Would Your Family Be Safe During a Disaster?

With the horrors of the Haiti earthquake and now Chile on our minds, it's hard not to wonder: How would your family handle a disaster?

While we hope to never be put to the test, it's smart to be prepared. Here's what you need to know to keep your family safe in the face of an emergency.

The Basics
From blackouts to big storms, the items you need to get through a worst-case scenario may already be in your home - just not stored in one place. Since every second counts in a true emergency, corral these basics in a portable container in the area of the house where you'll seek shelter, but within easy reach for evacuation: three days' worth of food and water, a first aid kit, battery-powered (or hand-crank) flashlights and radio, batteries (if needed), trash bags and duct tape (for sheltering-in-place; see ready.gov for details), regional maps, and any personal sanitation or specific family needs, like pet supplies. Your only specialty buy: medical masks to protect against air-quality problems and infections. (Large Natural Zip Top Canvas Tote Bag, $31; Lands' End, 800-800-5800)

Work It
Be prepared anywhere: Keep a kit at your workplace stocked with comfortable shoes (if you won't be able to walk a distance in your usual ones), snacks, water, and a flashlight; know your company's emergency procedures. In general, have on hand enough cash for five days of basic needs (gas, food) - but even $20 will help if ATMs are down.

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Phone Home

When disaster strikes, don't rely on memory or technology - save important digits on mini contact lists (ready.gov has templates you can print out) in family members' wallets and in your emergency kit. Establish a plan for checking in with relatives in case local lines get jammed. And teach everyone to text: Even if phone lines are clogged, text messages often go through. Recharge cell phones nightly, but also consider getting a battery-operated charger like Turbo Charge ($12), the top scorer in GHRI tests. Last, store an ICE ("in case of emergency") contact in your cell, so folks will know whom to call for you.

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The Meet-Up
Designate two family meeting places (nearby and farther away in your neighborhood). Hang the plan near your kit; review annually.

Power out? Unplug appliances and electronics and turn off air conditioners to prevent damage when the electricity surges back on. Leave one lamp on so you'll know when the power's back.

Don't skip this list of what to toss and keep so your kit is always up-to-date.

What else would you include in your family's emergency kit?

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.