September 2013 marks the 10th annual National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US Department of Homeland Security. One goal of Homeland Security is to educate the public about how to prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, mass casualties, biological and chemical threats, radiation emergencies, and terrorist attacks.

In order to better prepare for these threats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends following four basic steps: Get a kit, make a plan, be informed, get involved.

Get a kit

A good emergency kit contains basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency. There should be enough food, water, and other supplies to last at least 72 hours. When choosing items to be included, remember that basic services such as electricity, water, gas, sewage treatment, and telephones may not be available for days or weeks. A comprehensive emergency kit should address these issues.

In addition to a household kit, a small emergency kit for automobiles and your place of employment are also a good idea. For more information on what to include in your emergency kits, visit FEMA’s website at:

Make a plan

Develop an emergency plan for you and your family. It is important to have several plans in place for different situations that may occur. The entire family should know and understand the plans your family has created.

Since emergencies often occur without warning, it is important to discuss how members of your family will contact each other during an emergency. Communication methods you most commonly use may not be available. Have alternate communication plans in place to reach members of your family.

Your family should be prepared to shelter at home or to evacuate in the event of an emergency. In some instances, it may not be safe to stay in your home. Make sure to plan for an alternate meeting place just in case your home is affected.

Be informed

During an emergency, it is important to stay calm and get as much information about the situation as possible. Many of us rely on television, radio, or internet for the news, but in some emergencies electricity may be off. Having a battery-powered radio on hand with extra batteries will ensure you access to the latest news about the emergency.

Get involved

Community leaders agree the best formula for ensuring a safer homeland depends upon volunteers, a trained and informed public, and increased support of emergency response agencies during disasters. The Medical Reserve Corps, Citizen Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams, and faith-based groups are just a few of the organizations that participate in disaster support. Joining one of these organizations can be an exciting way to participate in protecting your community.

These four steps represent just a few of the ways individuals and community organizations can prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. For more information about volunteer opportunities and a variety of emergency preparedness information, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at: and click on the Emergency Preparedness and Response link.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.