Personal Contingency Plans: More than an Ounce of Prevention

First Aid

Brushfire Safety


We all learned a lot about disasters and emergencies over the past three years, many of us in the coastal states from personal experience, and the entire world — to one degree or another — by proxy. The devastations of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis should have left little doubt in anyone’s mind about the need for at least a minimal level of preparedness for sudden disruptions of everyday life that can last for weeks — even months — in the worst cases.

There are hundreds of sites on the Web where you can learn in detail about disaster preparedness. Just enter the words into any search engine and you’ll find more information than you can possibly absorb. Since we are creatures of denial, though, who won’t (most of us) go to the extremes of becoming really prepared, we need also to look at the minimal preparations that would get most of us through the first few days of other than catastrophic disasters.

It isn’t a matter of if there will be more storms and other emergencies — it’s a matter only of where and when. Here, I’ve taken the Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Checklist and embellished it with information based on my own family’s experiences in hurricanes Wilma, Charlie, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne, along with quite a few years experience in law enforcement, as a commercial pilot, and living an interesting life.


Water: Have at least one gallon per person per day, for starters. Remember that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. You’ll need a lot of it. (You probably can’t have too much.) Plan ahead.

Food: Pack non-perishable, high protein items, including energy bars, ready-to-eat soup, peanut butter, etc. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. Dehydrated camping foods are not good — they require water that you won’t be able to spare.

Flashlight(s): Include extra batteries. The new LED flashlights burn much longer on a set of batteries, and the lamps are unbreakable. The new Mag-LED ® models that use two AA batteries are amazingly bright, and can be used as candles, or to illuminate a room by bouncing off the ceiling or walls. Don’t plan on using gas or gasoline lanterns. They are dangerous, fragile, and are not permitted in shelters. You can buy a lot of AA batteries for the cost of one lantern.

EliteLED has an excellent battery-powered LED lantern that is perfect for power outages. You can see it here. Incidentally, they carry a full line of high-end LED flashlights (Fenix, Olight, Inova), along with less-expensive lights of good quality. If you’re shopping for a good flashlight, you can’t go wrong there.

Update 2007-08-16: I’ve tested the 3-watt MagLED conversion (drop in) in a 3 C-cell MagLite. It is excellent. Even though the light output of the LED drops to roughly 50% after a few minutes due to poor heat-sinking (LED’s lose brightness when they heat up) the result is still more light with more reach than the original halogen bulb. The conversions cost about $18 and are worth much more. For example, they make a single MagLite with the reflector removed the only light source you need for the average room, unless you’re reading. Even bouncing it off the ceiling with the reflector on the light produces good illumination. Unfortunately the wide-angle portion of the lens focusing isn’t as good, with a hole in the center of the beam. As emergency lighting, though, this isn’t much of a factor. Be careful when purchasing — you MUST use the module for the correct number of batteries, 2-cell, 3 or 4. You can plan on 12-24 hours of bright light on a set of alkaline batteries, and many, many more of reduced light.

First aid kit: Buy the best one you can afford, and keep it for emergencies. Check the expiration dates occasionally, and replace items as indicated. Pack a good first-aid guide. Include an ample supply of sunscreen. Carry plenty of analgesics; bumps, muscle strains, sunburn and general failure to thrive will require them.

Medications: Don’t forget prescription and non-prescription items. If you expect to evacuate and medications are critical, ask your doctor for an extra written prescription to be carried for emergencies, in addition to any extra meds you carry with you. Doctor visits may be few and far between. Each person should carry a list of any required medications on their person, as well as having them on a master list.

A battery-operated radio and extra batteries is a must. Consider the kind that will generate its own power. This may be your only source of accurate information about what is happening. You will not be able to depend on phones, cell phones, or the walkie talkies you use when camping. Portable TV’s are too hard on batteries.

Tools: An adjustable wrench to turn off gas or water if necessary, a manual can opener, a screwdriver, hammer, pliers, a good knife and sharpener, duct tape, plastic sheeting, garbage bags and ties. The popular “multi-tools” (Leatherman, Gerber) are good backup, but are inconvenient for primary use. If you have room, take a hand saw and small ax, but make sure everyone knows how to use them safely.

Clothing: Include a complete change of clothes for everyone, appropriate to the weather, including sturdy shoes and gloves. You can assume that you will need the gloves, if only to keep your hands relatively clean. Each person should have a hat.

Personal items: Remember eyeglasses or contact lenses and solution, plus spares, copies of important papers including identification cards, insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, etc., and comfort items such as toys, books, religious materials and so forth.

Sanitary supplies: You’ll need toilet paper, towelettes, feminine supplies, personal hygiene items, etc. Don’t forget toothbrushes, paste and dental floss. Pack spares of all this stuff. Don’t depend on picking them up off the bathroom shelf. In a crunch, you might forget to take them with you, and a week without brushing your teeth is no fun.

Take a jug of chlorine bleach. It is useful for disinfecting surfaces, at a strength of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, and can be used to purify drinking water, clean dishes, etc. Go here to find out more.

Money: Take cash. ATM’s and credit cards won’t work if power is out. If you know in advance that you might have to evacuate or live without power, go get the money as soon as you can. Everyone else will be hitting the ATM too, and banks may close well ahead to allow employees time to prepare.

Contact information: Carry a current list of family phone numbers and email addresses, including people out of the area — who may be easier to reach if local phone lines are out of service or overloaded. If traveling, designate a person out of the area as a central point for exchange of information in case family members become separated. Make sure they know they have been chosen, so they will be on the lookout for emergency communications.

Learn how to text message (SMS) and make sure you have the text address of your contacts. Texting is far more reliable when lines are busy, and uses less of your phone battery.

Pet supplies: Include food, water, leashes, litter boxes, litter, plastic bags, pet medications and vaccination information.

Map: with evacuation routes clearly marked on it from your local area. If you may have to travel into adjoining areas, make sure you have maps for them as well. Maps are cheap — and nearly impossible to find under emergency conditions.

I guarantee that if you meet these requirements you will fare better, in the event of a disaster, than 95% of the other people who will be affected. If you assemble your kit ahead of time and keep it in order, you will have more time to attend to details when the fertilizer hits the propeller. You can get a big plastic container that will hold most of the stuff and keep it safe for a few bucks. Bulky items such as water and clothing can be added later.

Note: items recommended are either things I’ve used myself or researched with reasonable care. Specific brands mentioned have been tested by the writer. Others may serve just as well.

Finally, MAKE AND USE A CHECKLIST for preparations. Mark each item off when it is completely taken care of. See your local newspapers, TV stations, emergency preparedness departments, police and fire departments for detailed information on how to prepare for specific kinds of emergencies.

And hey…be careful out there!

Also, see:

Keep Your Cell Phone Charged During Power Outages Using Your UPS

5 thoughts on “Emergencies

  1. Pingback: Hurricane Season «

  2. Pingback: Anonymous

  3. Pingback: Hurricane Season Begins June First… | CrackerBoy

  4. Pingback: Keep Your Cell Phone Charged During Power Outages Using Your UPS « CrackerBoy

  5. Chuck

    I have found the hand crank flashlights useful. For those traveling by car, a 15-min recharging unit plugs into your cigarette lighter and handles 4 AA or AAA batteries at a time.

    We have our important papers pack near the door in a plastic folder. It’s an easy grab and run.

    We also have a portable weather alert radio, but that’s a new purchase. We’re testing it this year.

    Another new item is USB drives. We’re replicating all contact information, medical info, etc and putting it on the drives. Each family member will have a copy. The drives are $10 each and easy to carry on a necklace.
    The weather alert radios work well with their automatic alerts, and are priceless in the home — especially in tornado country. Tornadoes kill most of their victims at night, when they miss alerts.

    NOAA weather bands are also available on sets that receive AM/FM/SW (some that hand-crank, too).

    The USB drives are a great idea. Keep them dry. They’re not supposed to leak, but…

    The paper pack near the door is also a good idea for every day…you never know. Don’t forget computer backups. I keep a full drive image off site on a portable hard drive. Backups do no good if the computer they’re on is destroyed.

    The hand-cranked (shake ‘n’ bake) lights are better than nothing, but they don’t begin to put out the light of the dc/dc regulated LED lamps using primary batteries. For times when minimal light is required they will save batteries, but LED lights use so little power that battery life is almost inconsequential if you have a decent supply. The C and D cell LED flashlights will burn for 30-40 hours at full power and still produce usable light for days after they begin to dim.

    Rechargables are fine, but as many people in New Orleans can attest, there are a number of conditions under which secondary batteries are useless. (That’s why rechargables are called secondary batteries.) For one thing, they don’t hold a charge indefinitely like alkalines. A good supply of inexpensive alkalines is a much better choice for emergencies, regardless of the application. K.I.S.S. is of paramount importance in the crunch, and you have to plan for worst case scenarios — like no access to electrical sources at all.

    That’s not to say that secondaries don’t have their place, and they will certainly save the primaries if used when possible, like the hand-cranked lights. Nonetheless, I trust cells with a fixed charge far more, and they’re much cheaper. Also, some LED lights won’t use rechargables, and I consider incandescent a thing of the past. LED’s are about 900% more efficient, as they produce nearly white light without appreciable heat, and they are virtually indestructible. The newer ones are brighter than comparable incandescents.

    An aside: one really great application for the shake ‘n’ bake flashlights is in cellars and other places where you might need a flashlight but wouldn’t necessarily have one handy. Hang ’em on a string at the side of a doorway where they can be found by feel. The big advantage: they’ll work after hanging there unused for years.

    Thanks for the input, especially the tip about the flash drives!


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