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3 steps to prepare for the next disaster

(MoneyWatch) As a "sudden wealth" financial planner, I take great pride in helping others determine where they are going and how to get there. I consider myself an eternal optimist. In my mind, the glass is not half empty or half full -- it is well on its way to becoming full. People are generally good and do what is right. On the other hand, I'm also a realist, looking not only at the destination but rather at all of the things that can go wrong on the way there.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. Some things we simply can't prevent. Superstorm Sandy is a reminder that we all need to plan for the unexpected and that you need to protect your family in the event of a natural disaster.

September was "national preparedness month," which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. When I hear "homeland security" I think of terrorism, but this agency also assumes primary responsibility for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation.

There are a few things you and I can do today to help protect our families and loved ones. The three steps Homeland Security recommends: 1. Get a kit; 2. Make a plan; 3. Be informed.

Get a kit

That refers to an emergency kit with a few basic supplies. According to Ready America, a partnership between Homeland Security and The Advertising Council, here is what such a kit should contain:

- One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days (for drinking and sanitation)
- At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both (a good option is the American Red Cross Axis NOAA weather radio)
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air, along with plastic sheeting and duct tape
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
- Local maps

There are also several additional items that you should consider for your kit, according to Ready America:

- Prescription medications and glasses
- Infant formula and diapers
- Pet food and extra water for your pet (you can't forget about them!)
- Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
- Cash and change
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person; consider additional bedding if you live in a cold weather climate
- Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes; consider additional clothing if you live in a cold weather climate
- Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper (when diluted, with nine parts water to one part bleach, the solution can be used as a disinfectant); in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water -- do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
- Paper and pencil
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Make a plan

If disaster strikes and your family is not together, it's important to have a plan of action -- how you will contact one another, where you will meet and related considerations. Ready America has a form you can download to prepare such as a plan.

Be informed

It's important to know what's happening locally in an emergency and if there are special instructions you should follow. An AM/FM radio can keep you informed.

Create the emergency kit and plan and review it with your family a couple of times a year so the next time disaster strikes you are prepared.

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