People caught in chaos are rarely at their best. They are scared, confused and desperate for clear direction. If a disaster struck today, would you know what to do?
Experts say the best way to stay safe is to be prepared. In conversations with ABC News, they outlined three parts of preparedness.
The first part is to figure out how to get in touch with your loved ones in the event of an emergency.
"There's nothing more terrifying than the separation and lack of communication with the people that you care about," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.
Follow these steps to research, discuss and implement a family emergency plan:
1. Identify the risks in your local area
2. Make a plan with the family
• Agree on a location to meet, in case you are separated
• Decide where you will go if evacuation is required
• Identify evacuation routes
• Select an out-of-state contact and phone -- local numbers often don't work in a disaster zone.
Don't assume you will be able to rely on cell phones during an emergency, said Eric Holdeman, director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
"They very quickly become overloaded and that's an issue for emergency responders also," he said.
A text device like a Blackberry messaging device may offer a more reliable option, he said.
The next part to preparedness is to create a stockpile so that you can survive on your own for at least seven days. Here are some recommendations from experts:
• One gallon of water per person per day
• Canned foods -- and don't forget the can opener!
• Granola bars, protein bars
• Dried fruit
• Separate your stockpiles; keep some in the house and some in the car
• Remember to rotate the supplies yearly
Finally, prepare a 'Go' kit. If you have to run out the door in a dire emergency, what you take with you can save your life.
• Cash and coins
• An AM/FM Radio with extra batteries
• A flashlight with extra batteries
• Plastic tape, plastic sheeting to tape up windows, and duct tape to seal up a room for shelter
• Copies of critical life documents: insurance policies, tax returns, birth certificates, property deeds
• Two weeks dosage of critical medications
• Road maps of your region
• Extra clothing
Holdeman had additional suggestions that might make life easier. "Have a treat for everybody. Have some games for the kids," he said.
He also recommended tone-alert radio weather radios, which don't require you to be awake and have the TV or radio on. If there's an alert signal from the Emergency Alert system, the radio emits a loud annoying tone. It can also be programmed for your specific locality.
After assembling everything, Holdeman said to "put 'em in a backpack that can sustain you for three days. Put it by the front door, in that front closet, so you can just grab it and go."
People often overrate their disaster preparedness levels, Holdeman said. "They think that because they have a battery-operated flashlight somewhere in the house [but] they don't really know where it is, and they have food in the pantry and stored water from Y2K, they're ready for any disaster."
Even in the most catastrophic disasters, the vast majority of people in the affected area will survive, Holdeman said.
But it's still important to be prepared, he said, to make sure you and your loved ones are comfortable. "You're not John Wayne," he said. "You can't tough it out. You have to be prepared wherever you are...because you don't know when disasters will actually strike."