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Disaster preparedness tips for you and your family

By Alva Muhammad | Last updated: Dec 14, 2017 - 2:53:43 PM

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How can I make my home safer in a disaster?


Often times, our homes are the safest places to be during a disaster.  However, we must be sure that we have checked for all the likely hazards in our community and inside our homes so that we can make them a safe refuge from what is happening outside.

A hazard can be anything that has the potential to hurt people or damage property. A hazard can be an earthquake or a poorly constructed building that can’t withstand an earthquake. There are also hazards inside the home that must be mitigated.  To mitigate means to lessen, make less severe or to moderate.  Hazard mitigation is any activity that helps to lessen or reduce the likelihood that an event will damage property or cause injury or death to people.

Take a look around your home and neighborhood and ask yourself:

1. Does My Home Have…

Electric lines above ground?

Gas lines coming into the house?

Shelves, heavy pictures or tall furniture that could fall and hurt someone?

A hot water heater that is not secured to a wall or post?

Heavy or large tree branches near windows?

A basement that floods sometimes?

2. In my neighborhood are there…

Rail lines?

Electric substations?

Factories or processing plants?

Open or abandoned gas stations?

Overpasses or bridges on the roads?

People who can be violent sometimes?

3. Are there other things in and around my home that could be dangerous in a disaster?

4. What steps can I take to reduce the chances that I or my family might be hurt by these things?

Ask the entire family to participate.  Sometimes, our children see hazards that adults can overlook!  

Congratulations! It may seem simple, but knowing what hazards exist in and around your home is a BIG first step in the preparedness process.

How much food should I have stored for a disaster?

Every home should have an emergency food supply on hand in case of disaster.  Start working toward building a three-day supply of food that you keep separate from your regular food supplies.

The best way to prepare food for disaster is for us to can our own food.  Canning food ourselves means;

We will have foods that were selected at their most ripe and nutritious.

Items we can ourselves will last for years without spoiling.

We will save money because, in the long run, canning is much less expensive than buying food.

Until we are able to can enough food to help us through a disaster, we can buy food to supply our needs.  We should start buying a few extra items at a time until we have enough to have two items per person per day for each day that we plan to survive. An item can be large or small.

Keep buying items until you have enough food to prepare three days’ worth of meals for you and your family.  Remember, water might be scarce, so try to find lower sodium foods that won’t need extra water to cook.

Also, think about special dietary needs that you or family members may have (diabetes, dialysis patients, people with high-blood pressure or heart disease, etc.). 

Since people tend to consume their emergency food supply easily when it’s too readily available, it is a good idea to store the food in a location that is easy to get to in an emergency, but not near the kitchen.  Keep the items in a dry, room-temperature location, near your supply of water.

It is better to have a little bit of emergency food on hand and add to your supply than to wait until you can “stock up” all at once.  We can prepare today to survive tomorrow!

Maintaining good hygiene in a disaster

In a disaster, improper hygiene and sanitation can spread illness and even kill.   A lack of proper hygiene can also undermine the mental and emotional well-being of your family, and reduce your overall chances of survival. 


On page 84 of “Message to the Blackman in America”, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad gives us reasons that he stresses the religion of Islam for his people.  One of those reasons is as follows, “... it dignifies the Black man and gives us the desire to be clean internally and externally and for the first time to have a sense of dignity.”  During times of disaster this desire to be clean becomes more important than ever, as it can be the factor that saves our lives.

If you want to remain safe inside your home during a disaster, having personal care supplies on hand is a must. The goal is not to be “rainforest fresh.”  The goal is to maintain a level of hygiene that will help you and your family avoid the spread of bacteria, and to maintain a minimum level of dignity during a difficult time.   Here is a list of some personal care items that you and your family should have in your supply kit.



Wet wipes


Lotions or body oils

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Sanitary pads

Diapers (children or adult as needed)

Diaper Rash Ointment

Bathroom Tissue

Grooming supplies (comb, brush, mirror, etc.)

Nail Clippers


Shaving Cream


Laundry detergent

Baking Soda

Insect repellent

Think about what your family uses on a daily basis. Remember, you know your family better than anyone else.  Add what you need to this list.  Store your personal care supplies with your larger survival kit. 

Sanitation in a disaster

Good sanitation will be crucial during a disaster.  Medical experts tell us that the average person produces about 1.5 liters of urine and one pound of feces each day.  Multiply this by the number of people in your home and you can see why good sanitation is important.

So, what can you do?

If the bathroom is available in your home, and you have at least one source of running water, you can use the toilet as normal, then immediately fill the toilet bowl itself with water from a bucket until the toilet flushes automatically.  This water doesn’t have to be clean enough for drinking to suit this purpose.

If there is no running water in the house, you can line the toilet bowl with a heavy-duty plastic bag and put kitty litter in the bag. After using the toilet, allow the kitty litter  to absorb liquid and odor.  After a few uses, the bag should be tied off and disposed of outside.  If trash collection is still available, then utilize the service.  If trash collection is not available, then bury it in a hole that is at least 12 inches deep.  It should also be far enough from any potential sources of water that it will not spread disease.

If the bathroom is not available, but another private area is an option, you can use a large bucket, and the trash-bag-and-kitty-litter method mentioned above. The seat from the toilet can be used on the bucket, or an improvised seat of two pieces of wood is also effective.

Be sure to add cat litter and trash bags to your emergency supplies for disposal of human waste.  For those who can afford to do so, add a portable toilet to your emergency supply kit. 

Spiritual preparation during times of trouble

All of the above are important but possibly the most important aspect of disaster preparedness is the spiritual preparation you and your family will make. Understanding that there is a divine purpose for your preparations will help you and your family to develop a survival frame of mind and to avoid seeing  yourselves as victims. 

In Surah (Chapter) three of the Holy Qur’an, the Muslim book of scripture, Jesus says “I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses.  Surely there is a sign in this for you if you are Believers.”

The Bible in the book of Romans, 15:4 (NIV) teaches, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 

The Book of Exodus tells us about the Children of Israel. They survived the plagues that Allah visited upon Egypt until the time came for them to enter a land of their own.  What is the lesson in this that we can use today?  The Children of Israel were prepared.

When the rivers turned to blood, they had water in their homes already.

When the crops were destroyed, they already had food.

When darkness struck the land, they had lamps with oil.

When the plague of death struck the land, they remained safe in their homes until death passed over.

When the divine order to leave their homes was given, the Children of Israel were ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  They didn’t worry about saving their cash, or their big screen TVs, their smartphones, their so-called “good jobs,” or their mortgages.  They just left.  And they did not look back.

The Bible and Holy Qur’an are filled with other disaster preparedness lessons for us also.  If you have not done so already, please add a Holy Qur’an, Bible or whatever scripture you follow to your disaster preparedness supplies.  You will be able to turn to them to find strength and encouragement when  you are faced with a disaster. 

Evacuating your home

Have you ever thought about what you would do if the fire department knocked on your door and said that the whole neighborhood had to be evacuated immediately? What would you take with you? How would you know if your entire family is ready to leave? Make a “Go-Bag” for each person in your home, and keep them handy.

Things to Keep in a ‘Go-Bag’

Bottled water

Non-perishable food (make it water-resistant)


Battery-operated or hand crank radio



Dust masks

Pocket knife

Emergency cash in small bills

Quarters for phone calls

Sturdy shoes, a change of clothes

A warm hat

A blanket or large trash bags


A map

List of emergency contacts, family photo, and pre-stamped postcards in a ziplock-type bag

Medical information

Old prescription glasses

Toilet paper and plastic bags

Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant

Feminine hygiene products

Prescription medications and first aid supplies

Copies of insurance information

A Holy Qur’an, Bible or other scripture

There are other items you can add as well. Think of other items that you and your family will need on short notice and include those things in your Go-Bags.

A Go-Bag can be prepared for each person in your home, even children.  Old book bags are great for young people to use.  A good Go-Bag just needs to be light enough for each person to carry his or her own.

Start your Go-Bags right away even if you don’t have everything you need just yet.  It is better to have a little than to have nothing at all. 

What if my family is separated when a disaster hits?

Think for a minute about where everyone in your family would be at 3:15 on a weekday afternoon. You may have a child in school, another at an after school activity, and one at daycare. You may be at work in one area, while your spouse is at work on the other side of town.   What would you and your family do if a disaster struck at that moment?  Every family should include a family emergency plan as part of your preparations.  You can download a complete plan at

Remember, we can prepare today to survive tomorrow!

This is a compilation of articles that include some reprints from previous issues of The Final Call. Alva Muhammad is certified in multiple aspects of disaster preparedness and incident management.  She is a public policy analyst and teaches disaster preparedness and food preservation and storage to community groups and vulnerable populations through Team NOAHH - Neighbors Offering a Helping Hand, which is a nonprofit she recently started.  Follow her on Twitter @originalalva.