Emergencies and natural disasters can happen any time, in any place. Planning ahead can make dealing with emergencies easier, especially since communications and transportation, food and water supplies, and shelter may be disrupted. Natural disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes affect thousands of people each year. Four main steps will help you know what to do to protect yourself during a natural disaster. Be Prepared The impact of any emergency or disaster can be lessened by being prepared and knowing what to do before, during and after the emergency has occurred. Know what warning signs your community has in place to signal an emergency. Learn to recognize these warning signals and what to do when they occur. Listen to local media outlets to find out forecasts and emergency instructions. During a natural disaster, keep phone lines open to notify local authorities. Learn the emergency plans for your work site, as well as your children's day care emergency plans. Also learn the community's evacuation route, particularly in low-lying areas that can flood and in volcanic areas. Take a first aid class. You may not have access to professional medical assistance. Make a Family Plan Families should organize a plan for what to do, where to go and safety precautions during a natural disaster. This plan should be in writing and every family member should receive a copy of it. Go from room to room in the house and imagine what would happen to each of the objects during disasters. Then identify potential "safe" areas, such as under desks during earthquakes or in cellars during tornadoes. Identify all potential exits that could be used during a natural disaster. Select a potential alternative meeting spot outside of your area in case family members are separated. Also, select a contact person located outside of your area so everybody can communicate via that chosen contact. Teach family members who are old enough how to turn off the gas, electricity and water at the main switches. Stockpile Supplies Always have at least five days worth of food and water available for each family member. Water should be stored in sealed containers and food should be composed of nonperishable goods, such as canned goods or food sealed packages. Keep an emergency kit handy with a battery-powered radio and flashlight, extra batteries, candles and matches. Also include a first aid kit, fire-fighting equipment for small fires, a battery-operated or solar-powered heater and any special medicines needed, such as insulin. Evacuate Keep a fire-proof, waterproof safe with important family information, such as vital records, mortgage papers, medical records, insurance information and birth certificates, as well as other irreplaceable items. Medical devices should always be carried with you. Listen to the radio and television to find out if your area needs to evacuate. Then use recommended travel routes and leave immediately. Once in a safe area, stay there until you have been told by the authorities that it is safe to return.