In spite of my time in EMS and Emergency Management, I remember being shocked when I learned in CERT class that everything I’d learned to expect on a scene goes out the window in a disaster. A completely different frame of mind takes over, because emergency services are utterly overwhelmed.
One of the chief things you can do to keep from becoming a statistic is to have a plan. Learn what should go in your plan at Ready.gov
A disaster supply kit goes a long way toward your being self-sufficient in those harried early hours of a disaster.
The list above is what you should consider the minimum essential supplies. I encourage you to download these files with more detailed lists:
Don’t forget supplies for your pets!
Disaster Kit for Pets (PDF)
Disasters don’t always happen when we’re at home — or even in our home community. Here are some tips for being prepared while traveling:
What can I expect in the first hours?
There’s no easy way to say this: be prepared for utter chaos. From experience, I can tell you it will go noticeably smoother in an urban area than in a rural area. That’s because urban areas have more resources to throw at it in the early hours, while rural areas will have extremely limited resources until mutual aid and resource-sharing arrangements kick in and emergency crews make the drive to the scene. This is no critique against rural areas, but what I’ve actually experienced.
Moore Oklahoma – May 20, 2013
I was on-scene at Briarwood Elementary within 15 minutes of the tornado hitting there. I can recall at least 15 emergency responders on-scene by then, and enough trained personnel had arrived within about 90 minutes that multiple search parties were organized to canvass the adjacent neighborhood in a systematic fashion. Remember, this was being repeated at several locations.
Greensburg Kansas – May 7, 2007
I don’t have direct experience from in-town, but I’m pretty sure 15-20 responders was all Kiowa county would have been able to muster that night. Other areas sent resources — for example, a single ambulance from Coldwater passed where I was helping a man out of his mobile home — but for the first few hours only a trickle of help was available. I was stuck south of town for several hours, and when I got out and was taken to Pratt by a friend about 2am, there was still a stream of ambulances running westbound on US 54 responding to the scene.
In spite of the differences, I imagine the experience of individual survivors in each situation was probably quite similar — coming out of shelter into a wasteland, disoriented, not sure where help might be or how to react…and knowing that life had just changed irreversibly.
I encourage you to spend some time in active thought about what that might be like for you. I’ve found thinking about such things ahead of time is a tremendous help in being ready for the eventuality.
Additional steps to take
You hear about disaster kits frequently. A close second to having such a kit is having proof of who you are, where you belong, and what you own. This PDF from FEMA describes the documents you should have handy, or even have a copy of in your disaster kit: Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (PDF)
Here’s more information from DisasterRecovery.org: Disaster Survivor Application Checklist
Other posts in this series: