You can’t always prevent a disaster. But you can always plan for one. In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into how to create a disaster preparedness plan that will help you prepare for just about any disaster you and your family may face.
When completed, you’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing that, no matter what challenges lie ahead, you’ll be ready for it.
So let’s begin.
The most effective way to build a well-rounded disaster preparedness plan is to approach it in steps. In this article, we’ll cover the 4 most critical steps you need to take as you build your plan.
- Risk Assessment
- Plan Creation
- What to Plan For
- Building A Great Bug Out Bag
Step #1: Risk Assessment
Even in ordinary times, life is full of risks. Those risks can run anywhere from just walking out your front door to something as awesome as an international nuclear disaster.
Scary, but not so much if you recognize the threats and plan to meet them head on.
Let’s say there’s a disaster that directly affects you and your family—a massive flood, hurricane, fire, or even a nuclear attack. Where are your vulnerabilities?
- How much food and water will you need to last anywhere from 3 to 30 days or more?
- Do you have a safe shelter in case you can no longer access or remain in your home?
- What if you are forced to move? Where will you go?
- What is your family’s communication plan if cell service is lost and electricity is gone?
- How do you plan to preserve and access important documents you might need to rebuild your life, should that become necessary?
- If someone in your family has medical needs, how will you provide for them in the chaos that often occurs during a disaster? No pharmacies, no doctors, no help when you need it most.
- Are you vulnerable to attack from roving bands, robbers, etc.?
- How will your family protect itself from harm?
- How will you protect and provide for pets in an emergency?
Most people never think about these risks to their safety. They assume there will always be local services (police, fire, medical) to assist them.
But in many calamities, local services quickly become unavailable for varying periods of time. That window of time—between suddenly having no services to having some or all—is the danger period.
Those are the risks you have to plan for.
Step #2: Create a Family Disaster Plan.
Once you have identified the risks that face you and your family, it’s time to think about how to minimize the effects of those risks should they turn into actual disasters.
But more than just thinking about them, let’s put it down on paper.
Identify Each Risk. Using the list of risks we laid out above as starters, write out and label each risk that could affect your family. Look for additional risks that might be specific to your family or community.
Identify The Consequence of Each Risk. Write down what negative results might occur occur should that risk become reality. For example, if high winds destroyed your local food sources, how might that affect your family? How long might that consequence last?
Identify How to Minimize or Neutralize Each Risk. What can you do in advance to help ensure the risk does not become reality? For example, if the risk is running out of food or water, you could minimize it by creating an emergency food pantry. What would that pantry have to contain? What is the shelf life of the food and water supplies in the pantry? How much will you need? What items should be included?
In other words, in your disaster preparedness plan, write out the steps you need to take and the considerations you have to make in order to create a food pantry that can keep your family fed should local stores and supermarkets be unavailable for any length of time.
When all of this is done, move on to each of the other risks you have identified and do the same.
Meet with Your Family And Discuss Your Disaster Preparedness Plan. They will need to know and understand what is in the plan and why. Explain the dangers of disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, fires and so forth with your children.
Explain how planning in advance makes them safer, more secure.
Discuss what each family member is to do in each scenario. Pick meeting places they should go to in a sudden emergency such as a fire. Be sure each member has the cell numbers of each other member.
Discuss what to do if authorities call for evacuation. Coordinate with family members or close friends in distant locations with whom you might shelter with for short periods of time. Discuss these plans with family members who should be informed.
Discuss escape routes you could take should it become necessary. Plan alternate routes should your primary route be blocked or closed.
Discuss how you have planned for the safety of your pets, if you have any.
In short, share your disaster plan with your family and get them on board with it. The more they know, the safer they’ll feel.
Create a Disaster Preparedness Planning Binder. This is where you’ll store both your plan and all the materials associated with it.
For example, your binder is a good place to store copies of drivers licenses, birth certificates, deeds and other important papers or records. Don’t forget to include insurance policies, lists of phone numbers and addresses of family, friends and other contacts.
It’s also a good place to store video recordings (on a thumb drive) of your home, garage and surrounding property. Include videos of not just individual items but also serial numbers, make and model numbers, and price of purchases (along with receipts if you have them).
Keep a separate copy of this video in another location such as a safe deposit box.
Practice Your Plan With Your Family. Once completed, you don’t want to store your disaster preparedness plan in a file somewhere and ultimately forget it.
Instead, bring it out every several months for review by both yourself and with your family.
Run through the different scenarios you’ve built into your plan and see if everyone knows his role and what to do, where to gather, etc. If you need to make improvements, this is a good time to make them.
Step #3: Make Detailed Plans for Specific Disasters
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to disasters. The risks may differ from region to region.
For one thing, if you live in the deep South, you (likely) will not have to worry about a disastrous blizzard shutting your community down. If so, it would be extremely rare.
Nor, if you live in the upper border states, should you have to worry about (most) hurricanes, especially if you’re far inland from the coast.
So when you’re creating your comprehensive Disaster Plan, you need to consecrate only upon those disasters that might happen in your location.
Let’s take a look at some of those to see the kinds of situations we all have to worry about no matter where we live:
One of the most important disaster scenarios you need to plan for is an extended food shortage. That’s a situation where the food supply chain suddenly constricts or dries up, leaving you without an easy way to find or buy food.
If you recall the recent (2022) baby formula shortage or the supply chain hiccups that left barren shelves for many essential food store items, then you know that this is not a remote risk in this day and age.
How can you plan for food shortages?
We’ve already mentioned emergency food pantries. One of the best disaster preparedness steps you can take is to plan now for a food shortage, building your emergency supplies well in advance of any supply chain disruption.
There’s no better step you can take right now
than starting your food pantry program.
Your pantry plan should address what to store, how to store it, how to maintain it, and when to replace it. We recommend you set aside a monthly budget to go with your plan, and stick to it.
Pandemics are another disaster that should be familiar to you. But bad as COVID was, it could have been even worse. What if your community were forced to shut down entirely, with no one allowed to leave their homes?
In countries like China, this is exactly what happened.
In such a scenario, how prepared are you right now to handle it? Your disaster preparedness plan should address the different threats that come from scenarios as well as how you might handle them.
For example, what medical supplies should you have on hand at all times? What sanitization products should you have stored away just in case?
List as many of these supplies as you can in your plan, along with a budget, and start stocking up now.
Not everyone is in danger of flooding. But did you know that new flood maps show U.S. flood damage rising by 26% in the next 30 years due to climate change?
If you’re at risk of flooding, your disaster preparedness plan needs to address just how you handle that risk. You should be assessing how rising water levels could damage your property, force you to evacuate or even close off your current escape routes.
Plan also how you could get out quickly if necessary. What would you bring with you? Where would you go? What changes might you have to make to your property in advance of such an event?
Again, as part of your comprehensive disaster preparedness plan, planning in advance for the preservation of both your home and your possessions could save both your belongings and your life.
Consider yourself fortunate if you live in an area not normally affected by hurricanes. They bring disastrous amounts of wind and rain, and can create serious damage and injury, even if you live inland from the coast.
The hurricane section of your disaster preparedness plan should look more like a checklist. First you write down all the disaster preparation tasks related to a hurricane into one big list, then when a storm is imminent, you begin checking off the list.
You need to scope out potential evacuation routes, and include them in your emergency binder. Identify where you might stay should the order come for everyone to leave the area.
Next, think about what you need to do about strengthening your home, covering windows and doors, bringing in outside furniture and other high wind hazards. Consider putting up hurricane shutters.
Check with neighbors and work with those (the elderly, the infirm, etc.) who may need assistance.
Gather enough supplies for up to 3 days and store them in your go bag or car trunk.
During the storm itself, if you have not evacuated, take refuge in a designated public or private storm shelter or an interior room away from high winds. If the water rises, do not climb into a closed attic.
Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters.
After the storm has passed, do not touch electrical wires or equipment that may be down in the streets. Avoid wading in contaminated flood waters. Use your phone only for emergencies or to let relatives know you’re safe.
Learn about FEMA’s hurricane safety measures, and follow them as much as possible.
Much like hurricanes, tornadoes can significantly damage buildings, vehicles and people.
If you are under a tornado or severe weather warning, it’s critical that you remain connected to the news. Follow local TV weather broadcasts or tune into NOAA Weather Radio to stay abreast of breaking news.
Take shelter in a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or a small interior room on the lowest level of a strong building (hopefully that’s your home!). If out on the road, do not seek shelter under an overpass or bridge. You’re safer in a low, flat location.
In your disaster preparedness plan, identify the best and safest ways your family should act when a warning is issued. Have each family member understand who goes where and when. Ensure that you have emergency supplies in place, along with food and water, medicine kit and medications as necessary.
Blizzards and other severe winter storms can wreak havoc with local roads and services. Planning ahead on just how to prepare for such events could be a life saver.
The Blizzard/Winter Storm section of your disaster preparedness should address all the major areas where you and your family might be most vulnerable.
For example, what improvements does your home need to prevent storm damage? Create a check list that includes where extra insulation and/or weather stripping is needed. What supplies will you need in case impassable roads cut you off from local food stores?
Do you need to store up on batteries or flashlights? Does a family member need extra medication? What are the needs of your pets?
Some of these questions may be duplicated in your prep for other types of disaster. Lay out the steps you may need to take both before and afterwards should such an event happen.
Loss of the Power Grid
Many different natural or manmade disasters can result in loss of electrical power. So how should you prepare?
Here are 4 steps to include in your disaster preparedness plan in case of power loss:
- Alternate Power Sources
Have plenty of extra batteries on hand, as well as things like candles and flashlights. Consider acquiring a power generator or solar powered batteries for emergency power.
Should the power fail, disconnect all appliances and electronics to avoid a damaging electrical surge. Keep a single ceiling light switch in the on position to know when the power is restored.
- Food Storage
A typical refrigerator will keep foods cool for around 4 hours after a power failure, and a full freezer could hold temperatures for as much as 48 hours. If the outage lasts longer than that, you may want to cook much of the frozen foods to avoid spoilage.
Since the electricity would be out, you’d need to use a wood, coal or propane gas fire to do that, of course.
- Medical Needs
Does your family have medical devices such as oxygen or CPAP machines or refrigerated medicines that rely on power? Again, you may need to look at an emergency power generator to keep these machines running. Or, as an alternative, you may want to go to a community center or shelter that has its own generators so you can keep these devices running.
Over the past few years, wildfires seem to be increasing in numbers each year, especially as drought conditions spread. How should you and your family prepare to handle the danger of wildfires?
First, look at the area around your home. Do you have trees and undergrowth close to buildings? If so, plan to cut a safe area (extending at least 30 feet out from the home) void of vegetation so that the danger of spreading fires is diminished.
Make sure you have water hoses available on all sides of the house, just in case.
Finally, make sure you have a go-bag prepared should evacuation become unavoidable. As noted previously, contents should include enough food, water, and clothing to last up to 3 full days or more.
Also, don’t forget to make copies of important papers like insurance policies and personal documents that you can either take with you in your bag or store in a place other than your home.
Make sure your family knows the evacuation routes you’ve already identified in earlier steps. Practice bugging out at least once per year so everyone is thoroughly familiar with the process.
Certain climatic events could result in the emergence of roving mobs of people invading your neighborhood looking for food, loot or whatever they might find.
In such a situation, what should you and your family do? The time to think about that—and to prepare for it—is now, not when the mobs are at your gate.
Put together a plan that will guide you in such conditions. When things turn unruly, you can quickly pull out that plan and refresh your memory about choices you have and options you choose.
Here are some guideline thoughts:
- Be prepared, but don’t look prepared.
Keep a low profile. Don’t draw attention. Avoid crowds. Keep your supplies and go bag discrete, especially around people you don’t know. Have your emergency survival kits ready at all times.
- Be ready to defend yourself.
For some, that may mean signing up for a good martial arts class. For others, it means a good home defense firearm. Encourage your entire family to bone up on self-defense and to become both familiar and skilled with firearms of one type or another.
- Find allies.
Arrange with friends, neighbors or other family members to join forces in case of civil unrest. Determine what each party can bring to the table to strengthen your group. Get training and practice regularly.
Step #4: Build a Well-Planned Bug Out Bag
We’ve been mentioning bug-out bags previously. Also known as go bags, these are what you grab and toss in the trunk of your car when situations call for quickly moving out of the area to a safer place.
It may be an official evacuation order, or it may be your own recognition that the local situation is no longer safe and you have to get your entire family out of there.
Your bag should include vital materials like food and water, changes of clothing, a good first aid kit, medicine and prescriptions, basic survival tools, and some type of communications device such as an emergency battery-powered radio.
You’ll find detailed information on bug-out bags here on our website.
Also, don’t miss our article on how to solve that big dilemma that we might all face one day: should we hunker down or bug out?
Start working now on bug-out bag section of your disaster preparedness plan. Detail what size it should be and what should go into it. Your bag should be adaptable to short evacuations of just several days or several weeks.
But whatever you do, don’t put this off. Start planning for it today.
What Will Your Personal Disaster Preparedness Plan Look Like?
Only you can determine that. It’s a document that should be tailored to your individual family. Its true value is that it helps you start thinking about some very serious questions.
But even further than that, it prompts you to take action.
The disaster preparedness plan you create could save the lives of yourself and your family. That’s a pretty good reason to do it well, don’t you think?