Steps you can take NOW to survive.

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself with nothing but the clothes on your back?  Do you have a plan?

It CAN happen to you, and has happened to thousands of people across the world as a result of tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, hurricanes, tsunamis or the like.

It DID happen to me, in April 2011 shortly after I returned home from a typical day at work.  I was aware of the Tornado warnings, but growing up in central Illinois, this was a common threat and one that I never really feared.   Not only did this one change my life forever, but in the following days, record-breaking tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, St. Louis, Missouri and Joplin, Missouri changed and even took the lives of thousands. 

tornado destuction requiring tempory housingCredit: Kristin Boster


I stood on my porch and watched the clouds roll in and commented to my son, “I think it’s going to miss us.  I have to run to town.”

I hopped into my truck and drove east, away from the clouds.   Less than three minutes later, he called and said, “Mom, there’s a tornado in the backyard.”

“Get in the basement!” I said, and turned my truck around. When I made it to the driveway, I was speechless at what I saw.  Power lines were blocking my path as well as several trees.  My detached garage was simply gone, along with everything that was in it.  My 60 foot wraparound porch was also gone, just no longer there.  My house apart at the middle, the upstairs bedrooms now exposed to the now calm sky.  

My son stood dazed on what was the porch and told me nobody was hurt.  A quick look at the neighboring houses revealed that we were much more fortunate than the others on the street.  I had two neighbors within a half-mile radius and both of their houses and barns were completely destroyed.

Within minutes, rescue personnel, family, friends and the media converged on the scene.    Although my house was still standing, nearly everything inside was destroyed.  EverytDebris after Girard, IL 2011 tornado.Credit: Kristin Bosterhing.  Just 10 minutes earlier, my biggest worry was what to make for supper.

People rushed to my side and offered their help.  “What shall we do?”  They all asked, “How can we help?”  The TV camera was instantly in my face, the reporter asking, “Tell us what you saw, what’s going through your mind.  Where will you stay?”

Completely overwhelmed.  Speechless.  I had no idea what had happened or what I would do.

Ten months later, we have recovered.  I have put together a list of things that I could have done to make me more prepared.   Please, don’t just read this list.  Realize these are simple items that can be done with very little time and effort.  They will save you immensely if and when something like this happens to you.

6 Disaster Planning Tips To Do NOW – Before Disaster Strikes!

  1. Save a copy of your homeowner’s Insurance policy and agent contact number off-site.
  2. Arrange for emergency shelter for your animals. 
  3. Keep at least one spare set of in-season clothes off-site.
  4. Keep at least a few days worth of required medications off-site.
  5. Determine your communication plan -  make a phone tree.
  6. Keep at least one pad of checks, credit card or debit card at an off-site location.

If I had done these six simple steps, I would have eliminated an immediate amount of stress.  The importance of each step is further discussed below.

Save a copy of your homeowner’s Insurance policy and agent contact number off-site.

I thought I was pretty organized and had all of my insurance information stored safely away in my home office filing cabinet.    After the tornado, my filing cabinet was gone, along with all paperwork inside.  If I had kept a copy of my policy at a relatives or even as an image on my email, I would not have lost so much sleep wondering about my coverage limits.  Luckily, my   me on the news,called and requested a new copy from the agency be mailed ASAP, but company policy prevented them from sending this electronically, so I had to wait several days for an actual hard copy to arrive in the mail.

Arrange for emergency shelter for your animals.

At the time of the tornado, I had five dogs and ten horses.  Try renting a house that allows that mixture!   Even finding a hotel for the night that accepted a single dog, much less five, was a huge challenge.    I now have an agreement with a nearby stable to come for transportation and boarding  of the horses in the event of an emergency.  A friend who lives in the country with a large enclosed yard has agreed to take care of the dogs.    These simple precautionary plans cost nothing, but mean so much when you are surrounded by chaos after a disaster.

Keep at least one spare set of in-season clothes off-site.

Most of our clothes did not get blown away, but all were completely water-logged.  Luckily I did have an emergency set stored in a sealed Rubbermaid in the basement and we were able to have dry, clean clothes for the night.

Keep at least a few days worth of required medications off-site.

This one took me off guard and is admittedly not easy to do with the way some insurance companies limit the amount of prescriptions that are released in a given time period.   However, many of us require daily medication.  A natural disaster causes enough stress without compounding it with a change to your prescribed dosages.    You will be extremely busy with basic needs for several days.  Going to the pharmacy to pick up replacement refunds (after you get insurance approval, which is a feat in and of itself) is not on your radar. 

Determine your communication plan -  make a phone tree.

Hopefully communication will be available in your area after the disaster.  Even if it’s not however, it will be eventually, and your number one priority, along with that of your family and friends, is letting everyone know you’re ok.  Between text messages and phone calls, my phone literally did not stop for over three days.   Had I  made a phone tree before hand, much of the concern and fears felt by myself and friends and relatives could have been avoided.    Instead, everyone was trying to reach me and I was frantically wondering who else I needed to call.   Now, my family has a tree.  When something happens and I receive or make a call to the designated person on my list, they will in turn notify their designated person, who will continue the process through the tree. 

Keep at least one pad of checks, credit card or debit card at an off-site location.

You have no food, no place to stay, and no clean clothes.   Your purse or wallet is gone (blown away, burned, etc.).  The banks are closed.  What do you do?  My spare checks were in my filing cabinet, which was destroyed.   Getting replacement credit cards, debit cards and checks takes time, several days, in fact.  Always have a safeguard.  I now keep a pad of checks and an extra credit card at my mom’s house, just in case.

In addition to these taking these actions now, there are things to be aware of after disaster strikes.  

  1. You will be in shock. 
  2. You will be overwhelmed.  
  3. You will forget.

Write everything down, or if you have a smart phone, use your voice recorder. 

My insurance adjuster actually gave me this tip as we were walking through the yard surveying the damage.  He was so right!  You will be bombarded every day with a myriad of decisions to make and things to do.  Your brain is on overload and you have no more routine or home base.   You may be staying in a different place every night for quite some time. You are probably carrying all of your belongs with you in a small bag.  All sense of normalcy is gone.  By recording or writing things down every day, you will have a plan of action for the next day as well as a record of the where you’ve been.  Include a to-do list, updates and conversations from the insurance company, contractor contact information and who helped you do what.

Take plenty of pictures!

Pictures will help you document damage, volunteers who came to help and possessions that survived.

Debris after Girard, IL 2011 tornado.Credit: Kristin Boster

As you start piecing your life back together, you will start to remember items that you used to have and you may wonder if they survived the event.  While most of my possessions were blown away, some were scattered and collected by volunteers and placed in storage.    Most were packed without my direct contact, so I didn’t know what was recovered and what was lost.  Pictures provided a way for me to identify what survived without actually having to dig through boxes in the storage unit.  This is helpful when making your list of personal property items for the insurance company, which you may need to do before you’re ready to unpack into your new residence.  It may be several months before you can complete this inventory, but you will have some idea where to start from the pictures.

Nobody wakes up thinking disaster is going to happen to them today.  But for thousands of people, it does.  Be prepared.  Take these few simple steps now.  It may quite literally be the difference between life and death, your family’s very survival.