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  • Writer's pictureShawndra Holmberg, CPO-CD

Disaster, Emergency, or just the Unexpected — Be Prepared

When did you first learn about emergency preparedness?

Emergency Supplies for your Car

My first introduction was around the time I got my driver’s license. Growing up in Colorado, it was a common fall routine to add an emergency bag to the car which included a blanket, a coat, hat and gloves, and winter boots. And as I started driving by myself that winter, it was routinely reinforced. In addition, my dad made sure I could change a tire myself. No cell phones and AAA for me.

But it wasn’t until years later that I started taking an active part in planning and preparing for emergencies or the unexpected. I was in graduate school in Montana and had left early from the lab because the power went out. As I drove home, I thought about what I could do with a free evening. Studying was out since there wouldn’t be any lights, but so was television. However, I knew I could call a friend for a chat because I had one of those princess phones. Those trimline phones that plug into the phone jack in the wall with no extra power required. You may remember those phones, the one where you could walk wherever you want as long as the coiled phone cord could reach.

I arrived home, pulled into the driveway and reached for the clicker. “Oh yeah, no power.” I sat there in front of my garage door on a snowy evening and wondered what I would do. Now, though I’m good at planning and organizing, my brain goes a bit wonky when I’m faced with an immediate need to take action I haven’t thought about. My first thought was to drive back to town and stay with a friend.

Luckily, once I got over that initial knee jerk reaction, I was able to think that there had to be a MANUAL way of opening the garage. My usual entry into the house through the garage door would not work tonight. But because I had grown tired years earlier of locking myself out of house and car several times, I was prepared with the front door key.

As soon as I opened the door, my automatic response was to flip on the light. I wondered how many more times I would forget the electricity was out. I found my flashlight and went in search of a way to open the garage door manually. Success!

But Montana was not finished with helping me to learn the importance of planning. A year later, while my mom was visiting, the power went out again. This time though, the temperature was in the negative teens and the inside temperature was dropping because my gas furnace has an electric pilot light. One of the first things I check when I buy a new house or have to replace the furnace is “can the gas furnace work when the electricity is out?” If the answer is “no” then it’s time to prepare a backup plan.

5 Stages to Emergency Preparedness

There are 5 stages to emergency preparedness: Planning, Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. The following are actions to take in the first three.

PLANNING is the first stage in being prepared for an emergency, disaster, or just the unexpected. So, let’s start planning.

Examples of Hazards: zombies (, hurricanes, house fires, flooding

Identify the hazards.

What are the hazards you might face here?

  • Flooding

  • Gremlins

  • House fire

  • Hurricanes

  • Power outages

  • Tornadoes

  • Tree falling on your car

  • Tribbles

  • Winter storms

  • Zombies

For a comprehensive list of hazards go to and use the promo code “FREE” to get a copy for free.

Once you have an idea of what hazards (disasters, emergencies, or the unexpected) you might face play the What-If game:

  • What if the flooding happens at 2 pm? or 2 am?

  • What-happens-if a fire starts at 1 am? or 1 pm?

  • Where will we be, what will we be doing, where will we go, what will we need?

  • How will we communicate?

Family Communication Plan

Which leads to building a Family Communication Plan

  • Where will you meet?

  • Who will you contact?

  • How will you contact? TEXT!

  • Do you have key phone numbers some place other than your phone?

Complete my Family Communication Plan and have all contact information in hardcopy form so if your phone is lost or dead, you’ll still have the numbers you need. Go to and use the promo code “FREE” to get a copy for free.

The second stage to being prepared is PREVENTION. I know we can’t stop a hurricane or a flood, though we can work on limiting global warming through our choices and letting our elected officials know we care about the environment. But still you can’t stop the hurricanes, tsunamis, lava flow, floods, and more but there are some hazards you can prevent.

keep open flames at least 12 inches away from things that burn. picture of a candle #firesafety

You can prevent house fires by:

  • Keep open flames at least 12 inches from any paper, curtains, or other flammable material

  • Don’t overload your power strips or your outlets

  • If you use a space heater, plug it directly into the wall outlet. Don’t use extension cords.

You can prevent damage to your house or car (or people) from nearby trees.

Coconut palms being cut down to prevent damage

When we bought our house in Hawaii, the drive up to the house was lined with sixteen 85-foot coconut palms that were over 50 years old. They were gorgeous! They were dangerous!! The saddest moment for our new home was having every one of them cut down. We couldn’t risk a 20-pound coconut falling on our heads, or worse, our neighbor’s classic cars. So down they came.

There are other ways to prevent damage to your home from flooding, high winds, and other hazards.

Talk with your insurance agent, your realtor (before you buy), or check out:

You can also prevent the consequences of a disaster, emergency or the unexpected:

  • Build an emergency fund in a separate account. Keep it only for emergencies.

  • Make sure your files, data and information are backed up. Whether it’s paper or electronic data — back it up! Follow the 3-2-1 Rule.

    • 3 copies on

    • 2 different media (paper, laptop, USB flash drive, Dropbox, etc.) with

    • 1 copy off site

  • Strap down large furniture and fasten down breakables in Earthquake prone areas.

  • Insurance — get the right insurance and the right amount of insurance. Check with your insurance agent.

The next stage is PREPARATION which is the one you’re probably familiar with in some way or other.

There’s two main areas for preparation. You can prepare for an evacuation or for staying or sheltering in place.

Emergency 72-hour kit

There’s quite a few things to do to prepare to evacuate. The first is to build an emergency kit that is often referred to as a 72-Hour Kit or a Go Kit. The idea is to have supplies you can grab and evacuate with (that’s the go part) for the first 3 days of a disaster (that’s the 72-hour part). You may have seen lists of items to include in your kit. You can get my kit list for free at Use the “FREE” promo code when you’re checking out.

One essential I add to my kit is cash in one-dollar bills.

When I was the preparedness planner for the Hawaii District Health Office, I attended a conference where the speaker showed pictures of what he’d seen during hurricane recovery in Florida. He showed a picture of a gentleman selling a case of water, for $12. Now you can buy a case for under $5 today, but during an emergency there might be individuals selling what you need at inflated prices. You’ll need cash, as I’m sure he wasn’t taking checks or credit cards. But you need cash in small bills. If you wanted that water, and you only had a $20, the guy might not give you change. That $12 case of water then becomes a $20-dollar case of water.

The next day I started collecting one-dollar bills. My husband got so used to me asking for his ones that he’d come home, give me a kiss and hand me his ones. I have my clients and readers build up to $200, one dollar at a time, but you can create a cash stash of $50 or $500 — it’s up to you how much, but start saving your ones today.

Another essential is medication.

If you or a family member need medication to stay healthy and alive have at least 3-days’ worth of meds in your go kit. You will need to keep rotating the meds so they don’t expire when you need them most.

Some medicine requires refrigeration or other special handling. Think of another way to ensure that you have your medication if your pharmacy was closed for a couple of days or weeks.

Most insurance companies will not give you more than a 30-day supply so here are some ways to be better prepared and ensure that your prescription won’t run out during an emergency.

  • Get your prescription filled via mail-order prescriptions, it's usually a 90-day supply.

  • Refill your prescription as early as possible. Often a week or even two before you run out. I’m still working on my husband to at least let me know BEFORE he’s down to his last pill. So far that’s not working very well, but I’m still trying.

  • Ask your doctor to prescribe a 90- or even a 60-day supply if possible.

Emergency Kit for Pets

Now in a disaster one of the first priorities officials may focus on is lifesaving medication – medication for blood pressure, diabetes, etc. You should still have 3- to 7-days’ worth of meds, but you’ll be a priority. Your pets won’t. If your pet needs medicine then you need to have it. I recommend at least 2 weeks of medicine on hand for your pets.

Another tool to help you be better prepared to evacuate is creating a Grab & Go List of items to take if you evacuate.

Has anyone seen the car commercial where an asteroid is headed for earth and they have less than an hour to evacuate the area? The couple are throwing the TV, the blender and a yoga ball into the SUV. I know I don’t want to be stuck with a yoga ball when I really should have added my laptop, my tablet, and a sleeping bag.

Create a checklist of things to take. Think about what you’d grab if you had 5 minutes to evacuate. What if you had 15 minutes, what if you had hours or days? As I said, my brain goes wonky in an emergency I haven’t planned for so I have a checklist that starts with my priority items — my pets and husband of course, then my PIC or personal information center notebook that has copies of important papers and information (which I also have backed up electronically). I’ll grab my emergency kit. Then if I have time, I’ll grab the electronics (phone, tablet, laptop). The rest of the medicines, then clothes, and food.

Grab & Go Checklist image

Need a Grab & Go Checklist to start? Go to and use the promo code “Prepared20” to get 20% off. Since you can use only one promo code at a time. Add the FREE checklists separately and use promo code “FREE”.

PIC -- Personal Information Center

The 20% discount also applies to the PIC (Personal Information Center) list of documents and information to add to a physical or electronic notebook to ensure you have the vital information when you need it. You can get it at

The other disaster scenario you’ll need to prepare for is sheltering in place. In addition to your emergency kit, you should stock at least two weeks of supplies in case you can’t get to the grocery store for 14 days.

As I mentioned it was normal for me to throw a winter kit in the car in Montana, I was always prepared for being snowed in for a week though it never happened. But it wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii that I really started stocking up on the basics and essentials for sheltering in place. We moved to Hawaii in time for a dock strike and I learned what was essential.

First — toilet paper. Before I moved to Hawai’i, I didn’t understand my sister’s tendency to stock "sufficient" toilet paper. We’ve often talked about growing up with different parents. She, as the eldest grew up with parents starting out and living pay check to pay check and often down to their last roll of toilet paper. The parents I grew up with as the youngest had enough money and space to stock up on supplies. But in Hawaii with a dock strike going on, I learned the importance of having more than a small package of toilet paper in the hall closet. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is aware of the importance of toilet paper. You will want to stock up, not hoard.

Best By Dates --Is it Expired or Not?

Not that toilet paper is the only thing to keep in stock. We continue to buy fresh and frozen food, but we make sure that our pantry is stocked with canned and packaged foods. Enough that if the grocery stores doesn't have it this week, we could go another couple of weeks. Maybe then the stores will have it on the shelf again. We stock up on the foods we like the best so as not to worry about it if it expires. If you’ve ever wondered what those Sell By and Best By dates really mean check out Best By Dates — Is It Expired or Not?

Some families prepare to shelter in place with enough supplies for a year, others can be better prepared if they focus on keeping 2 weeks of food in the pantry rather than waiting to run out before shopping again.

Planning, Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery

If you want more information on preparing to weather the storms ahead preview my books:


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