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Two simple words will help protect your family and lower your stress during uncertain times: Be prepared.
The hardest part about planning for the unexpected is getting started. But taking a few simple steps now will pay dividends later if you need to make a quick exit from your home or hunker down for a while. The goal is to have all the essentials you need whether the crisis is because of dangerous weather, a medical emergency or a crisis you’ve never even thought of.
If you think you don’t really need to worry about a climate or other emergency, please reconsider. We’ve all seen the toll left by Hurricane Ian, including loss of life, power outages and flooding. But even if you don’t live a hurricane zone, weather emergencies are becoming in common everywhere. More than 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by climate-related extreme weather last year, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal disaster declarations. The World Disasters Report found that climate-related disasters have increased by nearly 35 percent since the 1990s. And during the past few years, we’ve all learned that health emergencies can happen at any time.
You don’t have to do everything right away. Just get started and build on your emergency preparedness over time. Here are seven key areas to think about.
Have a go bag for a quick exit from home. If there is a fire, gas leak, medical crisis or family emergency that requires you to leave town, every second counts. Start building your go bag. It should have essential documents that can’t be replaced and practical items you’ll be glad you have. Start by gathering your passport, social security card, birth certificates, deeds and other essential papers in one place. I use a silicone Stasher bag. It stays in a lock box, but it’s easy to grab during a quick exit. Add a list of important phone numbers in case your phone dies, an extra pair of reading glasses, a phone charger and some face masks. Tape a reminder to grab essential medications and contact lenses cases and solution. Another essential item you probably haven’t thought of: a whistle. If you are evacuating and get stuck or trapped, the high-pitch shrill of a whistle will help rescuers find you. I have a $3 whistle in my go bag and my car. Finally, some nice-to-haves: a flashlight and batteries, toothpaste and brush, first-aid kit, granola bars and water bottles.
Hunkering down in bad weather. It’s good to have a two-week supply of shelf-stable food and water. Don’t forget toilet paper, pet food, hand sanitizer and trash bags. Plan for power issues, too. Some useful items include: flashlights and batteries, head lamps or lanterns. I have a hand-crank weather radio as well as a solar phone charger.
Car emergencies. Your car needs to be ready if you have to evacuate. Never let the gas go below a quarter of a tank. A solid car emergency kit includes: a portable jump starter and power bank, a first-aid kit, energy bars, bottled water and mylar blankets. An escape tool might sound like overkill, but it’s inexpensive and essential for breaking car windows if you’re caught in a flood or other water emergency. Wirecutter recommends the RESQME escape tool which sells for less than $11.
A medical crisis. Start building a binder of documents you or your loved ones will need if you have a medical emergency. It should include: a list of emergency contacts (if they are on your phone, others can’t access them), your medical power of attorney, an advanced health directive, your will and any accounts and information that would help someone manage your life if you’re away. This AARP worksheet is useful to identify everything someone might need to help you through a crisis.
And don’t forget to bring a phone charger, which a physician friend told me is the most requested item in the emergency room.
Leaving work. Do you know where your office emergency exit is? I had to evacuate from the World Financial Center during 9/11 and had no idea where to go. It was terrifying. Don’t keep important personal documents at work either. During an emergency, you’ll lose access to the workplace. I know friends who, both after 9/11 and during the pandemic, had essential documents at their office desks that they couldn’t get to.
While traveling. Have a health plan for every trip you take. Know what your insurance covers and the closest hospital system to where you’re staying. Make sure you have doctor contact information handy if you need to reach your physician back home. Many people have found themselves in need of medical care abroad during the pandemic. Our By The Way travel experts have advice about health advisories during travel.
Have a pet plan. In every emergency, owners need to be ready to evacuate pets or board them in a safe location. The needs are different for big and small dogs, cats, reptiles, bunnies, guinea pigs and fish. Do you have pet care arranged if you’re hospitalized? What if you’re stranded abroad? What if you have to leave your home? Do you have pet carriers, bowls, leashes and vet records gathered for a quick exit? Think about all the above emergencies and what you might need to make sure your best pet friends stay safe, too.
Talking to friends and family about misinformation
Fall is here, travel is back, and many people are making holiday plans with family and friends. If you have someone in your life who regularly spreads misinformation on social media, by text or even at the dinner table, we’ve got advice for you.
Washington Post reporter Teddy Amenabar spoke with a half-dozen experts who study political misinformation on the internet, how it spreads and the ways that people discern fact from fiction. He learned that arguing, shouting and exasperation don’t help. The key is to be empathetic — which can be tough when you disagree with someone. Listen and try to understand someone’s concerns. Share the sources you use to gather reliable news and information. And if you really want to change someone’s point of view, get ready for multiple conversations, not just one chat.
Read about the science of stopping the spread of misinformation and changing someone’s mind in our guide, “9 tips to debunk false claims made by friends and family.”
Today’s Everyday life coach is Post Reports! Listen to a recent episode of our premier podcast for lessons and inspiration about accepting and celebrating your post-pandemic body.
The advice: Take a moment to experience gratitude for the body that got you through the pandemic, even if you gained a few pounds or didn’t exercise as much as others you know.
Why you should try it: Listening to the stories in the podcast — about everything from getting a lung transplant to growing out an Afro — will remind you that there is no single pandemic experience. Some people found ways to thrive during the pandemic, others struggled, and the rest of us were somewhere in between.
How to do it: You can find the episode here, at postreports.com. Or, you can find it in your favorite podcast app.
Here’s the latest personal health news from The Washington Post.
Ask a Doctor: Why do I pee so much at night?
Eating Lab: Coffee vs. tea smackdown
On Your Mind: How to cope with racism-induced stress
Your Move: Hibernating fat bears are complex. They may hold lessons for human health.
Brain Matters: It’s never ‘just’ a concussion. Your brain is vulnerable and hurting.
What’s a concussion? How many is too many? What if I hit my head on a door?
10 ways to start running even if you kind of hate it
Why do cats knead? Why do dogs lick you? The science of pets’ quirks.
And don’t miss this article from our Help Desk team: How to vet mental health advice on TikTok and Instagram
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