Green Guidance

Green Guidance

Preparing for Disasters

Most of us don't want to think about disasters, much less prepare for them. Over the long term, we'll need to protect ourselves by preserving wetlands, mangrove forests, and other natural shields against extreme weather. But in the short term, we need to be ready for emergencies without surrendering to scaremongering. Knowing the best evacuation route out of town before a flood or hurricane hits, for instance, can be life-saving. Below are a few tips and eco-friendly solutions to help you get through disasters unscathed.

Be Informed. Contact your local authorities to find out about the hazards and emergencies your area is prone to and what you can do to reduce your risk. In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides state-by-state historical disaster lists as well as preparedness tips ( For worldwide information, the International Disaster Database at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters provides country listings of natural and technological disasters ( Also, check with officials about obtaining copies of community and school emergency plans, and learn the evacuation plan for your workplace.

Plan Ahead. All family members should have a contact card listing a meeting place and phone number as well as contact information for a friend outside the region with whom members can check in. To prepare for possible medical emergencies, take a first aid or CPR course at a local chapter of your national Red Cross or Red Crescent society ( Check your insurance for coverage of emergencies known to strike your area, and make sure you have carriers and food ready for your pets.

Prepare an Emergency Kit. Depending on where you live and the types of disasters likely in your area, you may need to store enough non-perishable food and water to last your family three days or more, providing at least one gallon (3.8 liters) of water per person per day. Kits should include cash, bedding, matches, first aid supplies (including prescription medications and copies of insurance policies), deeds, credit cards, and other identification. Also, store enough gas to fill your car. Eco-friendly items to help keep you fed and informed during emergencies include:

  • Non-perishable food (and a can opener): You can avoid hormone-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA) in the linings of cans by choosing foods in recyclable aseptic cartons (such as those produced by Tetra Pak and Sig Combibloc). Eden Foods also avoids using BPA in its canned organic foods line (
  • Radios: Solar radios that can also be hand-cranked mean you have fewer batteries to worry about. Some include an LED flashlight and have both short- and long-wave functions (
  • Flashlights: LED flashlights will extend battery life considerably, or try a hand-cranked or solar model (,,
  • Batteries and rechargers: Batteries are snapped up quickly in emergencies, but rechargeables can draw on solar energy to keep the power flowing to your cellphone or even your car battery (,, For information on recycling rechargeable batteries at the end of their life, see Dispose of non-recyclable batteries according to local solid-waste regulations.
  • Stoves: For extended emergencies you'll want to cook and may need to purify water by boiling it. Solar cookers come in a variety of portable forms, including ones that fold flat, reach high temperatures, and come with a pot and water pasteurization indicator ( Where sunlight is inconsistent, try clean-burning canned fuel (

Finally, make sure you regularly check all stored items to ensure they still function and review your emergency plans with family members. For more information, see "Prudent Reaction Versus Overreaction" (Green Guide #90) and product reports at www.thegreenguidecom.


Paul W. McRandle is senior research editor of The Green Guide, published by The Green Guide Institute, which provides the research for this department.


Caption for photo:

Emergency radio: solar panel on top, hand crank on the side.