PREPARING FOR A NATURAL DISASTER DURING COVID TO PROTECT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY
As we continue through the year with COVID-19 on the rise in much of the U.S. and the threat of a second wave coming, it is important to keep in mind that other disasters will inevitably happen during this time. You must prepare now in order to react to other crises appropriately in the midst of this pandemic. Already, authorities are responding to or planning for wildfires in the Western U.S., hurricanes along the Eastern seaboard, tornadoes in the middle of the country, and even an earthquake in the north. While those authorities – including first responders and emergency managers – plan for their jurisdictions, there is much you can also do as an individual for personal preparedness. What exactly does personal preparedness amidst COVID-19 mean? What are the tangible steps that you can take now to keep yourself and your family safe?
First, know the other potential disasters that could impact you. Emergency managers compile a document called the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment plan to identify potential disasters in a geographic area, everything from a nuclear strike to a volcanic eruption to civil unrest. In most cases, the plan is available online, so do a little research and think now about those potential disasters in your area. The key to surviving any crisis, disaster, or emergency is preparedness, but especially personal preparedness. You must do more to prepare yourself. You simply can’t rely solely on the government, whether that be local, state, or federal to meet every need for every person.
So, the next priority is to put together a disaster kit. The best rule of thumb is to be “two weeks ready,” meaning have enough supplies on hand to last two weeks at any given time if you can’t shop. If you had your kit ready prior to the pandemic, you would have already had N95 masks, like I did, because pandemics and volcanoes (which produce hazardous ash) are both identified as potential disasters in my area. Due to the virus, N95 masks are reserved for first responders and healthcare workers, but you can still prepare by placing extra face coverings in your kit. Bandanas, scarves, or handmade cloth masks are all appropriate face coverings and should be worn when around other people when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In addition, hand sanitizer should be included in your kit and in most areas, it is now available again.
Normally, soap and water would be fine. But in the midst of another disaster, on top of COVID-19, access to soap and water may be limited. As we should all know by now, regular and thorough hand washing (for at least 20 seconds) or sanitizing is one of the most practical and common-sense measures you can take to protect against COVID-19, along with a face covering. You’ll need masks and hand sanitizer if you must evacuate your home or go to a shelter this year.
During most disasters, shelter-in-place at your home is the preferred option over evacuation for most people, but there are times when you will need to leave. Think now about your options, because during COVID-19, those options might be different. If you must evacuate your home, have a plan for where you will go, whether that be a shelter, friend’s house, or out of state relative. Add paper maps to your disaster kit with the route to your destination marked. That way, if phone service is down, you still know how to get where you are going. And on the topic of shelters, authorities will be planning for them, but it will be important for every individual to check if a shelter is open prior to showing up there.
Even if a shelter was open or available during a previous disaster, that does not mean it will be open now because of the pandemic. Facilities that often serve as shelters, such as libraries and schools, may continue to be closed in your area. And even if they are open, capacity will almost certainly be highly restricted to accommodate physical distancing. Face coverings will also likely be required. If you can remain home during a disaster, and shelter-in-place instead, ensure you have enough food and water to be “two weeks ready.”
Supply chains have already been disrupted to some extent in some areas, and while products are continuing to reach the grocery stores, those disruptions might become exacerbated. Stock up now, but remember that preparedness is not hoarding. There’s no reason to buy all the toilet paper or flour. I also recommend individuals stock up on things you would typically eat and then rotate your supplies. Avoid meals ready to eat or other pre-packaged disaster food if you can, because they generally do not taste as good and eventually expire, sometimes unbeknownst to you if they’re shoved in a closet somewhere. Rotating “normal” food ensures your supplies do not expire.
For me, my “normal” is beans and rice. I always eat a lot of beans and rice, so rotating it is not a problem. It also lasts a long time. Keep in mind that some foods, like bread and milk, will not last very long. I have never understood why they sell out first. Pick foods that will have a long shelf life, fill your stomach, and you actually enjoy eating.
Finally, I highly recommend signing up for local emergency alerts. While emergency managers and first responders can send Wireless Emergency Alerts, like Amber Alerts that are pushed onto your cell phone, the tendency is to send more information to residents that have opted-in to receive more information.
Most counties and states have a system in place, and a simple internet search on emergency alerts and your county should lead you to the local opt-in page. If a protective action is required, like evacuation or shelter, then guidance tailored to that action during COVID-19 will be provided via an alert. Remember, if you are prepared, then you are far less likely to feel panic or worry during a disaster. Serving previously as a CIA officer and now as an emergency manager, and responding to many crises, has taught me many things, but chief among them is that no problem has ever been solved by panic. Don’t panic. We must pursue practical, common-sense approaches to all disasters, but especially during this pandemic, as a nation and as individuals. We’re all in this together. The entire world is in this together.
This pandemic will teach all of us many things, but my hope is that it will lead us to become better prepared, as individuals, a nation, and the world. The next crisis is coming, and it could be worse. So start getting prepared now.