Sunday, October 15, 2017

Habits that help you prepare for a disaster

Disasters might give you warning, as with hurricanes, but usually they do not. You're sitting there reading a book, and the power goes out. Or the earth starts to shake and your glass figurines fall off the shelf. Or the tornado siren comes. Or your phone buzzes, and it's your local emergency management office telling you there has been a train wreck and toxic chemicals are spilling into your neighborhood. Or you look up from pulling weeds in the vegetable garden, and the sky has gone dark and the sun is turning pink, and the hair on the back of your neck lets you know it's a wildfire blowing your way.

Of course you have your emergency supplies ready for "sheltering in place," don't you? And an emergency contact plan with your family, including someone out of town who will coordinate your locations and safety check-ins? You know that when cell towers get overloaded, texts will get through when calls won't, right?

You already own a generator if you're in a cold climate, or hurricane country, or dependent upon an electric breathing device to stay alive, and you won't be one of those people running out to buy one 10 minutes before a hurricane hits, will you? And you have your car filled up to at least half, because letting it go below half a tank is a bad thing. If you have a hybrid or electric, you top it up every night, right?

Your shelves have plenty of canned food, including soups, and you have bags of rice and beans and canned tomatoes to flavor them.  And you have a camp stove or gas stove or propane grill outside so you can cook them, right?

You're not short on kitty litter or pet food, I hope!

You know your neighbors, and who among them is elderly or disabled and might need your help, don't you? The single parents that might be away when the disaster strikes, leaving frightened children alone?

No? Then don't wait until it's too late. Make sure all that is in place by the end of next weekend. Get into good habits, and then you won't be caught off-guard when a disaster does happen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Emergency Supplies

It's a good time to revisit the concept of having an emergency supply kit that you can grab and take with you if you are evacuated because of flood, fire, hurricane, or toxic waste spill. You might build a three-day or a five-day kit. Some of what you might want to include:

  • 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
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • 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
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Spare glasses 
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet, plus their crate and leash
  • Cash or traveler's checks (ATMs don't work in power outages)
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect waterMatches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Duct tape, which is often useful
  • A tarp for picnics or makeshift tent

Think through where you might end up: at a shelter, a friend's house, or stuck camping out of your car. 

Do this before you think you might need to. Dedicate a corner of your garage to it. If you have no garage, pick the closet closest to your front door and make sure everything is packed neatly into cheap duffle bags so the family can throw everything in the car within 15 minutes if they need to. Change the water and medications every year (your birthday is a good time to do that) and recharge the spare phone battery.

I also put a water filter in my supplies and parachute cord. Think through your locale, your situation, and add whatever you want.

And NEVER let your gas tank go under 50% full. Because you really never know.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Puerto Rico in Crisis

3 Days after Maria passed

A humanitarian crisis is ongoing in Puerto Rico, and its national government has been far too slow to respond. Some highlights, as I write this:

  • Power is out throughout the island
  • Safe water is a problem
  • The death toll is not yet known
  • It took five days for the territory’s governor to get in touch with the mayors of all towns large enough to have them
  • Children’s hospital has been out of fuel for their generators for days
  • Lines for limited gas create panic
  • Agriculture is decimated for the year--no new crops of any kind for many months
  • The infrastructure is damaged--power lines, water lines, roads, and more
  • People desperate for food and medicine have looted closed drugs stores
  • Opportunistic looters are making the streets unsafe
  • Dangerous prisoners have escaped a storm-damaged prison
  • People rushing home to loved ones are being price gouged by airlines
  • For nearly a week hospitals did not have running water

And I hate to be a doomsayer on this, but I know there could be more to come. For instance, what if one dead body in a stream was a person with a communicable disease? An epidemic disease is possible. I'm not wishing for it. I'm dreading it.

Because of a lack of leadership from the White House, people finally went around that roadblock to help. The Mayor of New York organized shipments of supplies. Individuals begged FEMA and Health Corps workers to act anyway, even without orders from the top. And many did.

Most of my readers live in a safe place, a place where they can rely on police or fire coming to help. Certainly if there were a disaster, they’d see evidence of rescue workers right away. Puerto Rico residents waited five days before much happened at all. Five days without stores open. Five days without hot food. Five days without communication, not knowing if the water coming from the tap was safe to bathe in or not. It’s hot and muggy there as well, which must make everything seem so much worse.

I write disaster novels as entertainment, but I never want to see a disaster happen. And my heart goes out to my fellow Americans. I’ve donated money--including money to the American Library Association, to help rebuild and restock libraries there and in the USVI, when the immediate crisis is over. Donate to safe, known places: UNICEF, Save the Children, The Red Cross all have funds for Maria.

I’m ashamed of how late my federal government acted to save its own citizens. And poor towns in Texas still have terrible problems and dangerous pollution from Harvey. I guess this is the future we have to look forward to unless we are filthy rich. Very sad indeed.

It also serves as a warning to us all. We cannot necessarily rely on our governments, which may be in a crisis of whatever nature themselves. We have to take care of ourselves.

So I’m thinking “three days of food and water” may no longer be enough to keep on hand. Have a five-day supply on hand at all times for those disasters we can’t anticipate, like tornadoes, earthquakes, and power outages. If you are in the way of a hurricane, if one seems remotely likely to hit you in ten days, start buying extra supplies for ten or fourteen days that far in advance. If you can afford a hybrid car, that would help evacuate you when gasoline runs out. (You can still get 100 miles away from a dangerous coastal area on your electric charge, and as all-electric cars continue to improve, one day, they’ll take you over 500 miles on one charge). And a spare, portable solar panel and battery pack might see you through many days of power outages--not to live a comfy suburban life with TV and cold drinks, but to have the necessities and communication capability you’ll so desperately want.

lines for gas were 4-5 miles long

My heart goes out to the people of Puerto Rico. I wish I could do more to help them.