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Topics > Healthy Outlook > How to Prepare for Disasters

How to Prepare for Disasters

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Feb. 01, 2006
By Kim Cox, MPH

HURRICANE KATRINA was a harsh awakening for Americans. In a disaster, help might not arrive for days or not at all.

We have disaster response systems in Contra Costa County, but you and your family's survival may depend on how well you prepare.

Local disasters might include an earthquake, a chemical spill, a disease outbreak or a bioterrorism attack. You must be prepared to stay in your home or to evacuate.

The following list may help you start assembling your family disaster kit.

Three days for each person: Experts agree you should have enough supplies to be self-sufficient for at least three days. This means you could be without power, gasoline, running water or emergency services.

Container: You'll need a big, moveable container that will keep your provisions dry and clean. Keep the perishable items accessible so they can be replaced every six months without much trouble. Consider a large wheeled rubber garbage can or storage box, a duffel bag, or a combination. You need to be able to put the whole disaster kit in your car or trunk without too much delay, in case of evacuation.

Checklist: Make a checklist like the following. Canned or dried food for each family member: Foods like soup, jerky, trail mix and powdered milk. Include a can opener, utensils, plates, cups, specialty foods for babies, the elderly and pets, and any special diet needs.

Water: One gallon per person per day. Bottled water is probably best, either in large or small containers. A family of four needs 12 gallons of water, or approximately three cases of 35 half-liter bottles.

First aid and medical supplies: Buy a first aid kit, and add sunblock, insect repellent, extra pair of prescription eyeglasses, needed over-the counter pills (e.g., for pain, heartburn and diarrhea), a list of medicines and dosages for each family member, and contact information for your health care providers. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to best set aside, preserve and label a three- to seven-day supply of prescription medicines for each family member. Don't forget to replace these when they expire or are changed by your doctor. Some suggest changing these monthly.

Flashlights and radio: Include extra batteries or use a wind-up flashlight. Candles can be useful, but be sure flammables will not cause an explosion.

Toiletries and sanitation items: Include wet wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, feminine supplies and hand sanitizer.

Clothing and bedding: Include sturdy shoes, rain gear, jackets, and sleeping bags.

Tools: Especially a utility knife, pliers, scissors, screwdriver, rope and duct tape. Lighter or waterproof matches.

Pets: Keep carriers and leashes near the kit. Most evacuation shelters forbid pets so have a back-up plan.

Cash and change: ATMs, banks and cell phone service may not be operating. Have coins for a pay phone.

Copies of important documents and numbers: Driver's license, passport, insurance policies and wills. Have ID numbers for medical records, credit cards and financial accounts.

Replace the water, food, medicine and other perishables every six months. Keep the kit in an accessible location that everyone in the family knows about, and make a family disaster plan.

For more information, contact the county Office of Emergency Services at 925-335-1500, or visit the Web site at

Cox is the health emergency response coordinator for Contra Costa Health Services.

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