Staying Safe Series: Disaster Preparedness

 In Emergency Preparedness

In the last four weeks alone, two enormous fires in my city of Oakland, CA spurred me to write this post on disaster preparedness. A massive construction fire in downtown Oakland caused hundreds of people in a three-block radius to evacuate, and a wildfire in the Oakland-Berkeley Hills caused an evacuation of UC Berkeley’s campus. Natural disasters vary by geography, but the principles of being prepared are the same whether you’re in earthquake, tornado, or hurricane country.


Reunification plan for your family. Decide where you’ll meet if a disaster hits when the family is separated. Have plans for each member of the family to reach the safe refuge area. This place should be near your home, in the open, and away from any hazards (e.g. overhead power lines). Examples include your yard, a nearby park, or a parking lot.

You also should answer the following questions:

  • Who will pick up the children at school?
  • What if a family member is out of the area when the quake hits? What if the home is structurally damaged and uninhabitable?
  • Who will be your family’s “check-in” contact? This person ideally should be out-of-state.

Next, find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children’s school or daycare center, and other places where your family spends time.

If you need to evacuate quickly. If an emergency strikes, have your “go bag” prepared so that if there’s an emergency, you can grab this bag and GO! Have one at home, in your car, and at work.

  • Home’s go-bag: medicine, cash; have wallet, keys, and phone nearby.
  • Car and workplace go-bags: enough supplies to last until you can get to the reunification site. Include comfortable shoes.

Have at least 3 days (ideally 5-7 days) of basic supplies at home. At a bare minimum, your home supply kit should have enough water for you and your pets (1 gallon per person or pet per day). In case you lose power and the food in your fridge spoils, buy emergency food supplies too. Avoid foods that require a lot of water to prepare, and avoid salty food, which will increase your desire for water. One idea is freeze-dried camping food; I bought the Mountain House brand for my home supply kit (available on Amazon). Have some “happy food” too that your family enjoys.

Along with food, you will need an alternative way to prepare it. A camp stove with extra fuel, or a barbecue grill will work, but don’t forget the matches. To preserve water and eliminate washing dishes, have disposable plates, cups, and cutlery.

After a disaster

Refer to your plan and take action:

  • Text or call your out-of-state contact to check in and get the status of loved ones.
  • Report yourself as “safe and well” on the Red Cross site.
  • Update Facebook status/tweet your status.
  • Go to your meeting place.


Have at least 3 days of water and food for your pets too. And if you need to evacuate, don’t leave your pets behind! If it’s not safe for you to stay home, then it’s not safe for your pets either. They will be relying on you for their safety. If you have cats, get them used to their carriers so that they aren’t scared if you needed to place them inside for a quick escape. I leave my cat’s carrier on my kitchen floor and place her treats inside so that she sees it as a place of happiness and safety.

The Red Cross has great tips on disaster preparedness for pets, particularly finding pet-friendly accommodations in case you can’t return home immediately.

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