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Proactive vs. Reactive Emergency Planning for Military Families


Don’t be caught off guard this hurricane season. Proactive versus reactive planning can make the difference between keeping your family safe or finding yourself in uncharted territory.

American Red Cross
                                        American Red Cross

Hurricane season runs from now until November and primarily affects the Gulf Coast and East Coast regions. Inland effects can be felt from the storm as well, so preparedness should be a topic of discussion in all homes. With a hurricane comes strong winds, tornadoes, flooding, heavy rains, and sometimes storm surges. The only way to protect against a hurricane is to be prepared, which includes educating yourself, having a plan, and discussing that plan with your household – including your children.

For starters, knowing the difference between a watch and a warning is important and impacts how you will need to react once the alerts go out. A hurricane watch indicates conditions are expected to be a threat within 48 hours and a warning means they are expected within 36 hours, meaning preparations should be completed immediately.

Before the Hurricane – Be Prepared

“Having a plan, which includes your closest shelters is more than a good idea – it may literally be your lifeline,” says Rachel Arthur, Vice President of Crisis Prevention & Response Inc., a Virginia-based emergency preparedness consultancy. Monitoring weather conditions is only the most basic step in your preparedness. Here are a few other things the American Red Cross recommends doing before the storm:

  • Fill your cars with gas – so you can immediately evacuate if necessary
  • Prepare the outside of your house – bring in anything that can blow away or become a projectile, close and board up windows, turn off any external propane tanks.
  • Prepare the inside of your house – Ensure your emergency supplies are stocked, turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest setting and leave closed, review your individual disaster plan.

Each family should have an emergency stockpile of supplies ready to go at all times. While hurricanes may be the main threat to your area, evacuation can occur at a moment’s notice for any natural or manmade disaster. It’s better to be prepared. Aside from enough water for three days (one gallon per person per day) and a minimum of three days of food, you’ll also want the following things in your emergency kit.

  • Flashlight, weather radio, and extra batteries for both
  • First aid kit, medications (enough for 7 days), personal hygiene items
  • Copies of important personal documents, emergency contact information, extra set of car and house keys
  • Supplies for pets and/or babies, emergency blanket, cell phones and chargers
  • Map of the area – a real map, don’t rely on the GPS or the one on your phone
NJ National Guard
                                        NJ National Guard


The time to check on your insurance is in advance of when you would need it. Homeowners and rental insurance are key in areas that are prone to natural disasters. Make sure that any property you own is covered and that your household goods are covered by rental insurance if you do not own your home. USAA reminds people that most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, and while it may not be mandatory for everyone, it is a good idea for those who are in even a low-risk area. (Flood insurance is required for those that have a federally backed mortgage and live in a high risk flood area.)

Starting in 2015, the Department of Defense removed renters insurance from the things covered by Basic Housing Allowance (BAH). Anyone who signed a lease after January 1, 2015 is not automatically covered by their BAH and is highly encouraged to secure their own coverage through USAA, AFI, Geico or another source. If the lease was signed prior to 2015, the local housing company may have grandfathered the coverage, but make sure to check with them. Anyone renting off the installation or who owns their own house, should have adequate homeowners or renters insurance.

Emergency alerts – Red Cross App

Keeping with today’s technological reliance, there are several ways to stay up-to-date with the weather and impending emergency alerts. Military installations can utilize the “giant voice” – a loud speaker system to alert residents of evacuations or other situations. Official Facebook pages are also used to keep the residents and service members assigned to an installation aware. During the flooding in South Carolina last year, the Fort Jackson Facebook page was instrumental in keeping residents, family members, and the community aware of road closures and evacuation notices.

The Red Cross launched their own smart phone application, Emergency-American Red Cross – which has over 35 emergency alerts to aid in the preparedness and increase safety among the population. Some of the features on the app include:

  • Alerts specific to the user’s geographic location AND where family members/friends are located
  • Dual-language of English and Spanish
  • Single map that includes weather and shelter locations
  • Information on emergency first aid for situations like heat injuries and water safety
  • Tips on fire prevention
  • Make-a-plan feature to help families with their individual disaster plans
  • “Family Safe” feature to instantly check on loved ones with an “I’m safe” button and an immediate location on the individual if they respond with “I’m not safe”


How to Find Shelter

American Red Cross Shelters are activated before, during or after an emergency, depending on the situation. They are free of charge and provide safe shelter, hot meals, health services, and emotional support for anyone in impacted areas. Trained workers are on stand-by to help with physical and emotional recovery. To find your closest, open shelter, you can check on the website by clicking here: Find open shelters.

Other options for shelters may include something the local installation has set up, churches, schools or other areas your locality may deem adequate to house people in emergencies. Rachel Arthur advises not just knowing where the closest shelter is, but finding out the specifics beforehand.

“Some shelters will accept pets and some won’t, you’ll want to know that ahead of time,” she said. “During an emergency is not the time to learn your pet is not welcome. Nor is it the time to learn your GPS navigated you to a bar called the Hurricane Shelter, or the road you thought you’d take is blocked.”

You don’t want to be the person caught after the storm with a house full of damaged property and no insurance. Or, the one whose family has been worrying for days because they couldn’t get in touch with you. Have a plan, make it known to those around you, practice your plan, and be prepared. This is especially important for military families, as the chance of separation in times of disaster increases. The service member is typically tasked with preventative measures like protecting the installation, helping with sand bags to prevent flooding, or evacuating troops from the barracks. The family members may be the ones implementing the disaster plan and therefore everyone must know their roles and be comfortable with them. Utilize the resources at your disposal and don’t be afraid to ask for help.


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