Page last updated: 04/13/2023
Whether it’s a disaster you can see coming, like a hurricane, or one you can’t predict, like an earthquake, you can do things ahead of time to protect yourself, other people in your household, and your home. You can do many of these things without spending a lot of time or money. And because good preparation can reduce disaster-related damage, you can recover from the disaster faster and at lower cost.
It’s important to be prepared for emergencies, whether you’re sheltering in place or evacuating. Building shelter-in-place and evacuation kits can help ensure that you have essential items you need to take care of everyone living in your home.
A shelter-in-place kit is one of the best tools for keeping everyone in your home safe. This kit provides the food, water, and supplies you need for at least three days. It also provides necessary items that can be hard to find in stores right before a disaster because everyone is buying them.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides a full list of recommended items for your kit. But in general, you want to include:
Be sure this kit is easy to find and ready to use in an emergency. Here’s how:
Think of this kit as your “grab and go” bag. It will contain the most important items for taking care of yourself, other people in your household, and your pets (if you have them). Store it someplace that’s easy to get to. Tell everyone in your household where you stored it.
Evacuation kits should be easy to carry and should contain the following items:
If you’re leaving by car and have room, you can bring the larger shelter-in-place kit you created. You can also take items such as blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing.
For some disasters, you may have to leave your home to stay somewhere else for a while, such as a relative’s house or a shelter. You might get only a few days’ warning, or less, that you need to move. Here’s how to be ready.
Plan a safe route ahead of time. But be prepared to make last-minute changes.
When you evacuate, you’ll need to know where you’re headed. You may have more than one option.
If you have pets, there are special steps you can take to plan for their care. This is important because some emergency shelters for disaster survivors can’t accept pets. The federal government’s Ready.gov disaster planning site provides pet-specific tips for:
Some disasters come without warning. But sometimes weather forecasters and officials warn the public days in advance that a flood, hurricane, or other disaster is possible. When you know a disaster might happen, you should:
Information can change often before, during, and after a disaster. Use these sources to stay up to date on weather conditions, other emergencies, and disaster-related services:
Some ways to prepare, like building a disaster kit, are useful for any type of disaster. But you also can do more to prepare for the types of disasters that are most likely to happen where you live. For example, prepare for earthquakes and wildfires if you live in California. In Oklahoma, get ready for tornadoes, especially during peak tornado season in the southern Plains from May into early June.
High winds and rising water are powerful forces. Learn what you can do to prepare in ways that protect the people in your household and limit potential damage to your home.
Watches and warnings are alerts about weather conditions that help you know when you need to take action to protect yourself, other people in your household, and your property. This section explains what a “watch” and “warning” mean for different types of potential disasters. You should also review Be Aware, Be Prepared, Take Action (PDF), a FEMA guide that explains the key actions you should take in response to each type of watch and warning listed below.
In-home shelters are places you and other people in your household can go to protect yourselves from high winds. These winds can damage the structure of your home, causing parts of it to collapse. High winds can also blow outside objects into your home.
Take these steps to lessen the possibility of structural damage and injury from high winds:
Water can enter your home and rise quickly. According to FEMA, just 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 worth of damage to your home. Also, contact with polluted floodwaters can make you sick, and currents can sweep you away. Take action to protect yourself, other people in your household, and your property.
Take these steps when it seems likely floodwaters will enter your home soon, or if you must evacuate:
Earthquakes happen without warning, so you need to be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. There are steps you can take ahead of time to keep your home, other people in your household, and yourself safer during an earthquake.
An unprepared home is a more dangerous one. Studies of injuries and deaths caused by earthquakes over the last several decades show that you are much more likely to be injured by falling or flying objects than to die in a collapsed building, the Earthquake Country Alliance noted.
For example, a UCLA study found that falling furniture or objects, such as toppling bookcases, caused 55% of the injuries that occurred during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That’s one reason taking actions like these can save lives: