Isaac has come and gotten our attention. Hurricane season isn’t quite over but there are still plenty of disasters awaiting us: wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards. None of us is immune to disaster, not even those of us in the middle of the continent (see blizzards. And missile silos). Disaster preparedness gives us the reassuring if not completely accurate sense that we can handle whatever is sent our way. And we just happen to be coming up on National Get Ready Day which you can read about at http://www.aphagetready.org.
There are two types of disasters you need to prepare for. The kind that require evacuation, and the kind that force you to hunker down in your home and ride it out.
For evacuation: you need to know what you would take with you if you had to leave your house in less than a minute (say a fire), in 10 minutes (sudden bad weather, flooding), and in an hour (better weather warning). Less than a minute for us would mean the dogs and kids. We also keep some photo albums in bookcases near the front door which I would want to save.
If we had a little more time, we’d bring the disaster kit as well and whatever cash is in our house.
If we had an hour, we’d bring 3 days of clothes, toiletries, medications, coats, extra shoes, blankets, and pillows.
This is just what we’d bring, but it’s a good exercise to decide what is important to you.
For hunkering down, you will need to consider staying in your home without power, open roads, or good water. This actually happened to us during Irene in 2011 when we lost our power for 5 days on Long Island. These were the most useful tips I found during that time, along with some things I wish I had known.
Get the zipper sandwich bags and fill them half full of water. Stick them in the freezer. They will freeze solid and keep your frozen food cold for days without power. They can also act as a source of clean drinking water if you are low.
Clean your coolers and fill them with bagged ice. Perform food triage once the power is out. Left overs, milk and refrigerated meats first. Then ice cream. Then other refrigerated foods. Then other frozen foods. As the fridge and freezer empty out, transfer food and ice to the coolers, especially if you can get more ice.
Fill your clean bathtubs and sinks with water and double stop the drains. Flat rubber stoppers are cheap and you can keep one for every drain in your home, especially if you live in an area that gets a lots of “weather”. This water is last resort for drinking and cooking but can be used for washing.
Get a generator and a space heater that is safe for indoor use and can be run off the generator. People die during blizzards because of unsafe space heaters that either produce carbon monoxide or cause fires. Generators are expensive, but if you live in an area that loses power more than once a year, it is worth it. And do this now. Just try to buy a generator during a power outage. Having a generator during Irene allowed us to have an hour of lamplight at night, to cook dinner, to watch a DVD on the laptop or listen to the radio. It made life feel normal for an hour.
Keep oil for oil lamps and batteries for flashlights handy in a single place along with your candles and matches. These are also hard to get during disasters.
Keep some cash on hand. ATMs may not be in use during power outages or you may not be able to get to a bank.
Keep your tank full and your phone charged. I am guilty of not doing this so perfectly, but it’s good to have goals.
Finally, the disaster kit. Mine is heavy on the medical what-ifs because that’s how I am. Again, this isn’t a checklist so much as what I wanted to have in case there was no way to get to a store. Yours might contain diapers and wipes, or extra packs of birth control pills. This was kept in 2 large plastic totes that protected the contents from water, bugs and the like and could be grabbed and tossed into the truck at a moment’s notice. I circled the expiration dates when they existed, and when they didn’t I wrote a date 6 months from the date of purchase so that I would remember to use the item and replace it with a fresher one or to donate it to the local pantry. Again, during Irene, this turned out to be a good thing. While the stores did manage to stay open in parts of Long Island, our friends in Vermont weren’t so lucky. I was able to donate the entire kit to the food pantry in our town there, which still provided disaster relief for someone.
First aid kit
Energy or granola bars
Flour, rice, pasta and coffee: large containers
Canned and jarred foods
Rubbing alcohol, peroxide, liquid soap.
Hand sanitizer (the doctor in me)
Large bottle of vitamins
Large bottle of acetaminophen
Large bottle of ibuprofen
Large bag of dog food
Bottled water: 1 gallon per person (or large dog) per day for 3 days
Make your own list. What would you want in your kit?
Coming up soon: disaster preparedness in your car.