Disaster prep: kits, shelter and know-how for the next calamity

Items for the disaster preparedness kit: preserves, candles, rope, batteries, etc.

One of the first things you can do in disaster preparedness is to put together a go-bag and a shelter-in-place kit. These are essentially disaster supply kits, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications and copies of your critical information in case you need to evacuate.

It’s never too soon to start building a kit. These are commercially available, but they can also be easily put together with things found online or at the dollar store. Put this together knowing that, following a disaster, there may be power outages that could last for several days.

At Ohio Task Force 1 (Ohio’s FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team), we have to be self-sufficient with food, water and fuel for at least 72 hours. Some of these principles hold for you, too.

Stock canned foods, dry mixes and other staples that don’t require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Be sure to include a manual can opener and eating utensils.

Emergency supplies list

Three-day supply of non-perishable food (dried fruit, canned tuna fish, granola bars, peanut butter, etc.). See below for specifics.

  • Can opener, paper plates, paper towels, plastic cups and utensils
  • Toiletries, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, feminine hygiene supplies, moist towelettes or bathing wipes, and garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medication and glasses
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for everyone in your family
  • Change of clothes to last for at least three days, including sturdy shoes; consider the weather where you live
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Dust mask, plastic sheeting and duct tape, to help filter contaminated air if sheltering in place
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Cell phone with charger, extra battery and solar charger (I have a solar charger that also charges at a regular outlet).
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Local maps
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Emergency reference material, such as first-aid book or information from ready.gov
  • Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, ID and bank records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Pet supplies
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or your child’s favorite stuffed animal or security blanket

Planning for water in a disaster

  • You need 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days (for drinking and sanitation).
  • A normally active person needs about three-quarters of a gallon of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluid daily. Individual needs vary, depending on age, health, physical condition, activity, diet and climate.
  • Buy commercially bottled water (when possible) and store it in the sealed original container in a cool, dark place.
  • If commercially bottled water is unavailable, use household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper to treat water. (In an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color-safe or bleaches with added cleaners.)

Suggested emergency food supplies

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, trying to avoid high-sodium food or foods that will make you thirsty.

The following items are suggested when selecting emergency food supplies. You may already have many of these on hand.

We bring MREs (meals ready to eat, used by the military), but these can be expensive.

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener
  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • High energy foods
  • Food for infants
  • Comfort/stress foods

Managing food without power

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it's unopened (if power is out more than four hours, food may not be good). Refrigerated or frozen foods should be kept at 40° F or below for proper food storage. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check temperature.

Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more. Foodborne illness is not something you want in your family or running through your team.

What to know about evacuating

With severe weather and natural disasters, if you’re ordered to evacuate, know the local evacuation routes to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Never ignore an order to evacuate.

Review your evacuation plan with your family. You may have to leave quickly, so plan ahead. Keep your car in good working condition, and keep the gas tank full; stock your vehicle with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.

Unfortunately, most of the casualties in many storms have been victims who ignored orders to evacuate or drove into flood waters.

What do to if you’re advised to stay, or forced to “shelter in place”

To effectively shelter, you must first consider the hazard and then choose a place in your home or other building that is safe for that hazard. For example, for a tornado, a room should be selected that's in a basement or an interior room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls.

The length of time you’re required to shelter may be short, such as during a tornado warning, or long, such as during a winter storm or a pandemic. It’s important that you stay in shelter until local authorities say it’s safe to leave.

Specific guidelines for oncoming tornadoes:

  1. Close storm shutters if you have time, and stay away from windows. Flying glass from broken windows could injure you.
  2. When a tornado warning has been issued, immediately go to your safe location.
  3. Pay attention to local weather alerts.
  4. Cover your head or neck with your arms and put furniture or blankets around or on top of you if a tornado may be close.

Know that a "tornado watch" means that the conditions exist for a tornado to form, and a "tornado warning" means that a tornado has been spotted either visibly or over radar detection. 

The safest type of house to be in during a tornado is a standard constructed home with a basement to retreat to, or an interior room if there's no basement available. Single-story homes might be safer than multi-story homes.

If you're in a mobile home, leave the mobile home and seek more substantial shelter. Mobile home parks should provide communal tornado shelters.

If you're in a car, it's safer to stay in a car than to seek shelter in a ditch or in a mobile home. This recommendation is different than it was in the past, because car designs have improved and become safer. However, do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Try to get to substantial shelter if possible.

If you're outside and can't get into a building, lie low in a ditch face-down while covering the head. Cover your body as you can, such as with a blanket or coat.

The bottom line

Plan how you’re going to communicate with family members if you lose power. For example, you can call, text, email or use social media (Facebook has a safe check-in feature you can use in a disaster). Remember that during disasters, sending text messages is usually reliable and faster than making phone calls because phone lines are often overloaded.

I hope disaster never strikes you or your home. If it does, I hope these tips on preparedness help. More information about disaster preparedness can be found at https://ready.gov.

When an emergency strikes, turn to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s full-service, state-of-the-art emergency departments

Our facilities are equipped to handle any medical emergency.

Find a location near you


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