Disaster Preparedness: Don’t Wait Till It’s Too Late
Tornadoes, wildfires, chemical spills, floods, blizzards, hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, civil unrest, flu pandemic; the list goes on. Any given year, Americans can expect to face any of those disasters. And they do. In fact, 2011 has been one of the worst tornado seasons in a while, and that was just in April. The tornados in Alabama have proven that. Flooding hit the upper Midwest, like it does every year. The earthquake in Japan pushed a tsunami into our west coast causing destruction and death. Every night, dozens of families are driven out of their homes by a fire. Disaster isn’t always widespread; it can be individual.
So what can you do to better prepare yourself and your family to survive a disaster, big or small? Hopefully, this article will help you in that process, enabling you to prioritize your needs, establishing a plan and gather supplies and skills. So, where to start? How much do you need? First, you need to identify the most likely disasters you’re likely to encounter in your area. Based on those events, could you stay in your house, or would you have to evacuate? How many people (and pets) are in your house? From there, you can start your planning. There are also steps and precautions you can take that are useful no matter what the disaster is, from a hurricane to a house fire. Regardless of the nature of the disaster, there are certain supplies and pieces of equipment that are useful to have on hand.
People who survive a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, wildfire or flood will all have similar needs. They will need food and water in the next few hours to keep going and get work done. They will need clothes, shelter and heat if it is cold. They will need to treat injuries and get cleaned up. They may need to keep at this for days or weeks at a time.
Now let’s talk about a long-term event. Flu pandemic would be just such an event. The federal government even acknowledges that. Depending on what government agency you turn to for information, you will get different answers on how prepared you need to be for a flu pandemic, from three days to three months. FEMA, Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control all agree that you should be prepared. Flu pandemic lasts for months and come in waves of 30 days at a time, recedes and then comes back in another wave of illness and death for another 30 days. It can repeat this cycle for half a year. During that time, expect travel to be restricted, and “just in time” delivery of food and household goods will be severely interrupted. Store shelves will be empty. Gas stations will be dry. People will stay home from work out of fear of contracting the flu. That means workers won’t always show up at the water plant, the power plant or pick up your garbage. You see how this could be a huge disaster, lasting a long time. So how can you prepare for such an event? The same as the other disasters we discussed, but for a longer term.
Looking at each of these events we find common needs regardless of the circumstances: food, water, shelter, heat, light, medical, hygiene and recovery. We will discuss each one of these as a separate category.
On average, you will need about 2,000 calories per adult, per day and about 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, per child depending on their age. So, it becomes a simple mathematics problem. One of the best ways to start storing extra food is by buying an extra item each time you do your regular grocery shopping. Pick up an extra can of soup, an extra box of mac n’ cheese or an extra bag of rice. In no time you will have a couple weeks of food stored up. This parallels your regular pantry and could be referred to as your “survival pantry.” Focus on buying the types of food you and your family normally eat. During the stress of a disaster is not the time to try new foods you have not eaten before. Buy nonperishable foods such as canned goods, sealed bags of rice or beans, gravy mixes and jars of peanut butter, sauces and so on. Write the date of purchase on each one, and start a rotation schedule attached to the shelves or cabinet where you keep the food.
As a back up to your survival pantry, consider a second layer of food. Many prepared people store dried rice, beans and grains inside 5-gallon buckets, commonly found at bakeries or delicatessens. You can put a lot of rice in a 5-gallon bucket for a few dollars and it will keep for years. If you ever need it, that rice will really help stretch your survival pantry as the disaster wears on into weeks rather than days. Store all your food in a cool, dry place. A spare closet or an unused space like the area under the basement stairs is a good place to put some shelves stocked with food. Canned food will remain edible for years, even beyond the best by date. Don’t forget about pets and their food needs when you are stocking away extra.
You will need a gallon to a gallon and a half for each person, per day — some need less, some more. That doesn’t include bathing or other hygiene uses. But this amount is a good start. You can purchase your water from commercial sources as bottled water, or in larger plastic containers. You can also reuse plastic soda bottles if you wash them out thoroughly. Fill to the top with tap water or if using well water, put a drop or two of non-scented bleach in each 2-liter bottle. As a back up to your water storage, you can get 30-50 gallons of clean water from your hot water heater. Be sure to shut off the water supply to your house if the water supply is contaminated. You should have at least two methods to treat water of questionable quality. Boiling, filtering, or treating with chlorine or iodine are all suitable means to make water drinkable. So, along side your water storage, be sure to keep a large pot to boil water, a camp stove or fireplace to heat the water, and a supply of iodine water tablets. Don’t forget you can capture rainwater or melt snow for water as well.
If you are allowed or encouraged to stay in your home, do so. It will provide you with the most resources available, in the most familiar surroundings. Even if your home is damaged, it is better than becoming a refugee or staying in a shelter. Keep on hand a couple large tarps to cover a hole in your roof or broken windows. Make sure you have tools like a hammer and nails, staple gun or cordless screwdriver and screws to attach any tarps or plywood needed to shore up your home. If there is a gas leak, you will need to turn off the gas to your house. You will need a gas wrench or other suitable tool for the job. Make sure you know where your gas shutoff is and how it works before you need to do it under pressure. You may need to shut off the water and electricity as well. If the heat is off, you may need to gather in one or two rooms to conserve what heat you are able to generate. If it is below freezing and you have no heat, you will need to drain your home’s water supply system to avoid bursting pipes. Once again, be familiar with how to do that before you need it. You will need a means to defend your property and defend yourself. In most circumstances in the United States, that means a gun. Most looters will move on if they know a homeowner is armed. There are plenty of soft targets to hit then to bother with trying to rob you and getting killed. A shotgun has always been a good choice. But a .22 rifle will do just as well. A dog is a good deterrent as well as an extra set of ears.
Depending on your climate and time of year this may be a very important need. It may very well be a deal breaker as far as staying in your home vs. going to a shelter if you have no way to keep yourself warm for an extended emergency. If your home has a fireplace that is capable of burning wood, bravo! All you need is wood. Just like your food storage, start stacking up extra wood when you get the chance. This is your survival wood. Stash away cut up limbs, scrap wood and any small trees you cut down. You will be glad you did so you won’t have to burn the dining room table when the time comes. Other sources of heat include kerosene and propane heaters. These both need to be used in a well-ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Small sources of heat include candles, cans of sterno and even those hot-hands pocket warmers. Be careful with whatever method you use. Be aware of carbon monoxide build up as well as any gas leaks resulting from the disaster itself.
There are lots of options here. Propane or white gas lanterns, rechargeable lanterns, chem-lights, battery-powered flashlights, oil lamps, candles, headlamps, small LED lights and so on. Keep a couple flashlights with extra batteries on hand. A headlamp is handy to keep your hands free while you work. A couple of oil lamps will keep darkness at bay at night. A few candles will supplement the oil lamps and you should be fine. Whatever methods you choose, make sure you keep fuel and batteries on hand and stored safely. Gas lanterns need mantles and spare parts. Generators will power lights and a lot of other appliances. They are great pieces of equipment to have. Good ones that produce enough useful power can be expensive. They will need to be run a couple times a year to check function and keep them in good shape. Stored fuel needs to be kept fresh and stable.
Keep a well-stocked first aid kit handy. Supplement that with current trauma dressings, ACE bandages and medicine. Get trained in first aid and CPR. Make sure everyone knows where the first aid kit is located. Keep one in your vehicle as well. It could serve as a backup in case your primary is buried in debris. If anyone in your family takes medicine on a regular basis, talk to your doctor and see if they can get a 90-day supply for disaster preparedness.
Shit happens. If the toilets don’t work, you will need a way to handle bodily waste. A 5-gallon bucket can be fitted with a toilet seat and lid. Line it with a plastic bag and use a little RV toilet deodorizer in that. Keep the bucket in an area away from your group of people. Change the bag daily if you can and bury the waste or store it in a sealable trash can that you can throw away after the disaster. For longer term you may need to dig a latrine or cat hole. Don’t forget to stock plenty of toilet paper. Baby wipes will be useful when running water is a premium. A bar of soap and some shampoo is cheap insurance to stock up. Babies will need a supply of diapers on hand. This is where cloth diapers come into play when the disposables run out. Don’t forget to stock an extra set of toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste for each member of the family. Feminine hygiene is important, because rest assured, a disaster will hit at that time of the month. Plan ahead. For a long-term event: soap, tooth care, hair cutting and feminine hygiene supplies are the only things you will really need. Pioneers made do with less than that. All of your hygiene supplies can be stored in your 5-gallon toilet bucket with the seat/lid stored next to it. That way you will know where everything is.
What does that mean? Well, what will you need to start rebuilding your life? Tools to make repairs and clean up and documents to access your bank account or to file an insurance claim.
Hand tools like axes, crowbars, shovels, hack saws, sledge hammers and so on will be needed. Strong rope and a couple pulleys will help increase your lifting capacity. A chain saw requires no electricity to run and can do a tremendous amount of work in many disaster scenarios. They are worth their weight in gold — before disaster strikes.
Make copies of your birth certificates, marriage license, car, homeowner, life and health insurance policies, bank info and will. A few pictures will be helpful if God forbid bodies need to be identified. Pictures of your household items like guns, sports equipment, antiques, electronics and so on will help the insurance adjuster. All of this can be kept as hard copies and stored in a separate location from yours. These can also be loaded onto a disc or thumb drive and encrypted. You could make multiple copies and back them up and keep with relatives out of town for example. Thumb drives will hold an incredible amount of data, including complete medical records, financial documents, house plans, hundreds of pics and so on. Keep an up-to-date contact list of friends and relatives. Use them as a clearinghouse for updates on you and anyone in your area. People will be worried about you and may not be able to reach you. But if you can get word to one of them, they can spread the word for you.
Get a couple fire extinguishers and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. Teach your children how to dial 911. Keep a complete set of clothes for each family member in a bag along with some hygiene supplies and thumbdrive of important documents at a nearby relative’s house. If your house is burned down, and you escape in your PJs, you will at least have clothes to wear in short order. Put together a Bug Out Bag (BOB) to grab if you have to evacuate quickly. That bag will contain clothes, a little food and water, radio, first aid and hygiene items; enough to live out of your car for a day or so, or set up in a motel or shelter for 24-72 hours. Remember to plan for your pet’s food, water and medical needs. How will you transport them if you need to evac? Learn how to shut off the gas, water and power at your house. Find out who in your neighborhood may have special needs, like the elderly. Ask your kid’s school about what their disaster plan is. Find out what the disaster plan is at your work. Keep supplies on hand there like food, water and first aid.
Figure out what disasters are most likely to affect you in your area and plan for them. Work in small steps, using the sections in this article as a guide. Get training in first aid. Meet your neighbors. Learn how to become more self-sufficient.
Here is a checklist to help you get started. This is an example for four people for a week or so.
2,000 calories per person, per day. Keep a minimum of one week’s food on hand.
• 24 cans of fruits and veggies
• 12 cans of meats and tuna
• 12 cans of soup and stew
• 4 pounds of rice and beans
• Manual can opener
• 1 to 1.5 gallons per person, per day
• One case of bottled water
• 12 gallons of water
• Four 2.5-gallon containers of water
• Large pot to boil water
• Iodine or treatment tablets
• Two large 9×9′ (or larger) PVC tarps
• Nails, staple gun and hammer
• Duct tape
• Defensive tools/weapons
• Propane “Heater Buddy”
• Six 1-pound bottles of propane
• Six pack of sterno
• Box of candles
• Two flashlights w/ extra batteries
• Headlamp w/ extra batteries
• Two oil lamps w/ 1 gallon of lamp oil
• Box of candles
• Four chem-lights
• First aid kit
• Extra box of band-aids
• Trauma dressing
• Rx meds
• 5-gallon bucket w/ lid
• Toilet seat for bucket
• Toilet paper
• Baby wipes
• Feminine-hygiene products
• Hand tools: saw, hammer, pry bar, rope, pulley, carabiner
• Chain saw and fuel
• Copies of important documents stored in separate location
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