Friday, January 22, 2016

Emergency preparedness

With the "epic" blizzard currently covering roughly 1/3 of our country, much of the news tonight was about pretty much exactly what you'd expect: lots of car accidents, grocery stores running out of food as people stock up, and all the many, many expected power outages.  Among all of this, however, they gave out a few quick tips for emergency preparedness which, while good to know, are pretty much too little, too late at this point.
Our government has put out a website to help people prepare for emergencies, but in truth we're really bad about it.  Just terrible.  As a nation, we suck at emergency preparedness.  Everyone puts it on the back burner, despite the regularity of emergencies.  How many blizzards, superstorms, and hurricanes will the east coast have to go through before people realize that they shouldn't be running out to the store the night before or the day of to stock up?
Alaskans are nearly entirely dependent upon outside food and resources.  That actually scared me when I heard it, and for good reason.  When we lived there, there were supply disruptions a few times, and there's been another one recently.  I hardly noticed them when we were there simply because we usually kept a decent supply of food on-hand.  I didn't think that I was terribly prepared (and seeing how much food my parents have in their pantry, our stock was pretty pathetic) but compared to the average, we always have been.  Some of that is privilege (we have enough money and enough sense to store food), but some of it is just prudence.
When we first moved down here, nearly everyone was talking about that New Yorker article about the big earthquake expected to doom us all, any time now.  It got me thinking, once again, about emergency preparedness and what I'd ideally like to have on hand in case shit goes down.  But it's not just about stuff to buy, sometimes it's about things to do to make myself more prepared.
By biking, I'm not dependent upon a car.  If the roads are unfit for a car, they might be fine for a bike or for a pedestrian, either of which I'm perfectly fit for and in either mode I can also transport my child with relative ease.  I'm not dependent upon the oil to fuel a vehicle, either, so if something disrupts the supply of fuel for some reason, I'll be fine.  (Hard to think about when oil is at $30 a barrel, but it won't always be.)  By keeping fit, I am also more mobile, flexible, and less likely to be trapped somewhere than people who are less fit.  In essence, I am less of a liability in an emergency, and I want to keep it that way.
Of course, as with everything else, I want to get maximum value for minimal pricing and effort in my emergency planning.  I'm lazy and cheap that way.  Some of the things on my emergency list are still theoretical, some are things you probably have on hand just as we do.  In general, being prepared is a simple thing to do.

1. Candles, at least two sources of starting fire (i.e. matches and a lighter), flashlights, and batteries.  Most people have flashlights and candles.  But multiple ways of making fire?  Fresh batteries or an alternative?  Maybe not so much.
Rechargeable batteries have actually gotten good enough to make them a worthwhile investment.  They're what we have in our bike lights.  Also, those portable rechargers for electronic devices (like a mophie) are fantastic.  When I haven't recharged my front bike light, occasionally I've grabbed one of our generic (and free! from a conference HusbandX went to) ones on my way out the door to charge my light.

2. Two ways of cooking meals.  If the electricity is out, we can still use the gas burners here.  If those are out too, we can use the camp stove.  In my perfect world, I'd also have a small, fold-up solar panel powerful enough to keep my slow cooker going on low.  Even if I never need it for the slow cooker, the solar panel could still power phones and other small devices, which could be particularly handy if the power is out for more than a few days, which has happened to us and to friends more than a few times.

3. Furniture which is anchored to the wall.  All dressers, bookshelves, televisions, anything leaning against he wall, secure it with a bracket and a few screws.  it's cheap, it's easy, and it could literally save a life.  This is not one most people think about, but falling furniture can be particularly dangerous in an earthquake and even if you don't live in an earthquake-prone area, it could save a child's life to anchor your furniture.  (If you have a child who climbs furniture, as mine does, that story is particularly panic-inducing.)  Even adults, particularly elderly adults, are injured by furniture which has been tipped over accidentally.

4. Food in the house, more than just for the coming few days or week.  I'm not saying anyone needs a year's supply of MREs (who would want to eat them anyway?), but not having to rush off to the store to buy bread every time there's a storm warning is quite nice.
This is also one of the great things about being fabulous home cooks: we're not dependent upon packaged foods.  No bread in the house?  That's fine as we've got flour, water, yeast, salt, and butter to put on that fresh bread.  The oven isn't working?  Well, here's an alternate meal we can make on the stovetop.  (Due to electrical problems in my parents' stove, we've actually been putting that to use occasionally.)
Due to the amount of food I stored and prepared last summer (ranging from frozen peaches to applesauce to vinegar) we've been slowly pulling from our food stores all autumn and winter.  If an emergency happened, we'd still have good food on hand with which to cook.  (Starting with the frozen foods in case of an extended power outage, of course.)
I realize that this one is sort of tough, because many people live so on the edge with their money that building up a supply of food is difficult, but there are incredibly cheap ways to do so and you don't need to do it all at once.  Buy a bag or two of dried beans, rather than canned.  (So much cheaper.)  Get a slightly bigger bag of flour than you usually use and just make sure you never run out of it.  Things like that will ensure that you have food on hand when you need it.
The biggest trick is to use things regularly, to rotate, so that nothing goes bad.  There are many systems people have developed for how they do this, I'm sure you can look them up and figure out what works best for you.
And as always, if you have more than you need/will use, please donate to the food bank for those who really need it.  For many families, getting food is an emergency every day.

5. Non-electronic sources of entertainment.  This is the one which kills HusbandX in a power-outage situation.  He'll read, but it's more of a last resort option, and he'll fidget the whole time.  Me, I'm perfectly content with a book or ten, and I can easily find entertainment for the Munchkin.  We try not to let her watch too much TV/too many movies anyway, so that one's easy.  But books don't have to be your only choice; try puzzles and board games, play charades with family, go for walks if it's safe (be careful of downed power lines and respectful to emergency crews--and if you needed that reminder I'm surprised you haven't naturally selected yourself out of the gene pool already).  Watching TV has become such a de facto entertainment that there are actually people who can't fathom what to do with out it.  Be more interesting than that.

6.  Don't.  Just don't do it!  Don't buy a house in a flood-prone area (although I admit that, with the price of renting in many cities, lower income people might not have a choice and that sucks).  Don't buy a place on fill-dirt when you're in an earthquake area.  (The city of Seattle has made some of this easy.)  And don't drive when you know there's a blizzard bearing down upon you, unless you absolutely have to.
And, learn to drive on snow and ice, how to avoid hydroplaning.  Please?  Those are good skills to have even when it's not an emergency.

7. Have the proper clothes on hand for all family members.  Waterproof items, warm clothes, good shoes/boots, whatever you need for the emergencies you're planning for.  Make sure kids have gear that fits.

8. Water!  Always have water on hand!  This is one I'm struggling to figure out, since I have lots of objections to bottled water, and I don't really like plastic stuff for storing food and drinks anyway.  We used to have a 15-gallon water tank (from our days living in a dry cabin) but we gave that away before leaving Fairbanks.  Here, we have a bit of bottled water, I generally keep my bike's water bottles full (mostly so that I don't have to think about it for each and every trip), and at the worst we could collect rain water and sterilize it.  I do still want to come up with a good system, however, when we have our own place.

I'm certain that I've forgotten a few items on my list, but these are the big ones I can think of at the moment.  In an emergency scenario, I really don't want to be the one people are worrying about.  There are plenty of people with health and mobility issues, with genuine problems, to whom the available resources should go.  Ideally, I would be available to help, even if it's just to charge a friend's phone so they can let family know they're safe, or ensure that a neighbor gets a hot drink or a meal when needed, to check on the elderly and others with small children.  And, while I don't think a life without challenges and troubles is a good thing for any child, I also don't want my kid to be the one starving or freezing because I couldn't think ahead.
I admit that I might probably think about this more than most people do.  I grew up with stories of my mother's experience of the big Good Friday earthquake in Alaska, and I've seen the scars it has left.  The few earthquakes we've experienced together, she's been white-knuckled with panic, wide-eyed and practically panting.  It's scary, as a child, to see that, and it has made me wonder what I can do to make such a scenario less scary for myself, or for my own child.
But just because I think about this more than most people do doesn't mean that it's a bad thing.  In fact, everyone will experience an emergency of some sort, at some point.  Probably a big one.  Flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, droughts, and I'm not even getting into possible human-caused situations or epidemics/pandemics.  (Not much I can do to prevent either of those except do my best to spread peace and wash my hands.)  Being prepared for them is just good sense, and it saves you a lot of time, money, and stress when you're feeling ready for the upcoming storm.

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