Natural disasters are frightening and unpredictable, and most of us would like to avoid even thinking about them and the chaos they can cause. However, since disaster can quite literally strike at any moment, it’s important that you do think about what you and your family will do in case of an emergency.

How to Prepare Before a Natural Disaster

Before a natural disaster occurs, it’s important to prepare the which types of natural disasters that are likely to occur in your area. For example, if you live on a coast, hurricanes might be a local concern; if you live in the plains, tornadoes might be a bigger threat.

Once you know what you are preparing for, it’s important to actually prepare. Many families have a ready-to-go bag containing necessary items for when the situation requires a quick getaway. Common items families put in these bags include water, non-perishable food items, extra clothes, blankets, a first aid kit, a battery-powered or wind-up radio, toiletries, copies of important documents, a list of important phone numbers to aid in communication, credit cards, cash, a cell phone charger, and an extra set of keys.

Since a disaster can strike at any time, whether you’re at home or at work or school, simply having a ready-to-go bag is not enough. It’s imperative that you set up a detailed plan and determine a designated meeting place for if disaster strikes during a time when your family is not together.

Another important thing to do as a family is to memorize each other’s phone numbers. Cell phones are very useful for communication and have almost eliminated the need to have any phone numbers memorized, but in the event that a cell phone is lost or the battery dies when there’s no way to charge it, it’s important to know the numbers of those you might need to reach.

Best Practices During a Natural Disaster

During a natural disaster, stay alert and act quickly to stay safe, especially if local authorities order an emergency evacuation.

If the natural disaster is a tornado or a hurricane, quickly go to a storm shelter if possible; if not, quickly go to a basement or hide out in the safest location you can reasonably get to.

If the disaster is an earthquake, take shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture to avoid falling debris; if this is not possible, try to lean against a wall for protection.

In case of a fire, stay close to the ground and get out as quickly as possible. Smoke inhalation is the main cause of death by fire.

Once you’ve escaped immediate danger, as soon as you possibly can, make sure to alert your family and friends of your status and location. Communication is extremely important in emergency situations, as your loved ones could potentially end up risking their lives to rescue you if they do not know that you are safe. In an emergency, a text message is often better than a phone call: You may be able to reach multiple people at once with a mass text, and text messages have better odds of getting through when phone lines are jammed. Making an update on a social media site such as Twitter or Facebook can also help spread the word that you are safe.

If you have access to a TV or radio during and after a disaster, make sure to tune in for any important updates.

After a Disaster Has Occurred

After a natural disaster, it is important to take precautions to keep yourself physically safe. Wear protective equipment when handling debris and cleaning up the area. Watch out for hazards like sharp debris or downed power lines. Make sure to maintain good hygiene and keep your living space as clean as possible to avoid any possible sicknesses or danger.

After a disaster has occurred, it can be very hard to cope with the emotional effects, too. Try to keep to your previous routine as much as possible in an effort to lessen the anxiety from having experienced such a traumatic event. Don’t be ashamed of seeking out a mental health professional or talking to friends and family about the emotional effects of surviving a natural disaster.