Are You Prepared? Disaster readiness resources for you and your family

Floods, earthquakes, snow, volcanoes, and landslides! Trying to think of and prepare for every possible catastrophe that might occur in the Pacific Northwest can be daunting!

Thankfully there are many resources available from your Multnomah County Library and other government agencies to help you plan for any situation. Karen T. and Catherine M., both parents and library staff put some of these resources to the test, using them to prepare themselves and their families for some of the most likely disasters.Urban Search and Rescue - FEMA/David Fine/2011

Karen’s family makes a plan and adjusts to the realities of getting everyone on board

Karen, using online federal resources from and,  introduces the project of making a family disaster plan and the need of assembling an emergency supplies kit to her family. She finds that it is a challenge to get the entire family to buy into the importance of being prepared. They have other priorities.

She doesn’t let that stop her, after letting her family stew on the project for a bit she breaks it down into manageable parts and recruits family members to take ownership of some of these tasks. She uses a new ploy, Mother’s Day, to get action. Whatever it takes to get everyone involved, reason or guilt, at least the family now has a plan!

With the new plan in hand Karen gathers everyone to look at it and make minor changes (one of the emergency meeting spots was to be on top of a huge in-ground water storage tank...which seemed a bit too precarious in the event of an earthquake).

A real-life mini-emergency takes place, Portland issues a boil water notice and the grocery stores quickly run low on bottled water. This underscores the need to plan ahead and store enough clean water for the whole family (don’t forget pets!). Karen learns how to properly disinfect drinking water from the EPA emergency disinfection instructions. Do you know how much water you really need to get through a short term emergency?

For her own assignment, Karen makes a  home emergency kit and a few mini-survival-kits to keep in easily accessible spots like backpacks, gloveboxes, and winter jacket pockets.  As the final part of her work Karen spreads the word so that co-workers, extended family, friends and neighbors are equally prepared, thus maximizing the potential for positive outcomes no matter what happens. Karen lives the motto, “Be prepared, stay informed, make a kit, and get involved.”

Answering Questions about Family Preparedness, FEMA/Marvin Nauman, May 2006, New Orleans LA

Catherine’s Three Levels of Preparation at Work

Catherine’s family has emergency supplies both at home and in the car.  However she usually takes public transportation to work.  In the event of a major natural disaster and transportation disruption she could easily find herself stranded away from home.  She needs to plan for a safe hike home or to shelter in place at work if necessary.  To do this she has three levels of preparation: everyday carry, get home bag, and overnight necessities.

The Everyday Carry

The everyday carry is just what it sounds like, basic items to have on your person at all times. Catherine travels light but packs a bottle of water, a snack, a small first aid kit, a dust mask, a small flashlight, cell phone, an emergency information/contact list, and a book to pass the time.  She, like most librarians, also wears sensible shoes (ones she could easily hike home in).  Her son also has a few items in the bottom of his school bag to make up a basic everyday carry for children. What does your everyday carry look like?

The Get Home Bag and Overnight Necessities

The next level of preparedness is the get home bag, a small backpack of necessary supplies to keep at work for an unanticipated hike home.  Multnomah County has a helpful Get a Kit page that has some ideas. Since Catherine takes the bus her get home bag includes a second bottle of water, a poncho, some pocket change, an extra pair of socks, and a second set of keys.  She keeps her get home bag in a secure place at work where she can easily grab it and “get home.” She also has a predetermined meeting place if crossing the Willamette River is impossible due to seismic bridge damage or severe traffic issues.  This pre-planning will get the family back in contact with each other ASAP after an emergency.  You can also look at ideas for a get home bag or workplace plans from How would you get home to your family?

There may be a situation where it is unsafe or impossible to hike home so Catherine has a few overnight necessities at work.  In addition to the everyday carry and the get home bag she also has enough bottled water for 48 hours, nonperishable snacks, a few toiletries, a small blanket, a change of clothes, and an extra phone charger stored in a work locker. She shares with her coworkers so they can also make a plan.  What would you need if you were stuck at work overnight?

Each family’s disaster readiness plan is going to be different based on what events you prepare for, the everyday situations you and your family find yourselves in and the special needs and makeup of your family.  Karen and Catherine teamed up to encourage each other to meet their family goals.

These online government resources were most helpful:, Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management, and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. You can access all of the online resources in this list: Multcolib Research Picks: Disaster Preparedness Online Resources.  Additionally, there are some great preparedness books geared especially toward parents: Multcolib Research Picks: Disaster Preparedness Books for the Whole Family.

Canine Recovery Team, FEMA/Marty Bahamonde, April 2014, Snohomish County, WA

Stay Informed

Most librarians would agree that, “knowledge is power.” This holds true in times of disaster. Be aware of what the most likely events may be, know ahead of time where your family will meet up, and sign up to be notified through the CENS Public Alerts Emergency System by voice or text in the case of a local emergency.

If you would like more information about preparedness resources do not hesitate to contact a librarian. You are also welcome to share your own disaster preparedness planning adventures in the comments below. Can you answer the question, Are you prepared?




thank you for the great advice and the inspiration to get prepared!

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