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Build disaster kits for home, evacuation
By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A natural disaster often means no electricity, telephone service or safe transportation, but it does not have to mean no food, clean water or medicine if these essentials are ready and packaged in a disaster survival kit.
Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the kit should have two parts: a traveling disaster kit to bring along during an evacuation and a home disaster kit to use when staying home during a storm.
“You wouldn't necessarily take all your food and water if you're evacuating because of a hurricane. You should have blankets, a pillow or two, and anything else to be comfortable should you have to sleep in the car or camp out,” Willcutt said. “Things like batteries, water and canned goods would be less important.”
Willcutt said to keep a separate list of medications the family needs in case the disaster destroys the home kit. To preserve the kit, keep it in or near the same safe place the family will go to in a disaster, but be sure the kit is also safe from daily conditions that could ruin the food and electronics inside.
“Keep it in a dry place away from sunlight or damp areas that promote bacterial growth,” Willcutt said. “If you've got a storm cellar, that would be a logical, safe place to put it.”
Jeff Rent, a public information officer with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said a travel disaster kit is especially important in a large-scale disaster like a hurricane. He also recommended assembling the kit as soon as possible instead of waiting for a hurricane evacuation warning.
“If you've ever been to a grocery store during an evacuation, you know there are a lot of people trying to get their supplies then. They're too late,” Rent said.
The contents of the travel disaster kit vary from family to family. Add items and adjust plans based on circumstances, such as children's ages or pet ownership.
“If you're going to a hotel, know where a pet shelter is because not all hotels accept pets,” Rent said. “Some of the other contents to take along include items for children, such as coloring books and playing cards, to keep them occupied.”
Pack the home disaster kit with canned goods or other nonperishable foods, water, prescription medications, first-aid supplies, a flashlight, a battery-powered weather radio and batteries. Include a gallon of water per person per day, and pack enough supplies to last at least 72 hours.
“Be sure to include things like a can opener for canned goods,” Rent said. “Some basic toiletries and disinfectant wipes will help. If you lose power and are unable to take a shower, baby wipes can be used to freshen up.”
Rotate the food, water and medicine in the home kit as necessary to prevent expiration, and keep it ready all year. Rent said families should stay prepared not only for seasonal disasters like hurricanes and ice storms, but also for unexpected disasters, such as terrorist attacks and earthquakes.
“The northern part of the state is especially susceptible to earthquakes due to the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and although we haven't had a large-scale earthquake in a long time, that doesn't mean we couldn't have one tomorrow,” Rent said. “There's always a chance.”
For more information, go to http://www.msema.org and click on the “Preparedness” link where MEMA has instructions on how to respond during earthquakes, radiological and hazardous material leaks, floods, hurricanes and severe weather. The site also explains how to create a disaster supply kit, a family communications plan and a family evacuation plan.
MEMA also answers questions about disaster safety by e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.