Editor's note: This piece orginally ran in March 2012.

Last Friday, numerous tornadoes carved a swath of devastating destruction across four states in the south and Midwest. The death toll rose to 39, with dozens more injured. Stephanie Decker lost both her legs while protecting her children as a tornado flattened their home. “I assumed I was safe and I heard the roar like a train, and I heard it behind me, and I knew it was coming,” she later recalled.

For families across the United States, tornadoes and severe storms throughout the spring months can pose a serious threat. But a few simple steps can help individuals to stay equipped for natural disasters. Is your family prepared? Glance through this short checklist for practical tips and resources to build a disaster preparedness kit, learn more about tornado safety, and stay up to date on the best course of action when a storm strikes near you.

1. Get Informed

Take some time to think through your family's disaster preparedness plan. Ready.gov offers numerous resources to help families prepare for tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. The site has published a comprehensive manual detailing how to get prepared – and stay safe – in an emergency situation. “You may need to survive on your own after a disaster,” according to Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness. That's why the 204-page guide exists. “The focus of the content is on how to develop, practice, and maintain emergency plans that reflect what must be done before, during, and after a disaster to protect people and their property,” according to Ready.gov. “Also included is information on how to assemble a disaster supplies kit that contains the food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity for individuals and their families to survive following a disaster in the event they must rely on their own resources.”

2. Make a Plan

Don't wait until disaster strikes to come up with a plan of action. Sit down with your family, and discuss designating a storm shelter and fire escape route, as well as how to handle family communication after a disaster. Make sure that insurance policies and other important records are in a safe place. Plan for shutting off utilities after a disaster, if necessary, and handling pet care if you have animals. Find a time for family members to learn first aid and CPR, and keep certifications up to date.

3. Build a Disaster Preparation Kit

Think ahead by assembling a disaster preparation kit. Ready.gov suggests that families set aside three day's worth of food and water. (Bottled water is the best option for long-term water storage.) When it comes to food, Are You Ready suggests avoiding foods that will make you thirsty. “Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content. Stock canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation.”

In addition to a three-day supply of food and water, Ready.gov recommends that families obtain a portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit and manual, sanitation and hygiene items, matches, a whistle, extra clothing, kitchen accessories and cooking utensils, including a can opener, copies of credit and identification cards, cash and coins, special needs items, such as prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solutions, and hearing aid batteries, items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers.