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Why Prepare for a Disaster?

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Disasters disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Each disaster has lasting effects—people are seriously injured, some are killed, and property damage runs into the billions of dollars.

If a disaster occurs in your community, local government and disaster-relief organizations try to help you. But you need to be ready as well. Local responders may not be able to reach you immediately, or they may need to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Being prepared and understanding what to do can reduce fear, anxiety and losses that accompany disasters. Communities, families and individuals should know what to do in a fire and where to seek shelter in a tornado. They should be ready to evacuate their homes, take refuge in public shelters and know how to care for their basic medical needs.

People can also reduce the impact of disasters (flood proofing, elevating a home—or moving a home out of harms way, securing items that could shake loose in an earthquake) and sometimes avoid the danger altogether.

You should know how to respond to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area—hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold or flooding. You should also be ready to be self sufficient for at least three days. This may mean providing for your own shelter, first aid, food, water and sanitation.

This guide can help. It was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency responsible for responding to national disasters and for helping state and local governments and individuals prepare for emergencies. It contains step-by-step advice on how to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

While this guide focuses on the physical hazards of disasters, there are also the emotional effects of losing a loved one, a home, or treasured possessions. When under stress, people can become irritable, fatigued, hyperactive, angry and withdrawn. Children and older adults are especially vulnerable to post-disaster psychological effects.

Share this reference with your household. Include everyone in the planning process. Teach children how to respond to emergencies. Give them a sense of what to expect. Being prepared, understanding your risks and taking steps to reduce those risks can reduce the damages caused by hazards.

What You Should Do

First, ask your local emergency management office which disasters could strike your community. They will know your community’s risks. You may be aware of some of them; others may surprise you. Also ask for any information that might help you prepare and possibly reduce the risks you face. Then, refer to the appropriate chapters in this handbook. Each chapter covers a specific hazard and describes how to prepare and what to do when the disaster occurs.

Next, review the “Evacuation,” “Shelter,” “Emergency Planning and Disaster Supplies” and “Recovering From Disaster” chapters. These chapters apply to a range of hazards including some not specifically addressed in this publication.

Use this guide as your foundation for disaster preparedness and safety. Since special conditions exist in every community, local instructions may be slightly different from those described in this guide. If so, follow local instructions.

Consider getting involved in local emergency preparedness and response activities by volunteering in your community. One way is to participate as a Citizen Corps community volunteer. See the “For More Information” chapter for details on Citizen Corps and FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.

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