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Andrew Brusso for USA WEEKEND.

10 musts for your ‘go-bag’

The American Red Cross recommends having these emergency supplies on hand:

• Flashlight
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Extra batteries
• First aid kit
• 7-day supply of medications
• Copies of personal and financial documents
• Emergency contact information
• Extra cash
• Maps
• Extra car and house keys

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Take warnings seriously. Stephanie Decker’s legs were crushed as she shielded two of her children when a tornado ripped apart their home in Henryville, Ind., on March 2, 2012.

Two months after both legs were amputated, she was walking. Now Decker, 38, has a foundation (stephaniedecker.com) that works to require insurers to pay for the most sophisticated prosthetics and to get youngsters with artificial limbs playing sports.

“I’m a pretty tough individual,” Decker says. Being a victim “wasn’t an option for me.”

The family had a plan: Head to the basement, where flashlights, blankets and other supplies were ready. But she hadn’t thought to make sure her children wore shoes — her son Dominic, then 8, ran barefoot across debris to get help.

The Deckers now have a weather radio; their new home will have a safe room with a medical kit and enough food and water for a week. “We are going to feel safe and protected,” she says. Decker, who is working on a book and a film, urges having a plan and practicing it. “When you hear sirens, take them seriously.”

On the same day as the Henryville tornado, the Rev. Kenneth Jett and his wife, Jeanene, were in the basement of the United Methodist Church in West Liberty, Ky., when a killer tornado destroyed it. Jett, 63, echoes Decker’s advice. “Take warnings seriously.”

New weather radar helps.

Scientific advances allow more precise forecasting of tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards, but Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross says weather will always be mysterious.

New tools improving meteorologists’ ability to anticipate dangerous weather include sophisticated computers that analyze global patterns — although U.S. computers lag behind Europe’s — and dual polarization radar.

The new radar system, which reads atmospheric conditions vertically as well as horizontally, is being installed across the United States. The National Weather Service says the new radar saved lives by providing more accurate forecasts of a Feb. 10 tornado in Hattiesburg, Miss. Next research challenge: a better way to issue warnings.

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Pet owners, take care.

At the scene of weather disasters, posters of missing animals are a common sight.

Sad separations can be avoided with planning, says Dick Green, disaster response director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He helped rescue pets after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and says that storm led to federal, state and local plans for animals.

Green’s tips: Don’t leave pets behind if you must evacuate your home. Have medicines, records and carriers ready. No cat carrier? Use a pillowcase. “Get those harder-to-grab, harder-to-find animals out” before they hide. Line up a relative or friend willing to house pets if shelters won’t. Use window stickers that tell rescue workers what pets are inside.

Small biz, big deal.

Disasters can deal a paralyzing blow to unprepared small businesses. “They are more vulnerable than large companies,” says Carol Chastang of the Small Business Administration. Her survival tips for entrepreneurs:

• Consider purchasing a business interruption insurance policy.
• Make a list of alternative vendors in case primary ones are hit.
• Have cash on hand.
• Assemble important records, insurance policies, an inventory of assets and contact information for employees, vendors and customers. Keep extra copies off-site.

Free online classes.

Not sure how to handle a disaster’s aftermath? Take a class. Here are two options:

Coursera.org, a university partnership that offers free online courses, has a class that teaches students to write extensive personal preparedness plans. More than 10,000 people have enrolled, says instructor Michael Beach of the University of Pittsburgh. He stresses the need for a positive outlook in crisis. “If you have the wrong attitude and you panic,” he says, “you’re not going to survive.”

• Heather Taracka of Port Townsend, Wash., teaches preparedness and offers a free version of the class at GetEmergencyPrepared.com. She says, “We can’t bury our head in the sand and tell ourselves nothing bad will happen.”

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Sirens save.

They may seem old-fashioned, but Gaffney, S.C., fire chief Jamie Caggiano says sirens are vital. Gaffney just installed three sirens that blast at 130 decibels; the single, old siren was half as loud. He suggests you pair sirens with higher-tech alerts. One option: a new tornado app from the American Red Cross that includes a siren; to get it, call “**redcross” from your smart phone.

In Monroe County, Tenn., Mike Atkins of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative asked the Tennessee Valley Authority to donate 12 old sirens worth at least $5,000 each. They’ll be installed in four towns. “We want to save people’s lives,” he says.

Attention, zombies.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Twitter users what disasters they were prepared for, many said “Zombies.”

Thus was born the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse campaign, which uses a blog, classroom lessons, posters and a graphic novella to spread the word about being prepared for disasters — including the dreaded undead. Check it out at cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm. The target audience is 25 and under, says the CDC’s Maggie Silver. “We wanted to tap into people who weren’t thinking about preparedness.”

Shelter-building boom.

Lethal tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2011 renewed interest in community shelters that house up to 3,000 people, says Ernst Kiesling of the National Storm Shelter Association. He suggests communities consider adding shelters to schools and public buildings.

Prepare kids.

There’s an app for that thanks to San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management. With game-like quizzes (plus emergency contacts and checklists), the app at sfheroes.com lets kids earn points and badges to put on Facebook and Twitter. “The heroism of knowing what to do in any kind of emergency resonates through any age group,” says SF Heroes developer Kristin Hogan. “It takes away fear.”

Judy Keen, who has covered earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards and hurricanes for USA TODAY, grew up in Tornado Alley in southeastern Minnesota and has three weather apps on her iPhone.

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