It’s good to admit weakness. Although we were lucky enough to not suffer any serious damage from the storm, it was an acute reminder to this household, and I’m sure others, that we were generally underprepared. It’s so painfully easy to get wrapped up in the day to day and to put off doing things that will make your life easier when you have something more serious to worry about than your own busy-ness. One of my own personal challenges is failing to approach things in digestible pieces. I tend to try to tackle the whole mountain — in this case, investigating, reviewing, interviewing experts, before sitting down to stuff a safety-pack. However, there’s no time like the present, when you’re not staring down the eye of a storm, to start preparing for the unexpected, even if that start is just making a list of what you might need. It is okay to start small, and proceed small, and eventually you will have something very big accomplished. (A writer/mentor/friend of mine, Crescent Dragonwagon, advocates relentless incrementalism, and I’m incrementally incorporating the notion.)
That in mind, I am finally ready to start getting serious about getting at least more adequately prepared than I felt about a month ago, as Superstorm Sandy was rolling in. (It’s an awful feeling when the drain in your bathtub doesn’t work and all you’re hearing on the radio is how everyone should be filling their bathtubs to the brim in the event of pure catastrophe — the unknown is always the villain in these scenes).
There are many lists available online for how you should stock your home in the event of an emergency. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments on this list, and to recommend others. As for now, I’m keeping it simple with an old standard — FEMA. According to FEMA, the following is what you need to stock your basic disaster supplies kit. (If anyone can think of a better name for the “basic disaster supplies kit,” please share. While I’m no Pollyanna, I still think the words we use help shape and create our own reality. Maybe something along the lines of Adventure Pack for the Unexpected, or Welcome the Unknown Gift Basket….?)
Anyway, here’s the list…
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
I was calling my adult daughter the day before the storm hit, making sure she had good old-fashioned paper maps, atlas, etc., since her cell phone has been her fifth appendage since high school. From my own experience on September 11, I can’t vouch fervently enough for value of a good radio. I walked from Houston to 83rd that day, keeping quick pace with a stranger who gave me one ear bud to get the news on his handheld transistor radio. Granted the news was all wrong, including reports of Chicago being bombed (seriously – and from a legit source), but that was in the cacophony of confusion so I don’t hold it against anyone — just one of those things no one seemed to remember after. Still, access to any news is better than no news in such situations.
I skipped Black Friday — trying to do the “be local buy local” route — but I have a specific shopping list for the days and weeks ahead. (relentless incrementalism, relentless incrementalism, relentless incrementalism) It’s an early gift to my family, my home, and myself. Will keep you posted.
I haven’t been online too much lately, but I see the blog has been marching onward! After Sandy when things were pretty much back to normal (at least in my neighborhood) I thought back over the past few days and how things played out. Although minimal by most standards, a couple weaknesses had to do with getting electricity into the house- not from the grid which was still down, but of my own making. Since then I bought 2 good heavy extension cords and a couple outlet expanders to replace the loose ones I had to use. If I had to run the refrigerator through those extension cords it may have been a problem. Next time things will work out a little better. All the small electrical stuff worked flawlessly. Small single AA flashlights left lit around the house at strategic spots made it easy to walk around, and aside from a single 120 volt lamp running off batteries and an inverter in the basement, I just ran chargers to keep the cell phone and flashlight batteries charged as needed.
I’ve heard of many names for emergency kits, some indicating their specially purposed contents. Black out kits for blackouts, BOBs or Bug Out Bags containing supplies for 3 days if you had to leave your house in a hurry, and get home kits- something with supplies to get you from your car or work back home to mention a few. One thing to remember with kits you may have to carry is their weight. I’ve heard of small light bags for children and even dogs. There are many approaches to kits so although many have some similar items they are often ‘geared’ to individual needs. Don’t forget pets and their food.
Some things to think about:
cash in small denominations. If you own a car fill the tank, 12 volt chargers for cell phones so you can charge them in the car, and/ or a small cigarette lighter powered inverter to run small AC powered chargers. I lent mine to someone whose cell phone was dead very early into the storm. I bought a small battery powered lantern for someone
which had good reviews from a number of sources. If I didn’t already have so many lights and lanterns I would get one for myself. One of those will adequately light a whole room for a couple days on 3 D batteries. Flashlights are great, but a lantern spreads light over a wide area.
One thing I am still lacking is decent medical supplies. I bought a book for starters,
and will eventually buy or make a decent first aid kit. You can only do so much with band aids.
During the storm I only listened to a NOAA weather radio to check on the storm’s progress. These are good to have, and some stay in standby and turn on when there is a warning.
If you own a house, the typical 30+ gallon water heater is a good source of water. There should be a drain valve at the bottom that can be opened. Mine is a plastic valve with threads that a garden hose can be screwed onto. After a few openings it would drip so I had to screw a metal cap on the end to stop it. For a couple dollars I would keep one of those brass caps handy- just in case. That water can be pretty hot, so be careful. There’s also a safety valve at the top of the heater with a pipe going down the side stopping short of the floor. If you open that valve hot water will come gushing out of that pipe so be careful. I keep a low plastic pan under mine to catch the water when I test it. For emergency water you will want to use the bottom valve.
In place of filling up the bath tub with water, I’ve heard of filling storage ‘totes’ with water and filling plastic bags placed inside a box or an empty drawer to hold them up and in place.
Natural gas is very reliable, but it’s a good idea to know where the shut off valve is. Usually the main valve is near the gas meter(s), with more near gas water heaters and gas furnaces. A ‘Crescent’/ adjustable wrench or vice grips can shut the valves in a pinch. One quarter turn is all it takes to open or close the valve. A friend whose basement got submerged from the storm shut the gas to his furnace, water heaters, and gas drier as a precaution after the water went down.
Knowing where circuit breakers/ fuses are, the main water valve, and the emergency furnace switch are things every homeowner should know. If the individual circuit breakers are not labeled as to what’s on each one, one day (not night) shut them off one by one and use something like a small light to see which outlets turn off. Don’t forget to check the ceiling lights too. Write it in the box next to each breaker. If you do this you will probably have to reset the time on a few electrical items after they get turned off. If you ever need to turn off (or back on) something specific you will know which breaker to use. That came in handy when the outlets in my friend’s basement got submerged in salt water.