I feel the need to post this after Hurricane Katrina. There has been a lot of loss of life and chaos after the destruction of New Orleans and surrounding areas. It may have been minimized if people had thought ahead, but sadly most people don't. It always happens to somebody else. The Ice Storm of 1998 in the Northeast were so bad it was two weeks before they could get most of the roads open enough for food deliveries. The Blizzard of 1997 in Colorado was so bad that cows died on their feet and many placed never got plowed until it thawed on its own. The Mississippi flooded huge areas in 2001 and that was as bad as Katrina is today. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake did massive damage to roads and bridges trapping many people at home. It happens everywhere.
The first thing is to set up a communications plan.
If you are like most people the family spends half the day apart, spread between work, school, shopping and home. How will you get in contact in case of disaster?
First thing make a list of all the phone numbers everyone has. Cell phone and land line of your family and friends. and where they usually are: home, work, school, church, hangouts.
Add phone numbers of insurance agents, utility companies, local police and fire and hospital other than 911, credit card companies, mortgage company, banks, real estate agent, personal ecclesiastical leader/priest/bishop/rabbi/imam, Red cross, fema, and local, state and federal government, poison control, dial a nurse.
A list of medicines taken by, and medical conditions of, everyone in the family. Fold the paper so that this is on top, medical personal tend to go through wallets for ID, medical data and emergency contact info.
Make several copies. Make sure at least one is in everyone's wallet/purse, if you have a cell phone make sure it has all those numbers programmed into it too.
It is important to set up an out of state contact person, in most cases local lines will be overwhelmed/reserved for police/fire/rescue personal but long distance is often fine. So while no one can call into the disaster area, people can often call out of it. Everyone calls into that long distance number to check in. At the very least set up a free blogspot webpage and use that to communicate.
An accurate diagnosis is half the cure -any doctor.
You need to get a good idea of what disasters are likely in your area. Your local fire dept or FEMA office can help you out there if you are not sure.
The major disasters that are out there are:
Disasters come in two basis types:
Stay and play
Scoop and run
Stay and Play Disasters
Stay and play are ones that can often happen without warning, like earthquakes and tornados. They are "come as you are" disasters and you need to have a few things on hand.
While the government recommends having 3 days of food and water at hand plus a flashlight, radio and first aid kit. And more often then not it takes the government 3 days to get started dealing with the problem. I have seen plenty of cases where it took a lot longer to get things working again. Most often it seems to take about 2 weeks to get help everywhere it is needed.
* A two week supply of food, canned is best since if it gets wet it is no problem, just make sure to have several can openers on hand.
* Water is vital to life, you need at least 1 gallon per person per day. A typical family of four needs 56 gallons of water for 2 weeks. I fear the New Orleans will begin having outbreaks of various water borne diseases like cholera in the next few days. So a good safe sealed water supply is important.
* Fuel is good, if you have a gas grill an extra bottle of propane lasts a long time, so you can heat food if you want and boil water if you must.
* Flashlights. Electricity always seems to go out so at least one flashlight per family member and extra batteries are important. I would recommend LED flashlights since they let the batteries last a lot longer (100+ hours) then regular flashlights (10+ hours).
* Radio. You do need to get some information about what is happening and often telephone service is jammed due to everyone using it and officials generally make announcements fairly often and the news stations will cover it. A small transistor radio with a speaker so everyone can hear is good for information and entertainment.
* First Aid Kit, of course.
At work and school you would also want to cache a three day supply of food and water and a pair of sturdy shoes and socks, since most dress shoes are pretty bad for walking home in.
Scoop and Go Disasters
These often have warnings, like hurricanes and wild fires. These mean you can get ready to load up the car and have time to think about what you need to take with you.
If you have to evacuate you don't want to end up in a shelter. Find family or friends that live more them 100 miles away, few disasters affect an area bigger then 100 miles across. Things often will be normal there. Florida is a special case you need to get more then 100 miles once you're above the pan handle. The average car can usually travel about 400 miles on a full tank of gas. Gas up before it hits, and always try to keep a half tank of gas in the car at all times.
Having a predesignated place to evacuate too means that you could store a box of things like: spare eyeglasses, perscriptions from your doctor that you can fill later and copies of important documents stored in plastic bags to keep water out.
Scout out a 2-3 routes that do not use the interstate, most people don't make plans and so they use the first thing that comes to mind, the Interstate, which cannot handle a few million people on it all at the same time.
Make a checklist of things you need to take:
food (3 days of ready to eat food)
water (3 gallons per person)
important documents (mortgage, deeds, loans, insurance, etc)
precious family items (photos)
cash (there will be price gouging)
home inventory video (great for insurance reimbursement, just go through the house and open all the drawers/closets/cabinets describing what's inside, get serial numbers on electronics/computers too)
can opener/swiss army knife/multitool
flashlight and first aid kit
Feminine hygiene supplies
Baby care supplies (diapers, wipes, food)
This is a basic list of things you need. You are free to make modifications to fit your circumstances.
Be prepared, just do it now.