Do These Things to Survive a Natural Disaster—and the Aftermath
Keep yourself and your home safe by taking these preventative steps and stocking up on supplies to get through an earthquake, fire, flood, or other natural disaster
We only recommend things we love. If you buy something through our site, we might earn a commission.
Considering the array of catastrophes that the West is prone to—earthquakes, wildfires, floods, even tsunamis—can be overwhelming. While it’s true that we can’t prevent or even forecast these events, we can prepare for them, and that act can bring some peace of mind. And of course you’ll be glad you did if the unthinkable should happen.
To make that process less overwhelming, we’ve compiled lists of all the essentials to stock and how to prepare for each type of emergency.
Power Outage Preparation
Every disaster is different, but one common denominator is the likelihood that you will be without power for quite some time. That doesn’t just mean no light—it also means that your heat and air conditioning probably won’t work, and you won’t be able to keep your phone charged. The refrigerator will only keep food cold for a day or so. (It’s a good idea to keep a thermometer inside the fridge—if the temperature goes above 40, you’ll need to throw out all the food.)
Other consequences you might never have thought of include the fact that a gas stove may not light itself, and an electric one won’t work at all. Your garage door may be locked shut, too. (There’s probably a handle inside that disengages the lock and allows you to roll up the door by hand—make sure you know where that is before you need it.) Also, ATMs and POS systems could go down, so you’ll need to be prepared for that eventuality, too.
One possible solution is a gas-powered generator. But they’re expensive and noisy, and produce enough exhaust that they can only be run outside. They are also a weak substitute for a functioning power grid. If you really don’t think you can live without electric light, go for it, but we only recommend a generator if you’ve got machines that absolutely must keep running, such as life-sustaining medical equipment.
Blackout Emergency Kit
A few things you should stash away in case of a power outage include:
- Cash in small bills
- Portable charger (be sure to keep it powered up!)
- Charging cords
- Hand-cranked radio
- Canned food (don’t forget pet food and baby formula/bottles, too)
- Can opener
- Cups, plates, utensils
There are a few things you can do to minimize earthquake damage. If you own a freestanding house, bolt it to the foundation. Invest in having shear walls installed. Whether you own or rent, use bolts and furniture straps to keep heavy pieces in place, and museum wax to keep small, fragile things from falling over. (This is a smart thing to do with valuable bottles of wine, too.)
Once the home is shored up, make a plan about what you’re going to do the day disaster strikes. What if not everyone in the household is in the same place? Make a reunification plan. Think about how you might all get home, where you might stay if you can’t get back immediately, and where you can all rendezvous.
Earthquake Emergency Kit
To prepare for the possibility of staying in your home in the aftermath of an earthquake, start with the basic power-outage list and add:
- Sturdy shoes
- First-aid kit
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes
- Water purification system
- Enough of any prescription medication to last at least a few days, preferably longer
Those are the very basic necessities. Click here for a more thorough list of nice-to-have items to consider including if there’s room.
Make sure all your kit items are in a sturdy box with a tight-fitting lid, and resist the temptation to stash it way out of the way. No, you don’t want to be tripping over it every day, but you don’t want it to be hard to find when you need it, either. So think upstairs closet, not the back corner of a storage area that might get blocked by rubble or lots of strewn belongings.
To minimize the chance that a wildfire will claim your house, follow our tips for readying your home and surrounding property.
Think about evacuation routes before you need them. Sure, you know the quickest way by car, but what if the roads are impassable?
If you have time before you have to evacuate, shut the windows, turn off the gas feed to your home, and move furniture into the center of rooms. Turn off any outside propane tanks. Leave your lights on—they will make your house more visible to firefighters.
We hope it goes without saying, but evacuate when you hear an order from local officials. Fire can move faster than you can run, so don’t wait until it’s close.
Have your all of your emergency equipment together in one easily accessible place to expedite your exit. This includes your go-bag and any pet carriers and supplies you may need.
One important step you can take is to make sure you’re insured for floods. Don’t assume that your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance includes it—read the fine print and purchase a separate flood-protection policy if necessary. Do it now, not when it starts raining, because policies can take a month to go into effect.
Keep your gutters clear and drains open. If you have a basement, consider installing a sump pump.
Make an evacuation plan. Think about where you might go, and how you can get there if roads are underwater. If you plan to stay in place, think about what parts of your home will be safe. Don’t shelter in the attic if there are no windows—you could become trapped.
There isn’t much you can do to protect your home against a wall of water, so the best thing you can do is to have a solid escape plan in place. Where is the nearest safe area? You’ll want to be at least 100 feet above sea level. If there is no such hill near you, you’ll need to head inland as quickly as possible. A mile is not too far—it’s almost impossible to overestimate the power and reach of the ocean. What’s your route? Know it before you need it, and make sure all family members agree on a meeting point in case you get separated.
Courtesy of Amazon
One thing that fires and high water have in common—and which makes them different from earthquakes—is that they are events that usually come with a little bit of warning. So you won’t be sheltering in place—you’ll be leaving in a hurry. Having things packed ahead of time will save you time in an evacuation—and time can be everything in that situation. You’ll need less food, water, and clothing than you would if you were staying at home (because these things are usually available at shelters and the houses of friends and relatives). But there are some important things you should take with you, including:
- Portable charger
- Charging cords (and power banks, if you have some)
- Hand-cranked radio
- Feminine hygiene products
- Identification—if you don’t dare keep your actual birth certificate and passport in the go-bag, make sure you’ve at least got copies.
- Important documents—originals or copies of the deed to your house, car titles, wills, banking information, medical records, and insurance policies. Scan copies and put them on a portable hard drive that stays in your go-bag.
- Family photos—scan prints and save those files on the portable hard drive, too. There are services that can do this for you if you don’t have the time or equipment to do it yourself.
If you have pets, be sure to keep a carrier and leash nearby, too, and some food for them. And remember: One go-bag is good. But you never know where you’re going to be when disaster strikes, so keeping one at work and one in your car is a good idea as well.
Read the 2020 Wine Issue—Free!
To read: Click on the right and left arrows at the edge of the box to turn pages; to make the text larger, click on the fullscreen icon in the lower-right corner (desktop) or in the center (mobile).