Above Photo: From mutualaiddisasterrelief.org
As we enter hurricane season in the Atlantic and fire season in the West, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is compiling tips for preparing communities to take care of each other in the spirit of mutual aid when disaster strikes. Below is a list we’ve started and are continuing to add to as y’all submit new ideas for ways to prepare for disaster.
If you have additions to make to this list or would like to submit a report back on preparation projects your community had already undertaken, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or your community needs resources to hold a disaster preparation event or distribute supplies, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief can help make it happen. Email us at email@example.com details about any supplies or resources you need that we might be able to help with.
Getting ready as a network is a two-fold process – We can prepare ourselves individually and we can also support preparation in the most marginalized communities, those which are not only most adversely affected but also those which government and aid agencies will likely leave behind. Prepare yourself and think creatively about ways to support your larger communities to do the same, whether that’s by sharing information with at-risk neighbors or holding events to make collective disaster plans.
GENERAL DISASTER PREPARATION
- Getting documents in order:
- Take photographs of your most important documents (social security card, IDs, birth certificate, proof of mortgage, tax returns, deeds, etc.) and try to keep the documents in a safe place during the disaster or have them handy to take with you when evacuating. Receiving immediate aid may be dependent on your ability to provide these documents and it can also drag out the recovery process if you have to go about replacing them.
- Make sure all pets have identification tags.
- Many cities and counties have emergency notification services but you have to opt in to receive information.
- For vehicle and homeowners:
- Take timestamped pictures of your vehicle and your house before a disaster so if any damage happens, you have proof that it was from the disaster for insurance purposes.
- If your home is not in your name it can delay receiving aid. You can check with your county clerk to see if your home is in your name. If it isn’t, notify the family member who officially owns your home that it may be affected by disaster. If possible, initiate the process for adding your name to the deed, or transferring ownership to you. If the official owner is alive this will probably not be difficult, but if they are deceased there may be conflict between potential owners that will delay the process. However, you should start the process as soon as possible.
- Check with insurance companies to see if policies are up-to-date and paid for. You may not be able to pay it off, but if you are on a payment plan that should make a policy active. Flood insurance policies do not go into effect until 30 days after they are purchased.
- Check property tax records. Similar to insurance, home-owners cannot be denied FEMA for being behind on property tax records. However, NGOgroups may be hesitant to provide assistance if they are worried the investment will be reclaimed by the city. Homeowners can be on a payment plan and get any liens removed from their homes.
- Preparing to evacuate or shelter in place
- Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, you should have any medications you or your family needs, drinking water and some ready-to-eat food, (if sheltering in place, two weeks worth of food and water is recommended), flashlights and batteries, and some form of identification. You may also include solar or car cell phone chargers. A portable battery-operated or crank radio is also helpful for getting information. Have some cash available as ATMs may not be operational and debit/credit cards may not be accepted when the power is out.
- Prepare a go bag (a disaster supply kit) of the supplies listed above that you can grab on your way out if you have to evacuate quickly.
- Save 2-liter bottles and fill them with water. Freeze them, if you have space in your freezer. This will provide you with back up water. Also, a full freezer stays cold longer.
- If you’re available to provide aid to others during a disaster and have a vehicle, have some extra water, first aid materials, N95 respirators, any rescue materials and tools ready to go in your trunk.
- Gas pumps will not operate without electricity; try to keep your tank full.
- There are many reasons people can’t or choose not to evacuate during a disaster, but if you do plan to evacuate, think about how your household would evacuate. Read up on your city/county’s plan. Think about where you would go, who you could stay with, and how you’d get there. Cities will likely establish shelters, but people who go to the homes of loved ones report much less stress, better health outcomes, and often fair better in the long term.
- Go door-to-door or hold an event in your neighborhood to find out who will need extra support evacuating. Disabled and elderly people are at higher risk to get left behind and may not have a way to find out a disaster is coming before it’s at their door.
- Immediately following a disaster:
- Take timestamped photos of and document everything that’s been damaged. Check for any walls pushed off of slab foundations. Check for any pipes that may have cracked due to shifting in the wind.
- Don’t forget to use grills, generators, and similar items in outside, well-ventilated areas. Carbon monoxide can kill.
- If the power goes out, food in fridges and freezers won’t last long. Consider cooking it up and sharing with neighbors.
- Set up a system to track receipts during repair. One of the worst things that can happen to families who receive assistance is that they are later asked to prove how they spent the money and cannot do so. It’s a cruel system but one we have to prepare for. Creating a file folder or notebook where you tape receipts is a good practice. Alternatively, you can take photos of receipts and save them digitally. Every time you work with a contractor you should ask for a quote, invoice, and receipt, even if they are a family friend.
HURRICANE & FLOOD SPECIFIC PREPARATION
- Before a flood/hurricane:
- Unclog storm drains of debris in your neighborhood.
- Trim trees to lessen the chance of branches flying into your home.
- If a storm is approaching, turn refrigerator and freezer settings to their coldest settings. And don’t open the doors unless you need to. This will make things last just a bit longer, about 4 hours for a refrigerator without power and up to 48 hrs for a freezer.
- Fill bathtubs and sinks or consider rainwater catchment. This water may be able to be used for hygiene or clean up.
- Gather foods that don’t require much preparation or cooking and are shelf-stable. Clean up is difficult without running water.
- Put boards or storm shutters on windows. Don’t tape em. It doesn’t do anything to protect them and instead just leaves gunk on them that you have to clean up later.
- Make a plan for getting to high ground. Have a physical map handy with an evacuation route since phones may not work.
- If very high flooding is a possibility, don’t go in the attic as you might get trapped. If you do go in the attic, keep a hatchet handy or stored in the attic so if you get stuck, you can hack your way out through the roof.
- Bring lawn furniture. pots, or other items outside in to keep them from being blown away and/or becoming projectiles.
- During a flood/hurricane:
- Shelter somewhere. Don’t go out in the middle of it if at all possible.
- Stay away from windows and doors. Interior rooms, closets, and hallways are safer.
- Solid buildings are good, mobile homes are not built to withstand heavy winds.
- Elevate your most important belongings. It’s usually not clear how high water will come, but even putting very valuable things on top of tables, or on top of cabinets can save a lot of money in the long term. Dishwashers will likely not protect your things as they’re not designed to prevent water penetration under external water pressure.
- As an extra precaution you can cut the power and gas to your house before you leave. Having water in outlets should flip your breakers but if you have outdated or unpermitted electrical work it may not. Unplug small appliances.
- Avoid contact with floodwaters if at all possible. They can be contaminated with sewage, toxic chemicals, and other things that could cause harm.
- After a flood/hurricane:
- Let friends and loved ones know you’re safe as soon as you are able.
- Don’t touch or go near downed power lines
- After floods, remove wet materials as soon as you have documented the damage. This reduces mold damage and speeds up recovery in the long term.
- Get people N95 (mold-grade) masks as soon as possible. Black mold can start spreading within days of the water receding and has long-term health impacts.
FIRE & SMOKE SPECIFIC PREPARATION
- As PG&E has announced plans to cut power during high fire danger conditions, making emergency power shutoff plans is essential, especially for more vulnerable residents who depend on electricity or battery power to keep medication refrigerated or medical equipment operating. Those dependent on wells won’t be able to get water from them. A/C will stop working so smoke will be worse in people’s homes.
IDEAS FOR SUPPORTING COMMUNITY PREPARATION
- Make and pass out flyers that include any of the information above to support neighbors in their preparation. Check to see if your city or county has information on their emergency operations plan that could be distributed. Local governments often already have pamphlets about available resources for houseless communities that can be helpful in case of disaster too. Ask community or religious centers if you can leave them materials to give to their communities.
- Hold a meeting in your neighborhood or community to develop a collective plan. Figure out where high ground is, if there are churches that will agree in advance to shelter people or supplies, and who has boats or other tools that would be useful to the neighborhood. If possible, talk about who has extra room to store others’ important belongings and supplies in case of evacuation.
- Organize your community to put pressure on the local government to do preparation work such as cleaning drainage ditches. Pressure local governments to ensure the shelters they set up are as inclusive and safe for marginalized people as possible. Some local governments have plans to only accept people who can prove residency at local shelters, excluding houseless people and those who don’t have or couldn’t bring their IDs. If the shelters aren’t safe places for people who are experiencing homelessness, people with warrants, or people who are undocumented, work to find alternatives.
- Approximately 20,000 heir’s property owners were denied FEMA or HUD assistance following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita because they weren’t able to show clear titles to their property in time (Source). Hold an event to help connect homeowners with lawyers who can help get house deeds into their names if they’ve inherited the house. The process for transferring the deed takes more than a day but connecting them with a lawyer to go through this process in advance will save a lot of time and effort when a disaster does hit. If someone is near the end of their life and lives within an area likely to be affected by a disaster, a lawyer can help write a will deed, which takes less than an hour, that will automatically transfer the deed into the heir’s name when they pass.
- Be a community prepper; stock up on extra supplies to share with others that need them in case of disaster. Coordinate with your neighbors. The basics, such as food and water, is great, but also consider special or thoughtful gifts that go beyond survival-mode and help people feel cared for.
- As always, keep doing relevant community organizing and mutual aid work in your neighborhood and greater communities. The connections, resources, knowledge, and skills gained from relationships built through struggle are critical to an effective grassroots mutual aid response to any disaster.
Oftentimes, in disasters, whether personal or collective, we find a power within us that can’t be measured or defined. There is an alternative to the hoarding, violent zombie-prepper trope. This alternative is an instinctual social responsibility that most individuals and groups will default to when a crisis strikes. Help midwife this. Share what you have. Leverage your skills, resources, connections, and networks to meet each other’s needs. And reach out to us for backup when you need it. You are not alone.
Feel free to use any of this info and distribute widely. If you make up flyers or other materials, email us those so we can post them too! (firstname.lastname@example.org)