Make a Disaster Preparedness Checklist

Physician's Money DigestJanuary15 2004
Volume 11
Issue 1

Whether it's a house fire, earthquake, orterrorist attack, at any time, a disastercould strike quickly and without warning.With a little advance planning andcommon sense, much can be done to protect yourselfand your loved ones in the wake of a disaster. Afterweathering last summer's fires in California, I foundout how a practical disaster survival plan can help.

Family Communication

Plan so that each family member can contact thesame person in an emergency. Choose an out-of-statecontact who can receive and communicate informationto separated family members. Be sure that eachfamily member has the telephone number of the centralcontact and the resources to call them. Withyoung children, be sure that the school and caregiverknow to call the central contact if you can't bereached. Plan a rendezvous point where your familywill meet both within and outside of your immediatearea, and practice getting there.

Find out what kinds of disasters are most likely tooccur in your area and where to obtain disaster information.Inquire about emergency plans. If none exist,consider creating one. Talk to your neighbors. Decidewho will check on elderly or disabled neighbors. Findout if anyone has specialized equipment like a powergenerator or expertise that might help in a crisis. Havinga fellow doctor by your side may prove very helpful.

Staying or Evacuating

The first important decision is whether to stay putor evacuate. You should plan for both possibilities.Use common sense and available information todetermine if there is immediate danger. There may besituations when it's best to stay where you are and createa barrier between yourself and potentially contaminatedair outside. In these situations, take the followingsteps:

  • Bring your family and pets inside.
  • Lock doors and close windows, air vents, andfireplace dampers.
  • Turn off fans, air conditioning, and forced airheating systems.
  • Take your emergency supply kit.
  • Go into an interior room with few windows, ifat all possible.
  • Seal ventilation gaps to create a barrier betweenyourself and any contamination. If you use plasticsheeting and duct tape to seal all windows, doors, andair vents in a small area and there are too many peopleoccupying that space, the supply of oxygen canquickly be depleted. Consider purchasing a portableair purifier to help remove contaminants.

There may be conditions under which you decide,or are ordered, to evacuate. If you have a car, keep ahalf tank of gas in it at all times; if you don't have acar, plan how you will leave. Find out alternate routesand other means of transportation out of your area.Take the following steps when evacuating:

  • Take your emergency supply kit.
  • Lock the door behind you.
  • Take your pets with you. Note: Only serviceanimals may be permitted in public shelters.
  • Call or e-mail the out-of-state contact and tellthem where you're going.
  • If there is damage to your home, shut off water,gas, and electricity.
  • Take important papers, documents, personaltelephone numbers, etc.
  • Leave a note telling others when you left andwhere you are going.
  • Check with neighbors who may need a ride.

Far from Home

Take necessary precautions if you're in a movingvehicle when disaster strikes. If there are factors thatmake it difficult to control the vehicle, pull over, stop thecar, and set the parking brake. Follow these useful tips:

  • Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs,and other hazards.
  • If a power line falls on your car, you are at riskof electrical shock. Stay inside until a trained personremoves the wire.
  • Listen to the radio for important informationand instructions.If you find yourself in a high-rise building, take thefollowing preventative measures:
  • Be sure you're familiar with the locations of theclosest emergency exits.
  • Know another way out in case your first choiceis blocked.
  • Take precautions, such as ducking under a deskor table if objects are falling.
  • Move away from file cabinets, bookshelves, orother objects that might fall.
  • Face away from windows and glass and moveaway from exterior walls.
  • Determine if you should stay put or evacuate.

Listen to instructions and stay calm.

Survival Kit Assembly

Consider putting together two types of kits—one foryour home or office with everything needed if you areconfined in either place, and a portable, lightweight,smaller one that you can take in the event of an evacuation.In addition to survival necessities such as food,water, first aid supplies, etc, your disaster survival kitshould include a waterproof, portable container. For thecontainer, keep the following in mind:

  • Print a copy of your survival plan so that nodetail is overlooked.
  • Make a personal telephone directory.
  • Have photocopies of family records such as birthand marriage certificates, passports, medical and otherID cards, and banking and credit card information.
  • List where your important papers and documentsare located.
  • Have your family's medical history, includingblood types, allergies, medications, etc, handy.

List insurance carriers and policy numbers.

Personal Possessions

Surviving a disaster is the first order of business,but make sure you can retain your lifestyle after thestorm. If disaster strikes, an inventory of your householdpossessions that lists and details everything youown could help prove the value of what you owned ifthose possessions are damaged or destroyed. In additionto providing documentation for tax deductionsyou claim for losses, you will also likely receive afaster, fairer payment from your insurance company.

Make a complete inventory of personal possessions,including the model, serial numbers, original purchasedates, and price, along with copies of receipts, cancelledchecks, and appraisals for valuable items.


If creating a written inventory of your worldlypossessions seems like too much work, consider anannotated photo or video inventory of your home andpersonal possessions. In addition to saving you time,pictures often describe possessions better than words. Don't leave your only copy at home,where it might be destroyed.

The best way to protect yourself and your lovedones is to have a plan in place that addresses your particularcircumstances and location. Once you've establishedyour disaster plan, have periodic rehearsals toensure that everyone in your family knows what to doin an emergency. Teach your children what to do if theyare alone when disaster strikes. Contact the USDepartment of Homeland Security and the AmericanRed Cross for more complete and up-to-date disasterplanning information. Above all, stay calm, be patient,and think before you act.

For more information

  • US Department of Homeland Security (800-BE-READY;
  • American Red Cross Family Disaster Planning (
  • American Red Cross Pets and Disaster (

Martin Kuritz is a retired estate planner, who, formore than 30 years, has helped clients effectivelycommunicate their economic and personal wishesto their heirs. His 1993 best-selling book, TheBeneficiary Book: A Family Information Organizer,has sold more than 1 million copies. He is alsothe coauthor of 2 other books, My Busine$$ Bookand Take Good Care of My Baby. For information about these books,call 800-222-9125 or visit www.

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