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Basic Disaster Survival Guide

A Very Important Message

There are many different kinds of disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, floods, airplane crashes, chemical spills, and explosions, which seldom give warning and can be devastating to their victims.

Emergency preparedness is no longer the sole concern of people who live in earthquake fault-zones, “Tornado Alley”, or hurricane-prone coastal areas. There’s hazards everywhere. And we have to watch for man-made disasters as well as natural ones.

Knowing what to do during an emergency is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count. Panic kills.

You’re gong to have to use your head and we can help you get started.

Think for a moment about how you would survive on your own both during and after an emergency. This means keeping your head. And it means thinking ahead by having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days.

Why You Need to Get Ready Now

You might have some warning before a disaster, but you might not get much. Besides property devastation, disasters are  life-threatening.

It’s critical to understand that you may need to survive on your own after a disaster.

Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take several days.

In addition, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer.

My family and I were left without electricity for 9 days after a tropical storm. We were able to use the fireplace for heat. But our well pump was electric, so we had little water for the kitchen or the bathroom.

Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as making an emergency supply kit and developing a plan, are the same for both a natural or man-made emergency. However, there are important differences among potential emergencies that will impact the decisions you make and the actions you take.

In each of our Guides, you can learn more about the potential emergencies that could happen where you live and work, and the appropriate way to respond to them.

In addition, you should learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government.

Before a Disaster

You don’t have to be a victim; you can be prepared.

This Guide is primarily about general preparation and  the steps you take will help you prepare for any type of disaster that could strike in your community. Read the other Guides for information about specific types of disaster survival.

What You Need to Do to Get Prepared

The steps you take now will help you prepare for disaster that could strike in your community at any time. It’s too late later.  Do these now.

  • Surviving a disaster means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days.
  • Register your cell phone, VoIP phone, and email address.
  • Inspect your home. Identify potential hazards and evacuation routes.
  • Secure any flammable or hazardous materials.
  • Review and practice your plan.

Know how and where to shut off utilities.

  • Location of main water valve
  • Location of gas valve and location of wrench.
  • Location of garage door manual override.

Draw a floor plan of your home showing the location of exit doors and windows, utility shutoffs, first aid kit, and emergency supplies. Ensure everyone in your household is familiar with it. Establish two places where you and your family can meet following an emergency:

  1. FIRST, immediately outside of your home or office, e.g. a neighbor’s mailbox, or community park, and
  2. SECOND, another site outside of your immediate community in case you are unable to return. Name and telephone number of a person outside of the state to call and report their location and condition.

Everyone should memorize this number! (I keep a copy in my wallet.)

What is your child’s school disaster policy?
  • Are medical consent forms for your children complete and current? Where are they located?
Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit
  • Store it in a convenient and accessible location. See below for details on what to put inside your Emergency Supply Kit.

At least once a year, have a meeting with your family or co-workers to discuss and update your disaster plan. Determine what additional training, equipment, and supplies are needed.


Occasional drills can improve reaction time and help to avoid panic in an actual emergency.

  • Learn how to protect yourself from falling objects, smoke, fire, toxic fumes, etc.
  • Learn first aid and/or CPR
Water Tips

The best option is to store drinking water prior to a disaster, in appropriate containers. If purified water is not available, water should be boiled for 1 full minute, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before use unless you’re cooking with it.

If You Evacuate, Be Prepared to Take with You:
  • Medicines and first aid kit
  • Flashlight, radio and batteries
  • Important documents and cash
  • Blankets and extra clothes
  • Personal sanitary items
  • Any additional items you feel are necessary (e.g. photos, heirlooms, jewelry, etc.)

And make arrangements for pets.

Basic Emergency Survival Supplies

This list contains items commonly available. It is recommended that they be organized and located together for easy access during an emergency. Your emergency supplies should be sufficient to sustain you, your family or co-workers, and pets for a minimum of 72 hours. A two (2) week supply of prescription and necessary over-the-counter medications is recommended.

  • Water – minimum of 2-4 quarts (liters) per person per day
  • Blankets or sleeping bags for each member of the family
  • Non-Perishable Foods – avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty.
  • Radio – portable, with spare batteries
  • First Aid Kit and Manual
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Can opener – non-electric
  • Additional equipment – glasses, dentures, hearing aids
  • Watch or clock – non-electric Flashlight – spare batteries and light bulb
  • Plug-in analog telephone
  • Fire extinguisher – multipurpose labeled “ABC”
  • Cash – coins and smaller denominations
  • Whistle
  • Important documents in plastic bags
  • Dust masks
  • Activity items for adults (e.g. deck of cards) and kids (e.g. coloring books with crayons)
  • Rotate food, water, and medications as necessary.
  • Remember to consider household members with unique needs: infants, elderly, disabled, allergies.
Sanitation Supplies
  • Large plastic trash bags for waste, sanitation, and protection
  • Pre-moistened towelettes
  • Feminine supplies
  • Hand soap and liquid detergent
  • Infant supplies
  • Shampoo
  • Toilet paper and paper towels
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Deodorant
Safety Supplies
  • Knife, razor blade, and multipurpose tool
  • Heavy gloves for each adult
  • Clothes – complete change for each person (Preferably long pants and long sleeves for protection)
  • Heavy shoes for each family member
Cooking Supplies
  • Plastic bags – various sizes, sealable
  • Paper plates, plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Pots (cooking) – at least two
  • Barbecue or gas grill; charcoal and lighter or propane (for outdoor use only); Sterno® stove
  • Carrier, collar with ID tag and harness or leash
  • Food and water
  • Medications
  • Sanitation items – litter and litter box if appropriate
  • Important documents such as vaccination records and license information
Car Survival Kit
  • Non-perishable food
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • Flares
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Bottled water
  • Tools and rubber hose
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Critical medications
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Pre-moistened towelettes and tissues • Blanket
  • Extra clothing
Important Telephone Numbers
  • Use “911″ for life threatening emergencies only; use 211 for information.
  • Non-emergency fire department:
  • Non-emergency law enforcement agency:
  • Primary doctor:
  • Gas company:
  • Electric company:
  • Water company:
  • Out-of-state contact:
Practice Your Plan

Practice helps people feel less disoriented and better organized in case of a disaster – even in the middle of the night. Make sure everyone knows where to locate fire extinguishers, gas and water valves, and the main circuit breaker.

Update your Disaster Plan every year
  • Verify the telephone numbers and personal information of everyone listed in the plan.
  • Print updated copies for all members. In case of emergency, you should know the school’s disaster plan.
  • Determine what is required to release your child to your representatives if you cannot get there yourself.
  • Ensure that the school knows your current contact information and those people authorized to pick up your child. Check the contents of your emergency kits.
  • Change the batteries in your flashlights and portable radio; replace spare batteries.
  • Replenish your emergency kits. Replace bottled water; ensure that all food is still safe to eat and that medications have not expired.
Every family member should carry a copy of this important information:
  • Emergency contact information
  • Out-of-state contact

Check out all of our Guides:

Basic Disaster Survival Guide

Bio and Chemical Disaster Survival Guide

Disaster Preparedness Guide

Earthquake Survival Guide

Evacuate or Shelter-in-Place Guide

Hurricane and Tornado Survival Guide

Nuclear Disaster Survival Guide

Volcano Survival Guide (this one)

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