Beginner’s Guide to Emergency Preparation

Everything you need to know to get started

How do you being preparing for disasters?

Hopefully you will find this to be helpful, no matter how much preparation you have or have not already done.

There are four questions you should answer before you get started:

  1. Why?
  2. What?
  3. Who?
  4. How long?

It’s very important to answer and understand these questions to know how to prepare along the way.

Don’t just plan to survive, plan to thrive.

Why are you preparing?

You should be preparing for:

  • Your personal safety and wellbeing
  • Personal comfort and for survival until help arrives or relief comes.

What are you preparing for?

What is your “it”? That is, what are you planning for if “it” happens? Things that may be on your “it” list would include:

Natural disasters:

  • Hurricanes
  • Earthquakes
  • Tornadoe
  • Flood
  • Wildfire
  • Winter storms
  • Disease outbreaks

Man-made disasters:

  • Acts of terrorism or war
  • EMP attack
  • Chemical / biological attack
  • Toxic chemical release
  • Industrial accident
  • Dam failure
  • Nuclear power plant accident
  • Cyber attacks
  • Power grid failures

There are likely other “it” items on your list but to me, the specific cause, the “it”, is not as important as the positional effects:

  • Loss of electricity, gas or water utilities.
  • No internet or cell phone services
  • ATM’s or credit card transactions not available.
  • A need to “shelter in place” may make it impossible to go to stores to get food and other items.

So even though the “it” has great importance on specific plans you need to make, I teach people to think beyond the causes and plan for the possible effects.

Who are you preparing for?

The best place to start is with your immediate household. Make plans to provide for them first. As time goes on, and if you are able, you may expand your preparations to include family members not living in your home, extended family, friends, neighbors, and don’t forget your pets.

How long of a period of time should you prepare for?

FEMA, Red Cross, cities, counties and states all very in how long of a period of time they recommend you prepare for. The shortest recommended time (and also the most common) is 72 hours.

I have found some sources that now recommend longer periods of time ranging from several days up to two weeks. Though rare, I’ve even seen thirty days.

Here is what I recommend:

  • Shelter in place at home a minimum of 2 weeks and up to 3 months
  • Shelter in place at work 1 day
  • Evacuate 3 days
  • Stranded in car 1-3 days

Three months sounds like a long time to prepare for, and it is. But the two biggest enemies of disaster planning are procrastination and underestimating. So in order to get started, you have overcome the first one.

If you discover that you have underestimated, the longer you planned for, the longer your supplies will last, even if it’s a shorter period than you originally estimated. For example, if

you plan for a two week food supply, you may find out that in reality it only lasts a few days.

During stressful situations (which this would likely be) we tend to eat more than we usually do. Plus, will you be able to turn down others who may be hungry that you didn’t plan for? All reasons to extend your preparations.

The Common Questions

  1. How can I get started?
  2. What should I do first?
  3. What is the single most important thing for me to do?

My answer to all three is the same! Start by making a written plan; it’s the most important thing you can do, as long as you follow through with your plans. It will be your road map to guide you through the process.

In your written plan, include things like a spending budget. Set timelines to get specific tasks done and schedule specific times to work on your plans. It would be reasonable in the beginning to plan an hour or two every week to work on your plans.

Planning and preparations are not “one size fits all.” Every family has specific needs different from others. Someone living in Ohio does not need to plan to board up their doors and windows in preparation for a hurricane. Those living in Florida don’t need to make the same plans for winter storms as someone living in Minnesota.

It is also not “set it and forget it.” Disaster planning should become a lifestyle, not make some preparations and then forget it. You need to review your plans at least annually and make changes as your family changes and your specific needs change.

The 7 Steps of Planning (3Ps, 1M, 3Rs)

Here are seven steps to include in your disaster preparations. I call them the three Ps, the M and the three Rs of planning.

P – Plan

  • Make a written plan. Be very specific.
  • Think about your answers to the four questions whywhat, who, how long, plus these seven steps for disaster planning.
  • Also include the 4- scenarios (shelter in place at home,shelter in place at work, evacuate, stranded in car).
  • Think about the Rules of Threes and the Basic Six, (each of these will be explained later in the month).
  • Set a budget.
  • List specific actions you are going to take.
  • Set specific timelines to get tasks done.
  • Get your family involved in the process. Make it fun for kids and a learning experience. This will also reduce the fear and uncertainty for kids by being part of the planning, and it will help them have an idea what to expect in the event of an emergency.

P – Prepare

Without actually preparing, plans are only good intentions. Start implementing your written plans. Remember, the first one of the two biggest enemies of emergency preparations is procrastination, so STICK TO YOUR PLAN!

Start gathering supplies and make it a lifestyle or life process, not an ending point. Remember this should not be “set it and forget it.”

P – Practice

Practice may reveal weaknesses and shortcomings. Try a “Weekend without power.” If you are comfortable with doing so or can get qualified help, turn off your electrical power for a weekend. See what it is like to make it through without electricity. If you don’t want to do an entire weekend, try it for a day or even several hours.

If you cook with gas, try to go for a period of time without using your stove and oven. How would you cook meals?

Try a “weekend without water.” Either avoid using it or again, if you are comfortable enough or can get qualified help, turn off the main water valve in your home. How will you get water? How can you purify water gathered from an outdoor source making it safe to drink? How are you going to bathe, cook and flush the toilet?

You could try two or even all three of these suggestions at the same time, but it may be overwhelming (as it would be in an actual emergency). I recommend doing them one at a time and really focus on meeting that need. Think of it as “camping at home.”

  • Gather, filter and purify water
  • Use a cook stove to prepare meals
  • Practice lighting your home by other means

Think about fire suppression. During a disaster, emergency services may be overwhelmed or possibly not even able to respond to your emergency. Learn and practice home fire suppression techniques and how to react in case of a fire.

If you are going to use a generator to power lights and appliances, it is critical that you do several things. First, know how to safely operate your generator. You must calculate the watts or amperage load that you will put on the generator and assure that the unit it properly sized to handle the it.

Any electrical extension cords must be the proper size to handle the amp load. The gauge and length of the power cords are very important. If you are not capable of making these calculations yourself, contact a licensed electrician to assist you.

Practicing with your generator is important. Start the generator, lay out the power cords and plug in the items you plan to operate with the generator. Make sure the power cords are long enough to reach the point where you need them. Never overload the power cords; it could result in a fire.

Remember, safety first. The generator will produce the same electricity that you have in your home with the same risk of electrical shock or electrocution.

Practice meeting your needs for first aid, hygiene and sanitation. Assure that you have the supplies you may need and the knowledge of how to use them.

A mock evacuation drill with your family is also a great idea. Make sure that the supplies you have prepared will fit into your vehicle and everyone should know what is expected of them should you need to evacuate.

M – Mitigate

You have already taken some mitigation steps by planning, preparing and practicing. You have already reduced the impact of a disaster on you and your family, providing safety and comfort that would not have been possible without the steps you have taken.

But there are things that will help mitigate potential property damage. For starters, make sure you are in compliance with building codes for your area with regard to things such as tornadoes ties, high wind shingles, fireproof roofs, storm proof construction and others.

There are additional steps that people can make like boarding up doors and windows to mitigate hurricane damage or putting sheets of plastic and sand bags in place to mitigate flood damage. Some personal safety mitigation steps would be taking actions like moving to a basement or storm shelter in the event of a tornado.

If there is an earthquake, getting under a solid structure is your best bet, and in the event of a wildfire, evacuation may be the best mitigation action.

R – Respond

Responding to a disaster is simply carrying out your written plans, moving to a safe area or evacuating. Even though it is as simple as that to explain, it is one of the most important items for you to have in your plans. Simply building up supplies and taking mitigation steps is not enough.

It may be very crucial how you respond. Actions you take during the disaster will determine the outcome or impact the disaster has on you and your family. So don’t take this step in your planning lightly. Make plans and practice them in as much detail as you can as to how you will respond to the disaster.

R – Recover

Replenish and stow any supplies used during the disaster, making sure to restore your supplies to the level you originally had. Repair damage but USE CAUTION! Be aware of potential new hazards created by the event. Watch for downed power lines or exposed electrical wiring.

Returning home after an evacuation, watch for wild animals or injured domestic animals. Do not remove dead animals. Do not enter if there is standing water. Do not enter if you smell gas. Do not enter if your home was damaged by fire, and look for interior damage and slippery floors.

R – Review

Have printed copies of your plans, not just digital ones. Keep a copy of your plans with your emergency supplies. Set a specific date(s) for annual review.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) sets fire prevention and safety week every year on whatever week contains the date of October 9th, which commemorates the great Chicago fire. The fire actually began on October 8, 1871 but the majority of the damage occurred on October 9th. That would be a good time to teach and practice fire safety with your children and other family members and conduct an annual review of your emergency preparations.

Another time frame to do an annual review could be during the month of September. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has set September as National Disaster Preparedness Month.

When you do the annual review of your plans, carefully rethink all of your action plans and supplies. Replace any outdated or soon to be outdated supplies Make changes as needed to meet the changing needs of your family. Build on your plans and improve on them.

While making your preparedness plans, make plans for the following four scenarios.

  1. Shelter in place – at home, at school or at work. Plan for one day sheltering at work or school if possible and two weeks or longer at home
  2. Evacuate – self directed, recommended or mandatory. Should plan for 72 hours of supplies: food, water, health (First aid, medications, etc.), hygiene, sanitation needs emergency lighting and protection from the elements, ponchos, blankets, etc.
  3. Get home – Travel may be restricted, may need to walk to safety or walk home. Have a “get home bag” with comfortable walking shoes, bottle of water, energy bar, poncho, etc.
  4. Stranded in your car – stuck in traffic, driven off or slid off the road, road blocked, road damaged, flooded or blocked by snow or ice storm

Rules of Three

The Rules of Three refers to the length of time you may survive without basic needs. These are simply basic guidelines

  • 3 Minutes without breathable air (drowning, asphyxiation, smoke inhalation). May need a mask or respirator due to smoke, dust or chemicals, also you may want air tight goggles
  • 3 Hours without shelter (exposure) in a harsh environment
  • 3 Days without water (dehydration). Will start by feeling thirsty; symptoms may intensify within hours
  • 3 Weeks without food (starvation). First sign is hunger. Hunger gets more severe over time with changes in mental state, cognitive functions and weakness

The Basic Six

These are the minimum six things you need to sustain life, health and well being:

  1. Water (maintain hydration)
  2. Food (maintain nutritional needs)
  3. Health (First Aid, medications, etc.)
  4. Hygiene (oral, body, food preparation, etc.)
  5. Sanitation (human waste)
  6. Shelter (home, vehicle, tent, wilderness shelter)

In closing, I would like to say my goal this month is to provide information to help people be prepared for emergencies that may arise. Whether by nature or manmade, learn how to be prepared and learn survival skills to improve your chances of survival and your overall well being.

Through good preparedness measures you are more likely to thrive, not just survive, in the event you’re entire community is affected by a disaster or you are stranded alone in the Wilderness.

I never criticize anyone for the level of preparation they may have or have not undertaken. Some people have dedicated a tremendous amount of thought, time, effort and money into their preparations, while others have not yet started. I want to help you wherever you are your their emergency preparation readiness.

This series is designed to tell anyone what they MUST do. Emergency preparedness is an individual and a family decision.

I hope you have found things here which you are helpful in some way. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have. Just click on the contact link above, and Jenni and Jody will forward your questions to me.

Make emergency preparation as much of an enjoyable activity as you can, not just another dreaded task in life. It does not have to be done quickly but as a series of accomplishments achieved over time.


Did you enjoy this week’s blog? Be sure to tune into the POP Parenting Radio Show this week. We will continue the conversation there about getting started with your emergency preparations. If the show is not currently aired on a station local to you, you can listen live on the GCN site. The podcast of this week’s show will be posted in the radio section of by January 15th.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is an emergency preparation and survival expert.He was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, a reserve police officer and a Boy Scout Troop Scoutmaster. He has an extensive list of experiences, trainings and certifications that qualify him as an expert among experts. Tom is married to Carla, and between them, they have six children and nine grandchildren. They live in Urbandale, Iowa. Tom also happens to be Jenni’s dad!

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Tom Wolfe is an emergency preparation and survival expert.He was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, a reserve police officer and a Boy Scout Troop Scoutmaster. He has an extensive list of experiences, trainings and certifications that qualify him as an expert among experts. Tom is married to Carla, and between them, they have six children and nine grandchildren. They live in Urbandale, Iowa. Tom also happens to be Jenni’s dad!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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