Prepare For the Worst; Hope for the Best

Prepare For the Worst; Hope for the Best
Why your family should get ready for a disaster now, before it strikes

We see it on the news all the time; images of leveled homes, vehicles picked up like toy cars, and entire communities washed away by flood waters. And the heart-wrenching stories of everyday people whose lives are changed forever. This year alone we've witnessed widespread flooding in Texas, devastating tornadoes in Kansas, wildfires in the West and South and drought-like conditions in many areas of the country.
Each storm, wildfire, tornado, power outage, and temperature spike should serve as a reminder to us to be prepared for whatever disasters Mother Nature throws our way. Unfortunately, for most Americans, that's not the case.
Last year, only one year after Katrina devastated the Gulf region and captured our national attention, a Time Magazine poll found that only 16 percent of Americans are properly prepared for a natural disaster. This number is staggering, considering that 91 percent of Americans live in places at a moderate-to-high risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, flooding and terrorism.
No matter where you live, chances are good that you and your family could face a disaster of some sort in the future. However, a recent Red Cross study showed that only seven percent of Americans are prepared for an emergency. By taking the proper steps before a disaster, you can save yourself and your family from unnecessary worry, and possibly even save your lives.
Three simple words can help: plan, prepare and protect. Hopefully you can take these straightforward, yet necessary guidelines and put them into action.
First, develop a family plan. This is critical to survival. Know the possible threats for your area of the country. Make sure you identify the safest area of your home, in case of emergency. In certain circumstances, the safest areas may actually be outside of your home, but within your community. Practice your plan and designate an out-of-state contact as a central point person. It's much easier to provide updates to one person, who can report back on the status of loved ones. And don't forget your pets - make sure they are part of your plan.
Once your plan is in place, assemble an emergency kit that contains essential items for each family member to remain safe, nourished, and as comfortable as possible in the event of a disaster. Families should keep a supply of bottled water, nonperishable food items, toiletries, basic first aid supplies, a change of clothes and of course, flashlights and batteries in their kit. Make sure you have a NOAA weather radio and battery powered AM/FM radio for important updates, too. And don't forget medications, infant items, and cash -- in case ATMs are out of service. If you know a potential disaster is imminent, like a hurricane, winter storm or approaching wildfire, fill your car's gas tank.
In addition, a good way to keep the lines of communication open requires having cell phone batteries charged at all times. During evacuations and power outages, a battery-powered device like an Energizer Energi To Go instant cell phone charger will keep your cell phone ready in any situation, no matter where you are.
Lastly, protect your home by updating your insurance coverage, and reinforcing key areas like your roof, doors and garage doors. Take pictures or video of your valuables for insurance documentation and store these, along with copies of insurance policies and other important documents in a waterproof container with your emergency kit.
I've spent many years and logged tens of thousands of miles documenting storms and reporting ground truth data to the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, and have seen firsthand the devastation that results from being ill-prepared for disasters.
By thinking ahead and preparing for a disaster, you will be better equipped to weather the storm - no matter where you live. Start today and you'll be ready so we can all "keep going" when the going gets tough.

Raleigh, N.C.-based John Van Pelt has dedicated his life to educating people about the importance of emergency preparedness and natural disasters. He has reported for Fox News and MSNBC, and began his privately-funded StormStudy project after witnessing the devastation and flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.