September is Emergency Preparedness month.   It’s a great time of year to think about what your family will need in case of an earthquake, power outage, or other natural disaster.  Kathryn Shulz’s article The Big One was published in the July New Yorker.  Its focus on the catastrophe that awaited the mostly unprepared Pacific Coast spawned discussion on talk radio, news segments, and additional articles in our local paper.  I wanted to make sure our family had a plan to weather something big, like a major earthquake, or even something minor, like losing power for a few hours or a few days in an ice storm this winter.

But Emergency Preparedness can be overwhelming.  In a recent post in a mom’s group I participate in, one of the very pregnant mom’s asked if anyone was thinking of emergency preparedness.  And while the conversation helped identify an emergency preparedness expert in our group who is putting together a get together to discuss this topic (sweet!), it also uncovered a general feeling of ‘being overwhelmed’ by the task.  This is an incomplete list of essential preparedness TO DOs that I’m pulling from memory:

  • Emergency first aid kit
  • 72 hour emergency kit
  • Emergency medical supplies
  • Two week water supply
  • Two week food supply
  • Family Emergency Plan
  • Emergency cash (friends in Hawaii during a tsunami had no cash and all electronic services went down, it was a challenge for them).
  • Evacuation bag (BOB)
  • Emergency cooking fuel
  • Emergency heat source
  • Backup power supply
  • Hand crank radio for communications
  • Flashlights/extra batteries/candles

This isn’t close to a complete list, and it certainly isn’t tailored to you and your family.

Emergency Preparedness is a big deal.  Events like Katrina, the tsunami’s in Japan, and Haiti, Wildfires in California, to name just a few, have caused serious destruction to homes and infrastructure, and have displaced families.  The US Government recommends preparing a 72 hour kit of food, water, and supplies in case of emergency.  But fallout from Katrina shows us that sometimes, the Government is slow to respond, or road and ground conditions impede emergency response.  Other sources recommend creating a two week store, for added protection, and I know families who have year long food storage as a protections in case of unemployment as well as natural disaster.

It’s a very adult mindset to think about the risks a natural disaster presents, and what mitigation can do to address those risks.  One tactic to overcoming the fear and malaise that ‘feeling overwhelmed’ conjures; start small. But start, because anything you can do to help your family be prepared, will make it easier for you to weather whatever mother nature throws at you.

One way to start small is to assess your current level of emergency preparedness.  Do you have any emergency supplies at all?  A first aid kit? Sleeping bag? Couple gallon jugs of water?Great!  Good Job! (My next job: life coach ;o)  The next step is to pick one thing you don’t have covered, and cover that nut.  Do you have food and water on hand for a three day emergency that strands you at your house?  If not, then a 72 hour kit – is a great place to start.  The US Government and the Red Cross both have good lists you can refer to (I’ve provided a list of links at the bottom of this post) – and you may be pleasantly surprised to find you have most of these items on hand. Your task, is to assemble them, discuss it with your family, and put it in an accessible place.

If you already have a 72 hour kit, you can move on to making an emergency response plan with your family, or working on a two week water and food supply, or figuring out backup power, or alternative fuel, or how you’d respond to cold temps with no heat.  The key is to move yourself from being overwhelmed, and maybe a little afraid, to becoming active and contributing to your families emergency preparedness.  We can’t control weather or politics or geologic movement, but we can do our best to be prepared.

When reading emergency preparedness information, water is a key ingredient to maintaining health and sanitation.  We can all live without food longer than we can live without water.  This sounds like an ‘internet truth’ – you know, something we don’t question, but may not be true.  But in doing a quick google search, I found scientific articles estimating we can live about 3-4 days without water, but up to a few weeks without food, as long as we are hydrated (think Ghandi’s hunger strike!)  So this seemed like the place to start for our family.

I had previously investigated long term water storage solutions, but the cost and size of the solution seemed overwhelming.  Ms. Shulz’s article, the buzz in the news, and that buzz of my intuition saying this is a good idea, made me determined to just get it done.  So in late August, after a few days of internet sleuthing, I found a good deal on 55 gallon water barrels from BePrepared.com.  This wasn’t the cheapest place to buy these barrels, but it has the best shipping rate I could find, so it was a bargain in comparison to its competitors.  I also purchased a water grade hose and a siphon to get the water out, when needed.

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With the barrels on order, I moved onto the next logical step for emergency preparedness:  food storage.  Our pantry probably has enough food for a week or two of scraped together meals, but on my next trip to the grocery store, I added to my cart additional cans of beans, vegetables, fruit, soup and chili that I put in the garage.  I also added granola bars, cup o’soup granola, and pancake mix.  As I use food out of the pantry, I replenish from the garage, and replace the stock in the garage from my weekly shopping trips.

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Another high priority item on my list was to put together an emergency essentials bag.  In reading up on emergency preparedness, i came across a whole slew of Prepper sites, they run the gamut from militiamen expecting an invasion by foreign forces, to the ultra-religious awaiting the second coming, to those that claim to be ready for a Zombi or alien invasion.  The Bug Out Bag (BOB) includes essentials you’d need in any of the above scenarios in an easily accessible pack that you can grab and escape into the hills.  Since I’m more concerned with feeding my family and keeping us warm when a power outage strikes this winter, than I am with a Zombie invasion, my bag has emergency essentials like an extra pair of socks and underwear, a recently packed first aid kit, and a backup plan for taking care of my health.

One of the most vital things I had to consider for emergency preparedness is medication.  I’m an insulin dependent diabetic – that’s Type 1 or Adult Onset Diabetes, if you speak the lingo.  I wear an insulin pump that I charge every day on my computer (when I remember) or at my bedside table.  In case of a power outage, I would have no power supply for my pump, so I investigated and purchased this hand crank radio/flash light/cell phone charger, and I packed it with an extra charging cable so I’ll have it on hand should I need it.  I also packed about a week’s worth of insulin pump supplies in the bag.  Insulin must be kept cold, so I have a store in the fridge, not in the garage.  Writing this reminds me that I don’t have any test strips in my kit, so I’ll do that as soon as I post this article.

I’ve also collected a manual can opener, have my camping stove and supplies stocked nearby, and I picked up an extra canister of propane in case we lose electricity.  Next steps for our family are to come up with an Emergency Response Plan for our family, and I think we’ll use the Red Cross Disasters and Financial planning doc (see resources below) to guide us through the whole process.  Now that I’m able to check off some of the items as ‘done’ when we come to them, it will be less overwhelming to tackle.  And since I’ll be reviewing it with Chad, we’ll be able to discuss solutions and ideas, and we’ll be prepared as a family.

So September is Emergency Preparedness month.  It’s an elephant that needs eating, and the best way to do it is one bite at a time.  Go ahead, take a bite!

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