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Safety & Prevention

Understanding Disasters

When it comes to disasters, most people tend to think, "Oh this won't happen to me." A disaster can occur in your community. It can happen to you. However, knowing some basic information about the different types of disasters and what you can do to get ready will help to make things  feel less frightening and overwhelming.

Natural disasters are the most common and likely types of disaster. Read on for more information about the major disasters: wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. However, other types ofdisasters such as hazardous material spills can also affect you and your community. Basic preparation will help you in any type of disaster. Prepare now. Tomorrow may be the day you need it.


Wildfires may threaten people living in or near wild land areas or those using recreational areas or campsites. Wildfires spread quickly and are capable of destroying a home in minutes. Sometimes these fires are started by nature, but people usually start brush fires and wildfires. There are some steps you can take to protect your family if there is a wildfire.

Things to do to protect your home from danger:

  • Remove outdoor plants and objects that might burn easily.
  • Keep trees, bushes and plants properly trimmed and well watered.
  • Keep your chimney clean.
  • Avoid open burning.

If a wildfire is approaching:

  • If you see a fire in your area, immediately report it by calling 911.
  • Close all doors and windows.
  • Turn on lights in order to see better in heavy smoke.
  • Close gas valves and turn off pilot lights.
  • If hoses and water are available, place sprinklers on roofs.
  • Wear cotton or light wool long-sleeved shirts, long pants and gloves.
  • Leave at once if you are told to by emergency officials.


Floods occur in every area of the country. Overflowing rivers from heavy rains, storm surge from hurricanes, rising sea waters from tsunamisor heavy runoff from spring melts in the mountains all cause floods and threaten families and property.

Steps you can take to protect your family if there is a flood:

  • Have properly filled sandbags ready to stop rising water (half to two-thirds full and tied at the top).
  • Remove valuable items from the home or move them to upper floors.
  • Turn off utilities at main panel; close main gas valve.
  • Be ready to evacuate immediately. Floodwaters can rise quickly.
  • Fill car with supplies and fresh water.
  • Do not walk or drive through flooded areas.


Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado. Have a plan for getting your family back together in the event that family members are separated. For example, a tornado could strike during the day when parents are at work or home and children are at child care or school.

Learn these tornado danger signs:

  • An approaching cloud of dust and debris can mark the location of a tornado
  • Before a tornado hits, the air may become very still
  • Sometimes the sky turns green or greenish-yellow before a tornado
  • You may hear a low roar or a noise like a train as the tornado approaches
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear skies behind a tornado.

What to do if you are at home when there is a tornado:

  • Go to the basement, or lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to a smaller inner room without windows.
  • Go to the center of room.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a heavy table and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • If you are in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.

What to do if you are at work or school when there is a tornado:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, or large hallways.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a heavy table and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

What to do if you are outside when there is a tornado:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or crouch near a strong building.
  • Be aware of the potential for flooding from associated thunderstorms.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

What to do if you are in a car when there is a tornado:

  • NEVER drive in a tornado. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is not time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a low-lying area away from the vehicle.


Planning ahead and learning about hurricane watches and warnings can reduce the chances of injury or major property damage during a hurricane. There are some steps you can take to protect your family during a hurricane.

Before the storm:

  • Plan an evacuation route
  • Have a plan. Know where nearby shelters are located and which routes you would take if you needed to evacuate
  • Have disaster supplies on hand.
  • If you have pets, know where you would take them. Contact the local humane society to find out where there is an animal shelter in your area
  • Make sure that all family members know what to do during a hurricane
  • Have a plan for getting your family back together in the event that family members are separated when the storm hits.

During a hurricane watch:

  • The National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours.
  • Listen to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, a portable battery-powered radio (or television), or a smart phone for updated emergency information of watches issued in your area.
  • Check emergency supplies.
  • Fuel your car.
  • Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, toys, and garden tools, and anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.
  • Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows.
  • Turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest settings. Open only when absolutely necessary and close quickly.
  • Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs, bottles or cooking pots.
  • Review your evacuation plan.

During a hurricane warning:

  • A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in 24 hours or less.
  • Stay inside, away from windows, skylights and glass doors.
  • Keep a supply of flashlights and extra batteries handy. Avoid open flames, such as candles and kerosene lamps.
  • If power is lost, unplug appliances to reduce power "surges" when electricity is restored.
  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio, a portable battery-powered radio (or television), or a smart phone for updated emergency information.

If you are told to evacuate:

  • Leave as soon as possible. Avoid flooded roads and bridges.
  • Secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve.
  • Tell someone outside of the storm area where you are going.
  • If time permits, move valuable items to a higher floor.
  • Take your Family Readiness Kit and disaster supplies.


Earthquakes strike violently and without warning. Identifying potential hazards in your home and knowing what to do during an earthquake can help you reduce the dangers. Make your home earthquake-safe.

Check for hazards throughout your home:

  • Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches and other places where people sit.
  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Fasten shelves securely to walls.
  • Strap your water heater to the wall studs and bolt it to the floor.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products securely on bottom shelves in closed cabinets with latches.

Be prepared:

  • Identify safe places in each room in your house.
  • Locate safe places – those out in the open – outside your house.
  • Have disaster supplies on hand at all times.

What to do if you are indoors during an earthquake:

  • Stay inside. The most dangerous thing to do during an earthquake is to try to leave a building.
  • Take cover under a piece of heavy furniture or against an inside wall and hold on.

What to do if you are outside or in a moving vehicle during an earthquake:

  • Move into the open, away from buildings, streetlights, utility wires, trees, overpasses or elevated expressways.
  • Stop quickly and stay in your vehicle.
  • Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.

Click here to for a Family Disaster Supplies List

  • Keep these items together in a plastic tub or container or store them together in one cabinet so they will be easy to find.

As a parent and family member your concern is for the safety of your children and your family. We all look for ways to provide a healthy, safe and secure world for our loved ones. There may be times when we must call on special resources to make sure our families are protected. A disaster is one of those times.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Adapted from Family Readiness Kit: Preparing to Handle Disasters, 2nd Edition
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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