Listening to the news can be pretty unsettling, especially when it comes to coverage of the world’s randomly and frequently occurring natural disasters. News sources aren’t the only media outlets that remind hypochondriacs like me that doom and destruction are just around the corner: movies, TV shows, and magazines all do their fair share to keep the ever-present sense of danger at the forefront of my thoughts.

Settling in with the New Yorker one evening a few months ago, I came across an article titled The Really Big One and, of course, the worrier in me couldn’t stop reading until the Golden Gate was under water and my thoughts were overwrought. What would I do if an earthquake hit? Am I prepared? What supplies should I gather? With all these questions swarming in my head, I decided to put the worrier in me to bed and let my more practical self get to work.

There are countless resources online (and even a follow-up article in the New Yorker) that help mitigate anxiety and heighten your sense of control in the face of potentially catastrophic and unavoidable disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and snow storms. I’ve put together a list of tips to help you keep your home in one piece should any of these storms come your way. In addition to providing tips to help you get prepared for the next natural disaster, I’ve also included a list of supplies you should gather and add to this emergency kit, which is available at most local home improvement stores. The items in the first column are all included in the kit, while the items in the second column are recommended additions.

Emergency Kit

4 high-calorie snack bars

4 liters of water

4 ponchos

4 blankets

4 glow sticks

4 pairs of gloves

1 first aide kit

4 masks

4 packs of tissues

1 pair of work gloves

4 pairs of goggles

1 high-pitched whistle

3 biohazard bags

12 moistened towelettes

Multi-purpose tool kit

Important phone numbers

Fire extinguisher

Sturdy shoes

Plastic bucket

Toilet paper



Copies of important documents



Warm clothing


Hand warmers


As a long-time resident of California, I am no stranger to infrequent tremors (did someone just slam the door or was that an earthquake?) and occasional conversations about the next major quake. Many of the people I know have lived in California longer than I have and have lived-out “big ones” in the worst-hit cities: Los Angeles and San Francisco. One friend of mine described his bedroom floor rolling as though he was suddenly at sea during the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. Another colleague of mine described the eerie atmosphere after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake (the aftermath of which is pictured below) that hit San Francisco, causing 6 billion dollars in damage and a portion of the Bay Bridge to collapse.
1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, San Francisco, CA

With no sure way of knowing when the next earthquake will hit or where you’ll be, disaster preparedness information can be a little overwhelming. Earthquakes, unlike hurricanes or snow storms, happen with little to no advanced notice. Though quakes can come on suddenly and forcefully, there are some things you can control. Learn how to protect yourself and others no matter where you happen to be during a large quake.

What to Do

Make sure you compile an emergency kit with all of the necessary supplies and put it in an easily accessible place. One very important thing to keep in mind as you plan your supply kit is that your electronics, which we’ve all come to rely on so heavily, will most likely be out of commission. Therefore, it’s important you write down phone numbers you’ll need and even purchase physical maps to have handy after the quake stops.

The best thing to do to protect yourself during an earthquake, according to Earthquake Country Alliance, is drop, cover, and hold on:

Drop: Immediately get on your hands and knees.

Cover: Crawl underneath the nearest sturdy piece of furniture. This will most likely be a desk or low-lying table.

Hold on: Grab the corner of the desk or table and cover your head with your arms.

Although the most widely spread images of post-earthquake zones picture collapsed and dilapidated structures, it is unlikely that the building you’re in will actually collapse. The biggest safety threat for most during an earthquake are falling objects. To make sure you remain as protected as you can from falling debris, it is important to follow the three-step safety procedure above.


Although I’ve been a California resident for most of my life, I spent my childhood on the opposite side of the United States, growing up on the coast of Virginia. Hurricanes are much easier to predict than earthquakes, but like earthquakes, it is often difficult to know how destructive hurricanes will be when they finally touch down and what areas of the coast will get hit the worst. Virginia is definitely not one of the most hurricane susceptible areas of the east coast, and because of this, we often had ample time to prepare. And, usually, we were over prepared–by the time hurricanes made it to Virginia, they were much less destructive tropical storms. Some of the most destructive hurricanes in recent memory were Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The image below shows a roller coaster swept from a pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy blew through the state.

2012 Hurricane Sandy, Seaside Heights, New Jersey

What to Do

In addition to having your emergency kit at the ready, there are few things you can do to secure your home against raging winds, an onslaught of water, and falling, flying debris. First of all, if you have patio furniture, bring it inside of your garage or tie it down. Winds can be so high that seemingly heavy furniture can fly through the air effortlessly. After outdoor items are secured, focus on your windows. One of the biggest threats during a hurricane is that windows will break, so make sure you tape an “X” on your windows, close your storm shutters, and close curtains and blinds. Once the hurricane hits, stay as far away as possible from windows in case these precautions don’t do the trick. Another likely occurrence during hurricanes is that the power will go out. Make sure you have plenty of flash lights and candles ready in case this happens.

According to FEMA, it is important that you pay close attention to evacuation advisements. Do not stay in your home if local authorities have deemed it would be too dangerous. FEMA also recommends that you turn off propane tanks and turn up your refrigerator to its coldest temperature. That way, when you lose power, you can ensure that the food in your refrigerator will keep as long as possible.


A few years ago, a close friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years called me out of the blue: she was going to be the U.S. for a few months! I couldn’t believe it. I had to go visit her, even if it meant flying to New England in January during one of the worst snowstorms in the year. Luckily, the week I was there the weather was pretty mild (the Californian in me scoffs at calling below freezing temperatures mild), but there were a few nights we had to postpone travel plans due to snowfall and icy roads. The image below pictures the Merrimack River in Boscawen, New Hampshire in 2014. The only give away that this is a river and not a field is the bridge-like structure in the distance.

New Hampshire River

What to Do

In addition to having your trusted emergency kit nearby, you should be very mindful of persevering the heat in your home. The best way to preserve heat in your home is to close off doors to rooms that will not be in use, seal cracks under doors leading to the outside with towels, and cover your windows with storm shutters, curtains, and blinds. The American Red Cross even recommends that you cover your windows with plastic inside your home. Even though you’re inside, you’ll want to make sure to have on warm clothing. In addition to keeping warm, be prepared to lose power. Keep flashlights and candles nearby so you’re ready when the power goes out.

Before a snowstorm comes your way, make sure you fill your car’s gas tank so that the fuel line won’t freeze, and definitely clean and inspect chimneys and heaters. In addition to the items in your disaster preparedness kit, you may want to add sand or kitty litter to the kit in case you have to go outside. Sprinkle sand or kitty litter on icy walkways to make them less slippery.

Images courtesy of: The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times


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