I poorly timed my recent publication of this timely classic diary series, for late Sunday night. There used to be a general rule against rapid republication, but I'm not sure who to ask about breaking it. If there's ever good cause for breaking that rule, this must qualify. I will assume that the reason I would like this to get more then the 200 or so views it received is self-evident. Admins, if you disagree, you're welcome to delete this. Obviously, I hope you'll leave it up.
The best thing I've ever read on disaster preparedness was "Are YOU Ready for a Disaster?" published right here on Daily Kos. It was a five-part series (with a coda), published in the wake of Katrina, by AlphaGeek, who stopped writing here at the end of 2006 except for a day-long burst just after the 2008 election. (AlphaGeek also wrote a pair of the most thoughtful diaries I've ever read here on campaign fundraising, and it's my pleasure to reach back across more then four years and give them a belated Diary Rescue as well. They're "evergreens.")
The conclusion of the disaster preparedness series was published the day I signed up here, so if your UID is above 66000 or so there's a good chance that you've never even heard of it. Nevertheless, the chances are pretty good that -- as Plutonium Page suggested doing when she front-paged the first diary in the series on Sept. 9, 2005 -- you're about to hotlist it.
Series Index: Are YOU ready for disaster? (Links are to the original diaries and comment sections.)
Part 1: Assess your risks!
Part 2: Plan to survive! (part A)
Part 3: Plan to survive! (part B)
Part 4: Emergency gear and supplies
Part 5: Material preparations continued; Conclusion
Coda (Q&A): Ask Mister Preparedness Guy: all answers 5¢
Note: links to the original diaries are included because they link to the original comments sections, and as usual there will be nuggets of wisdom found there that go well beyond what may be found in even a diary such as this. If anyone feels like going through them and porting the best stuff into the comments section below, it will no doubt be appreciated.
I'm reprinting the entire series here as one long diary to make the hotlisting easier. It has edited minimally, primarily to eliminate the redundancy that was required when it was in multiple parts. Most editorial changes are typographical; a few involve wording and arrangement.
NOTE ON LENGTH: Our new version 4 Daily Kos is, to my knowledge, the first one that makes publishing a diary of this extreme length possible. (At least, that was true in beta testing.) It is, literally, 75 pages long when saved as a Word document using what I believe to be the standard default options. That means that this diary, being a complete series, is not intended as something that most people will want to read through now, or in a single session at any time -- although, if you want to try, be my guest. It is intended as a reference for people to go back to over time, and eventually read more than once. Click here to go directly to the comments section.
EDITOR'S NOTE: (Yes, I've decided to call myself the "editor" here.) I am not an expert in this area. I merely read these at the time and found them extremely helpful in thinking about this subject, and I want them to be revived and available to a new "generation" (in internet terms) of readers. I don't know that the information here is correct or wise, although in my personal opinion it seems to be both, or I wouldn't be publishing it. This is intended to give voice to the original author's; I do not necessarily agree with his specific conclusions and assertions (especially where they are beyond my experience) nor with his opinions (e.g., involving firearms.) I've tried to edit here using a light touch, to preserve his views rather than substituting mine where they might conflict.
I have omitted links to medicines and firearms; other links do not represent my endorsement and, as the author notes, are provided merely for convenience and illustrative examples. I have omitted the few (and non-essential) photos from the original so as not to worry about copyright issues.
I hate that I have to say this, but: this is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation of any attorney-client relationship, although I don't really see how one could think otherwise anyway.)
One final admonition from the author, who talks (as a second-amendment proponent) about the use of guns towards the very end, and made a sardonic reference or two on other matters that I decided to take out lest they dominate the comments sections. Those comments remain in the linked original diaries for those who want to read them there (and ideally discuss them elsewhere):
WARNING (from the original author): This Diary series discusses a wide range of disaster-related subjects in a straightforward, honest fashion. Some people may experience a strong emotional reaction to reading about or discussing situations which are normally avoided in polite conversation. You have been warned.
Again: Click here to go directly to the comments section.
The original author, AlphaGeek, is (or at least was as of 2005) a Silicon Valley technical executive with both professional and personal experience in risk assessment and disaster-readiness planning. Links to reference materials, including planning guides and reference information, will be found at the end of the final Diaries in this series. This series includes, as a coda, a Q&A session AlphaGeek did after the series ended.
Something bad is going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
Preparing to deal with a disaster is like going off of a ski jump. If you put off your planning until things start happening, it's far too late to make much of a difference. Once you're headed down that ski jump, the time for planning and preparation is over.
On the other hand, being prepared for disaster does not have to be time-consuming or expensive. In this multi-part series of DailyKos Diaries, I will share with you, dear reader, many of the lessons I've learned regarding the most effective ways to prepare for an emergency.
PART 1 -- ASSESS YOUR RISKS
When disaster strikes, will you be prepared?
Despite what you may have gathered from reading guides to readiness from the government, the Red Cross, or other organizations, you should not begin with a spending spree at the local hardware store. When you strip away all of the bureaucrat-speak, there are three basic steps you must follow to be ready for disaster:
In this installment, we will discuss step 1, assessment of risks.
The psychology of disaster preparedness
In order to effectively prepare for disaster without becoming overwhelmed, you must be able to make realistic judgments about risks. On one hand, it is an effort for most people to "think the unthinkable", to contemplate scenarios which are far outside the routine of their daily lives. It is difficult for most people to imagine a world where fresh water does not flow from the taps, electricity is something you can't take for granted, and the grocery store shelves are empty... assuming the stores are even open.
On the other hand, there's a phenomenon I think of as the "armageddon fallacy". This is the temptation, once that our Pandora's Box of fears and concerns has been opened, to imagine extremely unlikely events as real threats. We must be cautious to exercise good judgment when considering risks, as the "armageddon fallacy" is a surprisingly easy trap to fall into. Keep in mind that your plan, at some point, will be shared with friends and family. This incents most people to stay clear of the Crazy Talk Express to Armageddon Town when making a plan.
Assessing your risks: take a look around
Each city, state, and region of the country has its own unique set of risks. For example, your humble correspondent's home in Fremont, California is unlikely to be threatened by a hurricane -- but that home is only a few miles from the Hayward Fault, and surprisingly, is in a "dam failure inundation area". Many homes in America are subject to hidden or unseen dangers such as this; in the Southwest, for example, the dangers of flash floods in an otherwise arid environment are well known, yet people die (surprised, in many cases) in flash floods every year.
Your first task in building a disaster-readiness plan is to assess the risks particular to the areas where you spend significant time. In America's car-centric suburban culture, many people work 20 miles or more from their home. The risks at work and at home may differ considerably, and should be assessed separately.
Here is a brief listing of risk categories you may find useful in putting together your list of potential emergencies in your area:
Domestic risks (house fire, carbon monoxide, medical emergency)
Industrial accident risk (refineries, chemical plants, rail lines transporting hazardous cargo such as liquified chlorine)
Natural disasters (heat waves, forest/grassland fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis)
Secondary disaster risk due to primary natural disaster (e.g. the reservoir dam which may fail in an earthquake and flood Fremont)
Civil disturbance (riots, terrorist attacks, acts of war)
These risks are listed in the order in which you should consider them. Please note the "civil disturbance" category is last -- this is because one of the principal goals of any disaster plan should be to minimize your exposure to civil-disturbance risks. The next installment of this series will discuss the use of risk-avoidance strategies in detail.
A good source for risk information is your city or state Office Of Emergency Services website, or its equivalent. Other good sources for detailed risk information include the following local resources:
building permit authority
police department and/or sheriff's office
There exists one more category of risk which you must consider: risks to your freedom of movement. As you go about your business for the next week, consider the following:
Do you know of any alternate routes between work and home?
Does your primary route include bridges or tunnels?
Does your primary route pass under any high-voltage power lines?
Do you regularly drive past refineries, chemical plants, or rail lines carrying tank cars?
Does your neighborhood have above- or below-ground power distribution?
If you need to leave your city or region, how many routes can you think of without consulting a map?
Do you have reasonably current paper map of your region in each of your family vehicles?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a list of as many disaster risks as you can think of. Get your significant other or your kids involved, and make it a competitive event. Be lenient, at first, when considering whether something is a likely risk. Be sure to include all of the places where you might find yourself when disaster strikes -- home, work, school, church, shopping, and so forth. Don't consider the list closed until you've visited each of these places and looked, with a critical eye, at the risks we all ignore on a daily basis.
PART 2 -- PLAN TO SURVIVE
Chance favors the prepared mind. - Louis Pasteur
In any given disaster situation, you will find a group of people who maximize their chances for survival by making the correct choices before, during, and after the crisis. These folks have a few things in common:
Each of them personally decided that he/she was going to survive
They accurately assessed their immediate and near-term risks and needs
They made the best plan they could based on available resources
They executed that plan in a flexible, adaptive manner
They kept going until they had reached safety, and did not give up
The single most important thing you can do to survive a disaster is to be mentally prepared.
Being prepared for disaster does not have to be time-consuming or expensive. In this multi-part series of DailyKos Diaries, I will share with you, dear reader, many of the lessons I've learned regarding the most effective ways to prepare for an emergency.
In this installment, we will discuss step 2, planning to address risks. This topic will be continued in tomorrow's installment.
People react in interesting ways when faced with emergency situations.
When faced with a life-threatening situation, a great many people will simply freeze, unable to process events effectively and respond appropriately. A person who reacts in this manner may attempt to continue normal life at great risk to themselves and others, or may simply subside into shock and denial.
Another significantly large group will react by making a reasonable effort at ensuring their own survival and helping others, but may not be terribly effective at either. In many cases, these folks may take actions which increase risk to themselves and others. A significant percentage of this second group will, depending on the severity and duration of the emergency, go into shock and denial. In a group situation, good leadership can keep this to a minimum.
All the cool kids, though, fall into a third category. Whether by training or innate nature, members of this group are mentally prepared to overcome the challenges at hand. They have decided that dammit, they're not going to give up and die, and that's final.
Making the decision that you, personally, are going to survive makes all the difference in the world.
How will YOU react?
Now, dear reader, you may think upon your fears and insecurities, and fret that you will surely react like the people in that middle group, blundering about making (potentially deadly) mistakes. Or, horror of horrors, you may even freeze up under stress and fail to cope with the situation at all. These are normal reactions, but they are not helpful in a disaster situation, to put it mildly.
So how do you avoid joining the ranks of the ineffective masses, waiting passively for help? It comes down to minimizing FUD -- Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. If you have a solid basic emergency plan, you are well on your way to avoiding paralysis due to FUD. Like the smart man said, chance favors the prepared mind.
The principal means, however, of getting FUD under control and improving the chances that you'll respond effectively in an emergency is simple: practice, practice, practice. Until you have actually attempted to execute a plan which looks good on paper, you have no guarantees that the plan works or that you will be ready to use it. A critical part of any preparedness program is periodic review and practice of your survival-critical plans.
Review point: Risk-assessment homework
The starting point for avoiding FUD is to think through as many problems as you can in advance of needing to deal with them. In Part 1, I gave you a homework assignment:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a list of as many disaster risks as you can think of. Get your significant other and/or your kids involved, and make it a competitive event. Be lenient, at first, when considering whether something is a likely risk. Be sure to include all of the places where you might find yourself when disaster strikes -- home, work, school, church, shopping, and so forth. Don't consider the list closed until you've visited each of these places and looked, with a critical eye, at the risks we all ignore on a daily basis.
If you haven't done your homework, please review the previous Diary in this series and make your list now. It is important for you, dear reader, to have a clear assessment of your risks in mind as you consider the material presented below. You simply will not get as much out of this if you do not already have a reasonably good understanding of the scenarios you are likely to face.
Now that you've put together your list of likely emergency situations, take another look at it. Have you included mundane, everyday disasters such as a house or apartment fire? Here is an example, as told to me by a professional firefighter, of how failure to plan effectively for a common house fire made a huge difference in the outcome:
Late one fall afternoon, a San Francisco Bay Area house burned to the ground. The occupants of the house escaped without injury, and when questioned by the fire chief knew exactly where and how the fire started. The family, to the perplexity of the fire chief and the inspector, stated that they had been unable to halt the spread of the fire despite having four Kidde home fire extinguishers on hand.
After the house had cooled off enough for the inspection team to enter, they found the origin of the fire to be exactly as it had been described to them. In the immediate vicinity of the origin point, they found four half-melted, unused fire extinguishers. Upon further inspection, they found the safety pins for said fire extinguishers in an area about ten feet back from the fire origin.
It turns out that the homeowners had pulled the pin on each fire extinguisher and lobbed it grenade-style into the vicinity of the fire. Unsurprisingly, this was not an effective means of halting the spread of the fire, which would have been easily controlled by a single correctly used fire extinguisher.
After you stop laughing, consider this: that family's failure to read and understand the usage instructions on the fire extinguishers led them to respond ineffectively, costing them their house. They understood the risk of fire, but did not have an effective plan for dealing with the situation. The lesson here is that you can't buy preparedness -- you must be equipped to determine the correct action to take in a given situation, and it helps an awful lot if you get things figured out before you find yourself under stress, lobbing fire extinguishers like grenades and wondering why they're not working.
The American Red Cross (ARC) Get Prepared pages are an excellent resource for sanity-checking your list of risks. In addition, the ARC pages provide valuable reference material to use when you are ready to move on to phase 3, prepare.
You are also invited to post your prioritized risk-assessment lists in the Comments below.
Prioritize your risks
Now that you have a reasonably complete compilation of hazards you might expect to face, it's time to triage your list. Be realistic. The actual chance of a nuclear device detonating within the borders of the US is vanishingly small, whereas there's a 62% probability of an earthquake strong enough to cause widespread damage to the San Francisco Bay Area between now and 2032.
"But AlphaGeek, I thought we were going to make a plan!"
Yes, Grasshopper, we are indeed here to get our collective act together by formulating a realistic, workable preparedness plan. Silly as it may sound, everything leading up to this point has been to get you prepared to get prepared. If you have read and thoughtfully considered the material presented so far, it's guaranteed that you are not approaching this task the same way you would have last week.
Here are the key steps to developing and maintaining an effective plan:
+ Develop your plans, seeking the input of everyone involved
+ Review your plan against publicly availble resources, such as the American Red Cross (ARC) Get Prepared website
+ Test each section of your plan by conducting a full-family drill
+ Revisit your plan as your circumstances change
Regardless of the specific risks one might need to address, there are actually a limited number of general situations to plan for. We will discuss each of these in detail below.
While we yet draw breath, let us do all we can to see another day
Your top priority in an emergency is to ensure your own safety. If you are seriously injured or incapacitated, you are out of action for the duration and will not be helping anyone.
A perfect example of this is a loss of cabin pressure on an airplane, which will cause the emergency oxygen masks to drop down. At high altitude, you will have 20 seconds or less to begin taking in supplemental oxygen before you pass out. It will take the typical person between 5 and 10 seconds to get over their startlement at the loud bang and sudden appearance of the masks, and realize that they do in fact need to take action immediately. If you spend that 10-15 seconds trying to put a mask on a panicky toddler, you're never going to get your own mask on in time. By being mentally prepared, you can suppress your instinct to take care of your child first and thereby ensure survival for both of you.
For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume that that we need to develop a comprehensive disaster plan for a household with two adults, two school-age children, and a dog. At least one of the adults in this household works outside the home, with a commute of 20 miles. The household is located in a suburb or exurb of a major metropolitan area.
Think about what could go wrong, and plan to survive anyway
In the following example scenarios, we will focus on what you need to plan for, rather than the specific materials you'll need to carry out your plan. Part 4 of this series will go into excruciating detail on all those sexy material goods -- but in case it isn't clear by now, having a good plan is far more important than buying a bunch of stuff. Plan first, then buy what you need to support your plan.
Scenario 1 - Severe Winter Storms
Description: A series of severe winter storms tear through the region, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and disrupting rail and highway access. Retail availability of food and water supplies ranges from limited to nonexistent by day 4.
Family separated: NO
Immediate evacuation required: NO
Post-event evacuation required: Low probability
Services interrupted: YES (electricity, retail goods)
Mean time to restoration of services: 10 days
Period of initial isolation: 5 days
Communications: possible disruption of phone, cable TV service
Secondary risks: Structural damage or failure due to snow/ice load
Requirements for survival:
Environment: YES - heat
Electricity: YES - charge batteries, run small TV
Water: NO - water service uninterrupted
Food preparation: YES
Passive communications: YES
Active communications: Medical emergency only
Food preservation: NO - +20F outside = back-patio freezer
Shelter: NO - but see note on emergency repairs below
Whether you live on the Gulf Coast hurricane-impact zone, or in a northern state subject to severe winter storms, weather can present a serious threat to your safety. Humans are relatively sensitive to heat and cold outside a fairly narrow range, and few people realize how much energy Western society devotes to keeping us in our comfort zone.
In this scenario, you nearly always have the benefit of sufficient advance warning to get your family safely home before things get ugly. The safest course of action in this situation is to hunker down and make the best of things in the safety of your home.
When it's 20F or less outside, even a well-insulated home will cool off quickly if the central heating system goes offline. As a commenter observed in the discussion of Part 1, gas-fired central heat doesn't do you a whole lot of good if the blower and control electronics don't have power. Be prepared to provide adequate heat to at least one room in your house. Consider consolidating everyone into one or two rooms with heat source(s) and closing off the rest of the house.
The tools and materials to make emergency repairs to your shelter are critical in this situation. When it's pounding down freezing rain outside, night is coming, and the wind is whistling through a broken window, you will not have the option of waiting for the handyman. Have a plan for repairing broken windows and/or doors, and assume that you will not have the use of power tools.
Electricity. Americans are addicted to it, your correspondent included. Most people immediately think "generator" when the topic of emergency electric power comes up. The fact is, you already have a generator parked in your garage. Your family car, coupled with a modestly sized DC-to-AC inverter, is capable of supplying enough power to make a huge difference in your standard of living while grid power is offline. Generators and DC-AC inverters will be discussed in detail in Part 4.
Water supply is generally not an issue in cold-weather states, as the water delivery system is designed to survive severe weather. Appropriate weatherproofing techniques should be implemented to prevent frozen and/or burst pipes, especially if central heating is offline.
Sanitation goes hand-in-hand with water pressure. In my experience, the biggest sanitation-related danger in this scenario is having your butt freeze to the toilet seat.
Nutrition is of primary concern, especially considering that people require higher caloric intake when it's cold. You should have a two-week supply of food on hand, excluding fresh and frozen foods. (Remember, we're not just preparing for wintertime disasters!)
For our hypothetical family with two kids, lighting (for reading and other activities) and passive entertainment (radio, TV, etc.) are important for the survival of the children. Anyone who's been cooped up with two kids in a house for 5 days straight will attest that they were ready to kill them by the time it was over.
Snow and ice present the special problem of structural damage or failure due to overload. If necessary, take steps to reduce or prevent severe buildup.
Finally, on the topic of medical emergencies: it's not unusual, when the Big Storm of the season is coming, to bring Grandma over to stay with you for the duration. Make sure Grandma (and you) get refills on all of those prescription medications, if possible, before you settle in. Be sure you're up-to-date on her medical conditions, and take particular care to ensure that she gets good nutrition and stays warm for the duration.
If you have a plan to deal with each of the 'survival needs' categories listed above, your biggest risks will be boredom, house fires, and asphyxiation. (Wait a minute -- did he just say that?)
Yes, that's right -- you must be very, very careful in your use of combustion for heat, cooking, and/or light. Candles and oil lamps, handy as they are, do start thousands of fires every year. Likewise, attempting to improvise an indoor heat source using charcoal is a quick way to asphyxiation.
End of scenario 1
PART 3 -- PLAN TO SURVIVE, CONTINUED
"In the first 48 to 72 hours of an emergency, many Americans will have to look after themselves." - David Paulison, FEMA Director Nominee
Preparedness for emergency situations is not a solitary pursuit.
Each of us lives in the context of a larger society. Few among us could survive for long without the support of myriad other people and institutions we depend upon for our daily needs. A realistic disaster plan must balance these dependencies against the stark truth that you are likely to be required to survive outside this system for days or weeks at a time at some point in your life.
Being prepared for disaster does not have to be time-consuming or expensive. In this multi-part series of DailyKos Diaries, I will share with you, dear reader, many of the lessons I've learned regarding the most effective ways to prepare for an emergency.
The AlphaGeek approach to disaster preparedness
The field of preparedness planning is an interesting one, full of colorful characters and hair-raising tales. Your humble correspondent is not an ex-Special-Forces badass, nor is he a buckskin-clad outdoor survival specialist. My "specialty", if you will, is preparedness planning for suburban and exurban environments. Above all, I focus on pragmatic, sustainable plans which recognize the common failure modes for family- and community-level crisis management.
In a nutshell, I believe that family-level preparedness plans (and material support for those plans) should meet the following criteria:
Any critical element of each plan must have at least one clearly explained alternate solution
All plans must be in written form, ready to be executed by anyone entrusted with the safety of your family
A written copy of your plan must be available in any context in which you might need to execute said plan (e.g. home, work, vehicles)
Everyone involved in your preparedness plans (e.g. out-of-state relatives) must review their part of the plan and understand their role
Material preparations must not require inspection more than once per year, and must still be capable of meeting minimum requirements if left unattended for 4 years
The fact is, folks, that people are lazy, your correspondent included. If your disaster plan depends on dumping and refilling bottles of water every 3 months, let's face it -- at some point, you ARE going to get slack and lose the motivation to keep to the schedule. It takes a pretty deep-seated insecurity complex to consistently maintain your preparedness materials every 90 days over a span of years, and most people just can't sustain that level of effort. Having bad bottled water and canned food three years past its expiration date isn't an inconvenience in a crisis -- it's dangerous, because in extremis you might be tempted to use it anyway.
A realistic preparedness plan, in your author's estimation, should address the following objectives. Remember, tomorrow we will discuss all of the tips and tricks needed to implement a preparedness plan centered on emphasizes practicality and cost-efficiency. The fifth and final installment in this series will detail your correspondent's preparations for each of these situations, but keep in mind that your preparedness package must address your risks, not those of some guy in California earthquake country.
Communications and rendezvous plan
In a crisis, you are likely to be separated from at least one member of your family. Start with the assumption that your family is at its most vulnerable, i.e. at maximum separation in your daily routines. Your rendezvous plan should address the possibility that family members at work and/or may need to evacuate quickly.
Your communications plan should have two priorities: advise concerned parties on your situation (safe, injured, etc.) and propagate information between people in the disaster zone who may not be able to communicate directly.
House fire: evacuation, response, and aftermath
No explanation needed. If you don't know what you're going to do in case of a house fire, you are at significant risk of dying in one. If, after failing to plan, you get out alive the aftermath is likely to be extremely difficult.
Any number of organizations offer complete guides on how to prepare for a home fire emergency, including the Red Cross. Download and use one of these guides today.
Home refuge with no services: Ten (10) days self-sufficiency
Yes, that's right, folks: 10 days with no running water, no grid electricity, and no natural gas and/or propane delivery. This is most likely to occur during inclement weather (see: natural disasters) so assume that you will need to deal with extremes of heat/humidity or cold. Sanitation and medical requirements for high-needs individuals will both be challenging; plan accordingly.
Open-space refuge with no services: Five (5) days self-sufficiency
If your house is unfit to occupy, you may still be able to set up camp nearby. For this situation, assume that you can recover a significant fraction of your home preparedness package. Identify several likely locations near your home where you might set up a temporary refuge. (NOTE: This is primarily applicable in communities at risk of severe earthquake damage.)
Refuge in/near vehicle: Three (3) days self-sufficiency
Can you live in your vehicle for 3 days? Principal concerns are food, water, clothing and sanitation. Fuel: you either have it or you don't, and most people won't/can't carry an emergency supply large enough to make a significant difference.
Work refuge with no services: Three (3) days self-sufficiency
Assume that the preparedness kit in your vehicle is inaccessible, e.g. the parking garage fell down on your car when the quake hit. How will you get through three days at your place of employment, assuming that movement outside the premises is too hazardous to attempt?
Evacuation to community shelter: Three (3) days self-sufficiency
Relocation to a community shelter is not the end of your worries. (Exhibit A: New Orleans Superdome. Exhibit B: New Orleans Convention Center.) Are you prepared to be self-sufficient within this environment for up to 3 days with minimal/no access to services?
Evacuation from disaster zone: by vehicle
Similar to the refuge in/near vehicle requirement above, but with the added requirements of routing, fuel supply, and so forth. How will you evacuate when the gas stations are closed and/or sold out and the fuel gauge is on 'E'?
Evacuation from disaster zone: on foot
In dire circumstances, it may be more dangerous to stay in your community than it is to attempt evacuation without the benefit of car. You should have a plan to walk/bike/sled/swim 30 miles over the course of 72 hours to reach safety. This is generally a plan of last resort.
Key planning considerations for your preparedness plan
As you put together your plan for each element in your risk-assessment list, consider how you will address the following needs:
Water (Stored & portable)
Nutrition (Stored & portable)
Active communications (cellphone/payphone/radio/Internet)
Passive communications (radio/TV)
Shelter (Permanent & portable)
Medical needs (maintenance medication)
Medical needs (first-aid/trauma)
Sanitation (personal hygiene, human wastes, trash/garbage)
Risks, training, and community
In Part 1 of this series, you were asked to consider the risks you face where you live. If you did your homework, you now have a prioritized list of risks that you should plan to address.
In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the psychology of disaster preparedness, and the relationship between FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and effective crisis response. The prescription for avoiding FUD or shock-induced catatonia is simple: training and practice.
In addition to dry-run rehearsals of the preparedness plans you assemble to address your risks, you should plan to rehearse your fire response plan on a regular basis -- at least once per year. Pick a holiday which you normally spend at home, and make that "drill day".
You've heard this before, but please listen anyway: every adult should take a combination First Aid/CPR course at least once every 10 years. Yes, you need to take CPR more often to maintain your certification, but at a minimum everyone should take the combo course every 10 years.
In any disaster, community plays a huge role. The time to forge the bonds that hold a community together is not in the aftermath of a disaster. Fortunately, many communities in the US already have programs in place which encourage outreach and relationship-building.
In your correspondent's experience, the most useful program is CERT, short for Community Emergency Response Team. The CERT program provides a free 16-20 hour training course which covers disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, light search-and-rescue, and disaster psychology.
Beyond CERT, however, strong community organizations are needed to provide mutual support in a crisis. Many cities with significant disaster risks support and encourage the formation of neighborhood associations. These organizations both raise awareness of the need for preparedness planning and encourage neighbors to get acquainted instead of keeping to themselves.
Urban dwellers, particularly those in high-density housing such as high-rise apartment buildings, are strongly encouraged to reach out to neighbors and openly discuss the need for preparedness.
Scenario 2 - Heat wave
Description: An unrelenting summer heat wave spreads across the Southwest. Daytime temperatures of over 110F are common. The electric power generation and distribution systems, strained by the load, suffer widespread failures.
Family separated: NO
Immediate evacuation required: NO
Post-event evacuation required: POSSIBLE
Services interrupted: YES (electricity)
Mean time to restoration of services: 3 days
Period of initial isolation: not applicable
Communications: minimal disruption
Secondary risks: Medical services overwhelmed by heat-related casualties
Requirements for survival:
Environment: YES, daytime environmental cooling
Electricity: YES, food preservation and environmental control
Water (stored): NO
Water (portable): YES, required in case of relocation
Nutrition (stored): YES, fresh food may spoil
Nutrition (portable): YES, required in case of relocation
Food preparation: YES, if kitchen is all-electric
Food preservation: YES
Lighting: YES, but minimal - night-time use only Alternate active communications: NO, phone/cell network functional
Passive communications: YES, need to stay informed
Entertainment: YES, can't go outside
Transportation: YES, in case of relocation or medical emergency
Shelter (permanent): NO
Shelter (portable): NO
Medical needs (maintenance medication): YES, 1-week supply
Medical care (first-aid/trauma): NO
This one is a double whammy -- a major heat wave leading to electricity outages. Heat waves are likely to be accompanies by a drought, greatly increasing the risk of fire danger in outlying areas.
One assumes that you will have the sense to stay out of the sun as much as possible during this crisis. Your author is no expert on heat wave survival, so a bit of Googling found this great city-government page titled Drought & Extreme Heat Survival. Here's what they have to say:
Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun, or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. To avoid developing these illnesses, learn the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.
Before the extreme heat:
To keep cool air inside and warm air outside...
Install air conditioning.
Insulate around window air conditioners, ducts, and doors. Weatherstrip doors and window sills.
Consider leaving storm windows up all year. They can help keep heat out during the summer months as well as keeping the cold out in the winter.
Install reflective film or shades on windows. Outdoor louvers or awnings can reduce the heat entering a house by as much as 80 percent.
Use fans to keep the cool air circulating.
Plant deciduous trees around your house that block the heat in summer and let the sun shine through in winter.
During periods of extreme heat:
To avoid the effects of heat waves, observe the following Heat Wave Safety Rules:
Slow down. Your body can't do its best in high temperatures and humidities, and might do its worst.
Heed your body's early warnings that heat syndrome is on the way. Reduce your level of activity immediately and get to a cooler environment.
Dress for summer. Lightweight, light colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your thermoregulatory system maintain normal body temperature.
Put less fuel on your inner fires. Foods (like proteins) that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
Don't dry out. Heat wave weather can wring you out before you know it. Drink plenty of water while the hot spell lasts.
Stay salty. Unless you're on a salt-restricted diet, take an occasional salt tablet or some salt solution when you've worked up a sweat.
Avoid thermal shock. Acclimatize yourself gradually to warmer weather. Treat yourself extra gently for those first critical two or three hot days.
Vary your thermal environment. Physical stress increases with exposure time in heat wave weather. Try to get out of the heat for at least a few hours each day. If you can't do this at home, drop in on a cool store, restaurant, or theater - anything to keep your exposure time down.
Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.
Scenario 3 - Earthquake
Description: A magnitude 7.4 earthquake centered on the Hayward fault strikes the San Francisco Bay Area at 1630PDT (4:30pm) on a weekday in October. One adult from the household is at work on the Peninsula, 20 miles away, when the quake occurs. The other adult is at home in Fremont. One child is at the elementary school walking distance from the house. The other is at preschool 10 miles from home.
The home suffers minor structural damage, but appears fit to occupy. Bay Area bridges are declared unsafe pending inspection; extensive damage to overpasses and roadway make highway travel hazardous or impossible.
Within 4 hours of the quake, 7,000 Bay Area residents are dead and 27,000 require medical attention. The vast majority of these are in East Bay cities within 5 miles (8 km) of the Hayward Fault. Emergency plans go into effect across California, and within 24 hours, martial law is declared in Fremont, Union City, and Oakland.
Family separated: YES, worst-case scenario
Immediate evacuation required: NO
Post-event evacuation required: POSSIBLE
Services interrupted: YES (all municipal services including sewer)
Mean time to restoration of services: 10+ days
Period of initial isolation: 7 days
Communications: wireline phone network down hard; mobile voice network extremely unreliable for outdial, indial impossible; mobile data network mostly functional
Secondary risks: Numerous, and all bad.
Requirements for survival:
Environment: YES, night-time lows of ~45F
Water (stored): YES
Water (portable): YES
Nutrition (stored): YES
Nutrition (portable): YES
Food preparation: YES
Food preservation: YES, short-term (until fresh/frozen food consumed)
Lighting: YES, but minimal - night-time use only Alternate active communications: YES
Passive communications: YES, need to stay informed
Clothing: YES, replacements for contaminated/damaged clothes
Transportation: YES, local and/or evac
Shelter (permanent): NO
Shelter (portable): YES
Medical needs (maintenance medication): YES, 2-week supply
Medical care (first-aid/trauma): YES
As the observant reader might gather, this is a scenario your correspondent has listed as a primary risk in his preparedness plan. Unfortunately, the death and injury toll numbers aren't made up or exaggerated. They're drawn directly from a FEMA study used in CERT training, and they're not even the worst-case scenario. What follows isn't the complete response plan, but enough of it to give you a good understanding.
After the quake hits, each adult moves immediately to a safe location. If mobile-network voice calling is down (very likely) SMS text messaging is used to notify spouse and out-of-state relatives of event and status. If mobile-network data services are functional, email is sent from mobile devices as a backup to SMS messaging. If mobile network is down hard, proceed immediately to nearest pay phone with phone card and call out-of-state contacts with event and status. (Multiple pay phone locations marked on emergency maps in all preparedness kits.)
Each adult then moves quickly to secure their location and ensure access to disaster supplies. The person at home immediately performs a rapid structural assessment. (Assume that both adults have self-treatable minor injuries, at worst.) If the house looks safe for the moment, homebody executes the following tasks:
NatGas to OFF (wrench and/or emergency tool in multiple locations)
Water to OFF at master valve (mandatory) and curbside valve (optional)
Master power breaker to OFF, individual circuit breakers to OFF
Pull emergency release on garage door and open manually if possible; move car out of garage into driveway
Relocate containerized camping gear (incl. clothing duffel), go-packs and bicycles to back yard
Relocate documents container and firearms to secure location
Relocate fire extinguishers to back yard
Relocate ice, frozen and refrigerated goods to 5-day coolers in back yard
Relocate certain kitchen appliances, canned and dry food supplies from kitchen cupboards to back yard
Advise contacts of status, and intent to retrieve older child from school
Retrieve older child from elementary school, return home
Advise contacts of successful retrieval of older child from school, status of child at preschool (unknown/unretrieved, etc.), advise other adult of any aid needed at school
Enlist older child in setting up temporary camp, kitchen, sanitation station in back yard
The adult at work on the Peninsula secures the work location and activates the company disaster plan. If the parking structure is intact, relocate vehicle to secure location. For safety and security reasons, travel is deferred until at least 0100PDT/day2. "Combat nap" time after setting up overnight watch schedule. Relocate to Fremont, taking at least one other Fremont-bound employee as a passenger. Note: do not issue firearms to unqualified passengers. Drop passenger at safe point near destination, review emergency-contact procedures in case retrieval is required.
Three of four family members rendezvous at home by 0400PDT/day2. "Combat naps" for adults. Refuel vehicle from emergency reserve, assess situation in Fremont using all available info sources, plan retrieval of fourth family member to start at first light (0630PDT/day2). Execute retrieval op, verify that disaster plan is being executed correctly at preschool for remaining kids. Provide first aid as needed, leave emergency food/water supplies if required. Return to home.
I'm going to truncate the explanation of this plan at this point, as it then goes into plenty more detail not necessarily useful to this conversation, such as CERT operations and camp management. [Note: see more in comments of original diary.]
PART 4 -- GEAR, SUPPLIES AND TRAINING
ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S NOTE: Any links to online e-commerce sites (as opposed to manufacturer information pages) are included for informational purposes only, and should not be considered an endorsement of that site. The author does not receive any direct or referral compensation from any manufacturer or e-commerce site mentioned in this series. (EDITOR'S NOTE: They may also be outdated after 5-1/2 years. Help updating them is welcome; put your updated suggestions, with links, in comments.)
Assess, plan, and prepare -- but don't think it ends there
In a great many ways, we live safer lives today than our parents and grandparents ever did. Western civilization's empasis on science and engineering has driven incredible progress in our understanding of the world. Because our understanding of the world is imperfect, and our social systems fractious and chaotic, we still make mistakes.
The result of this progress, unfortunately, is that much of Western civilization teeters precariously at the top of a technological pyramid. Remove the non-stop infusions of energy and goods, add a little natural or man-made disaster, and that balancing act rapidly devolves into chaos.
In this, the fourth installment of this series, we will discuss the material preparations required to support your emergency plans.
Yes, people, that means it's time to talk about MREs, radios, and guns. (Actually, guns will be covered in part 5, but you get the idea.)
Even the most ruggedly self-reliant wilderness survival types will tell you that material preparations are critical to putting your plan into action. In this section, we will review categories of material preparations you may need to support your plan.
Batteries, chargers, and adapters: stop the insanity
As you plan your various preparedness kits, take note of everything you want to include which uses batteries or an external power source. Now, look at all the chargers, connectors, adapters, and battery types required to support your gear.
Wherever possible, reduce and consolidate the number of dependencies you have on different types of cord, adapter, and battery. See Active Communications below for suggestions on how to standardize on USB power for charging phones, PDAs, and other pocket electronics. Minimize single points of failure wherever possible.
Your communications plan
In previous installments, we have discussed the requirement that each plan include a rendezvous point at one or more safe locations. After all, communication doesn't get much more direct and reliable than talking to someone face-to-face.
[Note (by Seneca): this was written in 2005. If any section of this series is likely to be out of date, I imagine that it is this one. If a consensus (yes, I'd want a consensus) is reached in comments regarding appropriate revisions, I will make it, and then delete this note.]
Before everyone in your group has made it safely to the rendezvous point, though, there's no substitute for a solid communications plan. Here's where you get to benefit from some of your correspondent's hard-won arcane knowledge of telecommunication systems in North America.
Quick, name the public voice communications service that will be brought online first after a major disaster. Home phones? Nope. Business lines? Negative. Cellphones? Not likely.
Give up? The answer: pay phones.
Yes, that dying breed, those dinosaur relics of the pre-cellphone age will be a shining beacon of civilization in the aftermath of a disaster.
Recommendation: All emergency kits should include a $10 roll of quarters and prepaid phone cards from two major long-distance providers.
Why two major long-distance providers? In the chaos following a natural disaster, especially an earthquake, it's hard to predict which portions of the phone network will be reliable and which will fail. Having two different long-distance providers gives you a much better shot at getting a call to go through.
Recommendation: Take one of your city/region maps and go on a payphone hunt. Find at least two payphones within walking/biking distance of home and work and mark the locations of each on the map. When you're done copy those locations to the map in each of your emergency kits.
Next quiz question: are you more likely to be able to complete a call to a local number, a number in a different part of your state, or a number in a different state altogether?
The answer, surprisingly, is that interstate long-distance calls are the most likely to go through in an emergency. This is because these calls are handed off from your local phone company to the long-distance networks at special "tandem" switching locations in every city.
Recommendation: Each family member and each emergency kit MUST have a durable card (i.e. laminated) with comprehensive contact information, including multiple out-of-state emergency contacts. Enlist the help of distant friends or relatives to act as a message switchboard in a crisis. This is a proven, reliable technique for reuniting separated family members when local communications are degraded or offline. If you take away nothing else from the recommendations in this series, for the love of Bob take this one and run with it. Take care of it today. Now. Go! DailyKos will still be here when you get back.
Finally, let us speak for a moment of the oft-overlooked capabilities of our mobile phones. As mentioned above, making or receiving voice calls will be bloody near impossible in many disaster situations. However, I'll let you in on a little secret:
If your mobile phone can register with the network, it is very likely that you will be able to send and receive text messages even if you can't make a voice call.
Recommendation: Everyone named in your emergency plan should have a mobile phone capable of text messaging, and should know how to send and receive text messages. Using a single network provider for the whole family will further increase your chances of getting text messages through quickly during a crisis.
Here's another one:
Wireless data services offered by the mobile network operators will frequently be available even when voice calling is severely degraded or offline altogether. Exhibit A: the bloggers roaming flooded New Orleans this week, filing reports and pictures using laptops with access to the Verizon wireless data network.
At the time of this writing (Sep 2005) this is still a relatively expensive proposition for most people, at $40-$80/month. However, most mobile phones available in the US offer browser-based access to online services via those same wireless data networks. In addition, network operators are beginning to offer mobile email services at very low cost, with email programs that run on your phone and integrate with major service providers such as Yahoo!.
[Disclosure: your correspondent is co-founder of a company which makes email products for many mobile network operators.]
Recommendation: Familiarize yourself with the wireless-data capabilities of your phone. If you have an free email account with a major service provider, look into whether access to your email account is available via the browser on your phone. Consider signing up for a service which will give you direct access to email on your phone.
Let us say a few things about a few things you might need
To a certain extent, training and planning can compensate quite a bit for failure to plan for your physical needs in an emergency situation. However, it would be foolhardy to expect that you can get through a week of widespread municipal service outages and civil disturbance with nothing more than a solid plan and pure thoughts.
We have now come to the point in this series that everyone was eager to get to when Part 1 was posted -- what emergency planners call "logistics", and you, dear reader, might call "gear, goods, and guns".
The Part 3 section entitled 'Key planning considerations for your preparedness plan' breaks down material needs into a list of categories. Your correspondent is a firm believer in breaking down intimidating problems into manageable, logically organized chunks. The hope is that by considering each separately, it will be for the reader easier to understand the requirements and trade-offs for each category, and then fit that into the reader's larger understanding of preparedness planning.
Each requirement category includes solutions in three categories:
Best-of-breed options are, generally speaking, commercially available but you'll pay for the convenience
Cheap-and-cheerful options are alternative solutions for emergency needs which may not be as polished or neatly packaged as commercial products, but are generally much cheaper than best-of-breed choices
Improvised solutions are what you can fall back on if, for example, the best-of-breed gear you bought is destroyed or taken from you
We will begin by discussing the individual categories, and then proceed to assembly of these items into preparedness kits. In [Part 3], your correspondent shared his pragmatic view of the correct way to approach disaster preparedness. In particular, plans which rely on rotation of supplies on a frequent basis are vulnerable to failure. It's just human nature. This must be balanced against the need to exercise due care in maintaining your preparedness plan and supplies, hence my clear policy on this issue:
"Material preparations MUST NOT require inspection more than once per year, and MUST still be capable of meeting minimum safety/usability requirements if left unattended for FOUR YEARS."
Without further ado, let's get down and dirty. I fully expect some of my suggestions to spark debate, and likewise, I expect to learn more about effective preparedness solutions from the comments. Please keep in mind that budgets and urgency levels do vary, and try to respect the limitations some of your fellow Kossacks may have in preparing for disaster.
Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink
Water is heavy, bulky, and absolutely vital to human survival. The so-called "standard human" can survive for up to 30 days without food, but even under the most favorable conditions will die after 5-7 days without water. That number decreases precipitously in adverse circumstances such as high heat and/or high levels of exertion. In a crisis, safe drinking water is a precious commodity, more valuable than you can imagine.
Quantity: One gallon per day per person, half that for portable water rations. While waste should be carefully avoided (see Sanitation, below) each person should drink as much as they need to stay hydrated. As soon as you tap into your stored water supply, you MUST begin working to identify additional sources of drinkable water. In some circumstances, this could mean preparing to evacuate.
IMPORTANT TIP: all-in-one powdered drink mixes such as Gatorade, lemonade, etc. are wonderful for breaking up the monotony of drinking plain water from your emergency supply. They're also good for covering any taste left in the water after filtration and/or purification. Be sure to store some in each of your long-term preparedness kits.
We will discuss three subcategories of water supply: bulk stored water, portable stored water, and clean-water production from available supply.
= Bulk stored water =
There are many ways of ensuring that you will have water available when your life depends on it, but only a few will meet your author's demanding standards for longevity and safety.
Best-of-breed: Brand-new, food-grade FDA-certified water storage barrels; water treated with 5-year preserver concentrate.
5-year preserver concentrate
new siphon pump
new water-grade siphon tube as backup to pump (store separately from pump, in household emergency kit)
bung wrench for installing/removing plugs
waterproof tape & permanent marker for labeling barrel with date filled/refilled
5-7 gallon container with on/off tap to hold water pumped from barrel
Recommended: tamper-evident seals.
Store barrels away from direct sunlight, in a cool location if possible. If you live in earthquake country, your correspondent strongly recommends storing your supply in two separate barrels, with one barrel located away from your home or residence. If you do not have a shed or other shelter, consider storing your outdoor water barrel in a large UV-resistant garbage can, which should be hidden and/or locked.
Water stored in barrels should be replaced every 3 years, at a cost of approximately $15 for water preserver concentrate and barrel seals.
Cheap-and-cheerful: Water in plastic bottles will generally 'keep' for up to a year. Because this is a commodity that is consumed under normal circumstances, care must be taken to maintain adequate stock on hand. Define your minimum level of safe inventory and DO NOT GO BELOW THAT LEVEL.
While any good preparedness plan should include some bottled water, as it is highly portable and the bottles are reusable, your correspondent is NOT a fan of this as your main water-storage measure. You need to rotate it too often, you're likely to drink your reserves by accident, and it's MUCH more expensive than barrel storage.
10-year cost comparison:
55-gallon barrel, all accessories including preserver: $150
55 gallons of Trader Joe's bottled water in 1L bottles: $1100
Improvised, part 1: If time is more available than money, you can maintain an emergency water supply by dumping/refilling clean and sterilized 2-liter bottles with tap water every 3 months.
Wash the bottles with a weak soap solution, rinse thoroughly. Rinse bottles with a solution of diluted unscented bleach (pure 5% sodium hypochlorite), rinse until no chlorine smell remains. Cap tightly, apply tape label indicating date filled, store in a dark, safe location at/near floor level. Empty and refill (no wash/sterilization required) every 3 months.
Improvised, part 2a for house-dwellers: This should be your absolute last-resort backup plan. As soon as water pressure drops off, which generally indicates an integrity failure in the water supply, shut off the master water valve to your house. Your emergency water supply now consists of the 1-2 gallons of water in the flush tank of each of your toilets (NOT the water in the bowl!!!) and the contents of your hot-water heater. Make sure nobody flushes a toilet before you recover that fresh water from the flush tank!
Because contamination may have entered your water supply before pressure failed, this water should be considered suspect. At a minimum, either purify it (see below) or boil it for 10 minutes before drinking.
Improvised, part 2b for apartment-dwellers: Same basic idea as the previous measures. If you can, fill the tub and any available containers with water before pressure fails. If pressure fails, turn off the water supply to your toilet and recover the water from the flush tank as outlined above. Water stored in the tub or other open containers should be considered potentially contaminated and must be purified or 10-minute-boiled before use.
= Portable stored water =
While bottled water isn't recommended for long-term storage, a portable water supply is a must-have for vehicle and work preparedness kits. At home, you will want to be able to take a supply of water with you if you need to evacuate, and a full 55-gallon barrel weighs around 465 pounds.
Best-of-breed: Aqua Blox or equivalent 5-year-stable "juice box" style water. Ignore the outrageous claims and treat each 3-pack as a minimal one-day supply for one person. Supplement with an additional 750mL of bottled water per person per day, rotated at least yearly.
Cheap-and-cheerful: Just buy the damn Aqua Blox. Seriously. They're around $1.09 for a 3-pack. If you insist, you can go exclusively with bottled water in rotated yearly, but this is cheap peace of mind.
Improvised: Any clean, watertight container can be used to hold or transport drinking water for a few days. If your only means of storing a temporary supply of water is a (very clean) bucket, cover the bucket as well as possible and subject it to purification, filtration, and/or 10-minute-boiling before use. If you have a sufficient supply of unscented bleach drops or other means of chemical purification, consider adding it to the container at fill time as a preventive measure.
= Clean-water production from available supply =
The lightest water of all is the water you don't have to carry. There may be situations where you are unable to transport sufficient water, but will have access to some form of fresh water. In a disaster, the only water you can trust is water that you've stored yourself, and water in a factory-sealed bottle or jug. Any other water must be considered suspect.
There are three main methods for making water safe to drink:
Purification through chemical treatment or 10 minutes of boiling. The downside is that chemical treatment may make the water taste anywhere from barely tolerable to horrible, and may not be effective against some microorganisms. Boiling uses up valuable energy resources. The upside is that either one can generate enough clean water to keep you alive if you have the resources to purify suspect water.
Filtration can be extremely effective, especially with today's incredibly advanced filtering technology. However, filtration may not remove viruses (depends on filter in question) or chemical contamination (requires an activated-charcoal filter). Your correspondent considers filtration the minimum safeguard for drinking water from any source (even barrel-stored water) in a disaster.
Distillation is energy-intensive, but yields clean, safe water that generally tastes better than purified water. Chemically contaminated water should be run through an activated-charcoal filter before distillation. (If the water has any sort of smell, assume that it requires filtration and proceed accordingly.) This is not generally a viable method in a disaster.
Best-of-breed, personal: Exstream Orinoco or Exstream Mackenzie water bottle purification system, hands down. There may be others out there, but these beasties are amazing. Works with any freshwater source, regardless of organic contamination or virus load. Deploy minimum one per preparedness kit, especially vehicle and work kits. Spare filter and cleaning materials recommended.
Best-of-breed, group: First Need Deluxe Portable Water Purifier/Filter, recommend one unit with spare filter catridge and cleaning materials for each group preparedness kit.
Cheap-and-cheerful: One Exstream bottle purifier as a backup to stored and bottled water supply. Alternatively, Aqua Mira water treatment solution will kill viruses and microorganisms but will do nothing for solid contaminants.
Improvised: In your correspondent's preparedness kit, you will find a zip-lock bag containing an empty water bottle, a dozen 6" paper laboratory filters, a funnel, an eyedropper, and a relabeled medicine bottle containing pure 5% sodium hypochlorite bleach. If you take the bottle out of the bag, the whole thing fits into a cargo pocket. This is my last resort for clean drinking water, and you shouldn't consider it if there are ANY other options. One drop of bleach per 16oz filtered water, let stand for 30 minutes before drinking. See above for much better alternatives.
OK, we're not going to die of thirst - got anything to eat?
As the machines said to Neo in The Matrix: Revolutions, "There are levels of survival we are willing to accept." You need to decide what your priorities are when it comes to emergency nutrition. In a nutshell: long shelf life, tastes good, cheap... pick any two. Dehydrated food generally tastes much better than long-shelf-life MRE-type food.
As with water supplies, there are different trade-offs for stored food vs. portable rations. The storage space required, increased weight, and decreased packaging efficiency of stored food can be a good trade-off for lower per-meal costs and better-tasting meals. On the other hand, portable food needs to be light, resource-efficient (no dehydrated stuff!) and extremely convenient.
Rough order of priority for consuming food stores
Fresh foods on hand
Frozen foods on hand
Canned food with low water content
Canned food with high water content
Shelf-stable prepared foods (MREs)
Shelf-stable rations (ER food bars)
Dehydrated/dry foods (backpacking meals, pancake mix, etc.)
If dehydrated foods are part of your nutrition plan, and water is not an issue (all water supplies intact/known-good and water for rehydration included in planning) then move "dehydrated/dry foods" up to #3.
= Stored food =
Best-of-breed: Mountain House Easy Meal Security-Pak, will feed a family of 5 for 9+ days. NOTE: Requires water for preparation, budget 25% additional water supply for food prep. Hot water not required for preparation, but highly desirable.
Cheap-and-cheerful: Once your stock of fresh & frozen food is exhausted: canned foods (rotate regularly) supplemented with instant noodles, etc. as water supplies permit. Keep in mind that all of the water used to prepare a cup of instant noodles ends up in you, albeit with some salt. Not very calorie-dense, however.
Improvised: There's not much substitute for being prepared when it comes to food. If your issue is money and/or storage space, consider supplementing your normal stock of food with some Emergency Ration food bars, which are shelf-stable for 5 years and very affordable.
= Portable food =
Best-of-breed: MREs or canned food. MREs have the advantage that you can get cheap just-add-water chemical meal warmers to heat them up, whereas canned food needs a backpacker stove if you don't want to eat it cold.
Cheap-and-cheerful: Emergency Ration food bars. You don't have to like them, you just have to survive. Packaging says you can live on 1200 calories/day, but I don't call that living. Figure 1800 calories/day minimum per person, 2400 calories/day for a male engaged in heavy activity as the worst case. Remember, everything tastes better when you're hungry and there's nothing else to eat.
Improvised: Candy bars and cookies will keep you going for a few days, though you'll feel like crap a lot of the time. Sealed packages of trail mix keep pretty well, but rotate them every 6 months. Avoid caffeinated soft drinks if water is in short supply, as they have a dehydrating effect. Beyond that [... see original diary, if you must, for suggestion that many may find upsetting].
While we will be discussing ways to power your refrigerator and/or standalone freezer in an emergency later on, you need to plan for the possibility that you may not have that option. The recommendations are the same regardless of circumstance:
Buy one or more of the new "5-day" super-insulated coolers, sized appropriately for your household. If you have an older cooler, replace it with a new 5-day model. Tip: get one with wheels. If you need to relocate on foot, this will make it much easier to take your cooler.
If you have room in the freezer, freeze a number of water bottles and keep them frozen. Be sure to freeze bottles capable of expanding; Trader Joe's 750mL and 1L bottles are perfect for this, and cheap.
If the power goes out and stays out, unload all of your ice and frozen food into the bottom of your new 5-day cooler(s).
Transfer only those refrigerated items that will actually be consumed to the coolers. Anything that goes unused wastes ice.
Keep the cooler(s) closed as much as possible
Keep the cooler(s) in a cool location. If you are sheltering in your back yard or similar location, consider digging a hole for each cooler; line the hole with a tarp and shade the cooler if possible
One final note, for households who depend on refrigeration to keep medication from going bad: your priorities for any capacity to keep things chilled will be quite different. In addition to prioritizing medication over food in the cooler, you might also consider getting one of the small car-sized mini-refrigerators which runs off 12VDC.
You can certainly survive indefinitely eating cold prepared foods, but that doesn't mean you're going to like it. For many people, the lack of a hot bitter caffeinated beverage in the morning represents the true end of civilization. With a little planning, this can be avoided. Note that all of the options here are dual-use equipment, and are useful in an emergency and at a campsite.
Best-of-breed: In this writer's opinion, it's difficult to beat the versatility of the Coleman Roadtrip Grill with dual burners and interchangeable griddle, grill, and stove inserts. It will run off of 16oz propane cylinders (expensive, but easy to store) or, with an accessory hose, the more economical refillable propane cylinders. At the risk of sounding like a Coleman shill, your correspondent also heartily recommends the Coleman Hot Water On Demand. If you happen to have some non-potable water in addition to an ample supply of drinking water, you can even use it to take a hot shower. Note, however, that the Coleman HWOD does use a rechargeable battery, so plan on having access to an AC power point to recharge it every 40 gallons or so.
Recommended fuel for the above: one 20lb propane cylinder with adapter hose, plus 12 1lb disposables as a backup. Double the number of 1lb disposables if you get a Hot Water On Demand.
Cheap-and-cheerful: It's hard to beat the good old basic propane stove -- but a dual-fuel stove that will run on unleaded gasoline is a better choice for emergencies. Another popular option is the good old outdoor grill -- if you're creative, you can warm or cook just about anything on the grill. Some grills even have an accessory burner which works great for making soup or hot beverages.
Improvised: Well, not truly improvised, but the most frugal option for cooking heat is military-surplus trioxane bars burned in an Esbit mini-stove. While trioxane is supposedly non-toxic, you should plan on using it with at least a little ventilation.
One final note: if you wander the aisles of camping gear at your local outdoors or sporting-goods store, you will see many zero-power alternatives to familiar kitchen gear. Camping equipment is a particularly good source of food-preparation gear for your preparedness kit.
Sanitation -- what's that smell? Ew!
You should assume that, in an emergency, there will be no water available to wash dishes or flush toilets, and minimal (if any) water available for personal hygiene. This will be a challenge for most Americans, who are accustomed to taking a nice, hot shower or bath at least once per day.
= Kitchen sanitation =
Assuming that water is in short supply, kitchen sanitation can be a challenge. You may need to improvise. If you are being careful to prepare only as much food as people can eat, the task is simplified somewhat. Paper towels and sanitizing wipes can be an effective means of cleaning up pots and pans. Dry sand makes an excellent improvised pot-scrubber. Be sure that any cooking vessels, dishes, or utensils are clean and dry before storing them for the next meal.
= Personal hygiene =
For personal cleanliness in emergency situations, the author relies on a few common items: moist baby wipes, waterless hand cleaner/degreaser, and hand sanitizer. You can, in fact, get reasonably clean all over using only baby wipes. Your correspondent's preparedness kits include quite a few sealed "bricks" of unscented baby wipes stored in individual ziplock "freezer" bags. (As a side note, ziplock bags are one of the greatest inventions of all time. If I had to be stranded on a desert island with only three things, I'd take ziplock bags, a pack of cable ties, and my Leatherman.) Note also that baby wipes make a superior toilet paper substitute.
Likewise, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is quite useful. Keeping your hands and face clean can be difficult but is very important in avoiding infections and disease during a disaster. (See Medical below for discussion of various disposable gloves.)
Finally, all emergency kits should have a supply of feminine hygiene products. Many of these materials are dual-use for medical response in an emergency.
= Potty breaks =
And then there's the call of nature, i.e. the human need to eliminate bodily wastes. You MUST have a plan for dealing with this. Fortunately, this need can be met simply and inexpensively.
In my opinion, the best solution is the Reliance Luggable Loo. This is about as simple as it gets -- it's a toilet seat affixed to a 5-gallon bucket. Be sure to acquire a supply of Bio-Blue or similar product, and store it in your Loo along with toilet paper, baby wipes (see above) and a roll of thick, strong trash bags. You do NOT want these bags to break or leak, as they will be serving as the liner in your Loo, and then tied off for removal and disposal.
Electricity -- sweet, sweet AC current
Face it, you live an electricity-centric lifestyle. You're reading this very Diary on a computer powered by the stuff, connected to the Internet which depends on ultra-reliable electric power. If you've ever been in your house during a power outage, you probably noticed how much quieter it was without the humming and whirring of your electric lifestyle.
When most people think about electricity in a disaster, they immediately think "I gotta get me a generator!" Well, generators are nice, but for many people they're overkill. Let's look at some of the alternatives.
= Power generation =
Portable generator: Noisy, which can draw the attention of folks who, shall we say, didn't consider preparedness before the big quake hit. They can, however, be tremendously useful, and are relatively fuel-efficient if you keep the running load in the 50-60% range of the generator's rated capacity. Not normally designed to run 24x7, and a couple weeks of continuous operation will seriously shorten the time to rebuild.
Permanently installed generator: Convenient, can be set up to kick in automatically if the power goes out. Generally quieter than portables, but still noisy. Diesel units are available, which is nice because the authorities are much more amenable to you storing significant quantities of diesel fuel than, say, gasoline. (It's that whole explosion thing, y'know.) If you live in the country, LP-fueled generators may also be an option worth considering.
Solar array with battery bank: Dual-use, doesn't directly pollute, amount of energy available depends on size of solar array, size and number of batteries, etc. Expensive up-front costs, pays for itself especially if your state subsidizes residential solar.
= The inverter alternative =
As we discussed, though, for many people these options are either overkill or represent a serious financial burden. If you think about it, a generator is basically an internal-combustion engine attached to a device that converts the mechanical energy into electricity. Can you think of anywhere you might find a convenient, quiet, well-maintained internal combustion engine?
Yes, grasshopper, I'm talking about your car. With a DC-to-AC inverter, you can run your refrigerator, enough CFL lights to illuminate your main room nicely, a AA/C/D-cell battery charger, your laptop, and so forth -- all at the same time. In fact, you can get an inverter big enough to do this for under $200.
One word about running that fridge, though: modern refrigerators are fairly frugal in their steady-state energy usage, with two exceptions: when it first starts up (up to 2500W for 1-2 sec!) and when you open the door and all of those nice lights come on (700W). Consider disconnecting all the light bulbs and use a flashlight.
If you go this route, keep in mind that your vehicle will probably be idling at least half of the time you're using the inverter so you can avoid killing your battery. You will need to figure out how much fuel your car or truck uses per hour at idle to plan effectively. This isn't too hard:
Fill up your gas tank and a plastic fuel can with graduated markings on the side.
Drive directly home, turn off your car, and top off the tank.
Note the level on the fuel can. Write it down.
Turn the AC to full blast, and your headlights on high beam. Leave the door open so the interior lights will be on. This is to simulate the worst-case load of the inverter.
Start your car and let it idle for 15 minutes exactly, then turn it off.
Top off your gas tank from the fuel can.
Note the new fuel level in the fuel can. Write it down.
Subtract level reading 1 from level reading 2, and multiply by 4. This is the number of gallons per hour.
Keep in mind that once you eat all of the food in your fridge and freezer, or transfer it into a cooler (hint) you can greatly extend your fuel supply by only running this setup part of the day.
It's also a very good idea to keep one of those self-contained jumpstart packs handy in case you run your battery down too much to start your car. (Let's be honest -- those jumpstart power packs are a great thing to have in your trunk no matter what!)
The advanced electric-systems hacker might consider acquiring one or more large sealed lead-acid batteries and a DC-DC charger. Depending on sizing, this could enable round-the-clock power for your inverter when coupled with a couple of hours of charging off the car's power (or any AC power source) each day.
One final tip on this subject: consider acquiring a length of appropriately-sized flexible metal ducting to enable you to safely run your vehicle in a closed garage. (Obviously, if your exhaust system leaks this is a bad idea regardless of any ducting between the tailpipe and the outdoors.) Be sure to get a roll of high-temperature metallic tape (auto-parts store) to get a reasonably good seal between the ducting and the tailpipe(s). If you don't know how to do this safely, don't even try it. Run your vehicle with the garage door open, but post a guard the entire time it's running.
Transportation - the burden and blessing of America
For this section, we're going to assume you own at least one vehicle. (Sorry, city-dwellers, you already know what your options are. Consider getting a bike and helmet if you're worried about evacuating under your own power.) We shall also presume that your vehicle is reasonably functional and runs on gasoline. The type of fuel factors into fuel storage limitations.
Chest-thumping about "I never let my tank get below half-empty" aside, assume for a moment that the crisis hits and your gas gauge is near E. Even if you want to evacuate from the region in your vehicle, this is not an auspicious way to start your adventure. At a minimum, you should keep a 5-gallon reserve supply of fuel in an accessible location.
The Authorities, for good reason, frown on private citizens storing more than about 25 gallons of gas at home. Even that should be in securely sealed, high-strength 5-gallon containers. Your humble correspondent has found that surplus NATO 5-gallon fuel cans, suitably cleaned and painted with Rustoleum primer and red gloss, are excellent for storing fuel safely. These cans are quite possibly strong enough that I could use one hold up my truck for a tire change. Don't bother asking questions about how much fuel is stored at the author's home -- it's enough for my plans, and it's stored safely, and that's all I'm saying.
A couple of notes about storing fuel:
Gasoline requires a stabilizing additive to last more than 60-90 days. The most popular product on the market is Sta-Bil. Be sure to check out the 'Lawn Mower Racing link at the Sta-Bil site. :)
TIP: A double dose of Sta-Bil (4oz per 5-gallon can) will keep gas fresh for 24 months.
Every year, use half of your stored fuel to fill up your vehicle and refill the cans with fresh fuel and more Sta-Bil. Put a piece of tape on each can with the fill-up date.
TIP: Pick a holiday (e.g. Memorial Day) and rotate your stored fuel on that holiday every year. It's much easier to remember.
IMPORTANT: Any significant quantity of stored gasoline should be NOT be in your house, or in a building attached to your house. If you don't have a shed, Rubbermaid makes inexpensive, durable outdoor storage in a variety of sizes and shapes. Plan on adding a hasp and outdoor-rated combination lock to whatever outdoor storage you use. (Don't use a keyed lock unless you put a key into a combination-access lockbox nearby, and even then it's not a great idea.)
A few more notes about surplus NATO fuel cans:
Gasoline storage containers are legally required to be bright red in color in the US and (I think) Canada.
Surplus 5-gallon NATO fuel cans MUST be cleaned and rust-inhibiting primer applied before the bright-red paint goes on.
Plan on replacing the rubber gasket as soon you buy your NATO can(s), even if it's a "like-new" can. Rubber decays over time, and gaskets are cheap insurance.
Used NATO cans may have fuel residue from fuels other than gas. Plan on rinsing each one out 2-3 times with a few ounces of clean gas. Capture the contaminated runoff in a sealed container. Your local fire department can assist you in safely disposing of it.
Don't forget a NATO-spec fuel spout! Without it, you'll be struggling with funnels, and that's just lame.
NATO cans are not C.A.R.B. compliant, and if you use a NATO can for gasoline in California you are a Very Bad Person who clearly Does Not Care About The Environment.
Finally, consider that you may need to, er, liberate fuel from an abandoned vehicle or storage tank at some point. Traditional tube siphons are extremely hazardous to your health when used for fuels. Consider investing in a self-priming siphon to avoid a mouthful of gas or diesel.
Environment -- keeping warm, keeping cool
Human beings have a remarkably narrow range of "comfortable" temperatures, compared to many other organisms. Get us outside that comfort zone for too long, and things start to get ugly, not to mention smelly and/or hypothermic. We'll focus on keeping warm, since Part 3 included quite a bit of information on how to survive a heat wave.
Keeping warm and healthy in weather which is cold, wet, or both is a life-threatening challenge. The two easiest ways to make the best of an available heat source are (1) contain the heat in a smaller space, and (2) keep more of the heat in that space by blocking absorption or escape.
For (1), your correspondent recommends having a roll of plastic sheeting and duct tape handy. (Yes, I know, plastic and duct tape, ha ha.) These materials can be used to increase heat retention (additional layer of air barrier over windows & unused doors) and block off areas of the dwelling which are not absolutely required.
For (2), covering hard flooring and exterior walls with rugs or blankets is highly desirable in a cold-weather crisis. The reason European royalty were so into tapestries, in reality, was that they helped cut down on drafts.
Finally, heating. Keep in mind that your central heating will not work without power to the control electronics and main unit. If your plan for staying alive in a week-long winter storm involves your central heating unit, you'd better find a way to supply it with electric power.
We will assume that if you live in a cold-weather climate, you are aware of the various options for grid-independent heating, such as wood, coal or pellet stoves, kerosene heaters, and so forth. If you own a home in such a climate and do not have any such resources, you need to do something about it ASAP.
For emergencies in general and apartment dwellers in particular, the author urges caution in choosing an emergency indoor heat source. While there may be other alternatives, the only indoor-safe portable heat source worth mentioning is the Coleman Catalytic Heater product line. The downside is that if you're going to count on this type of heater to get you through 3-5 days of freezing temperatures, you'd better stock up on the 1lb propane canisters. You will need at least 3 canisters per day to keep it running.
Active communications -- direct vs. short-range vs. long-range
Being able to communicate with the world outside the disaster zone can, and frequently has, made the difference between life and death for survivors of the initial event. Most people are already 90% prepared for this situation, but in an emergency extending over the course of a week or more, that extra 10% is a killer.
= Direct signaling =
There's a helicopter flying over your neighborhood and you're stranded at your house with a disabled relative and no means of transportation and no working means of communications. What do you do?
First, you need to get the attention of the aircrew. Do not shoot flares at the helicopter, as this tends to make pilots nervous. However, stick-type road flares arranged in a geometric pattern (triangle, square, whatever you can manage) will attract attention. Likewise, in the daytime a signaling mirror used to flash light from the sun at the aircrew is a good attention-getter. At night, an LED strobe (e.g. the kind used by runners and bicyclists at dusk) brought to a high point at your location is also extremely visible.
Next, you need to get your message seen. Your correspondent likes to think big, as is noticeable-in-aerial-photography big. Contrasting paint on a light or dark background (roof, street) in letters 1m (3ft) tall will catch anyone's attention. Failing that, make a sign using a sheet and stake down the corners. And for Bob's sake, try to get the spelling right.
Recommended supplies: 3 large cans blaze-orange spray paint, replaced every 3-4 years or when used (however little); signaling mirror; LED flasher with spare batteries (lithium batteries last a very long time in the box; replace every 5 years)
Finally, be ready for rescue. Enough said.
= Short-range comms =
A popular notion among many halfway-prepared individuals is that FRS radios will be useful in an emergency. I've got news for you: not bloody likely.
First, if you live in the author's city or many like it, FRS (and its more powerful cousin, GMRS) will be used in a disaster to coordinate search-and-rescue teams. This is the case in most cities with CERT teams. If you, or more likely, your 9-year-old daughter, starts yammering on the radio when my team is conducting a search-and-recovery operation, you *will be told in no uncertain terms to cease transmitting on my channel. Take a look at Fremont's CERT Communication Plan for an example of how we use FRS radio.
Low-tech is a good way to go for short-range communications: buy everyone a whistle, and agree on a few basic signals. You can get incredibly loud emergency whistles for only a few dollars. I'm a particular fan of the Coghlan's Six Function Whistle which incorporates an LED light, a compass, a magnifier, a thermometer, and a signal mirror. Between the LED light, the whistle and the signal mirror, you should be able to get someone's attention.
Finally, if you are a neighborhood or group leader, seriously consider picking up an electronic bullhorn with spare batteries. The author knows from experience that he's not a terribly effective organizer if he loses his voice from shouting too much. Get one on eBay and seal it into a waterproof bag. Note that this is also a very useful item for search and rescue operations.
= Long range comms =
For the prepared individual, having a range of options in the plan for communicating outside the disaster zone is a must. (See Communications Plan above.) Let's discuss a few of the ways one can prepare.
Personal Locator Beacon: also known as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, and if you need to shout for help really loud, this is the way to go. These devices include a GPS receiver to transmit your exact location to a satellite. They're expensive, but boy howdy are they a nice safety net.
Ham radio: In a disaster, ham radio operators are frequently the only link between the disaster zone and the outside world. While some people might recommend the purchase of a hand-held ham radio, use of that radio by an unlicensed operator might interfere with mission-critical communications in progress. A better plan is to get in touch with your local ARRL chapter and find out how you can tap into their emergency communications plan, or even get licensed for basic ham radio operation yourself.
Mobile phones: See the communications plan section above. Note that battery power will be a scarce commodity after the first 72 hours. Your correspondent strongly recommends storing a manual phone charger such as the Sidewinder in your emergency kit.
It is also strongly recommended that, if possible, your household standardize on a single brand of mobile phone i.e. Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, etc. This will simplify the power situation considerably, and in some cases, enable you to turn off one phone and reuse its battery in another.
For routine charging, in the author's experience nothing beats the versatility of a USB charger cable with AC and DC USB power adapters. A good source for this is Expansys -- here's a link to a Treo 650 kit as an example.
Passive communications - keep informed!
Radio and TV broadcasts are an excellent way to keep informed before, during, and after a disaster. You should have multiple means of receiving broadcast information.
Best-of-breed: As stated above, having multiple options is key. Your correspondent is a big believer in this, and recommends the following:
Freeplay Energy EyeMax AM/FM/Weather-Band Emergency Radio with LED Flashlight
XM Satellite Radio receiver (e.g. SkyFi2) and "boom-box" accessory with batteries, AC, and DC power adapters
The XM radio isn't just for news and entertainment -- XM channel 247 (get it, 24/7?) is a round-the-clock emergency information channel.
A no-name imported hand-crank radio is a good basic addition to your preparedness kit.
Improvised: Many households have at least one personal radio or radio/CD player with headphones gathering dust somewhere. Pack it up in a ziplock bag with spare batteries and put it in your preparedness kit.
A note about TV: a small TV with multiple power options can be a great comfort in a disaster, assuming the local TV stations are online and transmitting. For stuck-at-home emergencies an inexpensive (~$130) portable DVD player is a power-efficient means of entertainment, especially if you have kids.
Let there be light!
One point of commonality you'll find among preparedness and first-responder types is a predilection for flashlights. You have your traditionalists who favor the MagLite, which doubles handily as a blunt weapon. You have your law-enforcement types who are fans of the ultra-bright SureFire lights. You get the idea.
In a disaster or emergency situation, light is a critical need. Let's face it -- if you have to spend a week cooped up with three other people in a dark room during a blizzard, you are likely to go a little nuts.
= Area light =
Candles are OK for temporary lighting, but for any situation lasting more than an hour or three they're not a great choice. That said, it is a very good idea to have a couple of long-burning emergency candles on hand for backup lighting and cooking heat.
Likewise, battery-powered incandescent area lamps are convenient when a thunderstorm knocks out power for an evening, but are a relatively poor idea for disaster preparedness due to battery requirements. See below for alternatives.
A good oil or kerosene lamp, if used safely, will provide hours of light from fuel which can sit on the shelf for a very long time and still remain usable. Safe storage for both lamp and fuel are critical; be sure to get or make a padded hard-case for the lamp to ensure that it is available when you need it.
Another excellent choice for zero-power lighting is a dual-fuel lantern capable of burning unleaded gasoline or 'Coleman fuel'. Because these have been around for a long time, they are readily availble used complete with cushioned hard case for under $40. These lanterns can be relatively fuel-efficient, capable of making a gallon of fuel last a week or more at 8 hrs/day.
One potential exception to the no-battery-powered-area-lamps rule of thumb is the new class of LED lanterns coming out. The eGear LED lantern, for example, will run at full brightness for 40 hours (5 8-hour evenings) on a single set of D-cell batteries, and much longer at reduced brightness. Your correspondent considers this within the acceptable range, and at $40, it's an affordable solution.
If some electric power is available (generator, inverter, etc.) then you might consider using some of your power budget for lighting. Generally speaking, incandescent lights are not an efficient use of your power budget, but fortunately, there are alternatives.
In warm-weather situations, it's important to minimize the amount of heat your lighting introduces into your environment -- especially since the air conditioner won't be running. Compact fluorescent bulbs are a direct replacement for incandescent bulbs and require much less power to run, typically 15-20% of an equivalently bright regular bulb. They also put out much less heat. 100W of power budget from your inverter or generator is enough to brightly light a medium-sized room with four 150W-equivalent CFL bulbs.
One thing to keep in mind is that inexpensive generators frequently output, shall we say, less-than-perfect electric power. This can be very, very hard on CFL bulbs. One way around this is to use your generator intermittently to charge one or more large batteries, and run your lights off the batteries via an inverter with cleaner power output.
In cold-weather situations, you want your lighting solution to put out heat. The author's home preparedness plan for colder weather includes a selection of inexpensive halogen work lights to illuminate and warm the main living area. These are dual-use equipment, as they also come in handy working both indoors and outside. Spare bulbs are a must-have.
Clothing: plan for the extremes
Nothing beats having clean, dry clothing to change into when you're cold, wet, dirty, and tired. For temperature-sensitive humans, clothing is our first and sometimes only line of defense against illness or death due to exposure.
As the section title says, plan for the extremes. If disaster struck your area and you needed to hike home from work or school, do you have the appropriate clothing and footwear to survive the journey?
First, a word about mosquitos and biting insects. Your preparedness kits must include some form of insect repellent. It will, literally, help keep you alive in a disaster, when biting insects begin to spread infectious disease. Get the strongest DEET-based repellent you can find; a malaria outbreak is NOT the time to be trying out weak-ass alternatives like Skin-so-soft.
Next, a word about sunscreen. Keep a supply of high-SPF sunscreen in your vehicle and replace it yearly. Simple enough.
On to the clothing...
Headwear: hats are cheap but crucial. Keep a sun hat or cap and a winter hat for each person in all of your preparedness kits. Remember, you don't have to look good, you just have to stay alive, so feel free to scrounge cheap but serviceable headwear for this.
Footwear: your work and vehicle preparedness kits must include footwear. Your correspondent's work kit has an old but serviceable pair of athletic shoes, while his vehicle kit has a well-broken-in pair of insulated 8" combat boots. The key here is that storing a brand-new pair of shoes is a Very Bad Idea. You will injure your feet and thereby endanger your ability to function in an emergency if you try hiking 10 miles in a brand-new pair of shoes.
Socks/underwear: While a change of underwear is nice to have, socks are crucial to your well-being, and they're cheap. Keep a sealed pack of generic white athletic socks in each of your preparedness kits. Add at least one pair of underwear for each member of your household in a ziplock bag. (Aren't ziplock bags great?)
Clothing: Layers, people, layers. Recommended per person: several t-shirts, 1 pair utility shorts with lots-o-pockets, poly fleece sweatpants, poly fleece pullover, oversized Army-type long-sleeve shirt and pants sprayed with waterproofing, wind/waterproof outer jacket. Adjust plan for kids, but make sure they have a similar range of clothing. Seal clothes into labeled waterproof bag(s).
Protective gear: Heavy leather gloves, light leather gloves, kneepads,
wide strong belt capable of supporting your full weight. Draeger Piccola dust masks with breathing valve very strongly recommended -- research post-9/11 respiratory ailments in NYC if you want to know why.
PART 5 -- MORE GEAR (AND GUNS), PLUS CONCLUSION
"Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity" - Anonymous
The key to emergency preparedness is an accurate understanding of the risks and challenges you face. Underestimating your risks leads to complacency and failure to prepare effectively. Overestimating your risks leads to the Armageddon Fallacy and failure to prepare effectively (if at all) because of the enormity of the imagined potential disaster.
The harsh truth is that the calculus of survival is not entirely within our control. No matter how many risks we address, there are situations which are simply unforeseeable or unaddressable. However, by taking effective action to minimize the likely risks, we can greatly increase our chances of survival in an emergency or disaster situation.
While we have discussed Environment in some detail (see Part 4), shelter deserves a category of its own. Your correspondent confesses that it would have been more logical to cover Shelter immediately before Environment; this will be corrected in any derivative versions of this work. [Editor's note: or so he thought!]
Your preparedness plan MUST address the following scenarios:
Your primary residence is habitable; what materials and tools do you have on hand to keep it that way if it is damaged?
You are forced by circumstances to spend a night outdoors but in the vicinity of your home, e.g. in a yard or park; what shelter can you provide for your household?
Your home or neighborhood is not habitable and you decide to evacuate by car; do you have a list of places you could stay along the likely escape routes from your region, at various distances?
Suggested items for preparedness kits include plastic tarps with tie-down grommets and 100' of nylon cord (all kits), blankets (all kits), and a tent big enough for your family (home kit).
In your correspondent's opinion, being prepared to make minor emergency repairs to your home is one of the least expensive and most effective things you can do to prepare for the aftermath of a disaster. While specific techniques vary depending on construction, the type of damage likely in your situation, and so forth, there are certain common materials which are incredibly useful for tactical repairs during or after a crisis:
Tools & Fasteners:
Basic toolkit; see the Allied 39031 kit as an example. Even if you already have a set of tools, consider setting aside one of these self-contained all-in-one kits for emergencies.
Utility knife with spare blades (even if kit has one)
Hand drill, e.g. Fiskars Hand Drill
Drill & screwdrive bit set, e.g. Black & Decker 109pc
3" drywall screws
2" wood screws
2 large rolls duct tape
1 roll plastic sheeting ("tarp on a roll") in thickest gauge available
2x2 stock in 6' or 8' lengths
2x4 stock in 6' or 8' lengths
Plywood sheeting suitable to your needs
EMERGENCY OUTDOOR SHELTER
Plan A: Acquire a tent large enough to sleep everyone in your household. This is dual-use equipment, and the author highly commends the practice of taking your family camping to build character and self-sufficiency in situations outside normal routine.
Plan B: Use plastic tarpaulins and/or plastic sheeting to construct an improvised shelter. This is not as easy as it sounds. Seriously, a tent is a much better choice. If you must go this route, use features of your environment as an integral part of your shelter, i.e. use the back corner of your wooden-fenced yard as the starting point. Having suitable materials will make this task much easier:
grommeted, opaque woven-plastic tarps
EVACUATION SHELTER POINTS
A critical element of any evacuation plan is knowing where you're going. Spending a few minutes identifying and noting likely shelter locations along your probable evacuation routes now means much less stress when a crisis occurs. Shelter locations may include hotels, motels, campgrounds, highway rest areas, and houses of friends or family. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a second home (e.g. a vacation cabin) you must still have a plan in case your alternate location is unreachable.
Be sure to record all relevant information for your identified shelter points in your disaster plan; for hotel/motel sites, record both the local phone number and the national reservation number(s). Also consider your means of payment for accomodations. A credit card will be required to secure a phone reservation, and you do NOT want to be caught without a reservation when you arrive at the hotel.
Finally, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has made it obvious that everyone in a region at risk of natural disaster (e.g. virtually all of us) should consider where we could take refuge without ruining our family finances. Staying in a motel is neither cheap nor pleasant over the long haul, and counting on government funding to offset these costs is foolhardy.
Medical (first aid/trauma)
In normal, everyday life, few injuries are truly life-threatening. In a disaster, minor cuts can become infected, and if left unchecked the infection can cause the loss of a limb or even cost the life of the patient. The key, in either situation, is early, effective treatment.
The reader should keep in mind that the medical materials recommended for dealing with first-aid or trauma situations are not intended to equip the reader to go forth and treat the wounded masses. Carefully distinguish between supplies intended to preserve and ensure the health of your household, versus those which could be used to help others. Your correspondent, for example, maintains a personal first-aid kit separate from the supplies in his disaster-response gear.
A good starting point for first-aid preparedness is a Red Cross first-aid/CPR class. Similar classes are offered in affiliation with CERT programs (as discussed previously). Practical, hands-on training is a must, as you learn the material in ways that are simply not possible when studying written or online materia.
It is far easier to deal with injuries if you're properly equipped. For most people, the easiest road to success is to start with a prepared kit, and then add tools and supplies to complete the package. Recommendations:
The REI Backpacker First Aid Kit is as close to a perfect base kit as your author has found; at the time of this writing, the REI Outlet has the 2004 kits on clearance
1 bottle Povidone-iodine disinfectant solution (Betadine) sealed in zip-lock bag
1 tube Neosporin + Pain Relief ointment
Nexcare Liquid Bandage Drops -- see below for additional comments on this important item
1 box Telfa non-stick pads, repackaged into 1-2 zip-lock bags
1 roll of one-inch-wide cloth First Aid Tape
Blue Nitrile EMS gloves, stored 10 per ziplock sandwich bag
CPR mask -- a MUST for administering CPR without risk of infectious disease
EMT shears for accessing wounds in clothed areas
Protective eyewear with splash resistance
1 white-LED micro flashlight such as PT Pulsar
1 blue-LED micro flashlight (as above, but in blue) for spotting blood
1 bottle aspirin
1 bottle ibuprofen
1 bottle acetaminophen
1 bottle liquid Benadryl with means for dispensing measured doses
1 package Pepto-Bismol tablets (not liquid)
1 package anti-diarrheal tablets
A note regarding one very special item in the list above: in your correspondent's estimation, one of the most underreported recent developments in wound care is the adaptation of surgical superglue (cyanoacrylate, or "CA" glue) to the consumer market. A wound sealed with sterile CA glue, such as the Nexcare product linked above, will stop bleeding immediately, and generally will not require a separate bandage.
If you have first-aid kits already, add the Nexcare product to all of them at your earliest convenience. It's that good. Don't bother with the other products that require you to use special activator swabs, go for the Nexcare product. Your correspondent recently sliced down the dorsal surface of his left index finger from the second knuckle to the fingernail with the tip of an extremely sharp knife. Conventional wound care products were mediocre at stopping the bleeding, and did nothing for the pain. The Nexcare drops not only took care of the bleeding, but by sealing together and immobilizing the edges of the cut, stopped the pain from the exposed nerve endings.
Two other emerging technologies which are revolutionizing trauma wound management are QuikClot (currently available only to emergency services professionals) and SEAL-ON, which is available over-the-counter. The author can personally attest to the efficacy of SEAL-ON products for stopping severe nosebleeds and scalp wounds.
If you are interested in preparing to deal with traumatic injury, such as might reasonably be expected in the aftermath of a natural disaster, please seek appropriate training. Reference books, while useful, can be difficult to employ effectively in stressful situations.
If you do decide to pick up a book on emergency medicine, keep in mind that in a disaster the conventional strategy of "keep the victim alive until the cavalry arrives" does not apply. You must assume that any lifesaving measures must be capable of sustaining the victim without immediate medical attention by a pro, and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that the victim will die. If you take a CERT class, you will learn more about how to assess a victim's chances of survival, a process called triage.
Medical (sustaining care)
At a minimum, every copy of your preparedness plan should include a detailed list of prescribed medications for each member of your household, as well as contact information for the prescribing physician.
A separate sheet should detail all known food, drug, and environmental allergies for each individual.
If appropriate, request your prescribing physician(s) to provide prescription forms for an emergency supply of maintenance medications. Pay attention to any must-be-filled-by policies in force in your state. Note that certain medications are prescribed on forms which are only valid for 14 days after the date written on the form by the doctor.
Finally, be sure to keep an emergency supply of any equipment required to administer required medications, as well as anything needed to safely dispose of waste generated in the process.
It is strongly suggested that, to the extent that it is practical, a 14-day supply of all required medication(s) should be stored in the home preparedness kit. It is further suggested that a 5-day supply be stored in the vehicle and/or work preparedness kits. When storing medication, which has a limited shelf life, keeping track of expiration dates is key. Expired medication can be worse than useless, it can be dangerous.
Your correspondent uses the following plan to manage medication stored in emergency kits. No doubt, commenters will come up with many inventive and workable alternative plans for meeting this need. This is presented as an example of a plan that works, not as The One True Way.
Separate and distinct from the prescribed-medication list referenced above is a medication log kept in each kit with stored medication. This log is kept in pencil on a designated page in a Rite in the Rain spiral notebook, which is also used as an equipment log. A pencil is affixed to the notebook on a cord long enough to permit writing.
Each medication is logged in using the notebook, including quantity, expiration date, and do-not-use-after date if different from the expiration date. This includes not only the prescription meds, but also the over-the-counter meds and supplies with limited shelf lives.
Whenever possible, prescription meds are stored in an original bottle with the actual expiration date written on the top of the bottle. (It's usually the case that the meds in the bottle are newer than the label would indicate.)
Knives and Multi-tools
Your humble correspondent must disclose up front that he has been carrying a Leatherman pocket tool daily for over a decade, after having tried various other types and brands of implement. He would no more be caught without his Leatherman Charge XTi than without his cellphone or wallet.
It is certainly open for debate whether it is useful, in most emergency situations, to have a fixed-blade knife as part of your preparedness kit. In the author's opinion, a traditional fixed-blade knife is more of a liability than an asset due to its bulk, its intimidating appearance but limited usefulness in personal defense, and its lack of flexibility compared to a multi-tool.
At a minimum, every emergency kit (home, vehicle, work) should contain a cheap, lower-quality multitool such as this one. While your correspondent is somewhat hesitant to recommend such a cheaply made piece of equipment, the fact is that a low-quality tool beats the hell out of having no tool at all.
However, if you have any choice at all, invest in a higher quality tool, from a name-brand manufacturer. The author's Leatherman Super Tool was recently refurbished for free by the factory after 8 years of daily use, and is now oiled and stored in a vehicle preparedness kit. Other brands of multi-tool, notably Gerber, are known for similar levels of durability and longevity in service.
If you are going to spend a few dollars on a multi-tool, a very important safety feature is having locking blades and tools. Your author can attest, from painful personal experience, that having a razor-sharp blade suddenly snap shut on your fingers when applying heavy pressure to the knife is a Very Bad Thing.
Kits, storage, and go-packs, oh my!
While we have discussed certain approaches to organizing and storing equipment along the way, it's time to pull together all the various material preparations you may choose to include in your plans.
As has been mentioned throughout this series, you should consider creating the following preparedness kits with materials relevant to the risks you face:
3-day vehicle kit for each vehicle in the family
3-day work kit for each person who works outside the home
14-day comprehensive home kit, with a subset of that kit suitable for adaptation into a 3-day travel kit
Recommendations for packing items into kits:
Seal all individual items in durable waterproof packaging, such as heavy-gauge ziplock freezer bags
Line backpacks and utility bags with heavy-gauge plastic bags, e.g. those sold as 55-gallon drum liners (extremely tough); when the bag is packed, press out excess air, roll the end of the bag over at least three times, and secure with a velcro strap or similar fastener
Group items by function, and pack items likely to be used together into the same bag or container.
For critical items such as flashlights, can openers, and so forth, pack spares and alternate items in separate locations.
A small nylon backpack works well for work and vehicle kits. A second bag may be required for clothing and footwear; be sure you can carry both bags comfortably.
Home preparedness kits should be assembled into containers, each of which must be labeled with its contents. Be sure not to over-pack individual containers to the point that they are difficult or impossible to lift. The author is a big fan of Rubbermaid Action Packer containers, as they are lockable, watertight, stackable, and extremely durable.
Having access to your preparedness kits, especially your home kit, is a critical goal you must take into consideration when planning where to store your gear. Residents in earthquake territory have different needs than those in, say, blizzard country.
First, consider safety. If you are storing any significant quantity of emergency fuel, you need to store it outside your home and preferably away from any exterior walls.
Next, consider the risks to the safety and accessibility of your preparedness materials. If you live in an area at risk of earthquakes, for example, your preparedness kit won't be of much use stored under the stairs if your house is too dangerous to enter post-quake. Consider installing a locking outdoor storage container such as the Rubbermaid XL Deck Box, which is large enough to store a tremendous volume of gear and supplies safely away from your house. Be sure to equip any outdoor storage containers with a waterproof outdoor combination lock.
An inexpensive alternative is to pack your home kit into wheeled trash cans. This has the advantage of being more easily portable if you need to relocate a short distance, e.g. to a nearby park.
As previously mentioned, a portion of your home kit should be easily portable. In addition to items previously discussed, your household go-pack plan should include your critical papers, such as birth certificates, loan documents, insurance docs, and so forth. Here's the real test to see if you've done this right: if your house caught on fire and you outside with your family, your pets, and your go-pack, would you be able to begin putting your life back together? Consider keeping backups of critical computer data in your go-pack, such as CDs containing your family's digital photographs.
Security measures for personal and group safety
Ezekiel 25:17 - according to Quentin Tarantino, that is:
"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. [...]"
The sad truth is that during times of crisis, both the noblest and the basest parts of human nature are laid bare for all to see. In desperate situations, people will commit acts unthinkable in times of plenty. It is prudent to plan to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
Some of the readers of this series adhere to a philosophy of non-violence, which the author respects. This does not preclude the use of nonlethal means of self-defense. At a minimum, the author recommends that you include at least one large OC (pepper) defensive spray and at least one contact-type stun device with spare battery in each emergency kit.
The OC pepper spray is dual-use; it can be used to deter human harassment or assault, and it will send even the largest hungry dog running for the hills. NOTE: OC pepper spray (or any chemical spray, for that matter) should NEVER be discharged in an enclosed space unless life is at stake. The electric stun device is easily concealable, and at a minimum each female member of your group old enough to handle one safely should have one.
Group and site security
Your preparedness both increases your chances of survival and puts you at risk. In a situation where resources are scarce, people who have not prepared to deal with that situation may be driven to desperate acts.
Your first line of defense is to maintain a low profile. Running a generator 24x7, powering bright lights, and cranking up the music and TV will draw attention. Your goal should be to minimize your profile, and give no hint that your household is any better off than the surrounding community. Be cautious in discussing details of your preparedness plans with anyone outside your household. That information is on a need-to-know basis, and most people just don't need to know.
You should, however, be prepared to defend yourself, your family, and your resources against those who would do you harm. Yes, folks, it's time to talk about guns.
Before you purchase a gun, you MUST learn how to store, handle, and use one safely. Your correspondent offers free basic firearms instruction to residents or visitors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Introductory classes are available in most cities at indoor and outdoor ranges, gun clubs, and through various NRA programs.
After you purchase a gun, in addition to storing it safely, you MUST practice with it at least once per year. This has the dual benefits of maintaining your familiarity with the firearm ,and verifying that the firearm remains in good working condition.
Finally, be realistic regarding the circumstances under which you might need a gun at all, much less use it against another person. For example, the author submits that a citizen shooting someone more than 100' (30m) away calls into question (a) how much of an immediate threat that person really was, (b) how you clearly identified that person and the threat they presented, and (c) whether you were shooting without regard to anyone near or behind the target. Just because it's a disaster zone doesn't mean the shooter won't end up explaining this to a judge and jury in the future.
= Shotguns =
If you're going to buy a single gun for defensive purposes, the author recommends a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with an 18" barrel. The Remington 870 Express Synthetic is the standard in this area, and at under $350 retail is very affordable. Other options to consider include the Mossberg 500 SP series, as recommended in the Comments below by soonergrunt.
However, the blast and recoil from a full-power shell in a 12-gauge shotgun can be quite startling, or even painful, for inexperienced shooters. The author strongly recommends the use of reduced-recoil ammunition, such as Remington Express Managed-Recoil Buckshot, as well as the use of an aftermarket rubber recoil pad securely affixed to the butt of the shotgun stock.
The addition of a sling, which can be quite inexpensive, is likewise strongly recommended. If you have to shepherd your group on foot out of the disaster zone, you're not going to want to carry a shotgun in your hands the entire way.
Finally, a "defensive shotgun" or "introduction to shotgun" class is highly recommended for all authorized users. Many people are surprised at the difference training makes when it comes to effectively using a gun which seems as simple and straightforward as the shotgun.
= Rifles & Carbines =
While most people are conceptually familiar with rifles because of TV and movies, few people understand the difference between a rifle and a carbine. The simple explanation: carbines are shorter than the full-size rifles, and fire bullets with less velocity and impact energy, resulting in shorter range and striking power. This is caused by the use of a shorter barrel and/or a less powerful cartridge compared to a rifle. Many carbines are chambered for pistol ammunition (specifically, revolver ammunition) rather than rifle ammo.
In keeping with the author's admonition that the maximum range for a defensive firearm is 100' or less, even in a disaster situation, a good potential alternative to the Remington 870 shotgun above is a Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle. Most people would instantly recognize this as a classic "cowboy rifle".
Your correspondent specifically recommends the Winchester Model 94 Trails End in the .357 Magnum caliber. This means that the rifle fires relatively inexpensive and plentiful .357 Magnum pistol ammunition, but at much higher velocity and energy than a pistol due to the longer barrel. Recommended accessories include a sling and a red dot sight with spare battery.
= Handguns =
If you are unfamiliar with firearms, and intend to purchase a gun for home defense, a handgun is not necessarily the best choice. However, in disaster situations, handguns do offer certain advantages:
pistols can be concealed on one's person or carried in a non-obvious fashion
pistols are lighter and less bulky than rifles or shotguns
When selecting a handgun, be sure to shoot it or an equivalent model before you decide to purchase. That Casull .454 monster revolver might seem like a manly choice in the gun store, but it's useless if you're incapable of firing it without flinching. (For the record, the author considers the Casull .454 to be ridiculously overpowered and refuses to shoot it or its giant-caliber brethren.)
Your correspondent is comfortable with a wide range of handguns, but prefers the .40 caliber H&K USP and the .45 caliber SIGarms P220R. His first choice for a concealable handgun is the somewhat expensive and exotic 9mm H&K P7M8, but reluctantly concedes that the SIGarms P239 and GLOCK 26/27 are more practical and affordable choices.
I hope that this series of articles has been useful to you, rather than overwhelming. I urge you to 'eat the elephant one bite at a time', that is, to break down the process of moving into a state of preparedness into manageable steps. Don't be self-conscious if you start off taking only modest steps towards preparedness; even that is a huge improvement over failure to prepare.
Remember, preparedness as a state of mind is at least as important as having a pile of store-bought stuff in any kind of disaster. Always have a plan, and a backup plan in case your first plan doesn't work out. (And, if nothing else, have a good communication plan to fall back on!)
I will be posting a couple of follow-up diaries in coming days and weeks to stimulate further discussion regarding preparedness in our homes, our communities, and our workplaces. Please be sure to share any insights or adventures you encounter as you work developing and implementing your preparedness plans.
CODA: I won't include the diary of his final Q&A on this topic -- the executive summary is that FEMA under Bush was wack and people had better be prepared to help themselves, but the comments section has some good questions and answers for anyone who might be interested in checking them out.
Copyright notice: this information may be freely copied, but if it is attributed to the original author, to me as editor, or to this website, it must be copied and published in toto without changes, so that the admonitions and warnings here are retained.