Devastating tornadoes in U.S. showcase the importance of disaster preparedness

Photo (c) CatLane - Getty Images

Having the proper supplies and a plan can save lives

The tornadoes that tore through parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kentucky this month underscored the need for everyone, no matter where they live, to be prepared when disaster strikes.

Sometimes there is an advance warning that bad things are about to happen. Sometimes disaster strikes suddenly. 

Madison Morgan, who rode out the tornado in Mayfield tucked into a closet with her family, said they were more prepared than others because they had taken the time to think out the various scenarios that they would likely encounter after a disaster.

“Water and foodstuffs are what many people think will pull them through the early post-storm disarray, but it’s just as important — if not more so — to think about a flashlight with fresh batteries if the power goes out in the middle of the night, or ready cash because the ATMs and credit card machines at businesses might be down if the power is out,” she told ConsumerAffairs.

Preparedness lessons to be learned

Morgan, an announcer at WYMC Radio in Mayfield, was on the air in the hours before the storm to warn residents of the impending danger. As a result, she was aware of all the things people should be doing to prepare.

“A notebook with copies of your insurance policy, your IDs, a list of local emergency numbers, names of prescriptions, even a whistle to attract help, and a mask to cover your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust can all come in handy,” Morgan said.

Justin Houser, a clerk at Casey’s convenience store in Mayfield, said that while he didn’t have a preparedness kit ready for this disaster, he’s already made one in case another one hits town. In addition to food and water, Justin now has a generator, a propane gas grill so he can cook food, tarps, blankets, and pillows in his kit.

Businesses have to be prepared too

At a time when good workers have become a precious commodity, Cathy Elliot, the regional marketing director for the local McDonalds franchise group, said the company tries to always be prepared for a disaster. The first order of business was making sure her 80 employees were safe.

“I think we already had a very strong organized protocol in place that our people can use no matter what time of day or night it is,” Elliott said. She stated that in the Mayfield situation, the company sent out advanced warnings the day before storms and told managers and employees to be ready for the weather to quickly turn bad. She also said workers needed to be prepared for the store to close so they could go home to safety.

How to prepare

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that everyone assemble a basic emergency supply kit. At a minimum, FEMA suggests that it contain:

  • Water and non-perishable food for several days

  • Extra cell phone battery or charger

  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio that can receive

  • NOAA Weather Radio tone alerts and extra batteries

  • Flashlight and extra batteries

  • First aid kit

  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation

  • Non-sparking wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • Can opener (if kit contains canned food)

  • Local maps

Pet owners should also have a plentiful supply of pet food on hand, and parents of young children should stockpile infant formula and diapers, at least enough to get through a few days. It’s also a good idea to have some cash and a complete change of clothes.


Additional reporting for this article was provided by Mark Huffman.

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