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Welcome to The Trail! Each month of the HomeScouting Adventure Club for Scouts BSA will be focused on a merit badge. Below you can complete all of the requirements for the Emergency Preparedness* merit badges. Scouts are encouraged to find a local merit badge counselor to fully complete the merit badge. The HomeScouting Adventure Club will provide a limited number of merit badge counselors to have small group merit badge sessions during the first two weeks of the month following the subject month. 

*Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge Note: Scouts must earn First Aid Merit Badge to complete the Emergency Preparedness Merit badge. NEW: First Aid Merit Badge will be the January HAC for Scouts BSA!

When you're ready, get started on your HomeScouting Adventure - learning about how to Be Prepared for emergencies.

Looking for last month's merit badge? Click the Link Below!

Make sure to download the connected worksheet for this month's adventure!





The Atlantic hurricane season of 2005 produced one of the five deadliest hurricanes

in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. With peak winds

up to 175 mph, the storm caused great devastation along much of the country’s Gulf

Coast. The loss of life and property was particularly catastrophic in New Orleans,

Louisiana, where the city’s levee system failed. Floodwaters consumed the area, and

nearly 80 percent of the city lay underwater. The storm’s path caused severe damage

to the entire Mississippi coast. The damage reached as far as 100 miles from the eye

of the storm. Alabama and Florida also suffered flooding, property damage, and

loss of lives.



More recently, the 2011 tornado season produced the second highest number of tornadoes recorded in a single year in U.S. history with 1,691 reported. One of those tornadoes—an EF-5, which causes the most intense damage—destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri, and became the deadliest tornado in the U.S. since 1950. With winds reaching more than 200 mph and a track threequarters of a mile wide and six miles long, the Joplin tornado damaged or destroyed thousands of structures, injured more than 1,000, and resulted in more than 150 deaths.

Almost immediately, the Ozark Trails Council, which serves the Joplin area, began receiving inquiries from Scouts all over the country who wanted to help the damaged city recover. Half of Joplin’s public schools were damaged or destroyed in the storm, and officials determined that preparing for the upcoming school year would require a large-scale team effort. The council planned a day of service on August 6 to benefit the Joplin School District, bringing together more than 1,000 Scouts from seven states to pick up debris, set up equipment, paint playground fixtures, and distribute classroom supplies. Additionally, the council hosted two days of camp programs at the Frank Childress Scout Reservation in July for the city’s summer school students. More than 700 children were able to leave the devastation behind for a few hours and participate in activities that included archery and swimming.


What is an emergency? Usually, it is something unforeseen, unexpected— something that requires immediate action. It can be related to weather, such as a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm, or a flood. An emergency can be an accident, such as an explosion, a fire, or a car accident. As a Scout, you should try to learn the actions that can be helpful and needed before an emergency—what preparedness is all about—as well as during and after an emergency.

It is important to be calm during an emergency situation. Being prepared with the knowledge to help others can help you remain level-headed. These tips may also be helpful.

  • When an emergency arises, first take a deep breath.

  • Assess the situation and plan how to proceed.

  • Focus on your task.

Scouts are often called on to help because they know first aid and they know about the discipline and planning needed to support a situation that requires leadership. Scouting gives you the opportunity to understand and respond to your community’s emergency preparedness plan. As you earn this merit badge, you will learn how to handle many emergency situations as an individual and as a member of a Scouting unit serving your neighborhood and community. Whether you are needed as an active member of a community response team, or whether you gather the skills and information you need to help protect your family or yourself from injury, everything you learn will help you to be brave and prepared to help other people at all times.


Damage from Hurricane Katrina has been estimated at more than $80 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The cost in human lives: 1,836 fatalities.



After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, thousands of American heroes emerged. Among the police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers who saved lives and worked around the clock during this pivotal moment in American history were other heroes who rallied for their country—Scouts. The Boy Scouts of America commissioned artist Joseph Csatari to capture a lasting image of the Scouts who were prepared for—and who responded to—this emergency. The painting, called “Prepared for a Good Turn,” portrays Scouts working to provide relief alongside police officers and firefighters, and illustrates true stories of Scout heroes. Among them, Cub Scouts from Illinois who sent work 

gloves to the crew members at Ground Zero, and Scouts from New York who donated cots for the relief workers to rest on at the site and collected bottled drinks to help refresh them. The painting also includes Scouts in Oklahoma who started a “Helping Hands for Heroes” campaign to lend a hand to the families of those suddenly called into active military duty.



The first requirement for this merit badge is to earn the First Aid merit badge, because

first aid is emergency preparedness in action. You need to be able to recognize what is

wrong with a person and then react to the emergency with the correct treatment

until medical help arrives. NEW: First Aid Merit Badge will be the January HAC for
Scouts BSA!


You should know first aid so well that you would be able to react to any situation immediately. What

would you do in these situations?

  • You are eating pizza with some friends. Suddenly, your friend’s little sister darts in and
    grabs some pizza. As she runs away giggling and eating, she trips and starts choking. She
    turns blue and stops breathing.

  • You are camping out with your patrol. During some free time, you offer to take a new
    patrol member on a hike around the lake. When you are halfway around the lake, he says his heel is so sore he can hardly walk. He takes off his shoe (he is wearing old running shoes rather than sturdy hiking boots) and finds a huge blister. You have two miles to walk in either direction to get back to camp and the first-aid kit.

  • You are horsing around with friends indoors on a rainy day. One buddy pushes another and he falls into a glass-topped coffee table. The glass shatters and gashes his wrist. Blood starts spurting out.

  • While skateboarding with a friend, his board hits a crack and he is thrown from it. He is not wearing a helmet. His head hits the cement bank, knocking him unconscious.


Now look at the situations again, and ask yourself how you might have helped to prevent them—another important part of emergency preparedness. These emergencies call for immediate action. If you have already earned the First Aid merit badge, review those skills so you will be prepared to use them in an emergency.



Most of us are concerned about the rapid spread of bloodborne pathogens— such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the AIDS virus—and try to avoid exposing ourselves to this hazard. Health professionals and first aiders like those of us in Scouting may find ourselves faced with special problems in this regard.


The First Aid merit badge pamphlet and other BSA handbooks used to advocate direct hand pressure to stop bleeding in injuries. However, this action could involve getting the victim’s blood on the rescuer’s skin. If the victim has HIV or some other bloodborne disease, the rescuer could be infected with the virus. If the rescuer has open wounds on or near his or her hands, there is the risk of exposure to the victim. In rescue breathing there is the risk of passing airborne infectious diseases such as influenza from victim to rescuer. But Scout leaders, parents, and youth members should know that there is no evidence that a rescuer can be infected by the hepatitis B virus or HIV either through contact with human saliva or by giving rescue breathing. Studies show that both hepatitis B and HIV are bloodborne illnesses.


The BSA has checked with experts in the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with the American Red Cross. These authorities suggest that we should:

  • Maintain the BSA’s tradition of rendering first aid to those in need.

  • Recognize that very often the victims we treat with first aid are friends and family members with whose health we are familiar. Therefore, in such cases, except when we know they have infectious diseases, we should not hesitate to render first aid.


The BSA Health and Safety Committee recommends the following. Treat all blood and other bodily fluids as if they are contaminated with bloodborne viruses. Do not use bare hands to stop bleeding; always use a protective barrier; always wash exposed skin areas with water and soap immediately after treating the victim.


Have available and use personal protective equipment that helps prevent direct contact with infected materials. This equipment includes disposable, nonlatex gloves (nitrile or vinyl) and breathing barriers used when performing rescue breathing. To help reduce the risk of getting or transmitting infectious disease, follow these guidelines for the use of protective equipment.

  • Wear disposable, single-use gloves whenever giving care, particularly if there is risk of contact with blood or bodily fluids. 

  • Wear protective coverings such as a mask, eyewear, or a gown when you are likely to come in contact with blood or other bodily fluids that may splash.

  • Cover any cuts, scrapes, or sores prior to putting on protective equipment.

  • Use breathing barriers such as resuscitation masks or face shields when giving rescue breaths. A breathing barrier with a one-way HEPA valve offers the best protection.

  • Remove disposable gloves without contacting the soiled part of the gloves, and dispose of them in a proper container.

  • Change gloves before you care for a different victim.

  • Remove jewelry such as rings, bracelets, and watches before putting on disposable gloves.

  • Do not clean or reuse disposable gloves.

  • Do not use disposable gloves that are discolored, torn, or punctured.



In many ways, the world you live in today is much safer than the world in which your parents and grandparents grew up. For instance, medical advances today give us better protection from some diseases that were devastating in the past, such as smallpox. Weather forecasting technology allows for more accurate predictions and better planning for inclement weather.


Many institutions help us to be safer and deal with emergencies, too. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration helps ensure safe and healthful workplaces for employees in the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has the mission of helping citizens plan for and respond to disasters and emergencies of all kinds. The American Red Cross works around the world to help people in need.


But it is not enough to rely on medicine, technology, institutions, or the actions of others to keep us prepared and safe. Look carefully at your home and your community, and educate yourself about potential dangers. As you work on requirements for the Emergency Preparedness merit badge, pay close attention to four things: preparedness,
response, recovery, and mitigation and prevention.



Emergency personnel, such as Red Cross and FEMA workers, use many of the same

terms when talking about emergency management. That is just one reason it is a good

idea to become familiar with such terms: if you find yourself working with emergency

personnel, you will understand what your actions are helping to accomplish.


  1. Preparedness. When you take actions to prepare for emergencies, you recognize the possible threats from natural and other disasters. Making a plan and practicing it, assembling an emergency or disaster supplies kit, and installing warning devices are all actions you can take to prepare for an emergency.

  2. Response. In this phase of emergency management, you may be called upon to help with shelter, first aid, and other activities. On a personal level, your response to an emergency can take many forms, such as evacuating an area. Your response can help reduce the occurrence of secondary damage.

  3. Recovery. After a disaster or other emergency, the goal is to try to get things back to “normal.” In addition to rebuilding and repairing property, there is also work to be done to try to bring physical and emotional health back to a stable condition.

  4. Mitigation and Prevention. The word “mitigate” means “to lessen in force or intensity,” and “to make less severe.” Prevention goes hand-in-hand with mitigation, as do response and recovery. It also can make the difference between inconvenience and tragedy. Mitigation often involves managing risk—becoming aware of, and responding to, risks and hazards. Mitigation efforts can even help prevent an emergency from happening.


Let’s say you live in an area that has a high tornado risk. You can prepare by recognizing that a tornado emergency could happen to you and making a plan for your family in case of that emergency. You can respond by knowing what actions you will take ahead of time. You may have to recover from a tornado that damages your home. Services and resources can be obtained from the Red Cross or other providers. But all along the way, you can take actions that mitigate, or lessen, the impact on your family, and help prevent additional injuries and accidents. For instance, watching the news and being familiar with the tornado sirens that sound in your area could give you more time to respond. Taking shelter away from windows in a basement or interior room of the house could lessen your chances of being hit by flying objects. Even after a tornado, as you help with rebuilding efforts, wearing a sturdy pair of work gloves can help keep you from getting cuts and infections from handling debris.

Did You Know?

Being prepared does not mean taking risk needlessly. In situations where a Scout lacks necessary skill or knowledge because he has not had the training or experience or when equipment is unavailable or is inadequate, the Scout has an obligation to advise his supervisor of the unsafe situation and to propose alternative solutions.

A careful driver who follows traffic laws and avoids

distractions such as cell phone use or texting is less

likely to have an accident. Such a driver is taking

preventative actions. However, even the best driver

may not be able to respond quickly enough to

prevent a collision caused by another driver losing

control of his car. In that case, prior decisions to

wear safety belts and to use appropriate restraints

for infants and small children will help mitigate the emergency; that is, they will reduce or lessen the chance of serious injury. Likewise, household fires can be prevented by careful attention to potential sources: People can clear debris from around a furnace, not overload electrical circuits, and be attentive when using candles or fireplaces. If a fire does break out, smoke alarms and a preplanned escape route will help mitigate the situation. In other words, the emergency is less severe if everyone gets out of the house alive. In public buildings such as schools, automatic sprinkler systems can mitigate a fire by keeping it from spreading throughout the building.



Here are the kinds of questions you may ask yourself as you look around.


Questions that will help you prepare for a risky situation or possibility of an emergency or accident occurring.

  • Have I prepared a disaster supplies kit with supplies that will last for at least three days? Is the kit packed and stored in an easy-to-access area?

  • Have I made an emergency plan with family members in case of a disaster? Have I planned the quickest escape routes from my home and evacuation routes from my neighborhood? Does my family have a meeting place outside our home in case of a fire and another place outside the neighborhood in case we cannot return home? Do we have an out-of-town contact person to call with information about our safety and location in case local lines are jammed?

  • Do I know the safe places  to go within my home in case my family and I need shelter during extreme weather events such as a tornado? Have I posted emergency numbers near our home telephone where they can easily be found?

  • Do I know how to be informed  in case of an emergency? Do I know how local authorities might contact me in the event of a disaster, such as using warning sirens to sound an alert? Do I know which radio and television stations broadcast emergency warning information?

  • Do I know which hazards are most likely to happen in my community? Do I live in an area that may experience dangerous weather (heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzard conditions)? During what time of year?


Questions that will help you respond to an emergency situation in the best way you can.

  • How can I plan before a crisis? Do I know what actions to take for a potential emergency? Have I gathered and positioned supplies and contact numbers that might be needed? Can I help educate and train people about safety and preparedness? Do I know which neighbors may need help?

  • How can I react after a crisis? Is there a family or community plan for reaction that I should
    know about? What resources might be mobilized and needed, and how can I help?


Questions that will help you and your family to recover from a dangerous situation
or emergency.

  • After a disaster, how can I help clean up the damage? Do I have the skills and tools to help repair
    and rebuild my home and my community?

  • How can I help myself and my family recover emotionally from the disaster?

  • Do I understand that physical recovery and emotional recovery take time?  


Questions that will help you mitigate, or lessen, and prevent a dangerous situation or emergency when you can.

  • What can I do to make my home safer from fire or explosion? How do I check for household hazards?

  • How can I help minimize, or lessen, the damage that might be caused during an emergency (during violent weather, for instance)? Can I help make sure that no one would be injured?

  • Can I help make sure that people are acting in a safe manner during an emergency or dangerous situation, such as when I am hiking with my troop in the wilderness?

Did You Know?

Some emergency responders specialize in emotional first aid so they are able to talk to and treat a survivor immediately following a traumatic event. It’s normal for a traumatic experience to cause a victim to feel fear, sadness, or even anger.


This is what emergency preparedness is all about: preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating and preventing emergency situations. Emergencies can be met and handled. Whether an emergency involves your family or your entire community, on highways or waterways, in your home or outdoors, you can bring your Scouting skills and knowledge to the situation and help. 

How would apply your knowledge of preparing, responding, recovering, mitigating, and preventing the following situations?



Emergency Packs and Kits The following emergency kits will provide you with items that will make your life easier in the event of an emergency. Also, by assembling and maintaining such kits, you are thinking ahead about how to deal with possible emergencies before they develop.


Family Emergency Kit

If you have received a warning that requires you and your family to evacuate your home, you may have little time to throw together a few items or dash to a well-stocked emergency shelter. It would be better to have a box or suitcase of emergency supplies and water on hand to meet your family’s needs for a few days or, better, for a week. These items come in handy in an emergency even if you do not have to evacuate. Some families keep their supplies in a basement shelter area or in a storm cellar, if they have one.

Include the following items:

  • Minimum of three-day supply of water (1 gallon per person per day) stored in sealed, unbreakable containers such as plastic jugs

  • Nonperishable foods (including pet food) and a nonelectric can opener (be sure to check expiration dates)

  • Eating utensils 

  • Any special foods or other important items for babies, elderly people, or family members such as extra eyeglasses, prescription medications (if practical), portable devices, and battery chargers

  • Family first-aid kit

  • Battery- or crank-powered radio

  • Flashlight or lantern or chemical light sticks

  • Extra batteries (stored separately and rotated regularly with fresh ones)

  • Matches in waterproof container and fire starting kit

  • Blankets or a sleeping bag for each family member

  • Extra clothing appropriate for the season

  • Dust masks for air filtering

  • Soap, wipes, or antibacterial gel for hand sanitation

  • Toilet paper

  • Emergency toilet, if needed (Use a garbage container, bucket, or similar watertight container lined with plastic bags. Tie the bags near the top so as to allow for gas build-up. Throw sawdust, cat litter, sand, or dirt into the bag after each use to help contain odors and dry the waste.)

  • Copies of important family documents (such as identification, copies of insurance policies, prescriptions list, and emergency contact list with phone numbers and email addresses) kept in a waterproof container

  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Local maps (for navigating to shelters; be sure to obtain a local map when you are visiting another area)

  • Cash and coins

  • Books, games, and other personal comfort items

  • Sunscreen and insect repellant

Major Disaster Preparedness Items

The following items are helpful during an emergency or if you are safe staying in your home and an evacuation has not been ordered.

  • List of emergency telephone numbers and out-of-town contact person in case local lines are busy

  • Fire extinguisher (preferably a multipurpose one)

  • Tool kit (ax, shovel, broom, screwdriver, pliers, hammer, coil of 1 ⁄2-inch rope, coil of baling wire, duct tape, razor blades, adjustable wrench for turning off gas or water)

  • Simple chart showing where shutoff valves are located, including the main electrical switch

  • Portable fire escape ladder for homes or buildings of more than one level

  • Portable stove with appropriate fuel (used outdoors away from garage or carport to avoid the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning)

  • Gloves and rags

  • Covered containers (that can be tightly sealed) for storing refuse

  • Garden hose kept near an outside faucet at all times


Personal Emergency Service Pack

Be prepared for a mobilization call with a personal emergency service pack. You will be ready for many emergencies if you use the following checklist as you equip your pack.

  • Poncho or raincoat (with hood or rain hat)

  • Change of underwear and socks

  • Small bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, comb, needle, thread, shoelaces, and toilet paper

  • Sleeping bag (or bedroll of two wool blankets) and waterproof ground cloth

  • Maps of areas where your troop is likely to serve

  • 50 feet of No. 5 sash cord or similar-size nylon cord

  • Pocket knife and ax and/or saw

  • Water treatment equipment

  • Cook kit and canteen P Flashlight

  • Battery-powered radio

  • Extra batteries (stored separately)

  • Hard hat

  • Other equipment as determined by weather conditions (winter jacket, rubber boots, gloves, etc.)

  • Personal first-aid kit (You can order a personal first-aid kit through your local council service center, or you can make your own. Include gauze bandages and pads, adhesive bandages, soap, antibiotic ointment for burns, and roller bandages.)

  • Matches in a waterproof container

  • Emergency ration (such as energy bar, energy gel, etc.; well-wrapped)

  • Pencil and small notebook

  • Bandanna

  • Compass and map of the area (or a GPS; be sure you have a set of fresh batteries)

  • Watch (unless you usually wear one)

  • Facial tissues

  • Work gloves

  • Dust masks for air filtering

  • Boots, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and goggles or safety glasses




There are many types of emergencies and many ways they can occur. Becoming familiar with emergencies and their circumstances can help you prepare, respond, recover, and mitigate and prevent. Knowledge of hazards and dangers can help prevent emergencies, too.



Most people think of their homes as a safe haven. While our homes are safe places, accidents can happen in or near them. With good prevention techniques, many accidents can be avoided. Learn to recognize possible hazards in your environment or unsafe behaviors. However, in the case of a true emergency, your response to the emergency situation can help to prevent injuries or even to save lives.



“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”—so goes the old saying. And recognizing potentially hazardous situations that might lead to fire or explosion is the first step on the road to prevention.


Fire Safety in the Home. How safe from fire or explosion is your home? You can do a lot to prevent fires. With help from your family, get rid of hazards. Clear closets, the attic, the cellar, and storage areas of flammable rubbish such as papers and empty cartons. Check around the furnace and gas-fired water heater, and move anything that could burn—such as paper—at least 3 feet away from it. Move any flammable liquids, such as oil-based paint, to another location. 

Properly dispose of partially filled or unneeded cans of paint and varnish, paint-soaked brushes, and oily rags. Keep turpentine and paint thinners in airtight cans. Store gasoline, benzene, naphtha, charcoal lighter fluid, camp-stove fuel, and other highly flammable liquids in tightly closed metal containers outside the home. Throw out any trash that has collected around the yard. All homes should have a 3- to 5-foot zone free of overgrown grass, overhanging branches, and woodpiles. In areas with high wildfire danger, the zone should be 30 feet. Be alert to the danger of

lightning strikes and electrical fire hazards. If you find frayed cords, bare wires, or

broken plugs in your home, suggest to your parents that these should be replaced. Do

not plug too many appliances or devices into one outlet or one circuit. This would be a

good time to have a family talk about the electrical system and the use of electricity in

your home. Learn the location of your household circuit box and how to safely cut off

power. Do not reset breakers without permission and only if you have corrected the



Fires can start even when safety measures are taken, so every family should have a

fire escape plan. Develop one for your family that details two ways to escape each r

oom in your home. Make sure your family has a portable escape ladder at each window in bedrooms above the first floor, and that can be used from most windows. Talk about what you would do if your home caught on fire.


It is important to have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home

Practice Before It Happens

Practice fire escape drills at least once a year. Pick a place outside where your family can meet if a fire breaks out. Draw a floor plan of your home to help you plot emergency escape routes. Agree on a meeting place outdoors for all family members.


Lifesaving Fire Safety Tips.

If you know how to react in the event of a fire in your home, you can prevent injuries and possibly save lives. Teach these tips to your family and discuss them.


  1. If there is a fire, warn everyone possible—without endangering your own safety—before investigating the source of the alarm activation. Make sure everyone knows what the fire alarm sounds like.

  2. Get out of the building if your escape routes are clear. Keep calm. Walk fast. Do not run.

  3. Wait until you are in a safe area, but call 911 or the operator as soon as possible to report the fire. Say, “I want to report a fire,” and tell the operator your address. Do not hang up until the dispatcher says it is OK to do so. Know your present physical location, not just your home address.

  4. If you are trapped in a multistory building, call 911 to report your location. If you cannot get to a phone, call for help from a window. Wave a towel to signal for attention.

  5. Keep doors closed. Open doors and windows cause drafts that can fan a fire and make it more serious. If you think the door is the only way out, feel it with the back of your hand. If it is hot, do not open it. If it is not hot, duck to one side, away from the door opening, when you turn the knob. Open the door slowly. If the door opens inward, brace it with your foot to keep it from opening too fast.

  6. If there is smoke in a room, crawl close to the floor. The air is least toxic about 12 to 18 inches above the floor. Breathe under your shirt or jacket in the space next to your body. If you cannot see well, keep the back of one hand in front of you. Using your hand, follow the wall around to the nearest door or window. 

  7. If you can walk downstairs, do so carefully and close to the wall if you cannot see.

  8. Buildings that are two or three stories high should have an escape ladder. If you do not have one, get a sheet or other bright cloth and hang it outside a window to get the attention of people outside. Stay by the window and wait for the fire department to arrive and rescue you. Avoid the urge to jump out of the window—wait for help to arrive. Push towels or clothes (wet is better than dry) against the bottom of the door to keep smoke from entering the room.

  9. Absolutely never use an elevator during a fire.

  10. Remember that children may become very scared and hide under beds or in closets. You can make sure that they practice a fire escape plan so they know the right thing to do in case of a fire.

  11. Help guide others along your escape route, but do not delay your escape by trying to rescue someone else. In an emergency, do not place yourself in additional danger! Get out of the burning building to save yourself and those with you. Meet the fire department when it arrives, and tell firefighters where you last saw other people.


Firefighters have training, protective clothing, and breathing apparatus; let them do the rescuing. You will be most useful by telling them where others might need their help. You will be unable to direct firefighters to someone in trouble if you yourself become a victim of the fire. Most of the points above are just as important to know for a fire emergency anywhere, such as in a public building. Look them over again and think about how they might apply. And here are three more important points.

  • If you are in a hotel room or live in an apartment, be sure you take the key whenever you leave your room or apartment. Don’t get caught in the hallway without it.

  • Never go inside a building that is on fire. Wait for the fire department to arrive with the right equipment and gear to rescue people and put the fire out.

  • You probably have regular fire drills at school. This is emergency preparedness in action. If you are in school when a fire breaks out, follow your teacher’s instructions. Do not go out on your own.





Gases can kill. The fumes from natural gas or propane leaks can cause explosions. Stoves that are left on but not lighted are especially hazardous. If anyone creates a spark in a fume-filled room, an explosion could happen.


Gases, and related fumes such as carbon monoxide, can cause a person to stop breathing, followed by unconsciousness and death. Sources of dangerous fumes include bad connections for furnaces, ovens, stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters, and other gas appliances. Garages, basements, and kitchens are a home’s danger spots. Smart homeowners have gas fixtures and appliances inspected regularly and keep them in good repair. Have your parents check the gas pipes in your home, especially in damp areas such as the basement, to make sure that they are not rusting. Natural gas has a distinctive odor that you can smell.


Call 911 or your fire department or gas company if you think you have a gas leak. Looking for the source of a leak yourself could lead to an explosion, since many things can be an ignition source—even such things as flashlights, mobile phones, light switches, and garage door openers. If someone is overcome by gas fumes, get the person outdoors into fresh air. If the person is unconscious and cannot be moved outside, open windows and doors to help disperse the fumes and bring in fresh air. If the person has stopped breathing, immediately give rescue breathing. Call 911 or the fire department or rescue squad. Notify the gas company.

If you smell gas or suspect a leak and your parents are not home, open windows and get everyone outdoors. Once safely outside, call 911 or the gas company immediately from a mobile phone or a neighbor’s phone.


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas—and it can kill. Every year in the United States, CO poisoning kills more than 200 people and sends thousands more to the hospital. Carbon monoxide gas can come from a lot of places: gas-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces, power generators, chain saws and other gas-powered tools, and cars. Running a car or a generator in a closed garage or even under a carport, for instance, is a recipe for disaster.


Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, but you can do some simple things to prevent a problem:

  • Install a CO alarm in your home, and be sure everyone knows the sound of the alarm.

  • Make sure your parents have any fuel-burning appliances, furnaces, and chimneys inspected by a professional at least once a year.

  • Never use a charcoal grill in the garage or in your home—only outdoors!


Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, faintness, and ringing in the ears. A person might yawn a lot or feel like vomiting. If you or someone else feels like this, get outside or open windows right away for fresh air.


If someone is overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 for medical help. The person may not be able to breathe. Give rescue breathing as you learned to do for the First Aid merit badge. Make sure that all appliances and sources of combustion are turned off. A professional should investigate the source of the CO buildup and repair it. A carbon monoxide detector, similar to a fire alarm, is a good way to mitigate emergencies due to fumes from incomplete combustion of poorly ventilated gas appliances. Test CO detectors once a month, and replace the batteries every six months.

In an Emergency, Use the Phone!


In many emergency situations, the first and smartest thing you can do is call for help. In your home, post emergency numbers (such as the fire department, police, and doctor) by all phones. Calling 911 will summon fire, police, and ambulance services. Tell the 911 operator your name and address and what the emergency is; then stay on the line until you are sure help is on the way. In the case of fire or gas leak, leave immediately and call from a neighbor’s house or use a cell phone once outside. In the event of a power outage, a corded phone may still work: Phone lines are powered separately. If the phone lines are down, try a mobile phone, which should work as long as the nearby cell tower still has power. If 911 service is not available in your area, dial “0” and tell the operator your address and your emergency.


Road trips with your family or with your troop can be great fun. But these trips need to be safe, too. Especially because you might be far from home or from immediate help as you travel, preparation is very important.

  • Consider the weather you might encounter. Prepare for the worst. Check weather reports and
    plan travel routes accordingly. If severe weather is threatening, consider delaying your trip.

  • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in the car.

  • Before you leave, let others know your route and when you expect to arrive. Advise them of any
    route or time change.

  • Pack food, water, medications, and extra clothing (appropriate for the season and weather

  • Carry a wool blanket for warmth, for patient transport, or to suffocate a fire.

  • Keep a first-aid kit, signal whistle, flares, and booster cables in your car. Also carry reflective devices
    that are not sources of ignition so you can use them safely around spilled flammables or where there is wildfire danger.

  • Always buckle up—every time, every seat, every person.


Car Accidents

Accidents sometimes just happen. As always, be prepared for the unexpected. With car accidents, often the most important thing you can do is to get yourself into a first-aid mind-set. Is anyone hurt? Is anyone bleeding badly? Is anyone dazed or in shock? In your work for the First Aid merit badge, you learned how to respond to such situations.


Some people may want to move accident victims or rush them to a hospital. Victims

themselves may wish to move about to check on others. Urge them not to do so. Move

only those who are in danger or as needed to treat life-threatening conditions. If victims

are able to move, help them to safety, have them lie down, and keep them still and calm

until medical help arrives. Treat for shock and other conditions as needed.

An important factor in responding to an emergency is situational

awareness—the ability to identify, process, and understand the current

environment. Put more simply by the U.S. Coast Guard, it is knowing

what is going on around you. Being aware of your surroundings can

prevent you from becoming a victim of the emergency.

Five things are essential to help prevent further injury and loss of life after a motor vehicle accident:

  1. Protect yourself first.

  2. Call 911 for medical help.

  3. Make the scene safe: Turn off the vehicle’s engine, secure parking brakes, and help direct traffic if you are trained to do so. (Be sure to wear a reflective safety vest.) However, if you cannot readily secure the scene, do not put yourself in danger trying to do so.

  4. Stop severe bleeding.  

  5. Treat for shock.

Trapped in a Blizzard

If you find yourself trapped in a blizzard, use your ingenuity and always ask yourself, What is the safest thing to do? Stay with the car and wait for help. Leave your car only if you are sure of the way to the nearest building and you know that it is a short distance away. But wait for the blizzard conditions to lessen, too. Do not walk in a blizzard. It is easy to lose sight of your car and become lost in blowing snow.

Know your route when you travel, and plan for weather conditions or terrain that might unexpectedly become dangerous. Be sure someone knows of your travel plans.


If you are on a well-traveled road, show a “trouble” signal. Attract rescuers by flashing hazard lights or hanging a bright cloth from the radio antenna or window.

If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill from the air—about 10 minutes each hour. Conserve gasoline. But be careful when running the engine, too: Do not let the exhaust pipe get clogged with snow. Blockage can cause deadly carbon monoxide to leak into the passenger compartment. You can also use a small, votive-type candle in a fire-safe, stable container to raise the temperature inside a car. In either case, open a window slightly on the side away from the wind to provide ventilation. Occasionally, breathe deeply, and rapidly move your arms and legs to increase blood circulation.


The inside of a car can protect you for a time. At night, keep the inside dome light on to make it easier for rescuers to see the car in the dark. The dome light uses only a small amount of current from the battery; however, extended use could drain the battery entirely. If you are stuck for more than six hours and the cold in the car becomes unbearable, consider moving into a snow hole or snow shelter. The temperature inside a snow hole can be 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the air outside the hole.


Scouts are known for their resourcefulness. Look around and make do with what you have. You could use the flat, round top of the air filter in your car for digging in the snow. Use a cushion from the car as a seat in your snow hole, or cut branches from a tree to sit on. (You will need a seat so that you are not sitting in melted snow; stay as dry as possible.) As soon as you can, build a fire outside (not in the shelter). Use the car’s hubcaps as a fireplace, or place logs on top of the snow. You might be able to start a fire with the car’s lighter. For tinder, tear up road maps or other paper you might have in the car, or strip fabric from the car seats. If you do not have fuel for a fire, look through the car again. Wooden handles of tools will burn, for example.

Make three small fires arranged in a triangle as a distress signal. If you cannot build a fire, stamp out a big “SOS” in the snow near your car. Make the letters deep so that shadows are cast into them or fill the letters with contrasting material, such as greenery, dead branches, or dirt, to make them easier for rescuers to see.


If you are stuck with your car for more than a day, finding food and water could become a problem. You can get water by melting clean snow. If you do not have any food, work slowly and rest often. In extremely cold weather, if you do not rest you will tire quickly and become exhausted.

Did You Know?

If you get trapped somewhere while traveling, remember that your car horn can alert rescuers as far as a mile downwind. However, the horn will not work if the battery is dead.


The leading killer of Scout-age youth is motor vehicle accidents. The more you can do to recognize potentially hazardous conditions that might contribute to an accident, the more you can help save lives.

You may have heard that the universal distress signal “SOS” stands for “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls,” but it turns out that this is just a myth. The Berlin Radiotelegraphic Conference of 1906 adopted SOS as a danger signal merely because the Morse code for SOS—three dots, three dashes, and three dots—was felt to be unmistakable when relayed by telegraph. These days, “three” can mean “distress” in other contexts, too, such as lighting three fires to indicate distress or arranging three piles of debris that searchers might see.



All deserts are dry, but deserts are not always hot. For example, salt flats in Utah that reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day in summer will fall below freezing at night during the winter. Although the most common concern is dealing with excess heat, those stranded in deserts may also have to deal with low temperatures at night. If your car stalls in a hot desert, stay with the car but not in it.


If you are on a regularly traveled road, someone will come by soon to help. Raise the hood and trunk (but disconnect the indicator lights during the day to avoid draining the battery) to indicate you need help. At night, attract attention any way you can: Set out an emergency light, turn on the car flashers or turn signals, leave the inside dome light on, or if possible build a fire outside.


If you are stalled in a remote desert area, stay with the car. Sit in its shade on something, such as a car seat, that keeps you a foot or so off the ground. (The temperature of the ground can be 30 degrees higher than the air a foot off the ground.) Stay calm and think; do not act hastily. You will need water and you will need to protect yourself from the heat. Stay covered; do not throw away clothing, no matter how hot it gets. Clothing will guard against the sun, blowing sand, and insects.


Water is the most important thing. Know these potential sources of water:

  • Dew. If the night is cold, in the morning you can use a sponge or small cloth to collect
    the dew that forms on cars, rocks, and plants. 

  • Water holes. In the evening and early morning, listen for birds and watch for
    circling flocks and freshly made animal tracks. Follow the birds or tracks—they could
    lead to water. Caution: Salty or soapy-tasting water may be poisonous.


If you must walk in search of things, leave a note at the car telling anyone who arrives the direction you went. Normally, you should not leave a car unless you know for certain that help is close by in a given direction. Walk only after sundown or in the early dawn if you need light to see. Rest during the day in any shade that you can find or make.


Use signal fires to attract the attention of planes or other desert travelers. A burning car tire, deflated to prevent explosion, should be visible during the day due to the smoke. Use the car mirror as a signaling device as described in the “Plane Signals” section later in this pamphlet. Spell out “SOS” on the ground in letters at least 10 feet wide with rocks, rags, or strips of car seat covering—anything you can find that contrasts in color with the ground.


Many of the activities Scouting has to offer take place in the great outdoors. Here are some things to think about to keep your adventures as safe as possible and to be prepared should an emergency arise.

Did You Know?

If you find water, drink it. Do not ration it. Trying to make water last longer does more harm than good. Do not eat food unless you drink at least a pint of water a day or unless the food is water-laden, such as fruit and some vegetables.


Try to anticipate and recognize what hazards you might face before you leave on a wilderness trip by studying a map of the area where you are going. Know the terrain. Take the map with you, and always tell someone where and when you are going and when you will return. The best way to help prevent injury or loss of life on a mountain or backcountry trip (or any hiking, for that matter) is to follow the “rule of three”: Do not travel alone; one buddy is good, but three or more hiking together is better. If one person gets hurt, the second can perform first aid and stay with the victim while the third can get


help. Following this guideline also will reduce your chances of getting lost.


Carry a first-aid kit and a survival kit that has items such as hooks and lines, emergency food, and a plastic bag for water storage. Remember to bring basic hiking necessities, such as a pocketknife, compass (or a GPS with fresh batteries), matches (stored in a waterproof container), and adhesive bandages.

Watch Where You Step

Do not travel after dark, and stay on trails. A hiker in Washington left a marked trail on Mount Si to follow a mountain goat. But mountain goats are better at off-trail hiking than people are. This hiker jumped to a ledge he could not escape and had to spend the night there— along with a lot of hungry mosquitoes.

Stay on Your Feet

In the mountains or backcountry, the most common accident is a fall. Try to prevent falls. When going down a hill or a steep bank, control your center of gravity; that is, lean back slightly. If you fall, you will fall backward, and then you will be in a sliding, rather than a tumbling, position. Leaning forward and grabbing branches or other objects for support is not always a good idea. The support might give way, roll, break, or slide— and then you will tumble forward. In rough-going areas, try to anticipate where you might fall. That way, if you do fall, you will at least fall in the safest place and manner.


Stay off fallen timber, which can be wet and mossy, making for a slippery surface. Likewise, wet rocks can be slick and dangerous. Even if you do not fall over, you can twist an ankle. If you must wade across a stream, study it carefully first, finding the safest place to cross. Carry a staff (hiker’s pole), which you can use for support if the current is swift. Test the bottom of the stream with the pole as you cross. Loosen pack straps before you cross so that you can get the pack off easily if trouble develops.

Be Weather Alert

Watch for lightning and thunderstorms. Take shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees, ideally away from the direction of the approaching storm. Do not stand under a tall, isolated tree in an open space. Avoid bodies of water and metal fences, hiking poles, climbing hardware, and tent poles, and anything else that might conduct electricity. If you are in a meadow, head for the lowest spot of the nearest forest cover. If you get caught in a storm where you cannot quickly get to a low, safe spot, be a short target: Until the storm passes, crouch low with only the soles of your shoes (tiptoe if possible) touching the ground. Place your hands over your ears. Do not lie flat on the ground—which will make you a larger target—and do not wear a baseball cap (the button on top probably is made of metal). Spread your group out 100 feet from each other if possible.


Do not camp in a gully or dry streambed. A thunderstorm or flash flood miles away could send a rushing torrent of water through your campsite.



If you become lost or marooned with a group, such as your patrol, be a leader. Stay calm and help others stay calm. Tell everyone to sit and think. Clear an area on the ground and “build” a map to help you estimate where you are. Mark landmarks that you can see. Try to reconstruct your trail on the map. How long have you been gone? Can anyone remember when and where he last saw something familiar—a scarred tree? a creek or pond? a fence? Put it on your map. Discuss every detail about your hike that anyone can remember. Rest and consider your options. Usually, it is best to stay put. People searching can find you easier than you can find them. If you must travel and everyone agrees to it, walk in a straight line. Use the sighting system: If you can get to a high point safely, go up and look over the land below, find a familiar landmark, and head toward it. Leave a note or otherwise indicate your direction of travel for searchers. If there is any possibility that you will have to stay out overnight, find a good campsite before dusk. Do not travel at night, except in the desert with good visibility.

Plane Signals

If you are lost, you might need to get the attention of a rescue plane or helicopter. Fire and smoke get a pilot’s attention; however, also be aware of the hazards of wildfire in your area if a drought situation is in effect.


Three fires arranged in a triangle convey a universal SOS. Build fires in an open area where

they can be seen. Keep a pile of fuel (brush, twigs, leaves, or grass) nearby so that you can

quickly make the fires bigger. If you are short of fuel, lay a fire and be ready to light it when

you first hear a plane. During the day, use green wood, damp leaves, rubber, or oil to

produce visible smoke. Smoky fires show wind direction. This could be helpful to a pilot who

has a chance to land. You can help prevent getting lost by always using the buddy system when you hike and knowing how to use a map and compass.

With a smoky fire, you can send smoke signals. Cut off the smoke with a wet blanket (or something similar). Release it, but quickly cut off the smoke again. Do this so that you send three short puffs in a row. Pause and repeat. In the daytime, a ground-level “sign language” of symbols can attract an aircraft and communicate with the pilot. Because geometric figures are not found in nature, symbols such as squares and triangles will attract attention. For instance, an arrow is the ground-to-air visual code meaning “proceeding in this direction.” Make the symbols with strips of cloth, rocks, or branches. Use any available material that will contrast with the background that it is placed on.


Make the symbols big—10 feet wide or wider—in an open area where

they can be seen. You can also stamp the symbols in sand or snow. If

possible, line the bottom of such tracks with something dark, such as leafy

green branches (or powdered or rehydrated fruit drink in snowy conditions).

Pile sand or snow on one side so that the sun will throw a shadow onto the

symbols. When in doubt, use the international distress symbol, SOS.


One way to get the attention of a rescue aircraft is to use a mirror to aim a

beam of reflected sunlight at the plane or helicopter (see the sidebar on

signaling with a mirror). If you do not see or hear an aircraft, sweep the

horizon with your reflected sunbeam anyway. This tiny flash of light can be

seen for 50 or more miles. You can make a signaling mirror using an empty

can. Cut out the lid or bottom of the can, and you are ready to signal. You

can also use the blade of your knife. If you are lost and have none of this

equipment, you could use a smooth, wet piece of wood, a flat rock, or

anything that will reflect some sunlight.

When you hear a helicopter or low-flying search plane, move to a safe place in an open area and lie on the ground on your back with your arms and legs spread. This will provide an excellent opportunity for detection by the air crew. You can also “talk” to a pilot with body signals. Most pilots know this universal language. Learn the 11 standard body signals illustrated in this chapter. Know how to “read” a pilot, too. A pilot says “yes” by dipping the nose of the plane up and down. Zigzagging—or fishtailing—the plane means “no.” If your message has been understood, the pilot will rock the plane from side to side or flash green lights with a signal lamp. If your message has not been understood, the pilot will make a complete right-hand circle or flash red lights.


Search and Rescue

In places where people get lost frequently, such as in mountainous or wilderness areas, volunteer search-and-rescue teams have formed to meet the need. Searchers in helicopters and on horseback, as well as trained dogs, all try to find lost people. In some places, Scouts and Venturers have specialized search-and-rescue activities and participate actively in operations. If your troop is called to be part of a search-and-rescue team, you must be familiar with basic search tactics and detection methods.

Signaling with a Mirror

Signaling with a mirror can save your life, but you must know how to aim it effectively toward your rescuer. Hold the mirror close to your face and toward your signal target. Hold your other hand outstretched in front of you as a sight line and make a V with your fingers. Move the mirror so that the sun reflects from the mirror onto your outstretched hand and through the V, and then move your hand and the mirror together and point them toward your target.

Take time to practice signaling with a mirror. Try it with a buddy in the distance as your “rescuer” and signal to each other.

Did You Know?

Three of anything—visual or audible—repeated at regular intervals is a distress signal. The distress answer is two of anything.

body signals.PNG

Search Tactics

A search director, such as a deputy sheriff or other official, handles the overall planning for a search. A basic search plan follows something similar to this five-step sequence.

  1. Preliminary. Searchers receive their assignments and information about the lost person (or people): Where was the person last seen? Did he have wilderness experience? How was the person dressed, and what equipment did he have?

  2. Confinement. It is important to keep the lost person from wandering outside of a known area. Barricades and string lines (for stanchions) might be used. Searchers may be assigned to block roads or trails.

  3. Detection. Searchers need to discover anything within the confined area that might help find the lost person. See the “Lost-Person Search Method” sidebar for one kind of structured grid sweep of an area.

  4. Tracking. Dogs sometimes are used to track a lost person. Skilled searchers can follow footprints and know how to read other tracking signs.

  5. Evacuation. When found, the lost person needs to be treated for possible injuries and evacuated.

A simple search might involve a large number of small teams checking natural and artificial features in an area. This could include trail checks (hiking a trail to see whether the lost person is walking it), ridge-running (taking a quick route along high ground to search valleys from above), and checking buildings, drainage areas, caves, or other potential hazards. The emphasis is on making a quick check of the most obvious places a person may get lost.


An avalanche is a mass of snow, earth, rock, or other material that sweeps down a mountainside or precipice. They are sometimes called snowslides, rockslides, or landslides. The best way to protect yourself against any kind of avalanche is to avoid climbing or skiing in dangerous high country without an experienced guide. Experienced climbers and hikers know how to identify and avoid places where snowslides or rockslides might start.


  • Never throw rocks in high country, or worse yet, push boulders off a high cliff. Falling rocks will hit and loosen other rocks. Before you know it, a rockslide could be tumbling down.

  • Loose rocks are most likely to fall when early morning sun melts any ice that held the rocks in place on rocky slopes.

  • Heavy rains can weaken the soil that cements rocks together. During rainstorms, do not hike, stand, or camp in the fall zone of a cliff.

  • Know the different types of rock. For example, shale breaks apart more easily than other types of rock.

  • You will often find piles of rocks, called talus, at the base of cliffs. Avoid talus slopes when you can. If you must cross one, do so carefully. Do not walk directly behind or below someone else.

  • As with all backcountry hiking, stick to trails. Do not take shortcuts or cut across switchbacks.



According to FEMA, each year about 19 people die in snowslides (avalanches) in the United States. As skiing and snowmobiling become more popular in many areas, snowslides will become more common—unless people take precautions.

  • Stay out of the mountains after a heavy snowfall or strong, windy storm. Let the snow settle for at least three days. Check state and local avalanche advisories before going out. The USDA Forest Service can help.

  • Stay off slopes that face the sun, which will melt the snow and make it more dangerous. Sounds that suggest cracking or settling of the snowpack may indicate danger.

  • If there is high avalanche risk, avoid the backcountry. Within ski area boundaries, the snowpack is carefully managed.

  • Avoid the bottoms of narrow valleys, ravines, and gulches, especially if they are below steep slopes.

  • Always use the buddy system, and carry a shovel, snow probe, and transceiver for communication. You can learn to judge the “character” of snow with the probe.

If you find yourself on a snow slab or other avalanche danger spot, go straight downward or upward—not across. Move one person at a time. If you are likely to fall on your skis, it would be safer to remove them and not fall. If you are caught in a snowslide, try to get your skis off. When the snow hits, move your arms and legs in a swimming motion to keep yourself upright, and try to keep your head above the surface. As the avalanche settles, use every bit of strength you have to force your head to the surface. Push away any accumulation of snow from your face to form an air pocket that will allow you to breathe. If you see others caught in a snowslide, watch carefully so you will be able to tell rescuers the general area where they disappeared. Also, keep an eye out for a second slide, which often follows the first.


The two main causes of boating injuries are:

  • Not having Coast Guard–approved life jackets for everyone on board a boat—and not wearing them.

  • Not keeping a proper lookout; that is, not paying attention to where the boat is going and then ramming into something.


If your family has a boat, check the equipment and make sure it and the boat are in good repair and working order. Be sure to carry a waterproof emergency locator beacon or a cell phone secured in a waterproof bag. If you have a powerboat, carry fire extinguishers, proper lights, an emergency paddle, and an anchor. Chain outboard motors to the boat. Know the boat’s capacity—the number of people it can carry safely—which is shown on a metal plate on the boat. Do not take more people aboard than the stated capacity. If you must move around in a boat, stay low and in the center and hold on to the sides. If your boat capsizes, hang on to it unless it is on fire. Wait for help. Do not try to swim for land. It is easier for rescuers to see a capsized boat than a lone swimmer. In cold water, huddle together in or on the capsized boat to delay hypothermia.


Observe the rules for water travel. Do not run a motorboat through or close to a swimming area. When you approach a landing place, slow to a speed less than 5 mph. Keep an eye on the weather. Head for home—or the nearest place where you can tie up—before a storm reaches you.


Know standard distress codes, calls, and signals so that you can give the proper call in case of an accident. If you have a radiotelephone, you can send official distress calls, such as the standard “Mayday.” Repeat the call three times, followed by the boat’s call letters, name, and position, and describe the trouble. You can also:

  • Rapidly and repeatedly sound your horn, bell, or whistle.

  • Fly your flag upside down.

  • Blink your white range light or a spotlight using the standard SOS signal (three short blinks, three longer blinks, three short blinks).

  • Fly an orange emergency signal flag (it shows an emblem of a black circle and square on it) or send up a flare.


At the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, meteorologists keep a careful eye on the nation’s weather. The center issues watches to local National Weather Service forecast centers when severe weather is possible. When severe weather or dangerous conditions are occurring, the local forecast office issues warnings, which are announced on NOAA Weather Radio as well as on commercial radio and television. Watches and warnings are issued for weather events such as winter storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, high winds, and flash floods. Advisories are issued when weather might cause serious or dangerous conditions. A common advisory may alert motorists to hazards, such as slippery roads during wintry weather, or boaters of rough water during high winds, or people with health considerations during heat waves. Meteorologists rely on weather radar to provide information about developing storms. The National Weather Service has installed Doppler radar stations throughout the country that allow them to issue lifesaving warnings before severe weather hits.


If you live along a river or any natural drainage system, floods can be a threat even if it is not raining in your area. Your family should learn the safest route from your home to high, safe ground in case you must leave your home (evacuate). Your local Red Cross chapter will be able to give you background information about the flooding that has occurred in your area. Find out whether your home is above or below flood stage level. Flood watches and warnings are 


transmitted by radio, television, loudspeakers, and sirens. Know what the warning system is in your area. When a warning sounds, follow instructions. If you are told to evacuate, do so using recommended roads. Know your community flood evacuation plan. Before a flood happens, you can do things to help prevent injury to yourself and others and reduce property loss. Store drinking water in as many portable containers as you can (but not in juice or milk jugs or cartons) in case water service is cut off. You could even fill bathtubs and sinks. Have emergency supplies ready and get them to the highest inside part of your home. If you must evacuate, take these supplies with you.

During a flood watch, you can take other preventive measures—if you have time.

  • Bring outside equipment indoors or tie it down. Garbage cans, outdoor grills, lawn furniture, tools— anything that floats or can be carried along by floodwaters—can be a danger.

  • Sandbags can help keep floodwaters from your home, but do not pile them up right against the foundation of the house. It is better if water can get into the cellar. This will equalize the water pressure inside and outside the foundation and help prevent damage to the foundation and the house.

  • Unplug electrical appliances and equipment. Get your parents to turn off the gas running to gas appliances. Remember that a professional must turn the gas back on. If there is time, help them move furniture to high points in your home.


If you are caught in your home by rising waters, move to the second floor if you have one, and then to the roof, if necessary. Take your emergency supplies, including warm clothing, flashlights, and a battery-operated radio, and wait for help. Do not try to swim for safety. Rescue teams will be looking for you, and floodwaters can be deadly.


If you are advised to evacuate by car, do so immediately. If you wait, you could become trapped by flooded roads. Do not drive over flooded roads. Parts of the roadway might already be washed out. If your car stalls, abandon it. Floodwaters can rise rapidly and sweep away a car—and whoever is in it. When floodwaters go down, throw away food, even canned goods, that came in contact with floodwaters because the water may have been contaminated. If your home has its own water well, have the water tested before anyone drinks it. Make sure anything electrical is completely dry before you use it.


Tornadoes can lift a house off of its foundation and throw cars up into the air.

Even the most well-built home can be leveled. So recognition and preparation

are very important aspects of tornado emergency preparedness. In some

states, tornadoes happen every year. Find out how often they occur where

you live.

Tornadoes happen most often between April and June, but can occur any
time of the year. Be prepared by paying attention to the weather; know and

look for the signs of severe weather and a potential tornado:

  • Topsy-turvy clouds often appear, sometimes bulging downward instead of

  • It may rain heavily or hail before a tornado.

  • Skies may take on a dark greenish color.

  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die and everything may become very still.

Everyone in your family should know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch means that tornadoes are possible and conditions are favorable for them to develop. A warning means that one has been sighted. During a tornado warning, you and your family should move to your preplanned place of safety. At home, this should be in a basement or storm cellar, or a windowless, interior room (even a closet) on the lowest floor of your home. Stay away from windows; windblown objects may break the glass. Take cover under a piece of heavy furniture and hold on to it. Cover yourself with blankets or pillows if you can. If you live in a mobile or manufactured home, do not stay there. Get out and find shelter.


If you live in an area that has a lot of tornadoes, your school will have plans for what to do during a tornado warning. The safest place is in an interior hallway on the lowest floor. Auditoriums, cafeterias, or gyms that have big, poorly supported roofs are not safe. This is good advice for any public place, too: Go to an interior hallway or restroom. Stay away from glass. If you are in a car during a tornado warning, get out of the car and find shelter in a building. If there is no building or no time to get to one, lie flat in a nearby ditch, gully, or depression away from the car. Shield your head with your hands and arms. Never try to drive away from a tornado. They can do zigzags, figure eights, and U-turns—you might suddenly find yourself driving straight into one. After a tornado, be prepared with your first-aid skills and your duty to help other people.


The central part of our country—from northern Minnesota and North Dakota to southern Texas and Louisiana—is sometimes called “Tornado Alley.” Generally, this is the area where dangerous tornadoes are most likely to happen, although tornadoes have been reported in all 50 states. According to a map from FEMA, the number of tornadoes recorded per 1,000 square miles is highest in north Texas and central Oklahoma, with other danger spots in southern Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.


Anyone living in a hurricane-prone area should be prepared for hurricanes. Be

weather alert during hurricane season; listen to local weather reports and NOAA

Weather Radio for hurricane progress reports. A hurricane watch is issued when

there might be a hurricane within 24 to 36 hours. A warning is more serious and

is issued when hurricane conditions (winds of 74 miles per hour or faster, and

high water and rough seas) are expected in 24 hours or less. Plan with your

family what to do during hurricane watches or warnings. Take patio furniture,

tools, trash cans, and loose lumber inside the house or tie them down. Have an adult shut off electricity and water. Unless authorities advise differently, leave natural gas service turned on because it may take many weeks for a professional to restore gas service after a major storm, and you may need gas for heating and cooking after the storm. Store a supply of safe drinking water. Park your car in the garage or at least away from trees and poles. If there is time, help your parents close and board up all the windows of your home. Do not leave any windows uncovered because the direction of hurricane winds changes as the storm passes overhead, threatening all sides of the home.

You might have to leave your home, especially if you live in a coastal area. If local emergency managers—by means of radio, television, or loudspeaker—advise people in your community to evacuate, go where you are told and travel only on roads they tell you to use. Government and disaster-relief agency officials will tell you where to get emergency housing and food. Top off fuel tanks well in advance of a storm moving your way. Fueling during an evacuation may be time-consuming and difficult. Be aware that traffic signal outages can occur when the power is out. If you are camping along or near a seashore when a hurricane watch is issued, immediately strike camp and leave the area.

Family members sometimes become separated during an emergency. Have a plan for getting the family back together. In case of fire in your home, that might be as simple as meeting outside by a big tree or in the neighbor’s front yard. But for other disaster situations, FEMA suggests asking an out-of-town relative or friend to be the family contact. Everyone in your family should know that person’s name, address, and phone number. It is often easier to call long distance after an emergency.


Pets and Disaster 

Be prepared to protect your pets when disaster

strikes and consider your pets in your family’s

disaster plan. If that includes plans for possible

evacuation, plan to evacuate your pets, too. Leaving

them behind, even if you think they are in a safe

place, is likely to result in their being lost, injured,

or worse.

  • Have a safe place to take your pets. It may be difficult to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Check boarding facilities, animal shelters, friends and relatives, and even hotels and motels. Most Red Cross shelters are unable to accept pets due to state health and safety regulations. However, pet shelters may be co-located near Red Cross facilities and other shelters for people. 

  • Have a portable pet disaster supplies kit that includes items such as medications, leashes or carriers, current photos in case your pet gets lost, food and water, bowls, bed, and toys. Make sure you have identification on your pets. In addition to your own phone number, you might want to have the phone number of a friend or relative living outside your immediate area included on the tag.



Some emergency situations can occur when you are away from home and far from your emergency kit and other crisis tools. If you are alert and prepared when out in public, you will be able to respond appropriately if faced with an emergency situation. Do not panic, but remain calm and clear-headed.



Find out how earthquake-prone your area is and know how to be prepared. Additionally, if

you live near the coast you should be aware that an earthquake can trigger a tsunami. When

an earthquake strikes, stay calm. Do not run. If you are indoors, drop to the floor, cover

yourself with something (such as blankets or pillows) for protection from falling glass and

other objects, and hold on to something sturdy. Get beneath the nearest table, bench, desk,

or other strong overhead support. If there is no sturdy furniture nearby, sit against an inside wall,

preferably in the basement. Stay away from windows and outside doors. If other people are in the building and can hear you, shout instructions to them so that they know what to do, too.


If you are outdoors, stay there. Do not run near buildings. Head for the nearest vacant lot or the widest street. You should be out in the open where you will not get hit by falling wires, crumbling chimneys, or collapsing walls. After the tremors are over, if your parents are at home, get them to check for leaking gas. If you smell gas, open the windows and doors and then get out of the house. Call 911 or the gas company from a neighbor’s phone.

If you are in a car during an earthquake, the driver should pull off the road and park in the open, away from power lines and wires. Stay in the car until the tremors are over. When you continue, drive slowly and help the driver watch for fallen objects, downed power lines, and broken and otherwise dangerous roadways. Aftershocks are smaller quakes that can occur in the hours, days, and weeks after a larger earthquake. Be prepared for them as for an earthquake. They can be strong enough to knock down anything that the main tremors may have weakened.



If you eat food or drink beverages that are contaminated with harmful bacteria, toxins, or

parasites, you could get a food-borne disease, or food poisoning. Common symptoms are

nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. About 250 different food-borne

diseases have been identified; such diseases can be a big problem, but recognizing where

and how the problems might occur and taking some simple precautions can go a long way in avoiding an emergency situation.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests five simple precautions that you can take to help reduce the risk of getting a food-borne disease.

  • Cook food thoroughly, particularly meat, poultry, and eggs.

  • Separate your food to avoid cross-contamination, or bacteria moving from one food or place to another. Wash your hands after you touch raw meat; wash utensils and cutting boards, too. Store food items separately.

  • Chill leftovers right away. Bacteria grow quickly at room temperature. Keep cold cuts, meat, and dairy products covered and refrigerated. Discard any food that has been left in an open container and unrefrigerated for a long time. Cooking that food and/or chilling it will not make it safe to eat.

  • Clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Wash your hands with soap and water before handling food.

  • Report any suspected food-borne illness to your local health department. If agencies designed to help in emergency situations do not know about when and how such situations arise, they will not be able to develop ways to prevent future emergencies.


Botulism, caused by a toxin secreted from a bacterium, is the most serious form of food

poisoning. People usually become infected by eating home-preserved food that was not

properly washed and preserved. Throw away any foods you think might be spoiled. If you

find yourself in an emergency situation and you must eat home-canned food that may be

spoiled, boil the food for at least 15 minutes. This process will make the toxin completely



Food and Camping

Campers can easily get food-borne diseases—and having cramps, nausea, or diarrhea when you are in the wilderness is not something anyone wants. Here are some tips for safe camp food practices.

  • Plan meals so that you do not have any leftovers; if you do have leftovers, do not eat them. Throw them away or pack them out.

  • Plan meals that require as little chilled food as possible. If you have a camp cooler, do not “stretch” the ice—get more when you need it so food stays cold enough.

  • If food has been at room temperature for more than two hours, do not eat it.

  • Be absolutely certain that any edible foods you collect near camp are safe to eat. With many plants, such as mushrooms, only trained experts can identify which ones are safe.


About 100 nuclear power plants currently operate in the United States. While there have been few nuclear accidents at these plants, an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered a serious accident at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. A 12-mile exclusion zone around the plant displaced 78,000 people. During an emergency at a nuclear facility, radiation can be released that is dangerous to people near the plant.


State and local governments have preparedness plans for areas in a 10-mile radius and 50-mile radius from all nuclear power plants. You can get emergency information from the power company that operates the plant or from the local Office of Emergency Management. You and your family should have and be familiar with this information.


You also can become familiar with the warning systems that will be in place. These could include sirens, alerts on radios, or route alerting (the use of mobile public address systems) to notify the public. If sirens are used in your area, find out when they will be tested so that you can hear what they sound like and how well you can hear them from your home. (This also is good advice for warning sirens used for other emergencies such as tornadoes or dangerous thunderstorms.)

Learn about the emergency plans at places where your family members might be, such as schools, child care centers, and nursing homes. Learn where people are supposed to go if there is an evacuation. Be prepared to evacuate with emergency supplies, as you might be for another emergency.


There are four levels of emergency at nuclear power plants:

  • A notification of an unusual event is the least serious. Something unusual or unexpected has happened at the plant, but the public does not have to do anything special. Emergency officials are notified.

  • An alert means that something has happened to reduce plant safety, but all the backup systems are still working and no one is in danger.

  • A site area emergency is more serious. Small amounts of radiation might be released into the air or water, but these levels are still expected to be safe outside the boundaries of the plant.

  • A general emergency is the most serious problem. Radiation could leak outside the plant and off the plant site. Sirens will be sounded or other alert systems used. You should listen to the radio and watch television. Local authorities will provide information and instructions. Follow their instructions promptly— you may be advised to evacuate or take shelter.


If you are told to stay indoors, close doors, windows, and chimney dampers. You want to keep outside air from getting in. Turn off forced-air heating or air-conditioning. Put food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. If you can, go to the basement or another underground area. Stay there until you are told it is safe to leave. Do not use the telephone unless absolutely necessary; all lines will be needed for emergency calls.


If you are told to evacuate, stay calm. You will have plenty of time to leave. When outdoors, cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief. When you go back indoors, change your clothes a