5 Emergency Situations You Must Prepare For (and 5 You Can Ignore)


"Prepping" is a term that defines the process of getting ready for a catastrophic event. While the word used to have a negative connotation, reserved for folks who take preparation to an extreme, many more everyday people today are using a common sense approach to mitigate damages from a variety of tragic events. (See also: How to Prepare Financially for a Natural Disaster)

The key to keeping your preparations realistic is to weigh the possibility of a particular event actually happening against the amount of work needed to prepare for it. Some events may almost certainly never arrive, while others could happen more than a few times during a person's life. Many are ridiculously expensive to thwart, while others require just a few dollars a week in extra supplies.

Realistic Preparation

Given the likelihood of a disaster happening, and the possibility of being ready for it, let's look first at the five disasters you should prepare for.

1. Catastrophic Weather Events

Nebraska and much of the rest of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. recently experienced what scientists have called a "vortex" of cold weather. Temps reached below -50 degrees F due to wind-chill, and this caused a number of issues beyond your typical cold-weather inconveniences. (See also: Safest Cities in America From Natural Disasters)

Most Nebraskans, however, weren't caught unprepared for such an event; we are, after all, accustomed to very cold weather. The same can be said for tornadoes, which happen annually, blizzards, and drought. Each area of the country has its own pattern of weather-related extremes, but since their possibility is no surprise (only their timing and severity), you should be taking appropriate steps throughout the year to have an adequate supply of food, water, and essentials on hand for any disruptions weather may cause.

What do we consider "adequate"? While it may vary according to your location, size of family, and stage in life, this basic list from Ready.gov gives a good basic starting point. A bare minimum of what you would need for your basic comfort and biological needs for 72 hours is a great place to start. This will include:

  • Food (and items to open, prepare, and serve it)
  • Water (one gallon per person per day for drinking plus what's needed for food prep, cleaning, toileting, and washing)
  • Medicines (both prescription and basic OTCs) and first aid supplies
  • Sanitary supplies (diapers, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, wet wipes)
  • Communication devices (cell phones and solar or handcrank chargers)
  • Radio with weather alerts (plus batteries or a means to charge them)
  • Flashlight, LED lantern, or other lighting
  • Basic tools (hammer, wrench, etc)
  • Entertainment (cards, chargers for iPads, games, or books)

Many pre-made kits will contain other "must-haves," but only you can assess if these items are truly necessary. Putting together your own kit ensures you have only those items that are appropriate for your particular needs. (See also: 6 Items to Add to Your Emergency Kit)

2. Loss of Power

Most people take small steps to guard against the complications of having a power outage, and expect that they could happen during weather events. But what about those power outages that take everyone by surprise? Disruptions lasting a few minutes to a few days can happen for a variety of reasons, including freak accidents and scheduled repairs. Waiting until you're in the dark is too late to come to terms with the chance of a blackout. Stock what you need to go without power for 2–3 days, at a minimum. It likely will happen at least once every two years.

In addition to all the items needed in the basic preparation list above, you'll need alternative ways to heat food and charge electronics. Camp stoves can be handy for this purpose, and solar chargers for a cell phone or radio can be purchased for as little as $20 online. If you have access to a gasoline generator, operating one safely may be a blessing to your home and your neighbors! (See also: 20 Things to Have in a Power Outage)

3. Loss of Income

Whether you lose your job, or you take a drastic cut in pay or hours, having less to live on is a reality for most everyone at least once in a career. Most established families have (or should have!) some kind of emergency fund to live on, typically three months income, but having extra essentials on hand may prove to be more useful. (Consider how affordable it may be to stock up on extra non-perishables when they are on sale versus trying to come up with an extra $100 in grocery money down the road during a layoff!) Take into consideration expenses that are slightly "irregular" when you save, as well. Having your annual property taxes due after losing a job can be devastating to an unprepared household. (See also: How to Create Your Emergency Fund)

4. Sickness

Whether it's a ruptured appendix or a terminal case of cancer, illness can rock the worlds of both the patient and their loved ones. In addition to added medical bills, there can be loss of income, an increase in time spent traveling for treatments, or even a major move in school or home location. Being prepared for the worst through illness can be as simple as securing extra coverage on a life insurance plan or getting your advance directive in order before you fall ill. Take time to consider the possibilities of how illness can change things, then work methodically to address each obstacle one by one — before it happens. (See also: What to Do If You Get a Huge Medical Bill)

5. Fire or Flood (not Weather-Related)

Our family has a tendency to breathe deeply once tornado season is over. The thought of having our home (and all the contents) completely destroyed is a terrifying one, and tornadoes make it a very real possibility. But what about the other ways someone could lose their house? Fires and floods are common, as well, and can happen at any time of year and in any location in the U.S. or around the world. If you don't already have adequate insurance coverage on your abode and possessions, the time to do that is now. (But be aware; flood coverage is not automatic on home policies. Check your policy language and ensure that you have a separate plan in place.) You'll also want to take inventory of all of your belongings so that they can be replaced when it comes time for that claim.

Disasters You Probably Don't Have to Prep For

So what about those situations that aren't useful to prepare for? While there is no harm is doing some of the legwork for the following disasters (especially those steps that are identical to preparing for other disasters), spending a disproportionate amount of time and money preparing for these events may not be worth the trouble.

  • Nuclear fallout
  • Electromagnetic pulse (EMP)
  • Collapse of the economy
  • Worldwide pandemic or plague
  • Zombie Apocalypse (yes, there are those who believe)

While the possibility of these five are very real (for some of us, anyway), preparing for each one, specifically, can be costly and may not do much to help you escape the outcome. By starting small, you can be in compliance with my favorite prepping rule: prepare for what makes sense. As times change, the threats will also, but the necessities needed to survive likely will not.

(For more information on following common sense prepping rules, I highly recommend "The Disaster Preparedness Handbook: A Guide for Families" by Dr. Arthur T. Bradley.)

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Guest's picture

Nicely done and a good callback to something I have neglected recently.

Whenever this topic comes up, I encourage people to start with the FEMA Basic Disaster Supplies list:


Guest's picture

These 3 can happen one day, the Obama admin. has no idea how vulnerable we are to these 3 conditions!

Nuclear fallout
Electromagnetic pulse (EMP)
Collapse of the economy

To rule out another economic failure with nearly $17 Trillion of debt outstanding is the worst miscalculation of these 3 IMHO!!!

Guest's picture

I agree. How can you NOT prep for EMP or Economic Collapse? These are the two largest events that should definitely be prepared for. An economic collapse would result in serious social unrest/riots and an EMP, well, many people who are not prepared will die or fall victim of martial law. Simple as that.

Guest's picture

It never hurts to be prepared ... by prepping for common disruptions like the ones you've mentioned, the catastrophic events become easier to manage by default!

Guest's picture

My dad just asked me to learn at least a 2nd way out of NYC to get home without using NJ Transit. Why? I asked.

In case of a zombie apocalypse, he replied without missing a beat. From a man who I didn't think even knew there was such a phenomenon. Maybe I'll forward him this article.