Disaster Preparedness Tips and Tricks
Where Once Buildings and Homes Stood...
The First Steps
Disaster preparedness is simple. It is the after-the-disaster part that is tough, and it's one of those things folks don't seem to enjoy talking about. Kind of like death and dying. If we ignore it, maybe it will go away.
Unfortunately, that is not true of either of these things. As Mark Twain is famous for saying, only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Since taxes aren't the subject of this article, let's move on to survival.
The first step in surviving a disaster lies with educating yourself about the most likely types of disasters for your area of the country or the world. Those living in a coastal zone subject to tsunamis will need a very different plan than those subject to tornadoes, earthquakes, or volcanoes. The trick to a successful advance plan, then, lies in knowing about the types of damage that can be expected from your particular local threats, as well as about the types of warning systems in place (if any).
While all of the things mentioned above can cause massive destruction, the differences are usually one of scale. As we have seen in the news, a large tsunami can very rapidly erase an entire city, as can volcanoes; tornadoes can do the same, or wipe out neighborhoods. Earthquakes can also be very destructive, but it is the extremely rare one that takes out a whole city.
Plan ahead for how to reach an evacuation shelter, including at least one alternate route. Be sure to set up with your family how to contact each other should you become separated. Shelters have bulletin boards; various assistance and rescue agencies also have networks ready to roll for reuniting family members.
Keep in mind that cell phone service is likely to be out of commission, and in some cases, so will standard telephones. You may well be out of touch for days, or in the worst case, a week or more. This makes getting to a central point imperative, even if you must walk.
The rest of the plan focuses on assuring your survival in the aftermath. To that end, taking first-aid classes, and keeping your first-aid education up-to-date can make the difference in knowing what or what not to do in the event of personal injury to you or family members. In this, I include any injured you may come across, for we are all members of the human family.
Having the Right Supplies is Critical
Having the right supplies on hand to survive any disaster is crucial to your survival after the fact.
At the very least, water. Clean water is the one essential. People can survive for surprising amounts of time without food, but not more than 3 days maximum without water. Figure on 1 gallon per person per day. That's for drinking and cooking. If the disaster is big enough, just forget about bathing or showering, however distasteful that idea may be. There won't be water to spare. You'll be reduced to sponge baths. Save water on flushing the toilet, as well. Back in the 1970's, we endured a drought and water rationing; the rule became, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." You can use jugs of "expired" water for this purpose .
You don't need to spend money on bottled water. You can obtain 1, 3, or 5 gallon jugs, and bottle your own. If you wish, you can filter your own tap water with any of the readily available products for home filtration. Fill your jugs, seal, and place in a cool dark area. Date the jugs with the fill date, and rotate them at least yearly, if not every six months. Rinse the jugs, checking for any growth of slime. If found, rinse with hot water and bleach, then rinse again before refilling. Another measure for emergency water purification, should you not have stored water, is to add very small amounts of bleach to the water.
Among other essentials:
- hand-operated can opener
- first aid kit
- sturdy shoes
- flashlights and extra batteries
Food should be readily available pantry supplies, including many boxed convenience quick-fix foods and canned goods. (Realize that you may need to eat the canned foods cold, as they come from the can.) Simply keep them on hand, and rotate and replace throughout the year by using some of these for regular meals. In this way, you will keep your supply fresh in the event of any emergency. This can include something as simple and less disastrous as a power failure of several hours.
Even if you carefully plan all your meals down to the last kernel of corn (yes, I do know people that "organized"-- they never have anything extra for the unexpected--be it drop-in guests or an emergency). It pays to always have extras on hand.
You will find that basic camping gear, as outlined in my article about camping for beginners, easily doubles as disaster preparedness equipment. Forget about going to the store and buying expensive, special-purpose "disaster kits." They are over-priced, and won't be of much use for anything else. Better to invest your cash in gear you may also be able to use and enjoy outside of a disaster.
The issue of a first-aid kit can be tricky. To be sure, there are commercial ones available. If possible, try to obtain an industrial type kit, as it is more likely to be stocked with more items actually useful in a real emergency, such as slings, splints, and the like. Ordinary consumer-level kits typically have little more than an assortment of band-aid sizes and some useless kindergarten-style scissors.
A good emergency kit should contain at the very least:
- roll bandages
- gauze pads or non-stick wound pads
- adhesive tape (paper tape if you have tape allergies)
- elastic bandages
- splints (can be made from any straight, smooth pieces of thin wood)
- EMT scissors
- sharp-pointed tweezers
- sewing needles (for removal of buried splinters)
- magnifying glass
- rubber gloves
- eye-wash cup
- sterile water or normal saline solution
- rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide
- anti-bacterial ointment
- matches in waterproof case (to heat-sterilize needles/tweezers)
Basic first-aid classes are available from various agencies, such as the local fire station, the American Red Cross, and sometimes hospitals or community centers. In the latter case, it is usually Red Cross instructors putting on the classes. Anyone age 14 and above can and should take a basic first-aid class. Adults can add a CPR class. Remember that CPR certification expires, and must be renewed annually.
Don't Forget Your Pets
When making emergency plans, don't forget the furry members of your family. Our pets bring us unconditional love and joy, and are truly part of the family. Be sure to have them included in your emergency plans.
Your water stores should include their needs, too. Don't forget food, unbreakable bowls, leashes and harnesses or collars. If your pets are microchipped, so much the better. If they are not, they are safest in a carrier. Depending upon the size of the pet, this may or may not be practical. Their vaccinations should be up-to-date as well.
Keep their carry-cages in a handy place, so you don't have to hunt for them in a panic; also be sure you know how to assemble them quickly if they are the collapsible type.
Be aware that animals often sense things in the atmosphere, such as being sensitive to barometric changes that we humans don't normally notice. They may become afraid, and hide. Know your pets' preferred hiding places, so you don't waste valuable time searching for a missing animal.
This is where keeping pets--especially cats-- as indoor-only helps a great deal. An animal that lives outdoors all the time is at much greater risk, and will be very much harder to round up, and may get lost or fall victim to the disaster. Sad to say, if a disaster is about to descend upon you, you simply do not have time to go hunting for Fido or Fluffy--they will have to be left to fend for themselves. That would be a horrible feeling.
It pays to practice. Just as schools have fire drills, we should all hold family drills, making sure all family members know the proper escape routes from our homes, and where to meet if disaster should strike when we are away from home. This should be done at least once a year.
Depending upon your boss, you may or may not get to take a personal day off work, or interrupt work for this. In most cases, I doubt it. That is unfortunate, because the best drill simulates the real thing--in other words, coming unannouced at any time.
Don't forget to include your pets in these rehearsals; get them somewhat accustomed to being quickly rounded up, harnessed and/or placed in carriers and going for a ride or a walk. This added measure will help reduce their panic level if a real evacuation is needed.
I recall one year at scout camp they held a fire drill. It just so happened that my unit of girls were in the showers at the time. If you have ever tried to herd a dozen or so dripping wet, soapy, screaming girls out of the shower, into towels and out onto a field within 3 minutes, you'll know what I'm talking about. It was very realistic in that sense.
However, such drills are important, and the practice increases the efficiency of the process, adds confidence and helps everyone remain calm should the worst occur. After all, your best chance for surviving the aftermath of a disaster is to act quickly and calmly without panic. Panic kills. Panicked people run aimlessly, shout, scream, act irrationally, putting themselves and others at risk.
By assigning each family member a specific age-appropriate task or item to be in charge of, things will run much more smoothly, even if there is short notice.
Please Stay Safe!
I truly hope none of my readers ever has to put any of these measures into actual use; my wish is for you all to remain safe and secure.
But, as the saying goes, "forewarned is forearmed," and the scout motto of "be prepared" applies most importantly in this area as nowhere else.
© 2011 Liz Elias