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Disaster Preparedness

Disaster can strike at any moment, make sure you and your family are prepared.

Every year, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters pose a devastating threat to our communities. The impact of disasters causes Americans emotional damage and $145 billion in losses as of 2021, according to  

In the midst of a terrifying disaster, it can be hard to know your next step. Although natural disasters are hard to prevent, through planning, knowledge, and supplies, you can be ready to protect yourself and your family.

How The Salvation Army Helps Prepare for Disaster

The Salvation Army is recognized by the Robert T. Stafford Emergency and Disaster Assistance Act as a relief and disaster assistance organization. Specially trained members of our Emergency Disaster Services team are providing spiritual comfort and emotional support to people coping with trauma resulting from the aftermath of disasters.

Emergency Vehicles

We maintain a fleet of emergency response vehicles across the U.S for disaster aid, which include mobile canteens and kitchens. We also operate warehouses nationwide to store food, water, and medicine.

Emergency Shelters

Across the nation, The Salvation Army has emergency shelters staffed with emergency service personnel and caseworkers to help your family get back on your feet in the event that a disaster has caused you to lose your job or home. Learn more about our emergency shelter programs

Disaster Preparedness Training

Preparation is essential to effectively serving others in disaster recovery. Just like families must make preparations for potential dangers, disaster relief workers prepare by taking training classes. Courses are designed for adult learners, focusing on group interaction and cooperative learning. Training courses include classes in incident management, canteen operations, food service, emotional and spiritual care, as well as basic first aid and CPR training.

Find your nearest location to sign up for disaster preparedness training today.

What Are the Three Steps to Survive a Disaster?

To survive a disaster, it is important that your family knows the answers to these questions: 

  • How will we receive emergency alerts and warnings? 
  • What is our plan to find shelter? 
  • What is our evacuation route? 
  • What is my family/household communications plan? 
  • Do we need to update my emergency preparedness kit? 
  • By following these steps, your family will be more ready for disasters that could come your way.

1. Create an Emergency Supply Kit 

After an emergency, you may be forced to ride out a storm, shelter in place, or evacuate. In any disaster situation, it's imperative that you have the supplies to survive on your own for several days. A disaster preparedness kit should contain  basic household items you may need during an emergency. You should ensure you have vital supplies at home, work, and your car since you never know when a disaster may strike. 

Your disaster preparedness supplies should include the following: 

  • A gallon of water, or the same amount of bottled water per person per day for at least three days (for drinking and sanitation) 
  • A three-day or more supply of nonperishable food 
  • At least one change of clothing and shoes per person 
  • One blanket or sleeping bag per person 
  • Prescription and non-prescription medicines (such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, or laxatives) 
  • Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members (such as formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream for infants) 
  • Pet supplies, including carrier, leash, food, tags, and licenses 
  • Local maps (in case you lose the signal for your devices) 
  • Chargers for your devices 
  • Important family documents, including copies of insurance policies, IDs, and bank account records (saved either electronically or in a waterproof container) 
  • Credit card and cash or traveler's checks for emergency expenses 
  • Portable hand crank radio or radio with extra batteries, or a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert 
  • Flashlight with extra batteries 
  • First aid kit 
  • Fire extinguisher 
  • Pliers and some basic hand tools 
  • Emergency whistle to signal for help 
  • Dust masks for contaminated air 
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape 
  • Towelettes, garbage bags, and ties for sanitation 
  • Soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces 
  • Can opener 
  • Matches in a waterproof container 
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items 
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils 
  • Paper and pencil 
  • Books, games, puzzles, or other activities for children

After assembling your emergency kit, make sure to keep it maintained, so it's ready when you need it. Make sure to:  

  • Keep canned food items in a dry and cool location 
  • Store boxed food tightly in sealed metal or plastic containers 
  • Replace expired food items as needed 
  • Re-evaluate your family’s potential emergency needs annually, and make sure your kit is updated if your needs change  

2. Make a Communications Plan 

During an emergency, the first concern is often the safety of your family. Since your family may not be in the same place when a disaster strikes, creating a communication network is vital to ensure everyone is safe and accounted for when it happens. It is also important to identify responsibilities for each member of your household and how you will work together as a team. 

You and your family members should all have: 

  • Each other’s phone numbers 
  • Emergency contact phone numbers, such as friends or family members not in your area 
  • Daycare, school, or workplace information (including names, addresses, and phone numbers of each location) 
  • Procedures in place for who will contact who. During emergencies, phone lines may be overloaded, and it may be faster to text message your family as opposed to calling them. 
  • Known locations of where to meet up in an emergency 

3. Create an Evacuation Plan

Fires or floods are the typical disaster causes for an evacuation, but industrial accidents and other hazardous occurrences can also warrant the need to flee. Your local government usually makes the call if an evacuation is mandatory or optional.  

It is vital to create an evacuation plan in the event of a disaster to ensure you and your family get to safety at the appropriate time. 

  • Use your communication plan to know how to contact your family in advance, and where you will meet after the emergency. 
  • Make sure you are familiar with evacuation routes in your area, so you won't get confused. 
  • Keep your car in good shape, with at least half a tank of gas in it at all times, so you can leave safely without getting stranded. If you don't have a vehicle, make arrangements with neighbors or other family members near you to join them in their vehicles if a disaster happens. 
  • After an evacuation mandate is made, leave earlier than later. Due to traffic, or the nature of the disaster, leaving too late may force you to shelter in place. 
  • Always bring your emergency kit with you during evacuation. 

The Most Frequent Types of Disasters to Prepare for and How to Stay Safe

Violent winds, deadly flooding, and the power to level buildings are all risks associated with hurricanes. These are dangerous tropical cyclones that can happen along any U.S. coast or any territory near the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Your risk from a hurricane skyrockets in summer and fall. 

To prepare in the event of a hurricane in your area: 

  • Have several ways to get severe weather alerts. The FEMA app and National Weather Service will keep you up to date. You can find other local alerts through your TV, radio, or local online websites.  
  • Know the difference between a hurricane watch and warning. A hurricane watch indicates a risk of dangerous conditions is possible in 48 hours. A hurricane warning means dangerous conditions are expected in 36 hours. 
  • Know your hurricane risk. Even if you do not live in a coastal area, rain, flooding, wind, even tornadoes may happen inland as a result of the hurricane making landfall. 
  • Bring loose outdoor items such as garbage cans and patio furniture indoors. 
  • Make sure your emergency kit is ready, and everyone in your household knows and understands your emergency plans. 
  • Close storm shutters or board up your windows and stay away from them in case of flying glass. 
  • Turn your refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting to make food last longer if there are power outages.
  • Shelter in place if you're not evacuated and take refuge in an interior room or storm shelter to protect yourself from high winds. 
  • Evacuate immediately if you are told to do so, and let your family know where you are. 
  • Don't walk or drive through floodwaters. 
  • Watch for downed power lines, debris, natural hazards, or harmful chemical spills. 
  • Return home only when local authorities say it's safe to do so. 
  • Photograph damage for insurance claims. 

Learn how the Salvation Army helped prepare for Category 4 Hurricane Ian.  

Learn More

Tornadoes are violently rotating air columns that extend down from a thunderstorm, often called nature's most violent act. Their spinning funnels can reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, devastating entire communities in minutes. But it's possible to stay safe in the event of a tornado. 

  • Know your area’s tornado risk. The Midwest and the Southeastern U.S. have the greatest risk of tornadoes. 
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar like a freight train. 
  • Sign up for your community’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) for alarms. The NOAA Weather Radio also provides emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone. 
  • Follow the instructions of state, local and tribal officials.  
  • Stay alert to changing weather systems, because a tornado can gather and strike within minutes. 
  • Check and update your emergency kit and disaster plan before tornado season. 
  • Go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor, such as a basement if you’re in a high-rise building. 
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls. 
  • If outdoors, get in a vehicle and drive to the closest shelter when a tornado hits, or take cover in a stationary vehicle if possible. 
  • If there’s no vehicle available for shelter or transportation, lie in an area lower than the roadway, and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat, or similar item  
  • Never shelter under a bridge or overpass. It’s safer in a low, flat area. 
  • Never try to outrun a tornado. 
  • Be alert for flying debris, regardless of where you are sheltered. 
  • Consider building a safe room inside your home or in some other structure. 

Learn More

Flooding is a temporary overflow of water onto normally dry land. Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and their waters are deceptively dangerous. Six inches of moving water can knock you down. Two feet can sweep your car away. Failing to evacuate flooded areas or entering floodwaters can lead to injury or death. 

When the waters rise, this is how to stay safe: 

  • Install check valves or consider investing in a sump pump with a battery if you live in a flooding zone. 
  • Purchase flood insurance if you live in a flood zone. Get flood coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  
  • Know the difference between a flood watch and warning. Flood watch means be aware, while flood warning means take action. 
  • Check your disaster kit and make sure your household has a disaster preparedness strategy for what to do. 
  • In the event of a flood, take shelter right away. 
  • Disconnect electrical appliances. Never touch electrical equipment that’s wet. 
  • Turn off gas and electricity if instructed. 
  • Move important items in your home to the highest floor and keep important documents in a waterproof container. 
  • When floodwaters start to rise, move to higher ground and evacuate if notified. 
  • If outdoors, do not drive or walk-through flooded areas. Standing water may be electrically charged, conceal debris, or be contaminated with chemical or natural hazards. 
  • Stay inside your car if it is trapped in rapidly moving water. Get on the roof if water is rising inside the car. 
  • Stay off bridges over fast-moving water. 
  • Return home only when it’s safe, as determined by local authorities.  
  • Photograph property damage for insurance claims. 

Learn More

An earthquake is a sudden, rapid movement of the ground caused by shifting rocks deep under the earth's surface. Earthquakes can cause fires, tsunamis, landslides, or avalanches. You are at risk for earthquakes wherever you live, and they can happen at any time of the year.  

The best time to prepare for any disaster is before it happens, but in the event of an earthquake, you can stay safe during it by doing the following: 

  • Identify places in your home or work where you can be safe, such as under sturdy pieces of furniture, archways, or interior walls. 
  • Store disaster preparedness supplies and documents in a safe, accessible place. 
  • Follow your family communication plan. 
  • Stay where you are until the earthquake stops. If you’re indoors, get to the floor and cover your head with your arms. If you’re outdoors, move away from buildings. If you’re in a car, stop as quickly as you can and stay inside the car. 
  • After the earthquake, find a clear path to safety. If you’re trapped, use your cellphone, tap on a pipe or wall, or use other ways such as an emergency whistle to alert first responders. 
  • Stay alert for aftershocks. 

    Learn More

Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas like forests, grasslands, or prairies. These dangerous fires can strike and spread with alarming speed, devastating not only wildlife and natural areas, but also communities. All it takes is a dry climate, vegetation, and a spark. In seconds, roaring flames erupt. 

  • Know the term “fire weather watch.” It means dangerous fire conditions are possible in 12 to 72 hours. 
  • Pay attention to air quality alerts. 
  • Keep the roof and gutters of your home clean. 
  • Maintain a fireproof zone, a 30-foot area around your home free of wood piles, dry leaves, or other items that burn. 
  • Make sure your car is fueled and equipped with disaster preparedness supplies and a change of clothes. 
  • Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do if you need to quickly evacuate.   
  • Evacuate immediately if instructed and be aware of evacuation routes. 
  • Use caution in burned areas. Hot spots can flare up without warning.  
  • Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation. 
  • Limit your exposure to smoke. Close off a room from outside air and set up a portable air cleaner or filter, use high-efficiency filters in your central air conditioning system to capture fine particles of smoke, or stay inside in a safe location where smoke levels are lower. 
  • Return home only when local authorities okay it. 
  • Stay alert after the fire, checking periodically for sparks and smoke. 

Learn More

How to Help 

By donating money, essential supplies, or volunteering, you can help aid our Emergency Disaster Services rebuild communities affected by natural disasters. 

Donating Money

By donating to The Salvation Army’s disaster relief services, you make it possible for us to provide life sustaining needs of food and hydration. Donations also help us to provide emergency assistance in the form of cleaning supplies, personal hygiene, and basic clothing needs and provide the groundwork for our long-term recovery efforts and rebuilding projects.

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Donating Goods

Providing essential supplies is another necessity that donations make possible. Basic need items, as well as medical supplies and tools, help our disaster teams, survivors, and rebuilding crews in the recovery process. The following items are sometimes needed after a disaster has happened:

  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable, packaged food items
  • First aid kits
  • Hygiene items, including soap, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer
  • Infant care items such as formula, diapers, and rash cream

Please contact your local Salvation Army incident management team before collecting or trying to donate these items. The local emergency disaster services team will need to establish reception and distribution plans before these items can be collected or distributed to people in need, and a surprise in-kind donation, though well-meaning, can become an increased challenge for disaster teams and personnel. 

Donating Time

To give back to communities affected by natural disasters, volunteering your time with The Salvation Army is an important part of the response and recovery process. Depending on the scope of the disaster and the need in the area, you may be asked to help in the following ways as a volunteer:

  • Handing out packaged meals
  • Distributing cleaning kits
  • Serving hot meals at a soup kitchen or mobile food distribution location
  • Distributing grocery boxes
  • Transporting donations to disaster areas or donation centers
  • Cleaning areas of debris
  • Rebuilding houses or essential buildings in the community
  • Performing first aid Providing emotional or spiritual support to survivors

The best way to rebuild a community and restore hope is to work together. Get in contact with your nearest Salvation Army location to help survivors of natural disasters.

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