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Disaster preparedness for the climate crisis

Example of a food stash enough to support one person over three days (Source Nolan Monaghan)

One of the most immediate consequences of climate change is the intensification of natural disasters, ranging from severe storms to extreme droughts. Even if we completely stop our greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, these trends will continue. In light of this, properly preparing for disasters like these is an important aspect of resilience, not only to secure the safety of you and your loved ones but also to free the resources of first responders and disaster response groups to address the needs of others. If you are well fed when disaster strikes, that's one less mouth FEMA has to try and feed.

This is not a guide on “prepping for the end of the world,” nor is it a comprehensive list of things to include in your emergency kit. Instead, this is a guide on the process of emergency preparation with advice on how to think about keeping your family and community safe during a disaster. I will link to some additional resources on putting together, for instance, a first aid kit, but the purpose of this is to walk you through the two main stages of preparation: planning and assembly.


The most important part of the preparation process is doing it with everyone in your household. Dr. Betsy Matos, an Environmental Health and Safety officer at Iowa State University who teaches a course on emergency preparedness, explains. “People that will benefit from the emergency kit should be included in the assembly of one. This way, when the emergency occurs, they will know what is available and have practiced going through different scenarios. They will know the kit's contents, who to call, and where to meet if they cannot shelter at home.” Running through this worksheet from FEMA with your household, children included, will aid you in solidifying a plan for each eventuality.

The first step here is assessing your location's threats. What are some of the natural disasters most common to your area or could be in the near future? Many disasters, such as tornados or forest fires, are seasonal and fairly predictable. Others strike randomly and maybe decades or centuries between events, such as tsunamis. Run through natural and technological hazards, such as a hazardous materials spill if you live near a railroad, and ask yourself, “What risks do I face, and what can I do to minimize their potential damage?” Use this thought process to build a basic plan for each disaster that could impact you. Where do you hide in the event of a tornado? If you need to evacuate in case of a flood, where will you go?

Training is also an important aspect of disaster preparation. Quiz your household on where to go in the event of a fire or how to use your roommate's Epipen. A basic First Aid, CPR, and AED course can make you a valuable asset in keeping friends and strangers safe. “Lack of knowledge and skills to be ready are some threats the general public suffers. The first responder will be the person at the scene. That person should have basic skills and never think they cannot be part of the solution or response. Most people are unaware of this and believe that someone else will come to help them.” Dr. Matos says.


Food and water are the most critical aspects of disaster preparedness. In most disruptions, service and supply chains are reestablished within a few days, so it is generally recommended to have three days worth of food and water per person in a household. This food store should not be included in your standard pantry, as a disaster may strike the day you plan to make a grocery run, and your pantry will be low. Food should be nonperishable and ready to eat, so products like canned beans and vegetables, jerky, dried fruit, and nuts are ideal. Don’t purchase dry goods, such as uncooked rice and dry beans, as soaking requires additional water, and cooking may not be an option. Additionally, ensure you have a non-electric can opener. Bottled water is best, as pipes may be shut off or contaminated. The rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day. If you have an animal, ensure to account for them.

The food you purchase for this should have a long shelf life, but it will eventually expire. To avoid food waste, whenever you purchase an item for your normal pantry, grab the same item from your stash and replace it with the item you just purchased, making sure to grab the oldest non-expired item. For example, when you buy a can of beans, take the can you purchased and swap it with the can in your stash. This will ensure the cycling of the products in the stash without dipping into the ‘principle’ of the stash itself. It will also prevent either repurchasing everything once every few years or having to eat expired food during an emergency situation.

Maintaining a standard first-aid kit is the next thing you should have put together. This guide from the American Red Cross includes the main items that all first aid kits should have, like bandages and antibiotic cream. Use this as a building block, but as you assemble this kit component, it’s critical to include everyone in your group, as individuals may have different medical needs that need to be accommodated. Additionally, make sure you have personal protective equipment such as dust masks and gloves, especially considering industrial accidents are an increasing threat in many areas.

After food and medicine, rounding out the rest of your emergency kit can go in many directions. There is a ton of gear you could purchase, ranging from subzero sleeping bags to traps for hunting. You will probably want to include things like flashlights, a battery-powered weather radio, and even books and puzzles. It is up to you to assess what else is necessary for your context. This FEMA checklist has many basic miscellaneous items you can include.

You won’t always be at home when disaster strikes, so ensuring your car is prepared is important as well. Keep a small first aid kit and a few snacks if you get stranded. If you live in a snowy region, having a bag of salt, a small shovel, plus some warm clothes is a good idea. It’s also best practice to keep your gas tank above half a tank.

Assembling the equipment and goods required to be properly prepared can get expensive fast. Pulling together items over time is a good strategy to avoid the financial hit of purchasing all necessary supplies at once. For example, this week purchase two cans of beans and a package of jerky; next week buy bandages and alcohol wipes.


Once your household is suitably prepared for emergencies, organizing your community to be better prepared adds further resilience to your region. Simple conversations and swapping tips with friends, coworkers, etc., can be incredibly valuable in raising consciousness around emergency preparations. Dr. Matos recommends, “Be alert when the city government facilitates meetings about floods, fire, and other emergencies in their community. Talk about it with family and friends when listening/watching/reading the news. For example, if your area is prone to flood, talk about routes to the grocery stores if the streets are flooded. If you need to go to the Hospital, find alternative ways beforehand. Look at the Flood maps available on your state/city's website.” Beyond this, once you have gained some level of proficiency, try writing about preparation in local publications, and give presentations at your library or to local youth groups. Spread the message, and more and more people will be able to weather the increasing shocks that are coming in the future.

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