Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods often come without much warning. So, it’s important to be adequately prepared ahead of time so that you can protect yourself and your family during the event. But it is equally important to take steps to make your home and surrounding areas as safe as possible even after things have seemingly ended.
- stock up on the right type of food
- remember water
- assemble a first-aid kit
- make sure to have a change of clothes
- clean from the inside out
- drink the water if you think it might be contaminated
- forget to wash your hands frequently
- keep any food items that came into contact with flood waters
- forget to protect important documents
- store food outside
Plan ahead and make sure to have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food on hand. It’s important to select the right foods — those that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking. If you have young children, consider setting aside a couple of their favorite non-perishable snacks as comfort food. Replace stored food every six months.
Water is important to your overall health and can help keep you and your surrounding area clean. Like food, keep a three-day supply of water per person on hand — roughly three gallons. One gallon will be for drinking and the other two for cooking and sanitation needs. Factory-sealed bottled water is the best choice, but if you choose to purify and store your own water, use glass or food grade plastic containers (e.g. PET) with screw-on caps. Add approximately 16 drops of plain household bleach to each container before filling to the top and capping. Clearly mark containers with the date the water was stored and replace annually. If you suspect the quality of the stored water has become compromised for any reason, discard or boil the water before consuming.
In case of a minor medical emergency, it’s important to be prepared. Include such items as antiseptic cream or disinfecting pads, different sizes of safety pins, latex gloves, scissors, tweezers, pain relievers, prescription medications, sterile bandages, and gauze pads in your family’s kit.
You never know what type of messy situation can accompany the aftermath of a natural disaster. That’s why you should keep at least one and preferably two changes of clothes for each member of your family in your disaster kit so you can keep comfortable and clean if you have to leave your house unexpectedly. If you have children who are still in diapers, include a 2 – 3 day supply of diapers as well.
If any surfaces in your home are exposed to flood waters during or after the storm, be sure to properly clean and sanitize them. Always start the cleaning process where food is prepared and work outward into the rest of the home. Hard surfaces should first be rinsed with clean water to remove visible residue, then washed with a mixture of hot water and detergent. After cleaning, rinse with potable water and allow to air dry. To sanitize, mix one capful 5.25 percent plain household bleach per gallon of water or apply a sanitizing agent specifically formulated to kill germs and bacteria. Soft surfaces like furniture cushions cannot usually be effectively cleaned and should be thrown out.
During a natural disaster, the water coming from your tap may become unavailable or unsafe due to microbiological contamination. If you are unsure if your home’s water supply is safe, boil it first for at least three minutes at a good rolling boil or find an alternate drinking water source until the regular supply is restored and deemed safe for human consumption.
After a disaster strikes, staying clean can be hard to do, especially if you don’t have running water, but staying clean is the best way to help you and your family stay healthy. Regularly wash your hands with soap and clean water, especially before eating or after handling items that were in contact with flood waters. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizing gels with alcohol in them.
Because standing water can be ridden with bacteria and other microorganisms, toss any food that has come into contact with it. Even canned items, which may seem to be impenetrable, should be thrown out. Dishes and cookware may be able to be cleaned and sanitized if they are made from heat-resistant materials. Wash the item in hot soapy water, rinse with potable water and then immerse the item in hot water that is at least 171° F for 30 seconds. If you don’t have access to a thermometer, another option is to wash dishware on the sanitizing cycle of an NSF/ANSI Standard 184 certified dishwasher.
In the event of a natural disaster, it’s important to keep paper documents, such as passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc., in a safe place. Use a waterproof container to keep these documents safe and unaffected by rain or flood waters and, if possible, keep copies of your most important documents in a separate location like a safety deposit box.
Although it may seem tempting to store food outside, especially if it is cold and the power is out, food items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions if left outdoors or animals could get into the containers holding the food. In addition, heat from the sun’s rays can raise the temperature of perishable foods very quickly, even if stored in a cooler, leading to the growth of bacteria.
A natural disaster can be scary because of the unknown factor. Yet even amidst uncertainty, there are ways to plan and prepare so you can protect yourself and your family during and after any possible event.