Do-It-Yourself Project:

Operation Emergency Prepare

Time Needed:
1/2 Day to a Full Day
Skills Needed:
No special skills required
Disaster Relief, Emergency & Safety, Community
Project Categories:
Family Friendly
Created By:

Create the Good



Operation Emergency Prepare is designed so that individuals, organizations and community groups can be prepared for an emergency or natural disaster. This how-to guide is for organizers but could easily be adapted to help individuals prepare for an emergency.

Disasters are notable for their scale, unpredictability or both. A hurricane, house fire, earthquake or tornado can leave devastation in its wake. The impact of such an event is often most severe for people who failed to plan for emergencies. You probably have friends, family and neighbors who have no plans for how to act when a disaster is imminent, or how to respond after one has struck.

“Operation Emergency Prepare” allows you to help others in your neighborhood who need to get ready.

You can help a neighbor with one of these activities in about an hour. If you choose to plan and implement a community activity, it may take up to a couple of hours per week for several weeks.

Did you know? FEMA provides a free online training for people who want to help prepare their communities for disasters. Check it out at


Note: These activities, which apply to all emergencies, are presented as steps, but you can choose to do one, some or all, in any order. You can also either organize a group or simply help one neighbor or friend with these ways to prepare. Your efforts, big or small, could save lives.


An emergency or disaster can erase the vital documents and records of our lives instantly. Organize a group effort to help people in your community have copies of all their important documents available in one place. When you set up a group document duplication event, community members can meet in one central location to make copies quickly and easily. This activity is suitable for business sponsorship, so consider this as you make your plans.

Set up your system to ensure that people can move through the process without losing site of their materials. Exercise vigilance so documents are not lost, misplaced or left unprotected.

What You’ll Need:

  • Vital Document Checklist (in this kit) for advanced distribution
  • A central meeting location — community center, church, local business — with a high-volume copier
  • A date, preferably a weekend day
  • Reams of copy paper to accommodate your group’s size. Consider asking a business for sponsorship and donation of materials.
  • Gallon-size, plastic zip-close bags to act as a weatherproof tote
  • Check-in desk or greeting table/chairs
  • Copies of all the other “Operation Emergency Prepare” checklists and Basic Tips for attendees as well
  • A small team of volunteers, who can greet participants, help them with document copying, keep lines moving and be vigilant about document security. People will be justifiably concerned about their documents.

Set up your system so it’s easy to move to keep track of all materials. Exercise vigilance so documents are not lost, misplaced or left unprotected.

Get the Word Out:

Announce and promote your activity at least three weeks before the event date. Here’s a sample announcement:



Learn how to take the first step in being prepared for a disaster by securing important documents and identifying other tools to help get your life back in order after an emergency. Bring all your important documents, and we’ll help you make copies of them.

To help someone else, bring a friend along!

The members of (group) are invited to a Document Photocopying Event on (date).

(Consider whether or not an RSVP should be required, especially if anticipating high attendance or if limited space is available for your event.)

Contact (project organizer name) at (phone, email).



Emergency supply kits should have the essentials to meet someone’s basic needs for a few days. Many people have these items in their homes but have not organized them into a kit. Your team can help people gather supplies into a kit, or even purchase items (possibly with donated funds) and assemble kits to be distributed in the community.

Ideas to Get Started:

  • Distribute the Basic Emergency Supply Kit Checklist (in this kit) to neighbors and friends so they can assemble their own kits, or at least check to see which items they already have.
  • Identify community members who might need assistance and assemble their kits from items they already have in their homes. Provide a donated bucket or other container for central storage and consider purchasing any missing items for them to ensure that their kits are adequately stocked.
  • Make copies of all “Operation Emergency Prepare” Checklists to distribute as well.

If You Choose to Buy Items for People’s Kits:

  • Determine where you will get funds: From your group’s dues or funds? Corporate sponsorship? Fundraiser? Donations? Depending on the scope of your effort you may want to use a combination of funding sources. If you raise more money than you need, you can always donate the extra cash to a disaster relief organization.
  • Decide if your group could benefit from purchasing the basic emergency supplies in bulk.


Ensure that ALL members of the community have a plan that works for them. Create an evacuation plan that considers older friends and neighbors and their specific needs.

An evacuation plan provides a sense of control during an emergency, which can be a chaotic and frightening time. Learn how to create an evacuation plan by inviting a local official or expert on the subject to come speak to your group. Or think local - and lead an evacuation planning event for your own street, neighborhood or subdivision.

Ensure that ALL members of the community have a plan that works for them. Create an evacuation plan that considers everyone’s specific needs.

Get Organized:

  • Plan a date and place to meet (home, local community center, church, school, etc.).
  • Invite an emergency response expert to speak to your group. Also consider connecting with your local Citizen Corps Council and/or Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). Find local Citizen Corps contacts at
  • Ask your speaker if he/she has any materials (ex. documents or DVDs) to hand out.
  • If a speaker is unavailable, you can download training tools and handouts about a range of emergency preparedness topics including evacuation (and take an online training) provided by FEMA at
  • Secure a computer and projector setup if needed for showing maps or highlighting evacuation routes.
  • “Test drive” your presentation on that equipment before presenting live.
  • Make copies of all “Operation Emergency Prepare” Checklists and Basic Tips for Emergency Planning for distribution.

At the Event:

  • Share “Operation Emergency Prepare” Checklists and Basic Tips for Emergency Planning, and encourage distribution to friends and neighbors who did not attend.
  • Lead the group discussion on ways to help neighbors, should your community be evacuated, especially those living alone or who may have limitations.


Simply distributing this important information to community members is a great way to help others.

If your neighborhood has an email listserv, you can also send documents and links electronically. Include a link to

To help protect community members during and after a disaster, make copies of the Emergency Prepare Checklists that are best suited for your group, distribute them and ask people to commit to helping someone else get prepared. Checklists and Tip Sheets include:

  • Vital Document Checklist
  • Basic Emergency Supply Kit Checklist
  • Evacuation Plan Checklists
  • Basic Tips for Emergency Planning
  • Getting Back on Track After an Emergency



Visit for a range of opportunities to use your life experience, skills and passions to benefit your community.


An emergency or disaster can erase the vital documents and records of our lives instantly if we haven’t prepared in advance. Using the Vital Document Checklist, collect all the important papers that apply to you. Make copies and store them in a weatherproof tote — even a large, plastic zip-top bag works. Keep your packet of documents someplace easily accessible so that you can get to it quickly in the event you need to evacuate in a hurry.

  • Personal identification like passport, driver's license and voter ID card
  • Personal Medication Record and medical and immunization records
  • Social Security card
  • Health insurance cards
  • Financial records like recent tax returns, bank statements, retirement accounts, credit card numbers and records of any stocks and/or bonds
  • Insurance policies
  • Deed(s) to your house or other properties
  • Family records like wills, birth, marriage, divorce, adoption, child custody, and death certificates.
  • Legal titles (home, auto) and/or lease agreements.
  • Important phone numbers of family members, friends, doctors, insurers — anyone who needs to know where you are
  • Records of passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs)
  • Video and photo inventory documenting your valuables and the interior and exterior of your home
  • Cash and/or traveler’s checks
  • “Basic Tips for Emergency Planning” handout

List your other valuable documents here:




Be prepared for an emergency or disaster by gathering basic supplies you’ll need to endure a crisis that leaves you without utilities, telephone or Internet and will provide nourishment for several days. A good rule of thumb is to have enough supplies to last each person at least three days. Make sure to include any items for those with special needs, including babies or pets. Rotate food and water to ensure nothing has expired and check or replace batteries as needed to keep your kit up-to-date. For a complete list of supply-kit items and more information on creating a kit, visit

The right container will vary in a number of ways, depending on size, weight and the storage space available. Ideally, the container you use should be portable, durable and waterproof.


  • Water (one gallon per day per person)
  • Food (canned and dry goods, high-calorie food bars)
  • Personal first-aid kit
  • Battery-powered flashlight (with extra batteries)
  • Battery-powered radio (with extra batteries)
  • Personal Medication Record
  • Prescriptions


  • Hygienic items (toothbrush/hand sanitizer/etc.)
  • Extra clothing
  • Blankets
  • Rain poncho
  • 12-hour light sticks
  • Whistle (to alert rescue parties)
  • Face mask (to avoid dangerous bacteria)

Other essential items:



Important Websites and Phone Numbers to Have on Hand:

FEMA (toll-free): 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) -

American Red Cross (toll-free): 1-800-RED CROSS (733-2767) -

For more information on preparing for an emergency, visit


An evacuation plan provides a sense of control in what will likely be a chaotic and frightening time. In the event of a disaster, listen to local news reports for status updates and evacuation instructions. Follow instructions for evacuation procedures and do not wait until the last minute to leave. Before you head out, make sure to check on family, friends and neighbors to ensure that they are taking the appropriate steps for their own safety and security.

For additional tools and information to share with your community about evacuation planning, check out FEMA's free online training module.

Planned Checklist

  • Essential items you need to take:
  • Vital Document Packet — Ensures you have all your important papers
  • Emergency Supply Kit — Provides basic-living necessities for a few days
  • Cash and traveler’s checks
  • Maps: The official evacuation route, alternate routes and a list of shelters. You can find a list of open shelters at
  • Car keys and keys to the place you are going (if applicable)


If you have only moments before evacuating and haven’t prepared a Vital Document Packet or any emergency supplies, grab these items quickly and go!

(Note: Use travel routes specified by local authorities. Shortcuts could be impassable or dangerous.)

  • Driver’s license or personal identification
  • Basic supplies: Water, food, first-aid kit, hygiene items
  • Prescription medications, glasses or contact lenses
  • Maps: The official evacuation route, alternate routes and a list of shelters
  • Car keys and keys to the place you are going (if applicable)
  • Cash and traveler’s checks

Other essentials:



Shelter Realities:

  • Provisions are likely to be limited, so plan on using your own supplies.
  • Many organizations have created pet-friendly shelters, but sometimes pets are prohibited. Call your local emergency management office, animal shelter, or animal control office to find out which shelters in your area do accept pets.
  • Smoking, alcoholic beverages and weapons are prohibited.
  • Expect and plan for confined and uncomfortable conditions.    


The following provides some general tips for staying safe and fortifying your home. To be completely prepared, visit to view more thorough tip lists that give special instructions about the disasters that are likely to happen in your area.

Ahead of Time

  • Inventory the contents of your home and take photos or videos of both the exterior and interior. Be sure to record contents of closets, cabinets and drawers. Keep copies in a safe, separate location if possible.
  • Arrange with family or neighbors to have a contact number or location where you can check in to report on your safety or new whereabouts.*
  • Gather your vital documents and records and make duplicate copies to be stored in a weatherproof container.*
  • Many communities provide email and text-message alerts and warnings; visit your city or county website to find out what's available and how to sign up.
  • Visit for evacuation plan tips and information on duplicating vital documents.

Just Before and During an Emergency

  • Close and lock all windows and doors.
  • Stay tuned to local news stations via battery-operated radio and be prepared to evacuate if ordered.
  • Cover windows and doors with shutters or plywood if high winds are expected.
  • Move electronics or valuable objects away from windows and wrap in plastic garbage bags to keep dry.
  • Have a supply of bottled water on hand; fill sinks and bathtubs with water to use for bathing, washing clothes or flushing the toilet.
  • Shut off water at the main valve and electricity at the main fuse or breaker box. You can learn how to do this safely at
  • Bring indoors outdoor objects that may fly around, such as trash cans and patio furniture.

Getting Back on Track After an Emergency or Disaster

Insurance Matters:

  • Understand exactly what your insurance company covers in the event of a disaster.
  • Do not endorse and cash any payment from an insurance company that says “final” unless you are sure it is an adequate payment under your policy’s coverage.
  • Call your mortgage company to see how reimbursements from your home insurance company will be handled.
  • Consider mediation if you are not satisfied with negotiations with your insurance company. In many areas, there is a free public service offered by your state’s insurance commissioner.
  • Consult an attorney; local bar associations working with FEMA often set up volunteer attorney sites.

Fraud and Scams:

  • Don’t pay cash to a contractor for home repairs and never give your credit card number unless you are paying the bill with it.
  • Be sure you have a signed contract detailing the work you want to have done and don’t make a final payment until the work has been done to your satisfaction.
  • Make sure that any contractors, plumbers, electricians or roofers are bonded licensed or registered in your state. You can check their license status with your state or Better Business Bureau.
  • Try to get several bids before agreeing to any work; a one-third down payment is considered appropriate.
  • Beware of home repair loan brokers who guarantee you a loan if you first pay a fee.
  • If you suspect you have been taken advantage of, call your state attorney general’s office.

Important Websites and Phone Numbers to Have on Hand:

For more information on preparing for an emergency, visit