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Illustration of a checklist, backpack of important documents and medication, and cell phone by Brian Michael Gossett.

Ready for Anything: Natural Disaster Safety Tips

Natural disasters can strike anywhere, with little notice. Follow these three steps to prepare.

By Amy Lynn Smith

Natural Disasters on the Rise

With the increase in natural disasters over the past several years, it’s becoming harder to believe, “It could never happen to me.” But would you know what to do if a potential disaster—a hurricane, tornado, flood, or wildfire—was headed your way? Are you prepared for emergencies that typically come with no warning, like an earthquake? 

“To keep you and your family safe, we encourage you to take three actions: Get a kit, make a plan, and be informed,” says Jocelyn Hillard, an American Red Cross national spokesperson. 

The Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes. Most of those are home fires, and you have only two minutes to get out safely, Hillard explains. If a wildfire is approaching, you might have to move just as fast. 

Dr. Sophia Chang Describes Friends’ Colorado Wildfire Experience

“I have a friend in Boulder, Colorado, who experienced the wildfires in December 2021. She was very distressed that several older neighbors on her block didn’t evacuate because they were waiting for the firefighters to come to their door,” says Sophia Chang, MD, MPH

“The fire was moving too fast for that—and even faster than the emergency alerts. The fire stopped less than a mile from their homes, so they were lucky,” Dr. Chang shares. “But just streets away, people lost their homes and had to escape the fire by running. It really brings home the importance of being prepared and responding quickly.” 

3 Tips to Be Prepared During a Disaster

1. Get a KitCreate A Kit with Emergency Supplies

Creating a kit—sometimes called a “go bag”—doesn’t have to be complicated. Hillard suggests buying one item at a time.  Whether you must evacuate or shelter in place, having all the supplies you need in a kit is essential. 

When it comes to your medications, have at least a week’s worth and ideally more, Dr. Chang says. Some things, like your cell phone and charger, can’t stay in the kit, so be sure to grab them if you must evacuate. 

Gather your important documents, including copies of your will and any advanced medical directives, suggests Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, cardiologist, geriatrician, and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Clover Health. 

Hillard recommends keeping all these papers in a folder and updating details like current medications monthly. As a backup, consider taking photos of the information, so it’s on your phone, too. 

If family photos or other small keepsakes are precious to you, keep them near your kit or in a fire- and water- proof safe. If you have pets, be sure to include supplies for them, too, or identify someone to take care of them. 

2. Make an Escape Plan 

The idea of leaving your home suddenly is frightening. Knowing—and practicing— your plan may calm your fears and make it easier if disaster strikes. 

First, assess your needs. For example, are you in a wheelchair and in need of special assistance to evacuate? Do you need power for essential medical items, such as oxygen?

Talk with your neighbors and family in advance so everyone knows how you’ll evacuate or shelter in place if necessary. 

“Build out your support network. Identify helpers and what they’re willing to help with at a moment’s notice,” Hillard recommends. Ask yourself, if you don’t have a generator, what will you do if you lose power? Can a relative or neighbor help? Do you need a battery backup device? 

Hillard also suggests alerting your local fire department in advance if you might need special care in an emergency, so they can check on you. 

Perhaps most important of all, practice. Rehearse your escape plan with your designated helpers. “Take the steps now to understand what your evacuation plan is,” Hillard says. 

3. Be Informed

Many cities and states have emergency alert systems that warn you of an impending emergency or an evacuation order. If you have a mobile phone, you should automatically receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) as text messages. Otherwise, stay tuned to your local public radio station. 

Also, think about adding the Red Cross emergency app to your smartphone for similar kinds of alerts, as well as shelter locations, supply checklists, and more. 

A battery-powered radio—and extra batteries—is a must in any emergency because it could be your only source for news and updates. 

Pay close attention to evacuation orders or instructions for how to shelter in place. 

“Take the recommendation of local officials,” urges Hillard. “If there is an evacuation request in place, take it seriously.” 

Check for weather updates and warnings at

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Clover Living magazine. Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to Clover Living magazine for free (if you aren’t already subscribed) here.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan

Published on 9/28/22

Illustration by: Brian Michael Gossett