We’ve all learned a lot about disasters and emergencies over the past several years. Many of us, especially along the coastlines, learned from personal experience, and the entire world by proxy. The devastations of hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, 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 life that can last for days, weeks — even months — in the worst cases. It can happen to you — and your loved ones!
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) do the research and go to the effort of really preparing, we need to look at the minimal preparations that would get most of us through the first few days of other than catastrophic disasters.
I figured that it would not be amiss if I devoted an article to this subject, given that hurricane season begins in two weeks and about 40% of our readers, statistically, live in areas that could be impacted by those or similar tropical systems.
We learned with Hurricane Katrina that we cannot depend on other people to get us out of the soup. You are responsible for taking care of yourself for at least three days — longer if you live in a less-developed area with less reliable emergency services (like FEMA).
It isn’t a matter of whether there will be more storms and other emergencies — it’s a matter only of where and when. This is based on my own experiences in hurricanes Wilma, Charlie, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne, several years as a pilot in the Caribbean, 25 years experience in law enforcement and security, and a long life that has had its own share of hazards.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS CHECKLIST
The absolute essentials, the things you must have ready to go in order to have a good shot at getting through a disaster.
In any disaster that disrupts public services, a supply of water is number one on the list. I can tell you from experience that it pays to get your emergency supply before there’s any kind of alert. It disappears from the shelves in a hurry, and the folks in New Orleans can tell you that it sometimes takes a while for supplies to get into hard-hit areas.
I recommend going to the supermarket and purchasing several gallons of distilled water or purified water. Don’t fool around with spring water or “drinking” water. The first two are most likely to have a low bacteria count, and you’ll be storing the jugs for several months (hopefully).
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.
Before you put the jugs in the cart, check to insure that the tops were on tight. If you find a loose one, replace it with one that has a tight top. Then give all the tops a twist until they are secure. Do not buy jugs with snap-off tops. Buy twist-ons only.
In addition to the above, you’ll want to do the usual when the excrement hits the impeller — if you have time: seal and fill sinks, bathtubs, etc. with tap water for washing and flushing the loo.
If you decide to evacuate, don’t forget to take your water jugs with you. Even though they take up a lot of space, you need them. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the garage and safety, and you may get marooned on the road. Take food, too.
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. Don’t forget the can opener. Take paper plates, plastic cups, several rolls of paper towels, and metal utensils that can be reused or converted to other purposes.
You need a small flashlight for each family member — especially the kids — and a couple of large ones for general lighting. I used to recommend electric lanterns, but the new LED flashlights burn much longer on a set of batteries, are more versatile, 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.
For larger flashlights, I recommend the D-cell Mag-LED™ models for their toughness, reliability, and long burn time. C-cell lights are OK, but be prepared to replace batteries more often — which means batteries to buy, store and carry. Mag-Lites™ can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and similar places. Be sure to get the LED models, not the ones that use halogen lamps (bulbs). Talk about battery-eaters…and if you drop one while it’s burning, you’ll be replacing a lamp in the dark.
If you want to go with more sophisticated flashlight choices, you can find a good selection here. Remember that personal lights don’t have to be too bright. They’ll be used close up and for things like reading. A small AAA-cell light that can be held in the mouth if necessary is ideal, and they usually burn for several hours before beginning to lose their brightness, then for several more before going dark. Wear it around your neck on a string.
Don’t skimp and buy cheap store brand batteries. Sam’s, Costco and other big box stores sell name brands for only a little bit more, and you know that you’re getting fresh, high-quality cells. We’re talking service that can save your life here. Don’t get cheap.
Do. Not. Buy. Rechargeable. Cells. Think about it. I’m in favor of them for every other use, but you won’t be able to afford enough of them to last through a long emergency, and by definition you won’t be able to recharge them.
Store batteries in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate them unless you (a.) keep them in the vegetable drawer; (b.) seal them in double zip bags; and (c.) let them warm up before opening the bags to prevent condensation. You should have at least three battery changes for each LED flashlight — several more than that if you have regular bulbs. If that’s the case, remember the spare bulbs, too.
It probably seems as though I’m going on excessively about flashlights, but believe me, I’m not. Try navigating through the debris field of a hurricane or tornado, or avoiding broken glass, splintered tree limbs, downed power lines and displaced rattlesnakes in your own back yard — in the dark — then tell me I’m nuts. They’re nice for signaling, too; wet matches don’t attract many helicopters.
First aid kit
Buy the best one you can afford, and keep it for emergencies. Check the content 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.
Include a large bottle of antacids, too, along with anti-diarrhea medication, which you should take at the first sign of intestinal disturbance. Don’t be brave. Dehydration is extremely dangerous without medical assistance, and sanitation is more of a problem than you can believe when you have the runs.
Include a bottle of tincture of Iodine for water purification if needed, or Iodine tablets. I prefer the liquid, as it has other uses. Five drops/qt. (liter) if the water is clear, or 10 if it’s cloudy. Let it sit for an hour. More about water purification here. I suggest you read it.
Yachting supply or large outdoor supply stores are good sources for first aid kits.
Don’t forget prescription and non-prescription items, including a large bottle of good multi-vitamins. (Nutrition gets spotty in emergency conditions, and they’ll help you stay healthy for the duration.)
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, especially if you don’t get home to your own physician for a while.
Each person should carry a list of any required medications on their person, as well as having them on a master list. Consider scanning your medical records and carrying them on a thumb drive around your neck. They could save your life if you have a complex medical condition.