Eduardo Verdugo, AP
A building demolished by a 7.1 earthquake sits in pile of rubble, in Jojutla, Morelos state, Mexico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. Police, firefighters and ordinary Mexicans are digging frantically through the rubble of collapsed schools, homes and apartment buildings, looking for survivors of Mexico's deadliest earthquake in decades as the number of confirmed fatalities climbed to 248.

Over the past weeks, we have witnessed a chain of disasters that would seem to be almost once-in-a-lifetime events. Mother Nature’s destructive power leaves us humbled and awed. We stand as nothing before its fury.

How can we prepare for such disasters? Which emergency should we plan for? Will it be flood, fire, windstorm, mudslide, earthquake, economic depression, terrorism, a mass shooting, political turmoil, war and even nuclear war, extremes of heat or cold, utility outages or hazardous materials incidents?

For Houston, it was flooding. For Florida and Puerto Rico, it was flooding and hurricane winds. For Santa Rosa, it was wildfires. For Oaxaca, Mexico, it was an 8.1 earthquake. In 1983, for Utah’s Wasatch Front, it was unprecedented flooding.

Also, the emergency we may need to prepare for could be a personal one, such as loss of employment, death or disability of a breadwinner or serious illness.

In such an emergency, will we be sheltering in our homes, or will we have to evacuate suddenly, as with the Santa Rosa fires and Harvey’s and Irma’s winds and flooding?

Experts tell us it is not a matter of “if” but “when” an earthquake of significant magnitude will strike the Wasatch Front, when we’ll have to deal with all the consequences it will bring.

Regardless of what trouble comes out of Pandora’s box, we need to have certain basic things in readiness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency tells us we should be self-sufficient for at least three days after a disaster by providing our own shelter, water, food and sanitation.

FEMA urges everyone to:

  • develop an emergency plan.
  • collect and assemble a disaster-supplies kit.
  • learn about your city and neighborhood disaster plan (CERT).
  • be familiar with how your children’s schools will respond to emergencies.
  • decide on a meeting place and develop a means of contacting your family if cellphones aren’t working.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity or cost of preparing. Start small. Everyone can store some water — a gallon per person per day. Then assemble some canned or packaged food into some backpacks, boxes or tubs. Add clothing (including coats), a radio, flashlights, sanitation items, matches and minor cooking supplies.

You can even buy fairly inexpensive 72-hour kits at local emergency preparedness stores or online.

As you are able, consider adding sleeping gear like sleeping bags and pads or cots.

Here are some other things to think about:

  • Identification, including for children, such as a copy of their birth certificate
  • Medications
  • Cash
  • Baby supplies
  • Sanitary supplies like wipes and a simple toilet
  • How to prepare for your pets and other animals
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has long urged its members to store a year’s supply of food, some water and, where possible, some fuel. Those who have heeded this counsel have been able to weather disasters with much more confidence than otherwise. Countless members have resorted to their food supplies to tide them over in difficult economic times such as unemployment.

Set some money aside for such a contingency. It is a challenge for many to establish and maintain a financial reserve, with many financially overextended and having little or no savings. While it may take longer to create a financial reserve than it does to store water, most of us can scrape a little cash together for that rainy day when the bank can’t open because an earthquake cut the power or when credit and debit cards aren’t being accepted.

Those of us of the older set can have some extra food, water and money available to help our children and grandchildren and our less fortunate neighbors in an emergency.

4 comments on this story

Don’t be overwhelmed by the time and expense of preparing for an emergency. Just get started! Take baby steps, and the rest will follow if you’re committed.

Disasters are frustratingly unpredictable in kind, scope and timing, but most of us likely will be affected at one time or another. We need to prepare ourselves and our communities to meet them as best we can. If nothing catastrophic ever happens, we will have slept peacefully knowing we were prepared. See https://www.utah.gov/beready/index.html and www.fema.gov for excellent resources on how to prepare.

Greg Bell is the former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.