Plan for the Unexpected

Natural Disaster and Catastrophe Planning

Severe weather events don’t often give you much time to prepare, and Mother Nature has been throwing a lot of energy our way. The hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, earthquakes, and floods that have battered the United States in recent years take a heavy toll on affected communities. No matter where you live, you’re likely to encounter some form of severe weather. Assessing your position now and planning ahead can make the difference between safety and disaster for you and your family. We invite you to use this outline to help you make advance preparations for catastrophic events.

Create a Family Emergency Plan

Your family’s wellbeing is the most important thing to ensure during a severe weather crisis. Creating a family emergency plan can help you plan for crisis situations, keep control, and let family and friends know your plans. Use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Family Emergency Plan” to coordinate your family’s activities during an emergency.

Inventory Your Belongings

Create an inventory of your belongings so that you have a comprehensive list and proof of ownership to which you can refer in case of a loss. You can use various methods to create your inventory, but please, do create one.

Use a home inventory mobile app.
  • The Know Your Stuff® Home Inventory app for iPhones® and Androids® is free from the Insurance Information Institute. This password-protected, secure app captures information about your possessions that you would need for insurance purposes.
  • MyHOME for iPhones® and Androids® is free from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and available on iTunes® and Google Play.
Use a still or video camera to record your belongings in each room.
  • If you are using a still camera, write down the model numbers and information about where you bought the item, if it was inherited, or a gift.
  • If you are using a video camera, narrate the information as  you go
Record appliances, furniture, artwork, clothing, linens, rugs, drapes, jewelry, electronics, art and craft supplies, sports equipment, etc. If you own it, record it.
  • Make sure you record the contents of draws, closets, cabinets, attics, cellars, garages, and out buildings.
  • Keep receipts in one location and place copies in a secure place, such as your safety deposit box or with friends or family out of state.
  • Store your inventory records in a safe place, and keep them updated.

Prepare an Information Resource List

Gather contact information for national, state, and local organizations that can provide assistance or crucial information before, during and after the event. Don’t rely on one method of contact; remember that phone lines may be down or organizations could be overwhelmed by callers; include both phone numbers and URLs on your contact list. If you live in a storm-prone area, give the list to a friend or relative in another state so they can alert authorities if you are out of contact for too long. Upload the list to your mobile devices and place hard copies in your emergency supply kit.

  • Local Emergency Management Office
  • Hospitals
  • State, county and city/town government
  • Utility companies
  • Police and fire/rescue departments
  • TV and radio stations
  • Local American Red Cross
  • Insurance agent and/or company

Mobile Apps

The Red Cross has a variety of mobile apps that can provide extensive information about first aid, shelter availability, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, etc.

  • FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), offers a free app that includes safety tips, storage of local emergency meeting locations, open shelters maps and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). FEMA also offers a text message service.

Clothing and Supplies

Pack clothing and important tools in a waterproof, portable container. Each person should have at least one complete change of clothing and shoes and adequate bedding.

  • Rain gear, waterproof footwear, and socks
  • Long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • Sturdy shoes or work boots and work gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat, gloves and thermal underwear for cold weather areas
  • Sleeping bag/blankets

Tools and Supplies

  • Cell phone, tablet, camera and charging equipment
  • Plastic storage containers
  • Tube Tent
  • Mess kits, or non-breakable, disposable cups, plates, and utensils
  • Battery and/or hand-crank flashlight and extra batteries
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Non‐electric can opener, utility knife
  • Small ABC-type fire extinguisher
  • Signal flare
  • Battery‐operated/hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries
  • Wallet, checkbook and cash or traveler’s checks, change
  • CompassPliersShut‐off wrench (to turn off household gas and water)
  • Medicine dropper (to measure bleach)
  • Wide, waterproof, sturdy tape
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper, pencil or pen
  • Needles and thread
  • Whistle (to alert rescuers if needed)
  • Emergency preparedness materials (such as  a first-aid manual)Map of area (for locating nearby shelters)
  • Sanitation supplies
    • Soap, detergent, hand sanitizer
    • Personal hygiene items
    • Plastic garbage bags, ties
    • Paper towels, toilet paper, moist towelettes
    • Large plastic container with tight lid
    • Disinfectant
    • Household chlorine bleach (can be used as a disinfectant (diluted nine parts water to one part bleach) and to treat water. Use 16 drops of household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color- safe or bleach with added cleaners.

Food and Medications and Medical Equipment

  • Pack non-perishable foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little to no water to prepare. If hot food will be necessary, include small portable stove with a contained fuel source (e.g. Sterno®) and metal cookware in your supplies. Include enough non-perishable food each person for three days.
    • Canned meats, fruits, and vegetables
    • Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, store extra water)
    • Nut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
  • At least one gallon of water per person, per day for at least three days
  • If applicable, infant formula and food for those on special or restricted diets
  • Prescription medications in the original bottles (to show the pharmacy, medication name, dosage, and prescribing physician) and supplements
  • Extra prescription glasses (if available)
  • Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, canes and other assistance devices (if applicable)

First-Aid Supplies

Your first-aid kit should include the following:

  • Dust mask or cotton cloth
  • Sterile adhesive bandages
  • Assorted sizes of safety pins
  • Cleansing agent/soap
  • Rubber or latex gloves
  • Sunscreen
  • 2‐inch sterile gauze pads
  • 4‐inch sterile gauze pads
  • Triangular bandages
  • 2‐inch sterile roller bandages
  • 3‐inch sterile roller bandages
  • Non‐prescription drugs
  • Aspirin or NSAID pain reliever
  • Anti‐diarrhea medication
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Needle
  • Moist towelettes
  • Antiseptic
  • Thermometer
  • Tongue blades
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Laxative
  • Antacids
  • Syrup of Ipecac (Use to induce vomiting if advised by Poison Control Center)

Important Documents

Gather important documents and place them in a portable, waterproof container. This is especially important if you do not also have copies in a safety deposit bank.

  • Will, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
  • Passports, social security cards, immunization records
  • Bank information (including account numbers)
  • Credit card information
  • Inventory of valuable household goods
  • Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)

Pet Supplies

  • A three-day supply of bottled water  and a three-day supply of food
  • Water/food dishes
  • Travel crates/cages
  • Collars with license and vaccination tags, harnesses, leashes
  • Plastic bags for cleaning up after your pet and sanitary wipes
  • Any required medications
  • Vaccination records
  • Towels or bedding
  • Litter and litter plan (for cats and other small mammals) and newspapers
  • Photo of your pet (a photo that shows your pet with you is optimal)
  • Your pet’s favorite bed or toys – they offer the comfort of familiarity

Securing Your Property

  • Purchase and store repair materials BEFORE a storm hits. If an event causes widespread damage, supplies of crucial emergency repair items could be depleted for weeks. Make sure you have plastic sheet, lumber, nails, duct tape, and other items you can use to prevent further damage from occurring before permanent repairs can be made. Keep all your receipts for insurance or tax purposes.
  • If high or hurricane-force winds are forecasted, covered windows with shutters or plywood cut to fit. Please note that taping your windows does not prevent them from breakage by flying debris.
  • Scan your yard for anything that could become wind-borne debris and cause damage or injury. Lawn and deck furniture, bird feeders, hanging pots, planters, fallen fruit, children’s toys, garden equipment, sports equipment, etc. Secure it in a shed, cellar or other area.
  • Unplug electrical equipment and appliances other than freezers and refrigerators; if flooding is not a concern, turn your freezer and refrigerator to the coldest settings to help preserve the food in case of power outage.
  • Move items that could be damaged by wind or water to more secure areas of your home. Try to place them away from windows and above areas likely to flood. Add protection by wrapping them in blankets or other soft materials. If flooding is likely, items stored in the basement should be moved to a higher area, or placed on shelves if possible.
  • Check with elderly or disabled neighbors to see if they need help.

Prepare for Evacuation

Evacuating your home is always stressful. Being aware of issues and planning for them can help you keep some control and stack the odds of a successful evacuation in your favor.

Planning Your Departure

  • Contact friends or family with your Family Emergency Plan information and local organization contact list and let them know your plans.
  • Tune your battery/hand-crank radio to storm information and follow local evacuation instructions.
  • Don’t wait until conditions are so severe you cannot get out.
  • Pack your emergency supplies and make sure they are in waterproof containers.
  • Consider shutting off water, propane gas, and electricity before leaving.
  • Unplug electrical equipment and appliances
  • Close and lock your home’s windows and doors. Please be aware that the idea that leaving windows open to reduce damage in high winds is a myth.
  • Wear sturdy, practical clothes and footwear.
  • Be aware of the recommended evacuation route and where emergency shelters have been set up.
  • Make sure you vehicle has a full tank of gas. Don’t wait to fill your tank until conditions force you to evacuate. Gas stations may shut down, run out of fuel or lose power and be unable to supply gas.
  • Keep your evacuation routes and destination options flexible in case the recommended route may become unusable or choked with traffic. Be aware some alternate routes may be blocked to traffic and bridges may be washed out.
  • Never drive through flooded areas – the water may cover live power lines, debris or sinkholes.
  • If you do not have a car, listen to the radio closely to see what transportation options are available.
  • Take your pets with you if at all possible. If you are going to a public shelter, be aware you pet may not be allowed. If there are nearby areas unaffected by the storm, search for lodgings that allow pets. See if family or friends could take care of you pet until you can safely return to your house.
  • Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.
  • Check with neighbors who may need a ride.


Weather patterns have changed and bring more severe events more often. Odds are very good that you or someone close to you will be affected to some extent. These guidelines can help you prepare so when an emergency comes, you’ll be ready.

Additional Resources

Sleeping bag/blankets
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