Tornadoes in Oklahoma. Wildfires in Colorado. A hurricane season that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects will be busier than usual for the Atlantic Coast (though has been slow to get going). Whatever part of the country you live in, it’s worth having an emergency plan for severe storms and natural disasters.
“Don’t wait until the wind is blowing, rain is coming down and a storm is on the horizon,” says Jim Judge, an emergency management expert for Volusia County, Fla., and a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. He suggests gradually stockpiling provisions and keeping them in rolling suitcases or rubber storage bins. He also recommends calling your local Red Cross or emergency management office to find out which shelters in your area can accommodate your needs, such as access to power for oxygen or dialysis or room for your pets.
Once a disaster is imminent or underway, take these additional steps:
Keep food safe. If a power outage is likely, freeze containers of water or ice packs ahead of time and move them to the refrigerator when the power goes out to help keep perishables cold. Put any food that you don’t need right away in the freezer, which will keep it at a safe temperature longer. And keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut. Use an appliance thermometer to occasionally monitor the freezer temperature; items that stayed at 40 degrees or below can be safely refrozen once the power comes back. Throw out perishables in the refrigerator after four hours without power.
Use generators carefully. A portable generator can supply lighting during an outage, but using it improperly can be deadly because the exhaust contains carbon monoxide. If you need to use a generator, place it at least 15 feet from your house and away from vents and windows. Don’t use one in a basement or garage, cautions Peter Sawchuk, an outdoor power equipment expert at Consumer Reports. “People think it’s okay to lift the garage door and run it with the exhaust facing outdoors,” he says, “but the fumes can still settle into the garage.”
Stay on top of your medication. A quarter of people affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 said they had problems getting their medication due to closed pharmacies and halted mail-order delivery, according to a survey of 8,389 residents of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
When bad weather looms, think of your medications the same way you would food: Make sure you have enough, and take steps to provide appropriate storage, advises Joseph Guglielmo, dean of the University of California at San Francisco School of Pharmacy and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. That includes keeping a list of all the medications you take, getting an insulated bag for drugs that require refrigeration and making sure you have at least a two-week supply on hand.
Medication can get contaminated by floodwater or lose its effectiveness when exposed to fire. But if lifesaving pills look unaffected in a container, you should use them until you get a replacement, the Food and Drug Administration says. To find a pharmacy that’s open during a disaster, go to the Web site Rxopen.org.
Take care of yourself. Floods and other disasters can have an extensive effect on your health, relationships and welfare, according to a 2012 review in the journal PLOS Currents: Disasters. In the aftermath, make sure that you take care of your basic needs: food, rest and exercise — and even a little fun, says Donna M. Hastings, a psychologist and chairwoman of the New Hampshire branch of the American Psychological Association Disaster Response Network. Helping others might also make you feel better, she adds, something she saw firsthand while volunteering after Hurricane Andrew in Florida alongside a man who had lost his home. He said that the experience made him feel productive.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.