Surviving a Natural Disaster

Iowa City flooding by Alan Light on Flickr!As I’ve mentioned before,

my hometown was flooded during the Mississippi River Flood of 1993. It was a painful yet formative experience, as it showed me how incredibly powerful a united community can be.

One thing that’s been on my mind recently, in the wake of the 2008 floods in the upper Midwest and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, is how many people are unprepared for devastation. When a disaster comes, whether it be flood, fire, a huge storm, or something else, many people simply flail in despair, unsure what to do.

“David” has an interesting question along these lines:

Would it be possible for you to cover the need to prepare for emergencies and what steps to take: situations (hurricane, blizzard, tornado, etc), essential supplies, money on hand, and places to get deals on necessities for preparation?

This is an issue I’ve thought about for my own family, and here’s the plan we have in place in case of any such disaster.

First, we keep our pantry full. I rotate the food in there on a regular basis to keep things fresh, but we don’t let the cupboards get low. In a pinch, we have plenty of supplies to get us through – canned foods, flour, bottled water and other beverages, and so on. We would not starve or die of thirst over the short term.

Second, we keep small amounts of cash both in the house and in the car. This enables us to easily conduct cash transactions if the credit card and ATM networks are down or in situations where we’re stranded.

Third, we have non-electrical supplies on hand. We have a radio that can be powered by hand crank, tons of candles and matches, and lots of blankets around. If the electricity goes out for a long period, we can all converge in the living room, camp out on the couch with blankets, and crank up the radio to find out what’s going on – no electricity needed. We also have some road flares that we can set off if we need to attract visual attention from rescue personnel at night.

Perhaps most important of all, we have a well-stocked first aid kit and the basic know-how to handle simple injuries.

The real challenge when it comes to thinking about disaster preparation for your family is that it’s easy to forget some things simply because we rely on basic services so much. If a major disaster befalls you, electrical devices won’t work. Cell phones won’t work. You might not be able to easily leave your home to acquire food or beverages. You may not have safe running water. You may have someone injured.

It makes both personal and financial sense to be prepared for a disaster. When I was young, I would have never believed that a flood could wipe out my hometown. Early this year, I would have never believed that Parkersburg, Iowa could be wiped off the map by tornadoes, or that Cedar Rapids, Iowa could be rapidly and largely submerged under flood waters.

It can happen. Don’t lull yourself into believing it can’t happen to you.

Here’s a checklist of the supplies that I would recommend everyone having on hand just in case of a disaster:
+ A first aid kit
+ Flashlights
+ Matches
+ Food that doesn’t require heat or electricity to consume, at least several days’ worth
+ Potable water, at least several days’ worth
+ A hand-crank radio
+ Blankets
+ Road flares
+ Cash, stored in multiple places, up to $200-300
+ Take a look at TSD’s fire safety and prevention resource

Any other suggestions from the readers?

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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