Preparing Citizens for Disaster: Foresight is Better than Hindsight

Community leaders can get ahead of disasters by preparing citizens to get their families and homes ready for emergencies. Most Americans aren’t prep-minded.

When a tornado, earthquake or hurricane strikes, all too often people only take action after the fact. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other disaster management agencies advise people to think through worst-case scenarios well in advance and assemble emergency preparedness kits.

In a 2015 FEMA survey, only 39 percent of those interviewed had a response plan in the event of a natural disaster, according to the New York Times. That’s despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans reside in counties that have been hit by natural disasters within the past decade.

Preparing for the worst means protecting your family, home and pets. A large proportion of Americans live in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters, from coastal communities concerned with hurricanes, to flatlands that are prey to killer tornadoes, to dry Western lands that often face wildfires.

Americans are surprisingly unprepared given the severity and frequency of natural disasters.

Much loss of life and property could be prevented with foresight and attention to detail. Citizens can fashion emergency plans based on the most likely natural threats to their regions. For example, in San Francisco, it’s important to be prepared for earthquakes, so it’s critical to ensure your home’s foundation is solid in order to protect your family and your property. Typically, in San Francisco, it costs between $7,476 and $16,770 and takes between 10 and 11 days to repair a foundation, but it’s an investment that could very well save your life if you take action before an earthquake hits.

Once identifying the most likely worst-case scenarios, citizens can download a disaster-planning tool by the Insurance Information Institute. Tailor emergency kits for sheltering in place, or evacuation. In general, plan on needing supplies for at least three days.

In a natural disaster, food, power and water are likely to be in short supply for an extended period of time. A basic emergency kit should include a flashlight with extra batteries, bottled water, a couple changes of clothes, first aid equipment, a transistor radio, a cell phone charger and emergency phone numbers. Everyone in a family should know what to do, and households should identify a place in their homes where everyone will gather. Citizens can establish a plan of action to rehearse, and they can practice escape plans.

Think Ahead on Valuables

Every family has irreplaceable items, such as documents and family photos, that have tremendous financial or sentimental value. With foresight, citizens safeguard their valuables, and inventory their possessions. By uploading and storing photos on a flash drive kept with a family member in a separate location, or in the cloud, and by storing important documents safely, thinking ahead can save people a lot of time in an evacuation, and a lot of headache and heartache in the long run.

Citizens should keep a record of belongings in case of a need to file an insurance claim. Some people take photos of every room in their houses to help document valuables. Checking with an insurance agent to verify coverage is also helpful ahead of time.

Disaster-Proof Homes

There’s not much anyone can do to protect a home from being carried away by a tornado, or flooded by unexpected storm surge. But citizens can take steps to minimize the damage caused by high winds, hail and other residual effects of severe weather. Keep tree branches, especially old ones, clear from rooflines. Make sure gutters are cleaned out, heavy lawn objects are stored and clear of windows.

Preparation is key to protecting your family and your property in the event of a disaster. Waiting until it’s too late can result in catastrophic financial loss and leave citizens homeless.

For more information, access the Gov1 public information kit “Emergency in My Town:"

Brett Boynton

Contributed by Brett Boynton of