Winter storm or terrorist attack? Minimum preparedness for somewhat responsible adults
I was starving when I remembered the earthquake stash in my car …
The granola bars were bricks, the peanuts rancid and four years expired.
Okay, I wasn’t exactly starving, but I had forgotten my lunch and didn’t feel like taking the time to go out and get a bite to eat. I was shocked that almost five years had passed since I had created an emergency pack for each of our cars. Reno had gone through this freaky earthquake swarm back in 2008 — we were showering with our bathing suits on, pictures didn’t go back up for months, cars were not parked in the garage.
Disappointed and still hungry, I took out the old food and tossed the emergency bag underneath my desk for another day. About a month later, we were hit by a huge wind storm accompanied by freezing temperatures. The power went out at about 2 AM early Friday morning, and the power company could not guarantee service returning by night — all of their crew were deployed and none to our area.
I found flashlights and a couple lanterns, all with dead batteries. I wondered how many times I would turn on the non-working light switches, looking for things.
Off to Wal-Mart for block ice for the freezers, batteries and extra lanterns. My cabinets were pretty much bare except for oatmeal, a few cans of garbanzo beans, and a big jug of Frank’s Hot Sauce. Ah, there was always the Mexican restaurant down the street, right? Surely they would have power …?
Out of ten houses in our cul-de-sac, three of us had generators; the one on my husband Jim’s work truck was large enough to power up ours and our neighbor’s home heaters. We didn’t have lights, but we were warm for a while.
This was the beginning of probably the longest amount of days below freezing we’ve experienced in Reno over the last thirteen years (see the icy river near my house). During this time, Jim also finished a book called One Second After, by William Forstchen, about EMP (electromagnetic pulse — it basically takes out anything electronic, meaning you can’t start your car, let alone your cell phone). Doomsday? Yes. Thought-provoking? For sure.
Between the two of us idiots, we realized that we weren’t really prepared for an attack of the zombies, or even an extended winter storm. Shoot, most of the time I have to blow my nose on a store receipt as I don’t have Kleenex in my car.
This prompted me to get on the web and research emergency preparedness, which ultimately led me to a number of survivalist websites, which left me even more confused about:
1. What exactly am I preparing for? A bad storm where power is out for an extended period of time; being stuck in my car during inclement weather; a terrorist attack that takes out all public services?
2. Do I really need a year’s worth of supplies?
3. How do I store all of this food and what will last the longest?
4. Do I really need a compass, military can opener, freeze-dried food, a survival seed vault, and to know how to splint a broken bone and make a fire without matches?
5. Am I overreacting or am I being a responsible adult?
In somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction, I went back up to Wal-Mart and bought twenty pounds each of white rice, dried beans, and canned goods. (All the while thinking of my gal pal Jenna, who had just gone through Superstorm Sandy — gas shortages, no power for days, downed trees, damaged houses, and she even had to go to the next town over to charge her cell phone. It was hard to believe that this had happened in her small town in New Jersey).
After I had organized my pantry with my new purchases, I realized that:
1. It didn’t look like all that much food.
2. I didn’t have a strategy for water, home defense, or medical emergencies.
3. I still didn’t know exactly what I was preparing for.
It was time to stop reacting, so I got on Amazon, bought the highest rated book I could find, and waited a week for it to show up on my doorstep so that I could continue my project. The Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family by Arthur T. Bradley, Ph.D., showed up just as I was finishing Raising Chickens for Dummies and had exhausted my seed catalog reading (yes, I DO have a lot of time to plan and think during the winter months in northern Nevada).
Before I continue, I realize that many of our friends reading this live in hurricane or tornado-prone areas, and emergency preparedness is just part of your lives. You’ve experienced the worst of the worst, and your eyes are rolling back in your heads at what a dummy I am.
In my defense, I know I’m not the ONLY ill-prepared person out there. Specifically, my neighbor friend and mutual dummy Jodi asked me to summarize what she needed to do since I was doing all of this research, so she wouldn’t have to spend the time researching it.
When the weather is sunny and beautiful, and life is just so good and undramatic … reminders about emergency kits and updating them, well, for me, they go in one ear and out the other.
My summary below is just a start, to help any of you out there be a little bit safer if some bad shit does happen. Whether you take it to the next level is up to you. Before you get lost in Google madness, if you want more detailed lists, I’d recommend going to the website of the book I purchased, or to your local government website. They’ve done most of the work for you.
In honor of my late mother Maggie, who created an earthquake emergency kit when we lived in the very temperate San Francisco Bay Area consisting of water and a dozen Butterfinger candy bars (they were on sale that week, and lasted about two days after my brother and I found them), I call this:
Chris’ Disaster Preparedness Starter List for Folks Who Sometimes Forget to Pay Bills, Misplace their ATM Cards, and Would Rather Sit Out In the Sun than Do Chores
1. Plan for something that could likely happen to you.
Start off with disaster preparedness. You are not training to be a survivalist (although wouldn’t it be badass to be a MacGyver instead of a MacGruber?). When you start getting overwhelmed with the scope, always go back to this point. And frankly, to keep this project in perspective, who can afford to build and stock a bunker, and maintain a healthy lifestyle?
a. What weather events are likely in your area?
— If a major winter storm hit and you had no power for a week, local businesses were closed, there was a gas shortage, how would you and your family survive?
b. How would you prepare if your home burned down?
c. If your car broke down in the heat of summer or in extreme winter weather, what would you need to stay safe until help arrived?
2. Store the right type of food for a reasonable time period.
a. Target a 30-day non-refrigerated or freezer dependent supply for your entire family: that means breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Beware of the following links – you can get addicted and freaked out and forget #1. This article has good information on 3-day and one-month supply suggestions and this one shows normal shelf life).
b. Store what you use, use what you store. Rotate your canned goods — oldest out first.
c. Choose food that you normally eat. The goal is not to stock up on high-priced food that will last ten years, but to keep a rotating stock of canned goods and dry goods. Stocking up on jerky and freeze-dried food you don’t normally eat, will mean that in six months to one year, you will be throwing this away. Plus, eating disgusting food is not going to be good for morale when you are trying to get through a tough time.
d. Don’t forget your pets — keep an extra bag of food for them on hand.
e. Don’t rely heavily on your freezer for backup food. In a power outage, a full freezer, even if it has frozen water bottles, will stay cool longer than an empty freezer.
f. If your 30-day supply does not fit in your pantry or cupboards, utilize food-safe containers* and store them underneath your stairway, in your basement, or in your closet. Keep in mind that this food needs to be rotated as well (out of sight, out of mind).
g. *One of the most helpful tips that I got from one of the survivalist websites is to visit your local bakery before purchasing, say 5-gallon buckets with lids for food storage. They will recycle the containers that they buy frosting and other goods in. Typically, food-safe containers are white and they will say “food safe,” as opposed to the orange 5-gallon buckets that you will find at a big-box store. Home Depot and Lowe’s in my area had the food-safe buckets in white, as well as orange, which is good for other safety supplies.
3. How will you prepare for injury or sickness?
a. Keep more than a 30-day supply of your prescriptions on hand; most insurance companies allow mail-order prescriptions for 90 days.
b. Create a complete first aid kid, but before you buy the fanciest and most expensive one, you may already have aspirin, topical treatments, and bandages. Just make sure they are all in one place and check expiration dates.
c. We can’t all be doctors — the first call should always be to 911. Keeping aspirin, antihistamine, and other basics on hand is crucial if help is delayed, and you should know when to use them.
d. What if help is delayed? Take it to the next level: CPR/First Aid Class
4. How do you prepare your automobile?
a. Your car might be the only way to evacuate — keeping your car well-maintained and reliable is crucial. Sounds basic, but have you checked your spare tire lately?
b. Keep your car gassed up — don’t wait until you are on empty. Make it a habit to fill up when you are on half a tank. If you need to get the hell out of Dodge, or you are stuck in the heat or snow, you don’t want to run out of gas.
c. Create an emergency pack (how about that backpack from the last conference you went to?). Water and food to last you a day is the most realistic. Start off with work gloves, basic tools, flashlight, first aid kit, battery-powered radio, toilet paper and Ziploc bag (if you have to go to the bathroom). You can see I finally got off my butt and put Kleenex in my car.
d. Keep your cell phone charged at all times.
e. Any time you travel in severe weather, make sure you take proper garments with you. Sounds simple, but how many of us have jumped into our warm garage, into our warm car, into a snowstorm without bringing gloves and a jacket with us?
5. How do you communicate with your family and the outside world?
a. Make a “family plan” for each scenario, as it is likely that you won’t all be at home when the emergency happens. This would include anything that you would need to “grab and go,” a meeting place, etc.
b. If the power goes out, a handy-dandy smartphone isn’t going to do you much good. Consider a “jump battery” (shown on the right). You can buy an adaptor for your phone. This is something we use all the time, besides just jumping batteries (e.g. you can run your DVD player from it).
c. Consider a battery-powered weather radio. We carry this on our boat every time we go out.
6. How much water do you need?
a. In a storm, most of the time, you will still have water to your home. What you might not know is if your water source is contaminated. Boiling is always the best bet, and it is recommended that you also have a purifier on your tap.
b. If no water is available — keeping at least fourteen gallons of water per person is recommended. At home, we use these 7-gallon containers for camping — and they should be refreshed every six to twelve months. We also have bottled water and a portable water filter (say, for our nearby river).
7. Security around and about your casita
a. For insurance purposes, take a video of your entire home. If you had to make a claim, virtually seeing every room and its items will be a lifesaver.
b. All those important papers — pink slips, social security cards, marriage & birth certificates, life insurance … I have all of mine in a metal box. I just read about scanning these important documents and putting them on a secured, military grade flash drive. They are more expensive than the normal ones, but heck, this makes a lot of sense! You can store a copy someplace other than your home.
c. Know where all shut-off valves are (natural gas, water).
d. Do you have enough light? Not only will light enable you to move around in the dark, but it will also help with morale and safety. Battery-powered lanterns, candles, and personal flashlights — be cautious with any lanterns that use fuel.
e. Have working fire extinguishers in your garage and in your kitchen at a minimum.
f. Depending on your most likely weather disaster — know where your safe place is to go (earthquake, tornado, flood).
g. So, looters and bad guys. Always being aware of your surroundings, securing your home, not leaving your spare key in an obvious place, not announcing to the world on Facebook when you are on vacation, knowing when to run like hell or go for the groin with all your might … the next level would be taking a self-defense class. I won’t touch the gun issue.
8. How do you heat and cook when the power is out?
a. If you have an outdoor grill, keep an additional bottle of propane or charcoals.
b. If you have a gas stove or oven, you can light with a match or lighter, if you have an electronic ignition.
c. If you have a camp stove, it is recommended that you cook outside. Keep a supply of your camp stove fuel.
d. Pellet and wood-burning stoves are the ultimate back-up for cooking and heating.
9. What resources are out there in your neighborhood in case a disaster strikes?
a. We live in a pretty tight cul-de-sac, and look out for each other and have everyone’s cell phone numbers. We’ve had busted plumbing and other issues, and together we have access to a lot of emergency equipment and gear. How well do you know your neighbors, and are any of them handicapped or elderly?
b. What is your city’s emergency plan? I had no clue, so went to the city site, which took me to the county site ( http://www.washoecounty.us/em), and they had some good checklists. I also checked the American Red Cross’ website.
10. Always wear clean underwear (aka listen to Mom).
Okay, it isn’t really about the underwear, is it? It is about not being a lazy-ass or so disorganized that:
a. You can’t find your keys when you need to rush out the door.
b. You’re always waiting until the last-minute to go to the store, go to the gas station, refill prescriptions, get dog food (bread and hot dogs, not a good meal for Fido).
c. Your cell phone, your flashlights, your smoke detectors are never charged or have batteries (okay, that’s me! I’m working on it).
d. You have camping equipment and emergency supplies, but they are scattered all over the place. Make use of those trade-show bags!
e. The more prepared and organized you are, the better and calmer neighbor you can be if others are in need.
So, yes, I have had a lot of time on my hands during this freezing winter to think about worst-case scenarios (and, of course, it all started because I was hungry). And yes, I probably spent way too many hours on the Internet getting freaked out about unrealistic situations. So, I hope my time will help you get started with your own preparedness plan, be a little bit safer, and have some peace of mind. I’m still working on it!
PS — Don’t go shopping until you have a list in hand. Take it from the owner of five tubes of Neosporin, more sugar, rice and beans than we’ll eat in a year, that you will get distracted by convincing marketing, and may end up spending more money on items that do not fit with your goal (see number 1).
Originally published by Raving Consulting Company