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Community Disaster Preparedness Basics

While various regions of the country consider specific times of year their “disaster season,” those lines are increasingly blurring, with storms, floods, fires, and other events happening with increasing frequency and severity. Natural disasters happen throughout the year and their impact can be devastating.

To offset the potential for devastating physical and financial loss, preparation is the best preventive measure. And while you’re preparing your own affairs to weather various threats, you can also help your community prepare, too. Here’s where to start.

Understand the greatest threats

Natural disasters vary in their characteristics. Where fires and hurricanes may pose the need to evacuate the area, tornadoes and serious snowstorms more often require sheltering-at-home. Understanding your neighborhood resources and regional weather threats can help guide your preparation activities. Keep a watch out on weather advisories that provide regionally specific guidance from fire hazard levels to flood evacuation zones.

Stock up on supplies

Stock up on at least seven (7) days’ worth of non-perishable supplies. These may include canned goods, bottled water, and other non-perishable food and personal items. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, businesses may not be able to operate, so ensure that you have the items you would need to keep your family fed and comfortable for at least a week. Don’t rely on frozen foods, as electricity outages may affect freezers.

Be ready to evacuate

For years, AARP has encouraged people to be prepared by making evacuation plans ahead of a looming disaster. If your area has planned evacuation routes, familiarize yourself with them. Your plan should include several options for hotel accommodations and understanding the protocols for your county’s emergency shelters.

Pack a “go bag”

As part of your evacuation plan, pack a “go bag” for each family member. These bags contain routine essentials that you would need to sustain a person for several days in case of evacuation. For individuals, consider packing clothing, toiletries like toothbrushes and toothpaste, nonperishable food items like energy bars, and any personal items the individual might need to be comfortable or address medical issues. In addition, it’s a good idea to pack a flashlight, first-aid kit, list of emergency phone numbers, and have your medications listed on your packing list. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides tips on getting your go-bag ready.

Protect important documents

Documents like passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, and other essential and hard-to-reproduce documents should be stored in waterproof and fireproof bags or containers. Doing so protects them from damage and also makes them easily portable so you can take them with you in case of evacuation. But don’t rely on containers alone—make copies and store them in a bank safe deposit box and, possibly, in a secure online cloud-based storage system so they can be accessed if the originals are damaged.

While you’re preserving documents, it might also be a good idea to create a written or video home inventory that catalogues the items of value in your home. If the items are damaged or destroyed during a disaster, you have a record of them for insurance or other reasons.

Prepare for power outages

The ability to call for help or to stay tuned on inbound emergencies is key to keeping safe, but potential power outages can interfere. Consider options such as an old-school transistor radio for early warnings. Keeping extra portable power chargers fully charged and ready for use can also extend the time you may be able to use electronics like smart phones and tablets.

Homeowners with generators have the capability to keep essential power running, but proper operation is essential to avoid getting sick or injured. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that hundreds of people die in the U.S. from accidental non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning, with cases spiking after natural disasters. Watch FEMA’s short generator safety video for quick tips on safe generator operations.

Alert the community

A prepared community is a safer community. Think about getting involved with your local Community Emergency Response Team where you can learn about disaster response skills. Doing so can deepen your connection with your neighbors and ensure you’re doing all you can to get ahead of a natural disaster to keep people safe.

Ways to get involved

There are a variety of ways to get involved with your community around disaster preparedness.

Connect with your local Red Cross and learn how they can help you be better prepared: Visit and search for the Red Cross chapter nearest you.  

Visit the links below to learn more or visit for a comprehensive listing of preparedness materials by disaster type. Opportunities available include joining County Emergency Response Teams or activities that get the whole family involved. AARP also has resources specific to the adults 50 plus including: 

To learn more about the many ways AARP’s and other resources can help you and your neighbors be prepared for any disaster, visit Operation Emergency Prepare.

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