How military families should prepare for natural disasters

By Rebecca Alwine

As military families, we are often subjected to different experiences in different places. The Kansas native, used to the tornado sirens, may find themselves on the East Coast facing hurricanes. Someone from the West Coast who knows exactly what to do for an earthquake might find themselves unsure of how to prepare for a blizzard in the Midwest.

Preparing for a natural disaster probably slips to the bottom of our to-do lists frequently and with good reason. We have so many other things going on, but  we need to take time to prepare and then make sure we update and refresh our emergency plan as needed. Here’s how to do that:

Learn your (new) area’s evacuation routes and shelter locations

Evacuation from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Tim Rhys Hedgeland, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

This one is huge. Make this one of the first things you do when you move to a new area. Find out where you are supposed to evacuate to and drive the route–make sure that the evacuation location is actually there. If you have pets, or a family member with special needs, triple-check that the shelter can accommodate those things. If you have teenagers or young adults who are driving, make sure they know which shelter your family will go to so they can meet you there if you are separated.

Know how you’ll reconnect with people who matter

phone from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 raindog808, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Remember all those times your mom asks you to call her when you get home from visiting? You roll your eyes because you’ve been living on your own, sometimes in a foreign country, for the last 10 years. You can bet the second she hears about the hurricane heading for your area, she’s going to be anxiously awaiting your phone call. There are some great apps that can mark you “safe”, or you can send a message to her. The phone lines often get jammed after a disaster and you cannot rely on an internet connection, so having a back-up plan is best.

Sign up for emergency alerts and know how officials will communicate with you during a disaster

alarmed from Flickr via Wylio
© 2015 frankieleon, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Sirens, announcements, and text alerts are being used on installations throughout the country to notify service members of incidents. Most systems allow those service members to add additional phone numbers to also receive the information.  There are several smart phone apps that will alert you to the weather. In addition, make sure that your spouse’s chain of command knows how to contact you in case of emergency.

Have a kit and know how to use it

First Aid from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Dennis van Zuijlekom, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Do you have an emergency kit? I mean, really? You may need some time to budget for these, so start today.  MREs are good for food, so you can always grab them from the commissary until you can find something a little more palatable. Just like you test your smoke alarms and check the oil in your car before a road trip, make sure to check your supllies at the beginning of hurricane or fire season or monthly. Here’s what you need:

  • One gallon of water per person, per day for three days
  • At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food for each person (baby formula and baby food, too!)
  • Radio, flash light, extra batteries, whistle, cell phones, and chargers
  • First aid kit and any medications that are needed

Find out how to help your community during a disaster

Sadhinota 6/40 "অমর একুশে" from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Shumona Sharna, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

If you’re one of the lucky ones who don’t have to evacuate or who aren’t in the line of the fire, consider how you can help your community. Whether you bring food and water to the rescue workers, house some friends in your spare room, or organize something to help with the aftermath, your help is needed. Our community is so resilient and strong because of the way we jump to help others, we need to make sure we can continue to do that, even when things aren’t so great.

Remember: You’re probably going to do anything that needs to be done alone. Because when the world needs them, our heroes go off at a moment’s notice and they rely on our ability to take care of everything else. You can do it. We can do it.

Rebecca Alwine has a master’s degree in emergency management and disaster planning from American Military University and several certifications from the Emergency Management Institute.