Spring weather can be unpredictable, especially living in Missouri, where it seems the weather can change in a moment’s notice. Emergencies can strike at any time and without warning, so planning ahead makes sense. Whether the disaster is a tornado, flood, house fire, or terrorist attack, we must be ready.

Severe weather is one the biggest threats to our safety in the Midwest. Watch the weather or check www.weather.gov every morning. It is a simple action to ensure you’re ready for the day’s weather. Don’t leave home without knowing the forecast.

Before severe weather or an emergency occurs, create a plan for you, your family, and your business. To begin preparing, you should make a family communications plan. Determine a place to meet and identify a way to communicate during and after a disaster.

Practice before the storm. At home, have a family tornado plan in place based on the kind of residence you live in. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.

Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes, which makes it a good idea to store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy.

Once the plan is in place, assemble an emergency supply kit containing 72 hours worth of food and water. In an emergency, you may be stuck at home without electricity and unable to get these important items. Make sure your supply of food and water includes food for your pets. Additionally, make sure you have at least three days worth of any required medicines.

Other supplies are also essential to have prepared and ready in case of an emergency. A battery-powered radio, flashlights, and a first-aid kit are all things you may need. It is also important to keep a small emergency supply kit in your car.

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 have access to the latest news about the emergency.

Listen to a weather radio, commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials and try to be aware of changing weather conditions. For tornados, look for approaching storms and watch for the following danger signs: dark, often greenish sky, large hail, a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating), or a loud roar, similar to a freight train. If you see approaching storms, any of the danger signs, or hear the sound of outdoor weather sirens, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

Unfortunately, few of us get much advance notice when it comes to emergencies. The purpose of emergency preparedness is to do as much as possible before an emergency happens. By following the above steps, you will be well on your way to preparing yourself and your family for an emergency. Remember, weather related hazards can happen any time of year as we witnessed earlier this month, and can present a variety of challenges. Make sure you are ready to deal with these issues year-round.

If you would like more information, please call the Independence Health Department at  816-325-7185 or visit http://health.mo.gov/emergencies/readyin3/.

-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.