Sunday, September 7, 2008

Are You Prepared?


This is the fifth annual National Preparedness Month.

With summer behind us, and before we get caught up with the holiday season, it's a good time for us to check and see if we're prepared for the effects of inclement weather. Are you prepared to spend a week or two without gas, electricity, or potable running water?

Hopefully, most people will never have to cope with events such as 9/11, Katrina or Gustav, flooding, tornadoes, or wildfires that require evacuation, but winter storms and other hurricanes have negatively impacted many people each year. Plus, there are other situations, such as traffic mishaps, for which you should be prepared. For example, if you were in Minnesota driving on I-35 West when a portion fell into the Mississippi River as occurred on August 1, 2007, would you have been able to free yourself and help free others trapped in their vehicles?

I know that at least one friend keeps water on hand at home in case of another boil notice so she doesn't have to rush to the store like everybody else and risk the store selling out, but what about the rest of the supplies we might need?

Back when fear of the Y2K bug was running rampant and the talk at work was about how badly we thought it would impact us, if anything happened at all, one co-worker said he wasn't concerned because he already had a closet dedicated to five days worth of goods for his family of seven just because we live in Tornado Alley. He said that every other month, they buy new cans of food for the closet and the older cans are moved to the kitchen pantry to be used for daily meals. That way, their emergency stash of food is always fresh and the money spent to set it up is never lost from their never having to use it. It motivated me to keep a supply of water on hand, but that was the extent.

In late 2006, when the Pineapple Express hit the Pacific Northwest, those who are campers and backpackers felt pretty smug because all they had to do was set up camp in their homes. The effect of the bad weather was more of an adventure than an emergency situation or inconvenience because they already had sleeping bags for warmth, camp stoves and fuel for hot meals, water purification methods for clean water, and flashlights, headlamps, and/or lanterns for light as well as enough food and water.

Those who had a day pack with the Ten Essential Systems in their vehicles ready for spur-of-the-moment hiking trips were prepared to survive in their vehicles when they were caught out on the road by flooding, snow, or ice storms shutting down traffic.

More and more people are setting themselves up with the recommended Grab & Go bags, seeing the wisdom for having them. Have you thought about what you'd need in your bag? To help you with your list, here are some links with my comments.

Preparedness for home:

FEMA - Basic Preparedness

American Red Cross - Build a Disaster Supplies Kit.

[Update 1/21/09 - Disappointingly, this and other links within the Red Cross site that guide you to preparing your own disaster kit are now dead. Since this general guide is the only one I've found, which contains another dead link for preparing your own disaster kit, I can't help but wonder if they're more interested in your buying a kit from them than in helping you make up a kit for your specific needs. After all, emergency kits have become a niche industry. The problems with a ready-made kit is that they don't suit everyone or all circumstances and when you set up your own kit, not only do you control the quality and the quantity of the contents, you'll know each item, why they're there, and how to use them quite unlike a commercially-prepared kit assembled by strangers who did it to make money from you.]

Operation HOPE - Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) and Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide (PDPG)

The FEMA and American Red Cross sites recommend supplies for at least three days up to two weeks. While that may seem adequate, I can't help remembering that one friend was without electricity for 17 days. After what we saw happen in New Orleans because of Katrina, it'll be safer to plan for the longer term, even a month or more, rather than the shortest duration. I suggest that your priority is to get what you need for the three days now, and add to it gradually until the full term is covered.

Not mentioned as a method of water purification, probably because of the cost, is the SteriPEN which uses UV-C light to kill protozoa, viruses, and bacteria in less than two minutes for 32 ounces. The Adventurer model that uses solar power or electricity to recharge the included Lithium CR123 button cells would be better than the original model that uses regular or rechargeable batteries because water is vital and batteries have to be replaced.

However, there have been issues with the Adventurer making it best for us to wait until after the issues are resolved before buying one.

The original SteriPEN is still highly regarded and is the simplest purification method next to solar water disinfection which takes at least six hours compared to the few minutes of a SteriPEN, but, depending on the number of people for whom you're purifying water, you might need several sets of batteries because it goes through them rather quickly. Lithium batteries are recommended for the original model because they last longer, enabling more water to be purified. Rechargeable batteries are recommended for this reason, also, but in an emergency situation, you can't rely on having electricity available to recharge your batteries and it isn't possible to know for sure that you'll have enough batteries on hand or that you'll be able to get new ones when you need them.

I remember seeing solar rechargers several years ago, but I didn't want whatever type of batteries they recharged for some reason back then. Maybe it's different now which would be great because the batteries could be used in other things as well.

Anyway, if you get a SteriPEN, either the original blue and white model or the Adventurer later on, have another method of water purification as backup just to be on the safe side. Travelers nearly always have the options of buying bottled water and AA batteries, but those options may not be available after the city's lights have gone out.

In regards to tea, regular tea does not last indefinitely as the lists erroneously indicate. If you stock tea bags from the supermarket for your emergency supplies, plan on replenishing them every six months. If you buy loose leaf tea fresh and store it well, it may last a year before going stale. If you cycle tea out every six months, consuming the old tea and replacing your emergency supply with fresh, you'll get decent flavor without wasting any tea by having to throw it away. If you drink instant tea, you're on your own. Maybe instant tea lasts indefinitely; sorry, I wouldn't know.

Preparedness for the great outdoors - the Ten Essential Systems. The ten essential systems increased to eleven when Oregon started imposing a $500 fine for those who require a Search & Rescue effort and don't have a cell phone with them. Since systems 2 and 3 both consist of items worn for protection from the elements, I don't see why they can't be combined into one system. Then, we can bump up those that follow to make communications the tenth system without losing anything, as follows:

1. Navigation - map, compass, and GPSr

2. Personal Attire - sun glasses, sun block, hat, and clothing for protection from the sun, rain, and insulating layers to protect from the cold

3. Illumination - flashlight, headlamp

4. First aid kit

5. Fire - many hikers and backpackers carry tinder and three different ways to ignite a fire to ensure they can start a fire in adverse conditions because most people die from hypothermia or dehydration and fire can be used as a signal as well as illumination

6. Repair kit and tools

7. Nutrition

8. Hydration

9. Emergency shelter

10. Communication - cell phone, whistle, signal mirror.

Preparedness for your vehicle:

An article at Backwoods Home magazine recommends a 10-day survival pack for your vehicle under $25 that was motivated by the Kim family survival tragedy in 2006.

[Update 1/21/09 - Although Yago's intention is good and you should have a survival kit for your vehicle especially if you drive out of town, I realized with much embarrassment that Yago's kit doesn't have 10 days worth of food, the meals that "require only a cup of very hot water" or "require only one or two cups of hot water" aren't meals but side dishes that require, not one, but two cups of boiling water, and all that protein, bouillon, and caffeinated beverages aren't nutritious enough, and in the case of caffeine, is actually detrimental for someone trying to stave off hypothermia as we should expect to be doing if we got lost in the mountains, snowbound or rainstorm-bound in our cars, or if the heat fails in our homes during the winter. Another vitally important point is that chlorine dioxide water purification tablets, "which will kill off all the bacteria and harmful organisms in about 30 minutes," actually take at least 4 hours to kill cryptosporidium, longer if the water's cold as we should expect it to be during a typical North American winter; iodine has poorer results than chlorine dioxide. I'm embarrassed because I should have recognized the erroneous information by simply looking at the list. Where did I park my brain? As a result, I've decided to do a series that will yield a better survival kit. For your convenience, a link to the first article of the series is at the bottom of this post.]

Among other things, the article recommends saving the free packets of salt you get at fast food restaurants. Before you do, however, I advise that you check the ingredients as many I've found contain sugar (sucrose, dextrose, etc.) that may be a health concern for you or other members of your family.

For car emergencies, I've seen recommendations to have a hammer or center punch for knocking out closed side windows and a sharp knife to cut seat belts to free occupants from a car sinking in water or in danger of fire. There are also tools specifically for car rescues: the LifeHammer, the pocket-sized ResQMe, and the Victorinox (Swiss Army Knife) RescueTool. A crowbar might also be of some help after an accident.

Don't forget to ICE your cell phone, if you have one, so that emergency personnel can find your "In Case of Emergency" medical and contact information when they search for "ICE" in your phone book. Just make a contact named "ICE," enter your data, and save it. If you need additional space to enter more data, name the first one "ICE 1 of n" where "n" is the number of the last ICE entry so that it's easy for others to tell there's more they need to see. Then, make more contacts naming them "ICE 2 of n" and "ICE 3 of n" and so on.

From the lists I've seen thus far for Grab & Go bags, there's redundancy that seems unnecessary to me. How many decks of playing cards or games does one person need to carry? It's occurred to me that if we had each one of the recommended bags, we'd be hauling way too much stuff to carry around with the easy mobility necessary for an emergency evacuation.

It makes more sense if one bag is a subset of the next larger bag progressing as follows:

1. The E-kit (E = "Exposure" for the kit described here, not "Emergency" or "Evacuation" or "Earthquake") is very small and will fit into a briefcase, backpack, large purse or tote. It contains items to protect your airway, eyes, ears, and skin against dust, noise, and hazardous materials such as a mask that's rated as N95 or better, earplugs, goggles, nitrile gloves (to avoid allergic reactions to latex), and non-breathable rain gear like the cheapest plastic rain wear you can find such as those that are sold in pouches small enough to carry in a pocket. You don't want nylon or Gore-Tex because breathable fabrics are not suitable for this type of protection. This kit should be with you at all times especially if you live in a location likely to have dust storms or earthquakes (lots of dust) or receive falling ash or poisonous gases from a volcanic eruption.

The E-kit might be useful to protect yourself from exposure to nuclear, biological, or chemical hazards caused or transmitted by people, but that depends on your knowing when to use the contents. Since the NBC (or BCR for biological, chemical, and radioactive for you Brits) hazards aren't readily detectable by ordinary citizens, it's more probable that by the time you're alerted, it'll be too late for protection and you'll need to seek medical treatment for having been exposed. If you weren't in the affected area, stay away unless you're First Response personnel or don protective gear as may be appropriate.

2. The E-kit can be placed in your Go bag for the office or workplace. The bag for the workplace contains bottled water and other items you'll need to survive at work for a while or the contents may be used to make your way home or to a designated rendezvous point to join the rest of your family. Some people call this their EDC (Every Day Carry) bag.

One thing to keep in mind if you have a disposable water bottle is to be sure to hang onto it after you consume the contents. Many people impacted on 9/11 were given bottles of water and could have refilled them from accommodating businesses that turned on their taps for the thirsty as they trudged home. However, they had nothing to drink from except their hands and no way to take water with them as they continued their journeys home because they discarded their empty bottles.

3. The bag for your office or workplace can be a subset of, and combined with the bag for your vehicle. Frankly, I don't think a Grab & Go bag should include most of the car items because they're standard emergency items that we're supposed to keep in our vehicles all the time, anyway, such as a spare tire, jack, flares, first aid kit (FAK), etc. If I had to leave my car, I wouldn't want to lug around car-specific items. I'd want to carry food, water, clothing, health and comfort items for my survival. As a result, I'm going to ensure that I have the articles recommended for a vehicle, but I'm not planning to get a bag for carrying them because, except for water, food, and the FAK, I have no intention of hauling them away from my car.

4. The bags above can supplement the Grab & Go bag for home. This is also called a BOB (Bug Out Bag) or 72-hour bag because the contents are supposed to sustain you for a minimum of 72 hours or three days and three nights. If you have to evacuate your home, I'm confident you'd want to have the items of the other bags without the expense and weight of redundancy with the exception of food, water, and medication. My two cents.

Whatever you do, please don't forget to make a Grab & Go bag for your beloved pets or arrange for their care.

Here are some lists that may help:

Chaffey College - Grab 'n Go Bags

City of San Juan Capistrano - Grab & Go Bags

City of Vancouver - Grab'n Go Bags

Jeff Skrysak's Grab 'n Go Bag. Jeff is an EMT who now lives in a developing country where he's learned valuable lessons. I include his list here because he explains the reason behind many of the items that people may be inclined to leave off their lists.

For washing needs, I use the biodegradable Campsuds for camping and traveling because it can be used with either fresh or salt water for hands, body, hair, clothing, and dishes. Having it eliminates the need, weight, and space for several other bottles.

The Beneficiary Book - Disaster Preparedness Guide and Checklist.

Aton Edwards, the author of the PDF file about Grab-and-Go bags that follows lists items that I'd never consider otherwise, but gives excellent guidance for issues not addressed by other sites I read such as calculating how much cash to have on hand in case of an emergency evacuation and how to deal with the issue of having to use the bathroom while stuck in traffic for hours during a mass evacuation:

"Preparedness Now!" by Aton Edwards - Grab-and-Go Bag.

I can't imagine urinating into a regular funnel as Edwards suggests because of the shape of the funnel and location and stiffness of the drain spout. I'm thinking it's a sure way to get me and my car wet. Better than that, especially for the many girls and women who live in pants with front zippers and who would never consider switching to a skirt that provides better coverage while squatting, there are several urine directors designed specifically for the female anatomy that enable one to urinate without having to squat with pants down and derrière exposed:

The SheWee, Whiz Easy/Whiz Freedom, and the Portable and Medical models of the Freshette are designed specifically for use while seated as well as while standing.

The TravelMate website says that tubing is easily attached if desired and has a testimonial from a woman who attached tubing and used a collection bag to "go" while in a kayak, but I didn't see where tubing and collection bags are on the website leading me to believe that they're no longer offered and the customer now has to obtain them elsewhere.

Other urinary devices, such as Lady J, My SweetPee, Pee-Zee, and pStyle, are designed to be used only while standing and are nearly as useful as those that enable one to urinate while seated in a car or standing elsewhere because they allow women to "go" outdoors discreetly and eliminate having to sit on or awkwardly hover over dirty toilet seats and Port-A-Potties while urinating.

Getting one of these things is actually a good idea, now that I'm thinking about it, not only for a disaster kit for use in stalled traffic or for when restroom maintenance at shelters doesn't keep up with usage, but for other places such as fairs and festivals where restroom facilities aren't as clean as we'd like them to be.

If you have to buy the recommended radio, flashlights, and other battery-powered devices, I agree with Edwards about getting solar or hand-cranked-powered ones. That way, not only will you not have to be concerned about availability of new batteries when yours go weak, you'll save the cost, space, and weight of carrying spares.

Since the majority of water filters don't meet the EPA standards for killing bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, please be sure to do your homework and research the devices before buying one and stick to those that purify water of all three categories of contaminants.

Edwards doesn't say why he specifically lists, "Stainless steel mess kit or outdoor cooking gear." Stainless steel is heavier than aluminum and titanium, and more expensive than aluminum. During an emergency evacuation, you're already under stress and any additional weight adds to that stress needlessly. Not knowing his rationale, I think you'd be better off keeping the weight down, shaving off any and all ounces possible, to avoid additional stress.

Firestarters such as Spark-Lite, BlastMatch, Strike Force, and the Light My Fire Firesteel Scout or Army Model are better than regular magnesium firestarters because they're easy to use and are more reliable, and because magnesium shavings aren't easy to gather together especially if there's any whisper of a breeze that'll blow them away.

Cotton balls covered with petroleum jelly or dryer lint are really good for home-made tinder and those trick birthday candles that can't be blown out are exactly what you want for getting a fire going in breezy conditions. Of course, you'll want to have storm matches (waterproof and windproof) or NATO matches as well especially if you don't have one of the firestarters listed above. Be sure to include pliers or a multitool with pliers in your repair kit to hold the storm matches so you don't burn your fingers while lighting one because many of the sticks are awfully short, the exception being those sold by REI. Having some of those ubiquitous disposable butane lighters and wooden Strike Anywhere or regular kitchen matches will conserve your storm matches until they're really needed.

Miscellaneous Notes:

A pencil is better than most pens because not all pens will write under all conditions. However, none of the lists mention that the pencil needs to be a mechanical pencil unless you pack a pencil sharpener or know how to sharpen a pencil safely with a knife. This is an important consideration because many Americans don't carry pen knives or pocket knives, anymore, certainly not the majority of women. I recommend a Fisher Space pen because it writes under adverse conditions, on various types of paper, lasts longer than a pencil, and there's no lead to break or be sharpened. Along with that, I recommend getting "Rite in the Rain" all-weather writing paper so any notes you make for yourself or leave for others won't be damaged by rain, wet hands, or being washed if forgotten and left in a pocket.

In regards to feminine products, sanitary napkins are excellent for first aid kits to use for bleeding injuries. However, for feminine needs, I recommend that women change over to a menstrual cup because it weighs little, takes up much less space than does a month's supply of typical products, is highly cost-effective, and using one ensures that not having feminine hygiene products readily available after what you packed is gone won't be an additional issue during an already overly stressful situation. Just be sure to practice using one for as many as three or more monthly cycles because the learning curve is fairly steep and may not be as short as when learning how to use a tampon.

A safety whistle is essential to summon others to help because your voice can't carry as far as the whistle's trill and you can blow much longer than you can yell. Think, for example, if your car slid off the road out of sight of other motorists such as down an embankment and you were trapped inside. How would you alert others of your predicament if your car horn doesn't work and your cell phone gets tossed out of reach during the accident? Having a loud, lightweight, whistle on your key ring is ideal. A pealess whistle is best because most peas stick when wet and the best pealess whistles work even under water.

Here are some of the better whistles for your consideration. Please don't test blow them unless outside with other people a good distance away as permanent ear damage results from sound exceeding 85 decibels (db). They are not toys to blow near people's ears just to annoy them and pain isn't funny; the loudest ones can be heard up to a mile and a half away:

Fox 40 Sonik (125 db)

Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream (122 db)

All-Weather Safety Whistle Co. Storm (118 - 120 db)

Orion ORI-624 (116 db)

Fox 40 Micro/Adventure Medical Kits Rescue Howler (110 - 122 db depending on how forcefully it's blown. The Fox 40 website rates it at 115 db.). The AMK Rescue Howler is the exact same whistle as the yellow Fox 40 Micro. Previously, there was a difference in the way the lanyard was threaded through at the point of attachment, but now, there is no difference except for the packaging. Because this whistle requires more effort to blow than a Fox 40 Mini or Classic to get more than a pitiful, useless whiff of a sound, children or people who have breathing problems will do better with a Classic or Mini whistle than with a Micro.

Fox 40 Classic and Mini (115 db)

S.O.S. (113 db)

Acme Tornado 636 (107 db)

ACR Electronics WW-3 (102 db) - this can be heard a half mile away on a calm day.

There are other good safety whistles as well. If you want to get one not listed here, just remember that metal + cold weather = tongue-stuck-to-the-flagpole.

The Sawyer Extractor bite kit is the only snake bite kit acknowledged by wilderness medical professionals as being effective although some controversy has arisen because the effectiveness depends on whether it is utilized immediately after the bite and on what type of snake it was. Those who swear by it say its ability to extract up to 35% of the snake's venom is better than nothing. Especially since it works extremely well for bug bites and stings, it's worth adding to your FAK. Please don't bother thinking that getting one of the other snake bite kits will be just as good. At the least, they're ineffective and you'll only be wasting your money. At the worst, using one of the others may be worse than doing nothing at all.

I like the idea of storing important papers and treasured photos digitally to save space and reduce the load, but I'll have to figure out a way to ensure I don't stick any magnetic media in with my shake flashlight because it will zap the media if I put them close enough in my Grab & Go bag. Uploading the files to a cloud storage site is a better idea as long as it's not the sole off-site backup.

The lists include maps and a compass. This means that you have to learn how to use them if you don't already know. Waiting until you're in a situation requiring you to use a map and compass is not the time to learn. Remember, we're doing this to be proactive, not reactive.

I think what I already have will suffice and all I have to do is buy food and get it all into a single bag in keeping with the concept of being able to Grab & Go, but it certainly won't hurt for me to make a list and check it twice.

How about it? Are you prepared for the effects of inclement weather and whatever natural disaster is most likely to occur in your region of the country? Or, are you in denial thinking that it will never happen to you? Maybe you're right and it won't, but will you risk being caught off-guard like too many others have in the past?

You may be overwhelmed at the number of things that need to be done, but if you start now and focus on completing your preparations in reasonable chunks rather than trying to get everything done all at once, it'll be easier. Think of what type of emergency situation is most likely for your area and go from there. I know, of course, that a bad situation will never happen to me, but I can't predict the same future for you ;).

If you have other tips and suggestions that have helped you in the past, please post them in "Comments" so everyone may learn from your experience.

Luke 4:
[The devil said:]
10. For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee:
11. And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
12. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Matthew 25:
1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you....

[The next article in this series is, "Preparedness: Introducing the Fifteen Essential Systems."]


2 comments:

DrFaulken said...

This is a very comprehensive post. I am going to discuss it tomorrow on my blog -- if someone were to only read one thing about general preparedness I would point them here.

Thanks for the link to my "burn-o-balls," I lit one up about a month ago to see how they held up after storage. They flared right up. Keeping them in a zip-loc bag and out of sunlight/heat probably makes a big difference.

Gail Rhea said...

Thank you, drfaulken, I appreciate your comment.

When I read your piece about making tinder out of cotton and petroleum jelly, I thought it would be good to do while watching a movie on TV during a rainy day.

Thanks again and you're welcome for the link :).