Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Personal, Family, and Community Preparedness: How You Can Prepare Today for the Hazards You May Face Tomorrow

Every September when National Preparedness Month arrives, there is a lot of information from a variety of sources on how best to prepare. But by October, preparedness often becomes an afterthought. The COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters have brought emergency preparedness to the forefront. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency ‘s (FEMA) annual National Preparedness Survey, trends show that Americans are taking more steps to become better prepared, like building preparedness kits and forming emergency plans. The 2020 results show that 68 percent of those surveyed have taken three or more basic actions to prepare, a 6 percent increase over 2019’s estimate. Prepared individuals and communities recover faster after disaster strikes. Taking steps to prepare yourself today can help ensure readiness to respond when faced with disasters or emergencies.

Personal and Family Preparedness

Creating personal preparedness and family preparedness plans can be a fun activity. FEMA recommends building specific kits that contain supplies and provisions for 72 hours for your home, car, and on-the-go. Kits can be created over time and can be built inexpensively using second-hand shops and repurposing items you already own. Before you begin building your kits, consider your own personal needs and the needs of your family by asking these questions:

  1. How many people will you plan to support in an emergency? Although you may live alone, your emergency plan may include meeting up with family or friends. When planning for the members of your group, make sure to account for individuals who are differently abled or elderly. Determine how many supplies you will need to bring based on who is in your group.
  2. How much can you physically bring with you? A car kit can contain multiple items as your vehicle will be carrying most of your supplies. But if you are left without the use of your vehicle, can you take the rest of the supplies on foot? How much can your group reasonably carry on their backs?
  3. What hazard-specific items will you need to store? The United States is one of the most disaster-prone countries on earth, and thus, each section of the country must prepare for a unique set of natural hazards. Therefore, to properly prepare, it is important to know the risks you may face. For example, a go-kit for a hurricane-prone area has different supplies than one for an earthquake.
  4. What important items would you like to bring if you need to evacuate? Items such as your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc. are useful to have on-hand and at the ready. Expanding beyond documentation, what important items from your life would you like to bring? Do you have important family mementos that you’d be sad to leave behind, or comfort items such as a book or fidget toys you can’t live without? Think about other elements for your emergency kits beyond life saving and life sustaining items.

While there are plenty of lists available online for emergency kits, there are some less commonly added items to highlight here. Below is a list of items you may want to consider adding to your kits:

As mentioned previously, you can begin to pack your kits slowly and over time. Once a year, test out your kit by asking your family to conduct a “fire drill”, aiming to leave the house in ten minutes. Test the weight of your kits by going on a family hike, seeing how each member reacts to carrying supplies. Family and personal preparedness should be added to your annual traditions and may one day save lives.

Community Preparedness

Community preparedness is also critical to ensuring that collective, coordinated response and recovery activities are executed efficiently and effectively. The most successful approach to scaling resilience efforts is to keep them local. The strategy should engage a wide range of stakeholders, including government partners, community organizations, businesses, schools, and houses of worship. This ensures that plans are adaptable, intentional, and receive buy-in from the local community. As disasters grow in both frequency and intensity, planning can no longer occur in a vacuum; a whole community approach is critical to improving outcomes for disaster survivors. Whole community engagement means involving a diverse group of people as active participants, ensuring that their roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and leveraging the full spectrum of available resources.

Community engagement relies upon understanding the culture and complexities of each community. While inclusive planning for diverse communities can be a challenge, social and economic profiles are helpful tools. An effective community profile will identify specific community characteristics, including: composition of the community, representation of diverse population groups, community geography and structure, socio-economic diversity, community resident resources and services, programs, small businesses, and schools. There are many data sources that can assist in developing profiles, such as FEMA’s Resilience Analysis and Planning Tool (RAPT) and the Platform for Understanding Lifeline Stabilization of the Economy (PULSE). It is critical to complete a community profile to facilitate inclusive community engagement.

Once a community profile has been completed and there is a better understanding of the demographics and the shared risks and vulnerabilities, planning strategies should be inclusive of a wide variety of stakeholders. Plans that are made without full community representation are less effective and more difficult to implement when mobilizing the community becomes necessary. Incorporating the whole community in the full planning process maximizes community assets, addresses community needs, and ensures that everyone benefits from future recovery efforts. Groups like National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), state-level VOAD, and Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), nonprofit consortiums, interfaith coalitions, Long Term Recovery Groups, local government/emergency management officials, and other planning committees could already be engaging in this work, so identifying pre-existing efforts as well as leveraging and integrating their plans can be a productive starting point. Individuals can also volunteer for these efforts by reaching out to local emergency management agencies, COADs, or nonprofits that are involved in this work, like the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. National VOAD or your state VOAD’s website can help direct you to these agencies and organizations. Becoming involved in preparedness activities in the community ensures that diverse perspectives are being incorporated into the planning process.

Conclusion

Emergency preparedness is everyone’s responsibility. Preparing yourself and your family puts less strain on first responders in your community. Reach out to members of your community this Preparedness Month, especially those who are homebound and elderly. Building a more resilient family and community is the most important thing we all can do in honor of National Preparedness Month.


Alexandra Koch, MPH is a Managing Associate and public health emergency management professional with strong knowledge and experience in public health emergency preparedness and response. Alex leads our public health service line. As an ORISE Fellow at the CDC and Prevention’s Division of State and Local Readiness, she validated Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Cooperative Agreement awardee data and assisted in the rewrite efforts for the 2019 – 2024 PHEP Cooperative Agreement. She also has assisted Fulton County Board of Health for their Anthrax dispensing plans by optimizing Points of Dispensing (POD) locations using RealOpt.

Mallory Brown is a Senior Managing Associate with ten years of experience in disaster relief and mass casualty incident response. As a former Disaster Preparedness Specialist with SPIN Global and former Executive Director with the American Red Cross, her expertise is focused on whole community engagement; public-private partnerships; mass care; preparedness and risk reduction training, and exercises; planning; and research. Her response deployments include Hurricanes Harvey & Irma; the Schoharie Mass Casualty Transportation Incident; the Dayton, Ohio Mass Shooting Incident; and several other large-scale flooding events in Houston, Texas, and Upstate New York. She also holds a master’s in emergency management & Homeland Security from Arizona State University.


Additional resources

The following resources are intended to support your home and community become more resilient.

* PULSE is a tool provided by the National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC). To utilize PULSE, contact nbeoc@max.gov to request login credentials.