No matter what the storm or disaster, there are three actions you can take to keep yourself and your family safe during times of trouble.

Foremost, know what’s going on. Being informed is critical to figuring next steps in a survival situation. Staying tuned in to news and weather alerts, downloading emergency warning apps on your handheld device, or signing up for text alerts through your local service provider can go a long way toward giving you the knowledge and the time you need to get safe.

Once you know what the situation is, you need a basic safety plan. This should be decided and agreed upon by all members of your household — and it should be practiced. Yes, that means drills, preferable during each season, or four times per year.

Holding a family meeting — perhaps over dinner — to discuss how to best prepare and respond to emergencies will set the table, if you will, for the types of problems that can arise. It also opens the plan up for new ideas and gives everyone a say. Think power outages, floods, fires, extreme cold, extreme heat and high winds. Then assign responsibilities (always the fun part).

Who’s in charge of shoveling? Turning off the power? Minding the pets? Taking care of elderly family members? Moving furniture? These assignments will ensure the plan is carried out swiftly during an emergency.

It’s also wise to decide on family meeting places in case you get separated. One location should be close by and another in an accessible but distant neighborhood. This is important in case, say, a fire swoops in and your local meeting spot is jeopardized.

Take the time to ensure every family member has emergency contacts programmed into their mobile phones and designated as “in case of emergency.” Emergency responders are trained to look for “ICE” labels.

As part of your plan, evacuation routes should be discussed. Several routes should be decided upon for different events. If there is a flood, you'll want to get to higher ground. If there's a tornado, you will want to know how to get to a shelter or to a secure basement.

Once your plan is in place, prepare an emergency supply kit.

A basic emergency kit should contain:

  • One gallon of water for every person in your household per day. Try to keep a minimum three-day supply on hand. A two-week supply is ideal in case you get trapped for a longer period.
  • Long-lasting food, such as ready-made emergency food, or canned or dry food. Also, keep a minimum of three days’ worth, or two-week supply if possible.
  • A flashlight and extra batteries
  • A hand-cranked or battery-operated radio
  • A first aid kit and any prescription medications needed. (Keep a week’s worth on hand and note expiration dates.)
  • leatherman survival toolA Swiss army knife or survival tool such as a Leatherman (shown right)
  • A whistle so you can signal for help
  • Waterproof matches or a lighter
  • Personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, soap, etc. (Enough for two weeks.)
  • Important documents such as copies of birth certificates and insurance policies
  • A prepaid mobile phone and charger
  • Extra cash
  • A blanket
  • A map of your local area
If nothing else, all of these steps — the plan, the emergency kit and staying informed —will give you the peace of mind of knowing what to do and how to do it if the worst happens. Staying calm and focused, above all else, is the key to survival during extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Thomas M. Kostigen is the founder of The Climate Survivalist.com and a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He is the National Geographic author of "The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover" and the NG Kids book, "Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Hailstorms, Thundersnow, Hurricanes and More!" Follow him @weathersurvival, or email kostigen@theclimatesurvivalist.com

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