Personal Disaster Preparedness

presented by John Covington, W4CC

This discussion has been presented at club meetings, civic groups and even over the Tarheel Emergency Net. As I mentioned then, the purpose of this discussion is to encourage you to think about how you should prepare for a disaster. There is no "one-size-fits-all" formula for disaster preparedness. Consider some of the points mentioned below and decide what preparations are best for you.

What is Disaster Preparedness?

Disaster Preparedness means taking steps necessary to make sure you and your family are safe and as comfortable as possible in the aftermath of a disaster.

Main Types of Disasters

It's not possible to prepare for every conceivable disaster, so think carefully about what hazards are most likely to affect you. These will vary greatly depending on exactly where you live.

  1. Natural - in North Carolina, hurricanes and winter weather are the most disruptive, but can usually be predicted a few days in advance. Flooding due to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are not very predictable.
  2. Technological (man-made accidental) - radiological, chemical releases; fires. Not predictable, but many hazards are identifiable in advance.
  3. Terrorist (man-made - deliberate) radiological, chemical, explosions, etc. Not predictable.

Your Personal Preparations - Stay Put or Evacuate?

You need to consider both possibilities - sometimes the decision will be made by circumstances beyond your control. Staying put requires more preparation, but you retain your privacy. Evacuation places most of the burden of preparation on someone else. Evacuating to someone's home is nice, but not always possible. If you evacuate to a disaster shelter, you will be dry, well-fed and have no privacy.

For disasters not requiring immediate evacuation, prepare for a 72-hour "stay put" scenario. 72 hours is long enough for the worst part of the disaster to pass, or for you to make a smart decision about what to do next if it hasn't.

For disasters requiring immediate evacuation, have necessities (such as medicine) where you can get to them quickly. A ready kit is a good thing to have so you can be as self-sufficient as possible until you get established somewhere else.

Don't wait too long to make the decision to evacuate. Many flood deaths in this state have resulted from people waiting too long, then their evacuation route disappears.

Consider carefully the psychological impact of a disaster on your family. Some people can just handle survival situations better than others. Even if your home is intact, evacuation may end up being the best thing to do.

Family Communications Plan

You and your family should plan how you will contact each other if you are not together when disaster strikes. Don't rely exclusively on cellular telephones since they usually work intermittently following a disaster.

Your plan should include designating an emergency contact person who lives out of town. Sometimes a long-distance call is actually easier to make than a local call during a disaster. Someone out of town may be more easily able to communicate among separated family members.

Make sure each member of your family has the number of this emergency contact in writing.

Staying Put

Ask yourself if you can survive 72 hours in your home without utilities (electricity, gas, water, phone)? You will most likely lose electricity and telephone service during a disaster. Natural gas and city water usually continue to be available (but not well water).


If you must leave your home, make sure you have thought about what you need to take with you. For example, medicine will probably be hard to obtain after a disaster.

It's best if you can take all essentials with you so you can be as self-sufficient as possible until you get established somewhere else. Depending on the type of disaster, evacuation might be a slow process, and stopping along the way for supplies won't be possible. A 72-hour ready kit is the best way to make sure you have what you need, and is useful even if you stay put. You can make your own or purchase them already made (from suppliers such as Ready-made kits are generic and will probably have a couple of items you don't need and will be missing an item or two you do need.

Some other things you must consider about evacuating:

Items for a Basic 72-Hour Kit

This list is suggested by and includes basic items you should have on hand for a disaster. Keep these items in a container that you can take with you if you need to evacuate, or locate them easily if you are staying put. This is not a "one size fits all" list, you should modify it to suit your circumstances. For example, you might want to add insect repellent and toothbrushes for personal comfort.


If you aren't motivated to spend any time on disaster preparedness, at the bare minimum, do the following:

Amateur Radio Disaster Preparedness

You must make sure your personally prepared for a disaster before you can even consider helping with Amateur Radio. If you are preoccupied with personal matters, you won't be able to help us. To be ready for disaster communications, do the following:

  1. Train regularly with your local ARES group. You play like you practice.

  2. Think about how you might best be able to help during a disaster. Some of us are good at installing antennas and equipment, others of us are better at operating on the air. Not everyone is suited to doing every job. Sometimes just having helping hands, spare equipment or supplies can be helpful even if you cannot operate the radios yourself. Generators need fuel, operators need coffee, stations need to be set up.Figure out where you best fit in. Decide how you can help out if:

    1. you stay home. Can you deploy at a shelter or EOC for a few hours? Operate from home?

    2. must evacuate. Can you deploy from where you have evacuated to, such as a shelter?

  3. Have all resource materials you need in printed form. Don't depend on computers, PDAs and so forth as they may not work in a disaster, require electricity and are relatively fragile.

  4. If you use a computer regularly in your on-the-air operations, make sure you practice doing things such as calling nets and handling traffic the pencil-and-paper way once in a while. Remember, you are you may not be able to spare the amp-hours or the table space to run a computer.

  5. Have an Amateur Radio ready kit to supplement your personal ready kit. Some items to include:

    1. Portable radio, antenna and power supply or batteries (2 sets)

    2. Headset or earphones (you may be operating in a noisy area)

    3. Any cables you could possibly need

    4. Pencils and Paper

    5. Clipboard (firm writing surface, you may not have one otherwise)

    6. Radiogram forms (helpful but not absolutely required)

    7. Operating aids (pink card, Field Resources Manual, list of ARRL numbered radiograms, and anything appropriate for your local area)

    8. Small tools (multi-tip screwdriver, multitools, etc.)

    9. ARES Identification Card, if appropriate

    10. Important phone numbers and frequencies

    11. Map of the area

    12. Flashlight

    13. Poncho - very small to store, only around $2 and can be useful when you least expect.

Internet Resources for Disaster Preparedness

Most of these are in Adobe PDF format, so you will need a PDF reader. Some of the larger documents can be purchased, this may be more economical than printing them out.

Department of Homeland Security

Information on how to make a kit of emergency supplies, make a plan for what you will do in an emergency, and be informed about different kinds of threats.

Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness (PDF)

FEMA's Emergency Management Institute - Independent Study Program

Online training in many areas of disaster preparedness.

American Red Cross

Publications about Family Disaster Planning, Personal Workplace Disaster Supplies Kit, Animals Safety and many more.

ARC disaster preparedness materials for seniors, children, people with disabilities and animal and pet owners.Disaster preparedness materials for seniors, children, people with disabilities and animal and pet owners.

Amateur Radio

The ARES Field Resources Manual, Public Service Communications Manual and many operating aids are available for download.

Certification and Continuing Education - online courses you can take to learn more about Amateur Radio procedures for disaster communications


A supplier of personal disaster preparedness kits and other similar items.

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John Covington, W4CC