Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
If I find I need to go to town for some reason, it takes me a good 30 minutes to get ready to head out the door and generally, by the time I’m halfway to town, I’ve remembered at least one thing I needed that I forgot to bring.
That doesn’t bode well for my performance in an emergency, does it?
In the wake of the disastrous events that hit Japan in mid-March, many are turning their thoughts to their ability to respond to some type of disaster. In some ways, we are lucky here—our relative isolation and the vagaries of weather tend to create a lifestyle that is somewhat more prepared than others throughout the U.S. But notice all those qualifiers: some ways, relative, somewhat. The truth is, most of us would not respond well should something out of the ordinary happen.
While a massive earthquake followed by tsunami may not be in the books for those of us in northern Idaho and western Montana, the reality is there are many things that could make us wish we had paid more attention to emergency preparedness. As spring arrives, a higher-than-normal snowpack will be melting off into our rivers and streams, making flooding a strong possibility. Spring also heralds a time of destruction for our roads, and even major highways can be blocked by rock and/or mud slides. And on the more extreme end of things, earthquakes are certainly a possibility in this area where little of our infrastructure has been built to withstand them; dam failures are also a potential problem.
So what should a person do to prepare?
That depends on what type of emergency comes down the pike at you. In the wake of total destruction, like people in Japan are contending with, the advice is a ‘go-bag’ kept by the door (and the fervent hope that particular door is your means of exit in said emergency). Then there’s evacuation scenarios where your vehicle, and not just your own feet, are available to help you leave the scene. The third scenario is one where you can remain in your home, but common conveniences (the ability to travel, grocery stores being re-stocked) are delayed for a period of time.
For all scenarios, you must consider the basics of life: water, shelter and food.
Water, of course, is the most important as it’s the element we can survive without for the shortest period of time. According to FEMA and public health websites, your best bet for a go-bag is some type of backpack that can be easily carried if you’re on foot. But with a gallon of water weighing almost eight-and-a-half pounds (and the recommendation of one gallon per person per day), you’re not likely to be packing that backpack full of water to drink. Still, toss at least one water bottle in there, plus a way to purify more.
Cloudy water should always be filtered before purifying, so toss a couple coffee filters into each bag. Purifying takes between one-eighth and one-quarter teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water. Stop by the dollar store for a small bottle of bleach.
Hopefully, your car will offer you enough room for the three gallons per person for three days (36 gallons of water for a family of four). Note that those white plastic jugs from milk or fruit juice are not suitable for water storage, as they cannot be cleaned well enough to prevent bacterial growth. Start saving plastic liter soda bottles now.
Or, your car is a good place to store a small water filter such as are sold at camping stores. They can be pricey, but if you ever need to use one they are well worth the cost.
With water out of the way, it’s time to think shelter.
In that go-bag, a space blanket takes up little room and can be a life-saver. Ditto for a rain jacket with hood. (If you’re like me, don’t actually use that rain jacket until an emergency, as you’ll never get it folded back up into that little tiny packet.) Some of those packets of hot-hands wouldn’t go amiss either, though I’ve discovered they lose their efficacy after a year or so, so they should be replaced periodically. A hat and gloves can also be essential... the warmer, the better.
Within a vehicle, consider tossing in a small tent and sleeping bags or, at the least, a warm blanket per person. If there’s room for extra clothing, a person could not go amiss with warm jackets, appropriate footwear and extra socks.
And then there’s food. Any grocery store will offer a wide range of powdered and dried food supplies to mix with water that take little room in the go-bag. A couple of sterno cans to heat that water would be handy as well; moistened chicken noodle soup mix is not that appetizing.
With more storage room in the vehicle, consider things like rolled oats (inexpensive and yes, you can eat them without cooking), and canned goods, but don’t forget the can opener. Make sure you buy items you eat regularly, and rotate them with food in your pantry. (Newest food goods in the car, car food into the pantry.)
An adequate food supply in your home can be incredibly varied (Google disaster food storage for ideas) but the main thing to keep in mind is to have food on hand that will last without refrigeration, and that can be eaten without being cooked, or to have alternate plans for cooking.
Speaking of food... if you have to evacuate your home, will you take your pets with you? The answer is likely yes, so consider adding pet food to your preparedness plans.
There are other important items to include regardless of what type of disaster you need to prepare for. Do you require regular medications? Talk with your pharmacist about what you should store and how you should store it. If you wear contact lenses (and cannot possibly go without them), then make sure you have a supply of lens solution in your go-bag and in your car.
You will be glad of every extra roll of toilet paper you stuff into the nooks and crannies of your vehicle; in your go-bags, consider a supply of wet-wipes along with that roll of TP. Matches, a small knife, and a can opener (if you have canned items) are always needed. A flashlight (those wind up ones that don’t need batteries are nifty) and a whistle to draw attention to wherever you are. And “feminine supplies.” Somehow this little item tends to get overlooked on a lot of the preparedness lists I’ve seen.
Cell phones have become an integral part of any emergency, but they don’t work well if they’re not charged. The top rated solar charger for a cell phone on CNet (the Solio universal charger) runs about $60 on the Solio website. The Solio devices take between 9 and 17 hours to fully charge and give 3 to 6 hours of talk time.
If you spend a lot of time in the office, you should prepare a go-bag for your workplace. And your vehicle preparedness kits, of course, should be in every vehicle you own.
One final note on preparing for emergencies: I know I am not the only person out there who avoids filling up their gas tank until that needle is on empty and the car is running on fumes. Really, it makes no difference whatsoever to your pocketbook or your lifestyle to get in the habit of filling the tank when the car is only half full. In an emergency, you’ll be glad you developed this habit as gas stations may be unable to pump gas.
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy once said, “If you’re not prepared, it’s not pressure you feel, it’s fear.” So if the news of late has made you fearful, do something about it. Visit www.FEMA.gov for more information.