September is National Preparedness Month: Follow these tips to be ready when disasters occur

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

National Preparedness Month (NPM) is recognized every September to remind us how crucial it is to prepare ourselves and our families for when disasters strike. The key message of 2018's NPM is: Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.

To prepare, learn life-saving skills, such as CPR, before you need to use them in an emergency situation. Check your insurance policies and coverage needed in your area for severe events such as tornadoes, floods or earthquakes. It is also a great idea to save enough money in case an emergency strikes.

“People often ask how they can help out first responders in an emergency,” said MaryAnn Tierney, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional administrator. “One of the best ways is to be self-sufficient following an emergency; that takes pressure off of responders and they can focus on the most critical situations.”

Preparedness is a shared responsibility that takes work from the whole community.

The devastating wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes in 2017 and 2018 show the importance of preparing for disasters.

In 2017, the second-largest wildfire in California's history, the Thomas Fire, destroyed more than 1,000 structures, including more than 750 homes. The flames forced thousands of evacuations and numerous school closures.

Earlier in 2017, deadly Hurricane Harvey left catastrophic damage worth $125 billion, which is second all-time behind Hurricane Katrina's $160 billion.

In fact, 2017 was the costliest year for natural disasters in United States history.

Slower Hurricanes

Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Freeport, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Seeing that these disasters can strike in any shape or form at any given time, it is important to prepare in advance to help yourself and your community.

Make and practice your plan

First, it is important to know which types of disasters could affect your area.

It is also a good idea to know how you’ll contact your family and reconnect if separated.

Learn how to sign up for and receive emergency alerts and warnings for your area. Know your shelter plan and evacuation route as well.

Customize your plans and supplies to you and your family's specific daily living needs and responsibilities such as dietary needs, care of children, business, pets or other specifics, like the operation of durable medical equipment.

“Another great way to get prepared for an emergency is to get involved in your community,” Tierney said.

“There are many different organizations that you can get involved with, such as Community Emergency Response Teams, Citizen Corps and the Medical Reserve Corps," Tierney said.

Learn life-saving skills

Know basic home maintenance to protect your family and home. Learn how to mitigate your home against flood damage or protect against the impacts of earthquakes.

Attend a class or get involved with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area. The program trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

Be prepared for a power outage by having enough food, water and medications to last for at least 72 hours.

Learn how to turn off utilities like natural gas in your home and put smoke alarms on every level of your home.

National Preparedness Month isn't only geared toward natural disasters. Carbon monoxide is another danger to be prepared for. Protect your family by installing a carbon monoxide detector.

If you don't know how to turn off the gas in your home, learn how to do so in the event of a gas emergency.

Check your insurance coverage

Having insurance coverage means one less thing to worry about when the unexpected occurs.

Insurance is the first line of defense, so it's important to check your insurance coverage and review FEMA's document and insure property guide.

Flood insurance allows families and communities to recover more quickly and more fully.

Make sure you are aware of what your specific policy covers. Standard homeowner policies may exclude covering losses due to landslides, earthquakes, power failures, war and certain types of water damage.

Paul England, Jr.

Hurricane Harvey roared onto the Texas shore nearly a year ago, but it was a slow, rainy roll that made it a monster storm. Federal statistics show some parts of the state got more than 5 feet of rain in five days. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Wind and water damage may be covered in most regions, but areas prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or earthquakes may require extra coverage or require higher deductibles.

6 ways to prepare now for hurricanes
How to prepare for wildfires so you can escape safely if a blaze approaches
Evacuation checklist: How to get your family out safely in the face of an imminent disaster
How to get in touch with loved ones during and after a disaster

Save for an emergency

Plan financially for the possibility of a disaster so you and your family are able to bounce back easily and quickly. This includes maintaining an emergency savings fund.

In these stressful circumstances, having insurance and disaster savings are crucial for starting the process of recovery quickly and efficiently. In the event of an emergency, these essentials will ensure that you have the documentation needed to start the recovery process without delay.

Harvey Year Later Progress

Flood-damaged debris from homes lines the street in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Consider saving money in an emergency savings account that could be used in any crisis. Keep a small amount of cash at home in a safe place. It is important to have small bills on hand because ATMs and credit cards may not work during a disaster when you need to purchase necessary supplies, fuel or food.

It is also vital to compile financial and critical personal, household and medical information.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit

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