  • Write down list of hotels you may be able to drive to if you can’t stay with others. 
  • For emergency shelters: Download the FEMA App, which will update information regarding public shelters operating during the crisis. 
  • Not all public shelters accept pets. If you will evacuate with your pet, check with your local emergency managers about this, or plan to find a hotel that allows pets indoors.
  • Check with your local emergency management office for the best routes out of town. Many counties or cities keep maps listing the recommended roads, as well as which roads may be closed or dangerous. Remember to check the routes before evacuating.

Who Is Coming With Me?

  • Check in with your neighbors, friends and relatives who may need assistance with evacuating. Make sure you have their phone numbers and addresses written down or stored in your phone.
  • If you will be evacuating with other people, plan to have enough snacks, water, medication and other essentials with you in your emergency kit.  

What Should I Take With Me?

  • Have a go bag ready: This can be your emergency kit which you’ve already prepared. Take your important documents (see above), cash as well.
  • Subscribe to local weather and emergency alerts– emails, texts, etc. Monitor those alerts ahead of the weather event.

(Sources: Ready.Gov, Insurance Information Institute)