Hurricanes in the South, ice storms in the North, forest fires in the West, tornadoes in the Great Plains, flooding near coasts and rivers—wherever you are, you might one day find yourself in the middle of a disaster. When that happens, two painful lessons will become abundantly clear—the government can’t rescue everyone…and that $30 emergency kit you bought provides little but a false sense of security.

To be ready for a disaster, you need to develop a useful set of skills and, perhaps more importantly, work with others in your neighborhood to tap into their skills. Here’s what you can do to help yourself, your loved ones and your community to survive a disaster…


It’s almost impossible to master every emergency skill to be prepared for every possible scenario. But if you coordinate with your neighbors, the group can be better prepared than any individual household on its own. Before there’s an emergency, compile a neighborhood list or map of…

Who has medical training? Know where doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) live in your area, even those who have retired.

Which local stores, gas stations and pharmacies have backup generators and/or plans to remain open during outages? Encourage these businesses to develop such plans for the safety of the community. If you own a business that could be valuable during a disaster, explore how you could keep your business operational, especially if it provides vital goods or services.

Even better: Consider investing in a dual-fuel portable generator that will run on either propane or gasoline so that you can keep your own refrigerator and other essential appliances running during a power outage. Example: Champion 3400-Watt Dual Fuel portable generator for propane or gas ($1,072).

Who will have power when there is no power? Note which neighbors have generators and/or solar panels and storage batteries. Ask if they would be willing to allow neighbors to charge cell phones, flashlights and other necessities.

Who will have water? Everyone should keep a supply of water available in case of emergency. If your neighborhood gets its water from private wells, not a municipal utility, determine which neighbors can keep their pumps running during a power outage, and ask whether they would be willing to share water.

Who can communicate? If one person in the neighborhood has a ham radio or satellite communications device, he/she can serve as a link for other neighbors when phone lines and cellular systems fail.

Who has an ATV or snowmobile? When the roads are blocked, these could be the best way to reach a town or hospital.

Also: While you’re tracking resources in your neighborhood, note who has special health or mobility needs. Check in on these neighbors during disasters, and/or arrange for other neighbors to do so.


The bandages in that emergency kit are unlikely to save anyone’s life during a disaster. What will make a difference: Knowing basic emergency medical care…recognizing threats before, during and after the disaster…and being able to navigate your local area when roads are blocked. Just having these productive during a disaster. People who feel unprepared may burden other people, which only adds to the problem and lengthens the time it will take to get back to normal. Skills you will need…

First-aid training. Obtaining your EMT certification and volunteering with your town’s EMT service are wonderful ways to prepare for disaster while also serving your community. Basic EMT certification requires about 120 hours of training—probably more time than you can commit.

Instead: Consider an emergency medical training course offered locally or online. Examples: Base Medical ( offers online and in-person wilderness first-aid and first-responder courses starting at $175. Or call the local chapter of the American Red Cross to find out if there are courses you can take. At minimum, you should know how to stop bleeding, stabilize broken bones and tend to head and neck injuries.

Advanced driving and basic automotive repair. In a disaster, you might have to drive on icy roads, over obstacles or even off-road. You may have to change a tire or jump-start your car because road-side assistance can’t reach you. To prepare: Consider taking a driving and vehicle-repair course. Examples: Northeast Off-Road Adventures ( offers classes that teach off-road driving and maintenance. Prices start at $125. Overland Experts ( offers off-road driving classes, starting at $275.

Local navigation. Would you know how to get around your area if the main roads were blocked? To prepare: Learn the lay of the land. Your laptop and a Wi-Fi connection can provide a wealth of geo-location information. Study your environment. Satellite views and topographic maps may show hiking trails in case you must abandon your car.

For a flood: If roads are blocked, it might be better to shelter in place and get as high as possible—but don’t go into an attic unless there’s a way to get out.

If you’re on an island: Keep an eye on the weather, and figure out in advance when to leave and where you’ll go.

Situational awareness. Military personnel are trained to identify potential threats and remain alert to everything happening around them, especially during emergencies. Those skills can be tremendously valuable during any disaster. To prepare: Read the book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life. Or check the website of former Marine Yousef Badou (, which offers survival training programs.

Chainsaw and generator operation and repair. Chainsaws and generators can be tremendously useful after an event…when you are facing the real disaster challenges. Know how to use, maintain and repair these tools, since your local repair shop probably won’t be accessible. Take a small-engine repair class at a local technical school. Read the safe-use and maintenance sections of the tools’ manuals. Watch YouTube videos about using and repairing these tools.


A cell phone is, of course, valuable during an emergency—it works even when phone lines are downed. But what if the local cellular system is knocked out? If you have no way of communicating, you might miss crucial updates and/or evacuation orders…you will be unable to summon assistance if you’re trapped or injured…and you and your loved ones might not be able to contact each other. To prepare: Consider buying and learning to use one or both of these backup communication tools…

Garmin inReach, a portable device, lets you send and receive text messages via satellite—it doesn’t rely on the local cellular network. The unit itself starts at $323.98, and annual service plans start at $143.40.

Ham radio—two-way long-distance communication via radio waves—doesn’t depend on cell towers or phone lines. Handheld, battery-powered devices are available for less than $100. Reminder: Learn to operate it, and obtain a license so that you can use it legally. Example: Ham Radio Prep’s online classes start at $35.


Readying your finances for a disaster can reduce your physical risk. People who are worried that a fire or flood might ruin them financially may be distracted, reducing their ability to focus on their safety and that of loved ones.

Steps to take: Speak with your insurers about your homeowners, life and health insurance coverage. Ask them how well you would be covered if there was a disaster. Are there gaps that could leave you financially vulnerable? Could these gaps be filled by purchasing riders or additional policies, such as flood insurance or an umbrella policy?

Also: Be sure to have enough money in an emergency fund to cover your insurance deductibles and expenses during and after a disaster.

Related Articles