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Emergency Preparedness for the Rest of Us

What does emergency preparedness look like for a family that's already struggling to make ends meet? You may have seen TV shows about disaster "preppers" who spend thousands of dollars on luxury underground, zombie-proof bunkers. But what about the rest of us?

Eighteen years ago, I became a single mom who didn't know how I'd get through each normal day, much less how I'd survive a disaster. My emergency plan was to pay my "beeper" bill every month in case my son's daycare needed to reach me. I was poor enough to qualify for Food Stamps and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assistance. It was hard to even keep some extra cans of food on hand in case I ran out. I don't remember having a working flashlight and I didn't keep extra water at all.

One day, lightning struck my grandparent's old house where we lived. The ceiling fan exploded and the TV blew up. I grabbed my baby and ran out, hoping our only place to live wasn't going to burn down. I called 911 and held my son in the front yard as we watched several brave responders run in. Luckily, there was no further damage. But that small incident made me realize how unprepared I really was.

were that same struggling parent today, here is what I'd do differently:

  1. I'd call my city or county emergency management office to learn about the most likely risks in my area and how to best prepare. I'd ask if they could spare any free emergency items, kits, guides or tools. I'd also ask how I could attend basic CPR training so I'd know what to do in a family medical emergency.
  2. I'd make a simple family emergency plan, including a communication plan in case phones and power went out. FEMA or American Red Cross have good ones.
  3. If my kid were old enough to understand, I'd involve him by using FEMA's Kids' Plan.
  4. Over time, I'd build an affordable 72-hour emergency kit including food, water and supplies (which I'd stock mostly from local discount, dollar or thrift stores). I'd add to my kit until we could survive a few weeks with no power or water. I'd update it every few months or so and eat, then replace, any food close to its expiration date.
  5. After I built a basic kit, I'd save up to buy a few bigger ticket items. Because communication is critical when a family is apart during a crisis, I'd start with a battery operated NOAA weather radio (with hand crank for extra power, a flashlight, and solar cell phone charger). Next, I may look at mobile device battery packs, chargeable by solar or wall outlet, or personal water filters.
  6. I'd identify a contact person out of my state (and where phone lines are less likely to be jammed) that everyone in my family knows to call and check in with in an emergency.
  7. Lastly, I'd share my plan with my extended family and teach them what I know so they could be prepared, too.
  8. Free tip: texting and using social media are recommended in emergencies because they can be more reliable than phone lines and help keep phone lines clear for life threatening emergencies.

When your time and money are limited, raising healthy, happy kids can be overwhelming. But getting prepared for emergencies doesn't have to be. In disaster after disaster, I've seen prepared families recover much faster than unprepared ones. Be the hero or the "she"ro of your family. Start small, but start now.


Amy Grissom, Region VI Regional Emergency Management Specialist

Administration for Children and Families

September 23, 2013

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