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PM Pediatrics
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Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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Disaster preparation kit flat lay. Items needed for disaster preparedness

How To Be Prepared For a Natural Disaster

[Originally published September 2018]

I think my favorite weather word with regards to hurricanes is “spaghetti model.” You know what those are— the tv meteorologists draw out the various potential trajectories of the storm in skinny little curving lines up the coast, usually ending up right at your front door– know what I mean?  No good reason why this word is my favorite; I just think it’s a catchy image for this kind of weather prediction.

This week there are a few hurricanes lurking out in the Atlantic ocean, threatening the East Coast of the USA, and as I watched the news with the most recent weather report and SPAGHETTI MODEL, I decided to look through my catalog of blogs and pull out the emergency preparedness one to publish right away. Except I actually don’t have one already written on this topic. So here it is. I’ve lived through a few hurricanes & blizzards, both at home and in the emergency department, and learned a few things along the way that I’ll share in the hopes that it might divert a problem or two.

First of all, the day before the predicted emergency is NOT THE TIME to be getting ready. That’s when all your neighbors are getting ready, and you want to be ahead of the game. So the absolute BEST time to get ready for a natural disaster is when there’s no impending doom, when the grocery store shelves are full and there’s no line at the gas station. But that’s not this week in the southeast United States. The word is out, and you need to get on your mission of preparing. It’s hard to get everything together in one day, so if you have a few days that really helps.

Next, assemble what you need. Here’s a list of items I’ve found that are good to have. There are certainly more comprehensive lists out there, but I’ll leave it to you to search those out that include things such as “can of tuna.” Just know that you need some food that your people will eat and that doesn’t have to be refrigerated.

So here’s my core list:

  • Water: one gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days
  • Cash
  • Gas
  • Whatever you need for your grill/BBQ to work
  • Food: 3 day supply of non-perishable food
  • Medicine & any medical technology battery pack
  • Baby food & diapers
  • Batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Charger for all devices (& get them charged before the predicted start of the emergency)
  • First Aid kit & feminine hygiene products
  • Pet supplies
  • Bleach
  • Paper towels and towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Bucket
  • Matches
  • Candles
  • Can opener
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Whistle
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Radio
  • Pen & paper
  • Whistle
  • Home evacuation plan
  • Important documents
    • passport, license/other identification, health insurance and other insurance documents
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Multi purpose tool, like a swiss army knife
  • Camera
  • Extra keys
  • Books/games
  • Waterproof clothing/shoes

Once these items are all collected it’s important to get them into one waterproof bin that won’t get destroyed and you know where everything is (especially if you have to locate it in the dark).

In addition to keeping important documents in a waterproof bin, take pictures of them on your cell phone so you have a back-up plan.

Even if your devices are already charged, it won’t hurt to get an external battery charger for your phones & other devices in case the power goes out for longer than expected. I’ve heard of some that allow for up to nearly 7 full charges and they aren’t very expensive.

palm trees blowing in tropical storm

Lessons learned:

  • I live in Houston, where Harvey was a big fat bully to us last year…. please, if your home starts to flood inside, take a hammer, axe and some kind of bar for leverage (monkey bar)… if flood waters rise and you escape to the attic, you just might need to punch a hole in the roof to escape rising waters. Some folks were trapped in their attics here in Houston last year and could not escape. If trapped in a car with flood waters, roll the window down or break it to escape (screwdriver is good tool to keep in your glovebox). The pressure of water will require hundreds of pounds of pressure to swing the door open… not a practical means of escape. God be with y’all.   -Mike, Texas
  • If the power goes out, you can’t use an ATM to get cash out or credit cards to pay for anything. I learned my lesson after Hurricane Sandy!   -Shannon, Long Island
  • One thing they started doing in Massachusetts a few years ago was to ban driving during blizzards, which had a huge positive impact.  It let the workers (plows, utility, etc.) do their jobs more safely/efficiently, allowed healthcare workers to have less clutter on the roads to get to work, and, let emergency crews focus on real emergencies instead of rescuing people who got stuck because they have to get their Starbucks. Plan appropriately to Shelter-in-Place.  Do not create an unnecessary situation where YOU now need to be rescued that could have been avoided and could remove that resource from helping others in true need and without a choice.   -Jason, Massachusetts
  • Lesson learned after Sandy – fill your car up with gas beforehand and limit your driving!               -Megan, Long Island
  • We keep bottled water and snacks in the basement. Also, once it starts to look bad, fill bathtubs with water. We have lots of big trees around our house, so we head to lower levels with extreme wind. Also, always have a sufficient supply of chocolate.   -Sabah, Maryland
  • If you can, a backup generator is invaluable, given can the increasing frequency and intensity of storms. I bought a cheap gas powered one from Home Depot many years ago, and it got us through Sandy and two blizzards! We got enough watts to power fridge, couple of lights, and space heater.   -Eric, New York
  • Pre-established evacuation routes and/or a meeting place should everyone get separated or cell service drops out. MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) make great pre-packaged food if you need to Bug Out. They don’t always taste great, but they have the calories needed for daily activity. Many people will design and package their own MREs. Beef Jerky, Ready-to-go Tuna fish packets, crackers, small packs of nuts, granola or energy bars, etc. in a Ziploc baggy. I also like to keep a Rain Poncho or Rain gear close at hand during the Hurricane Season. Most of all, pre-plan. Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. – one of the many mottos I live by.                             -Jonathan, Texas
  • Evacuation plan if needed, appropriate clothing in the likely event of flooding (wellies and rain coats) and some basic medicines in a zip lock bag. Lots of zip lock bags. This weather is crazy!      -Samantha, Maryland
  • Keep snacks, water, shovel and extra blankets in your car in the winter.  It took 3 hours for me to get from Boston to my home 20 miles away – wasn’t even a blizzard, just a lot of snow at rush hour so plows couldn’t clear it fast enough. If you don’t believe the weather man, at the very least you should subscribe to your local (county) or state Emergency Management office Facebook or Twitter accounts.  They have great tips and are pretty spot on with road closures, evacuation routes, travel bans and local shelters. – Toni, Massachusetts
  • Charge your phones and your portable power banks. Also, stock up on acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Murphy’s law will have ear pain come while lights are out (and PM Pediatrics may be closed briefly).   -Eileen, Long Island
A man paddles his kayak in the flood on the suburban streets of Clear Lake, Houston, Texas, from the rainfall from Hurricane Harvey.

A man paddles his kayak in the flood on the suburban streets of Clear Lake, Houston, Texas, from the rainfall from Hurricane Harvey.

Communication, Safety, and Sanity:

It’s crucial to be aware of government emergency communications to the public- whether via your cell phone or radio.

If you are storing an extra tank of gasoline, keep it in an approved container that meets requirements for gasoline storage. Keep it in an area where it is unlikely to spill, far out of children’s reach, at least 50 feet away from any heat source, and in a well-ventilated area.

One thing important to know is that if you have a technology dependent person in your household and your battery pack operating their pump or device runs out of energy, most of the time you can “plug in” somewhere like a school that has been designated by the local government as an emergency center. Not sure if one has been named? Call 311 to ask for assistance. I know of situations where people have just tried to show up at a local fire station but if the crew is out on a call then that trip will be a bust, so try to determine the correct place to go prior to heading out.

In these situations a good attitude helps of course, and big doses of patience, flexibility, and collaboration too. Help your neighbor. Use common sense.

I asked my daughter to do a quick search to see if I’ve missed anything major and the one item she read off that I liked quite a lot was: “Letter of hope and love.” That’s one I need to add to my core list.

Stay safe, everyone, and may the spaghetti model change dramatically for the better in the next few days.

Other Emergency Prep Resources:



FEMA (continued)


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