Places Please: Get Better Prepared by Getting Organized

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A person uses their smartphone to take a photo of a paper document.

January is Get Organized Month.

A new year is a popular time to make resolutions, like to get more exercise or quit tobacco. Another common one is to get organized.

Getting organized can help you prepare for emergencies and stay calm in stressful and time-sensitive situations, like an evacuation. Here are a few ways to get organized and improve your emergency preparedness at the same time.

Digitize to Minimize

Getting organized can require you to minimize. A good way to minimize paperwork and paper items, like family photos, is to digitize them. Collect and take steps to protect documents, like insurance cards and medical and vital records before an emergency.

Saving digital duplicates of original documents makes it easier to share and access the information in the documents, preserves the original (handling a document can damage it), and ensures that you have a backup in case the original is destroyed.

Here are some tips on how to get organized by going digital.

  1. Sort paperwork and paper items to identify those items you want to scan or photograph and those you can safely throw away. Do not discard originals of important paperwork because digital files have preservation risks and can get lost.(1)
  2. Use consistent and descriptive language to name your digital files and folders to make it easier to find the information later.(2)
  3. Backup your files. Save a copy on your computer, a copy to an external hard drive, and a copy to a secure cloud service.(3)

Get squared away

People in South Central Pennsylvania have a saying, “redd up.” It means to tidy up or put things in their proper place. The perfect spot for your emergency supplies depends on what they are. Here’s are some categories of supplies and suggestions on where to keep them.

Food

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, such as canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples. Keep food in a dry, cool, dark place, like a basement, that is accessible to your family. Transfer food packaged in boxes or paper cartons to waterproof, airtight containers to it protect it from pests.(4)

Water

Store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days, for drinking and sanitation. Keep your emergency water supply in a place with a constant cool temperature of 50°F to 70°F. Do not store water containers in direct sunlight or in areas where toxic substances, like gasoline or pesticides, are present.(5)

Prescription medications

Keep medicines and vitamins in labeled, child-proof containers. Put the containers in a cool, dry place that does not experience extreme temperature changes or humidity and is up and away and out of children’s reach and sight.(6)

Break it into checklists

Checklists are a way to break large jobs down into smaller chores. They are as useful at home as in the workplace to help you stay on task and limit mistakes. Checklists can help you pack for a trip, grocery shop, and even prepare for emergencies.

Organization experts describe two kinds of checklists. One kind for performing a new task one step at a time for the first time and another for familiar tasks that are second nature.(7)

Read-Do checklists

A Read-Do checklist is often compared to a recipe. It gives step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task. If you were using this kind of checklist to help you stock up on emergency supplies, it would explain the type of supplies you need to stock up on, where to get them, and what to do with them. A checklist for gathering personal needs might say to “store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days, for drinking and sanitation” and go on to provide tips for how and where to store the water.

Do-Confirm checklists

A Do-Confirm checklist is for jobs that are so familiar that you could perform them from memory. This kind of checklist can help you complete the important job of reviewing your supplies every six (6) months (or as the needs of your family change). You should remove, use, and replace any food, water, and other supplies before they expire.

Tips and tricks for staying organized

As if getting organized isn’t difficult enough, there’s the added challenge of finding the motivation to stay that way. Even the most organized people need to work at it. Here are five ideas that can help you remain organized throughout the year:

  1. Use to-do lists to help you plan your days.
  2. Break down difficult or intimidating tasks by using a checklist and calendar. If part of getting organized is to get prepared, the Do1Thing program and the concept of doing “1thing” each month to improve personal preparedness can help.
  3. Know how and where to safely discard expired things, including emergency supplies. Sometimes, we hold on to things because we are not sure how to get rid of them. In the case of prescription medications, follow FDAs advice for how to dispose of unused medicines.
  4. Stick to a schedule. Make time in your schedule to organize.
  5. Create a system for paperwork that comes into your house. Have a plan for how to decide what paperwork to toss, what paperwork to keep, and what paperwork to digitize.

For more suggestions on how to prepare your health for emergencies, visit https://www.cdc.gov/prepyourhealth/.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/digitizing
  2. https://library.stanford.edu/research/data-management-services/data-best-practices/best-practices-file-naming
  3. https://www.npr.org/2020/12/08/944307272/heres-how-tech-experts-recommend-organizing-your-photos
  4. https://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/f&web.pdf
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/creating-storing-emergency-water-supply.html
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/protect/campaign.html
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryancollinseurope/2018/08/02/two-powerful-types-of-checklists-you-must-use/?sh=55db72437044

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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Page last reviewed: April 19, 2021
Page last updated: April 19, 2021