Preparing For Disasters - What You Need To Know

Texoma is still recovering from a major fire storm disaster. With fire chances still high, and Tornado season just around the corner, Newschannel 6 wants to help get you prepared for the worst.

There are several aspects of disaster preparedness to consider. The first is making sure your family has the necessities to survive the disaster and the following three days. After that, you need to be financially prepared to recover from the disaster.

"You need to get a kit, make a plan and you need to be informed," says Katrina Farmer, Executive Director of the North Central Texas Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The first step is the kit. Above all are the basic Human necessities. "We tell you that you need to be able to take care of yourself for 3 days," she said.

The American Red Cross web site suggests the following items be included:

  • Water - You and your family may be without water for days in the aftermath of a disaster. The Red Cross recommends that each person store one gallon of water per day for at least three days. This supply will provide water for drinking as well as limited cleaning and cooking.
  • Food - When preparing for a disaster, store at least three days of non-perishable, nutritious food that requires little or no water or cooking to prepare. Don't forget to store a manual can opener with non-perishable food items. When assembling items, remember that you and your family may be without water, gas, or electricity for an unknown period of time.
  • Medications - When assembling a preparedness kit for you and your family, remember that pharmacies may be closed in the wake of a disaster. Be sure to include a week's supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Also keep a list of all medications and dosages, allergies, doctors' names, and nearby hospitals.
  • Radio - Your home, or even neighborhood, may lose power in the aftermath of a disaster. Keep a battery-powered or hand-crank radio in your kit. Don't forget to include extra batteries in your kit to ensure you and your family stay informed throughout the course or aftermath of a disaster.
  • First Aid Kit - Injuries are a common occurrence in a disaster. Be prepared to treat yourself, your loved ones, and others who need help.
  • Personal Documents - You and your family may be displaced after a disaster. Be prepared, ensuring you have all necessary records with you - ID, passport, birth certificate, and insurance policies. Also keep an extra set of eye glasses, contact lenses, a cane, hearing aid batteries, or any other personal items you may need.
  • Contact Info - Keep a list of family phone numbers and addresses as well as a copy of your out-of-area emergency contact card in your preparedness kit. Note that it is often easier to make a long-distance call rather than a local call after a disaster strikes.
  • Map - Include a detailed map of the surrounding areas with highlighted evacuation routes. Following a disaster, roads may be closed and travel out of the affected area may not be possible. Become familiar with alternate routes to and from your home.
  • Money - Following a disaster, banks and ATMs may be closed. Keep small bills and change on hand to buy necessary supplies like water.
  • Clothing - You and your family may be forced to evacuate your home in a hurry without time to pack accordingly. Keep an extra set of warm clothes and sturdy shoes in your preparedness kit to ensure you're equipped to evacuate if needed.
  • Sanitary Supplies - Include extra toilet paper, feminine supplies, personal hygiene products, bleach, and any other personal products you may need in your preparedness kit.
  • Pet Supplies - Remember to include your pets in the plan. Make sure to assemble things your pets will need during a disaster, like food, leashes, medicine, etc.
  • Tools - Keep an adjustable wrench in your preparedness kit to turn off your gas if necessary. Other tools may include a manual can opener, plastic sheeting, garbage bags with ties, and duct tape.

Aside from the essentials to survive, financial expert Gail Cunningham with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests you have all the resources and documents you need to fiscally survive and rebound toward recovery. "I would say you need all of your financial records... have things such as your insurance policy you want the contact information for your insurance agent and you want your policy on hand. That will move you to the front of the line when everybody is calling about their disaster problem," she said.

Cunningham says an extra check book is a good idea to include, but more importantly, keep cash at hand. "Cash remains king - especially in a time of emergency," she said.

To help with insurance claims, Cunningham says it is a good idea to have a written record of all items in your house. To take it a step further, grab a video camera. "I think its really smart to have a video record of your home - open every drawer - video it. That seems very dull but it will be very exciting content when you need it," she said.

The NFCC released an information sheet (.PDF) that includes the following items that should be included in a "go box".

  • Have an overall checklist in place before the emergency strikes, and review it before leaving your home.
  • Gather all financial records in one spot at home and one off-site.  Consider a fireproof safe for home which contains copies of documents, with the originals stored in a safe deposit box.  Everyone who lives in your home may not be there when the disaster strikes.  Therefore, it is necessary to inform all family members where your go-box or safe is located, and instruct them that they are to bring it with them when evacuating.
  • Inform a trusted friend or family member where documents are located.  Someone outside of your residence should be aware of the off-site location where your documents are housed. 
  • Copy the front and back of all credit cards, debit cards and ATM cards.  You will need this information for ease in contacting the issuers.
  • Call the credit card companies and alert them to expect purchases outside of your normal charging pattern.  You do not want to have the use of your credit cards compromised due to purchases being made in a different city or state. 
  • Include a spare set of checks in your go-box.  You want to be able to access money at your bank, and not totally rely upon credit cards.
  • Make a list of all financial institutions with which you do business, including brokerage houses.  Be sure to include contact information and account numbers.
  • Have the contact information of your insurance agent as well as the policy in hand.  This will be immensely helpful when making a claim, and put you near the front of the line.  Further, have an annual insurance check-up to confirm that you fully understand your coverage and deductibles.  An emergency is no time to find out about gaps in your coverage.
  • Have a complete household inventory in an offsite location.  Pictures or videos will make claims much easier, and the last thing you want to do under stress is rely on your memory.
  • Keep an amount of cash on hand to sustain you short-term. If electrical power is lost, ATMs will not be working, thus having cash is critical.
  • Have utility company information on hand in case you want to stop some bills. If your residence is uninhabitable or totally destroyed, notify utility companies and other service companies, such as the phone company, so they can stop billing immediately. Often times a utility company will transfer service to a new address and waive initial connection charges.
  • Protect your identity. Notify the three credit bureaus that you have been affected by a natural disaster. By placing a fraud alert on your accounts, creditors must contact you before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. This also will help to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, as crooks seems to thrive on distressed individuals.  With mail interrupted, it could be months before you even knew that charges were being added to your accounts.

With storm season just starting, Cunningham feels an ounce of prevention is well worth the benefits. "No one ever regretted preparing in advance for a disaster because often times you have to leave in the spur of the moment its a life or death decision," she said.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6

Content from the American Red Cross and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling contributed to this report.