You are your own first responder during a disaster such as a hurricane or winter storm.
And no one cares more about you than you do.
In little more than a year, Virginians have been battered by tornadoes, a powerful earthquake, a hurricane, a tropical storm and a severe "derecho" windstorm.
Those natural disasters demonstrated again that people need to be smart about the risks they face and able to cope on their own for days without electricity, public water supplies, grocery stores and gas stations.
Fall hurricane season is upon us, and winter storms are just around the corner.
When a disaster happens, it spawns a host of other problems.
Power goes out far and wide in a major disaster, and modern life — automated teller machines, gas pumps, refrigerators, computers, streetlights — runs largely on electricity.
Ice storms and windstorms typically knock trees down — and across roads.
"When the roads are blocked and you're hurt, the ambulance is not going to be able to get to you," said Michael Cline, the state's coordinator of emergency management.
But having good information on what's happening, planning ahead and having basic emergency supplies on hand can mean the difference between inconvenience and desperation, even if you have to evacuate for safety's sake.
What you don't know can hurt you.
Listening to the best, most up-to-date local information from emergency officials is critical, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said.
Local media will provide instructions on evacuation orders and routes, shelters and weather warnings, but make sure your battery-powered radio is working in case the electricity goes out. And keep extra batteries on hand.
Also make sure you have fully charged your cellphone or smartphone before a storm hits.
While you're preparing, get a NOAA weather radio so that you can hear warnings directly from the National Weather Service.
Assess the risks
Knowing the risks you face will shape your plan, and overwhelmingly the greatest killer in Virginia's natural disasters is flooding, Cline said.
"Is your area subject to flooding?" he said. "If you don't have that water threat, then you normally don't need to think about evacuating."
Flood risk maps are available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In windstorms, your home is probably as safe as any other shelter, Cline said, with the exception of mobile homes.
According to the American Meteorological Society, mobile home residents are injured or killed in disproportionate numbers from high-wind events.
Mobile-home dwellers need to be prepared to evacuate immediately and seek robust shelter in the event of a tornado, severe thunderstorm or high-wind warning, the weather group said.
Plan with your family the types of disasters and emergencies that are most likely to happen and what to do in each case.
For instance, if a flash flood could hit, plan to move immediately to higher ground.
If a tornado's bearing down, take shelter in the basement or an interior space on the lowest floor. And keep your vehicle's gas tank filled, just in case you have to evacuate.
Decide now where you and your family will meet in case you can't return home. Keep a record of the location and its phone number, as well as the phone numbers of your family, with you.
After a disaster, telecommunications can be disrupted. It's often easier to call long distance than to get a local call to connect, state officials said.
Ask an out-of-town friend or relative to be your family's emergency contact, state Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Terrie Suit recommended.
Then all the family members should call that person in an emergency to check in. "It calms people down," Suit said.
Find out who in your neighborhood has specialized equipment like a power generator or expertise such as medical knowledge that might help in a crisis — better yet, take a first-aid class so that you'll know how to help yourself and others.
However, Suit said, "don't run generators in your garage." Deadly carbon monoxide from their exhaust can flow into your home with fatal results.
"We have deaths every year from that," Cline said.
Take out some insurance
Even when the situation merits a federal presidential disaster declaration, Cline said, "FEMA doesn't come back in and rebuild homes."
Once a year, recommends State Farm Insurance agent Mike Fisher in Henrico County, sit down with your insurance agent and review your policy to ensure it fully covers your home and property.
Just an inch of water in your home can do $8,000 worth of damage, Cline said, and if the water reaches electric sockets, the cost goes up enormously.
However, homeowners insurance does not cover floods, according to FEMA. In most cases, the only aid disaster victims may qualify for is a loan, and that has to be repaid — with interest.
But federal flood insurance, available through regular insurance agents, will reimburse you for flood damage to your home and property.
Another insurance tip is to make visual or written records of your possessions to help you claim losses in the event of damage.
Include photographs of cars, boats and recreational vehicles — even your landscaping — in the records, and get professional appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork or other items that might be difficult to evaluate.
Preparing your business
Businesses also need to prepare for the impact of natural disasters, as well as man-made and technology-related hazards. To get your business ready:
Identify regulations that set minimum requirements for your operation.
Assess the risks and their impact on your business.
Find ways to prevent hazards and reduce risks.
Make sure your plan addresses emergency response, crisis communications, business continuity, information technology, employee assistance, and resource and
Test your plan, and make changes as needed.
Those with special needs
People who are elderly or have disabilities should create a support team that can help them during a disaster.
Make sure all those involved — family, friends, others — know how you will evacuate your home or workplace, where you will go in case of an emergency, and have practiced the plan with you.
Give someone in your support network a key to your home and ensure they know where your emergency supplies are.
Be sure you have enough medicine for at least a week, maybe longer, on your own. Those items could include hearing aid and wheelchair batteries, oxygen and even extra eyeglasses.
Teach people who will help you how to use any lifesaving equipment, administer medicine or operate your wheelchair.
Have an alert system with a visual signal for hearing-impaired people.
Contact your local emergency manager ahead of time for advice on what to do for those needing special help or transportation during an evacuation.
Wear a medical alert tag or bracelet identifying your disability.
Know the location and availability of several facilities if you rely on dialysis or other life-sustaining treatment, and contact numbers for your pharmacy and medical supply providers.
Understand how to store prescription drugs such as heart and blood pressure medications or insulin.
Keep copies of important documents in your emergency supply kit, including medical insurance and Medicare cards.
Provide the power company with a list of the life-support equipment you or members of your household require.
Virginia Department of Emergency Management