New Year, new emergency plan — ready yourself and your family in case disaster strikes


The new year is a time for resolutions and promising to do better. And while most of this resolve centers on personal improvement —fitness, finances, employment — people should also resolve to be ready in case the unthinkable happens and disaster strikes.

Planning for emergencies and disasters isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun time, but a little readiness today could make up for a mountain of heartache tomorrow and even save lives.

Now that the holiday shopping season is over, it may be a good time to invest a little time and money to review your preparedness.

In conjunction with Ready OC, Orange County’s emergency preparedness resource, and Safe OC, part of the national “If You See Something, Say Something” anti-terrorism public awareness campaign, here are some resolutions you can take to guard against disasters, whether natural or manmade.

Disasters are a part of life

Residents of Southern California know how fickle nature can be. A spark can ignite a fire, and even a little rainfall can trigger mudslides that overtake homes, canals and streams.

In California, as of December 16, 2021, more than 8,600 fires had torched more than 2.5 million acres for the year. Orange County is just over a year removed from the Silverado and Bond fires. The former burned nearly 12,500 acres, injured two firefighters, and led to the evacuation of 90,000 residents, the latter torched more than 6,600 acres and destroyed 31 structures.

The recent winter storms that drenched the Southland in December caused $22 million in damage statewide and left thousands without power, according to Caltrans. In Orange County, voluntary evacuation warnings were issued for Silverado Canyon, Williams Canyon and Modjeska Canyon near the Bond fire burn area.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States was hit by an unprecedented 18 separate weather and climate disasters, each causing more than $1 billion in damage.

AlertOC is a free website that was created to deliver mass notifications, including disaster information specific to the cities in which residents live.

Not all disasters are nature made. Although Southern California has been mercifully saved from the worst of it, manmade disasters via terrorism are a constant threat. As the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks remind us, terrorism can strike from anywhere at any time.

What to do? Even if you can’t always stop disaster, you can be ready, just in case.

Get a kit

Stocking up on supplies in the case of a disaster is critical and easily done.

Ready OC’s website provides information on how to put together emergency kits, from a helpful video to a downloadable checklist. The site even has a link to Red Cross kits and supplies that can be purchased online. In addition, many companies online offer emergency kits, from basic to all-inclusive.

Another resource with helpful preparedness guidelines is the website.

Although local officials and relief workers respond to disasters, the response time may vary widely depending on the scope of the disaster. Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer. In compiling a kit, first and foremost, make sure to have the basics for survival for a minimum of three days: water, at least a gallon per person per day; food that is nonperishable and easily stored; and warm clothing and bedding.

Assemble items in backpacks or other containers that can be lifted and carried quickly.

Other items to consider:

  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Cell phone chargers
  • First aid kit
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  • Sign up for AlertOC to receive mass notifications and disaster information
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Masks and face coverings as well as soap, hand sanitizer, and towelettes to protect against not only COVID-19 but other diseases and harmful particulate matter
  • Cash in case automatic teller machines and other automated systems are not working

Disaster may also strike when you are at work or traveling. FEMA recommends storing emergency supplies in vehicles in addition to at home. Include, flares, tools, inclement weather gear, and connectors to plug electronic devices into cars.

Personalize your kit

Every person and family is different. Whether your family includes elderly, young, or pet members, consider everyone in your preparations.

Think about:

  • Any medication you or family members require on a daily basis as well as a list of medications
  • Contact lens solution, glasses, hearing aids with extra batteries
  • For elderly family members or those with special needs, AARP has a helpful list of items
  • For infants, baby food, formula, and diapers
  • For pets, a carrier and food
  • Gather copies of important personal documents including identification, banking, medical and insurance information

Have a plan

Because disasters don’t keep schedules, making a family emergency plan will help if crisis happens. Families should consider strategies for communication, evacuation if necessary, and reunification.

Because modern families are often scattered in the course of a day, communication is vital to know where everyone is at all times. If evacuation is required, learn about evacuation routes and gathering places. Have a plan for how to get back together after a disaster.

Some things to consider:

  • Write a contact list of important phone numbers of family members, emergency services, medical offices, schools, churches, and civic groups frequented by family members.
  • Post phone numbers in a central location at home and distribute lists to family members. Make sure everyone keeps a copy on them. Enter numbers into cell phones.
  • Have a trusted out-of-town contact, as it is often easier to connect long distance than in town after a disaster.
  • Practice and hold household meetings to discuss strategies, scenarios, and sending sample messages.
  • Empower your kids to become part of the process. Quiz children about the family plan at dinner.
  • Explain where the family will reunite after an emergency.
  • Text messaging can sometimes work when network disruptions prevent a phone call from connecting.
  • Arrange places to gather in case of emergency: in home, in the neighborhood, and elsewhere.

See something, say something

Although California has been blessedly spared from terrorist attacks and other manmade disasters, it is important to be vigilant and aware. SafeOC, formerly called Keep OC Safe, is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Defense’s Counterterrorism Bureau. The bureau’s three-pronged message is to notice your surroundings, use common sense, and most important, call local authorities if something doesn’t seem right.

The Red Cross has information online on what you can do before, during, and after a potential terrorist attack.

As with natural disasters, it is important to have a communication plan, emergency kit, and reunification strategy. Also, if you have school-aged children, learn the school’s emergency plans and procedures.

Find more information at