Like many others, I watched the news coverage of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria on the Weather Channel last summer. One thing that struck me as people prepared for the coming storms were the long lines at gas stations and the demand for food and bottled water at grocery stores. I couldn’t help but wonder, why had people waited until the last minute?
I began to think about my own situation. How prepared was I for a storm or other emergency? On my basement pantry shelves I have enough food to last for a few weeks. But due to a couple of recent incidents, I have no bottled water and my first aid supplies are lacking. I’m not sure if my flashlights contain working batteries and other supplies are spotty. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I too, would have been one of those people standing in line.
There are all types of emergencies — hurricanes, tornados, winter storms, earthquakes, floods, downed trees, accidents and illness, the list goes on and on. An emergency can happen to anyone at any time and often comes with unexpected consequences. In 2003, forty-five million people in eight states as well as portions of Canada were hit with one of the most widespread power blackouts of all time. My city lived without power in the hot August heat for almost a week. When my friend in central Ohio woke up yesterday he would not have predicted a tornado ripping through his neighborhood. But by 7 p.m. his neighbor’s house was in tatters, a tree was lying on his own lawn and he had moved his family into the basement for the night. I’m sure no one in Puerto Rico, as they were preparing for the upcoming Hurricanes Irma and Maria, ever expected that they would be forced to live without power or running water for seven months or more, but many have done so.
While we all hope for the best and we don’t want to waste time worrying about situations and scenarios that haven’t yet happened, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared either. Good emergency preparation can save your life or at least make life more comfortable. If danger is headed your way and officials advise you to evacuate you should follow their instructions. Everyone should have a “bugout bag” ready to grab and go in case they ever need to evacuate home and/or community. My toiletry bag is always packed and ready for travel. It would be easy to throw a few changes of clothes into a carry-on bag. Things I need to have ready to go on short notice include:
- soap, shampoo
- combs, brushes
- toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
- shaving cream, razors
- nail clippers, scissors
- first aid kit
- cash, credit cards, checkbook
- address and phone list of friends and family
- clothing, pajamas, extra shoes
- raincoat, umbrella
- blankets, pillows, sleeping bags for car sleeping or camping
- tent, tent stakes, ground cloth
- pet carrier, pet dishes, leashes
- pet food, cat litter, litter box/scoop
- bottled water
- grab and go foods like, nuts, protein bars, crackers, canned cheese, peanut butter
- cell phone, tablet, laptop computers
Many events are not so severe and only require that we hunker down at home for a few days. Here in Ohio and throughout other northern states it is not unusual for us to be housebound for a day or more when a winter storm rears its ugly head. Wherever you live and whatever your situation, it never hurts to be prepared for a variety of circumstances. For that reason I am making an extra effort this spring to assess and update my own emergency preparations.
A lack of running water was one of the biggest problems faced on Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. As my friend on that island is resorting to hauling water from a mountain stream, I am thinking about my own water situation. My area was unexpectedly without water for a day last summer when a water pipe burst in a neighboring township. Residents of Flint, Michigan are still trying to solve their contaminated water crisis. Where would I find water if my kitchen faucet suddenly went dry for an extended period of time?
I do have a natural water source close to my home where I could obtain water in an emergency. I considered how I would carry, filter, and store that water. Water from natural sources needs to be filtered and boiled or purified by some other method before drinking it. Water filters are available in all price ranges and are rated to remove different kinds of particles. Even if I never use it, it wouldn’t hurt to do some research and buy a water filter kit to stash in my emergency stores.
For most emergencies though, having the recommended stored supply of one gallon of water per person per day for three days will suffice. In addition to smaller, personal size water bottles, I keep a number of gallon jugs of bottled water in my store room which could be refilled in an emergency. Every 6 months or so, I refresh my home filled water jugs. I dump them into my toilet tank or washing machine so that water isn’t wasted. In addition to my shelf stored water I fill the empty spaces in my freezer with water bottles. A filled freezer works more efficiently and the bottles can also serve as ice blocks in my summer picnic cooler. I use heavier plastic juice bottles for this purpose and I only fill them 3/4 full to give the ice room to expand.
The recommendations that I’ve read on emergency preparedness websites typically say that everyone should also have a three day supply of food for their entire family. I don’t believe that to be nearly enough. I’ve lived through some severe winter storms and I know that the last thing I want to be doing is driving to the market on icy roads just because I’ve run out of milk. There are people who store a year’s worth of food or more. While I don’t stock nearly that much, I do keep my shelves well supplied with canned goods and other items that I rotate as I do weekly grocery shopping.
Emergency foods should be easy to prepare and nutritious. I store things that can be easily combined to make one pot meals, stews, and soups as well as staples that can be turned into many different meals. I also purchase the size of product which we would consume immediately without leftovers because if we lose power, we don’t have refrigeration (unless it is snowing outside!). My storage shelves contain:
- canned beans
- canned tomatoes
- canned fruits and vegetables
- canned meats like chicken, tuna, deviled ham spread
- heat and eat foods such as beef stew, soups
- “just add water” biscuit and bread mixes
- bottled juices, tea bags, coffee
- seasoning packets for chili, tacos, soups, etc.
- dried beans, pastas, soup mixes
- breakfast cereals, oatmeal
- staples like flour, powdered eggs, dried yeast, salt and pepper
- shelf stable milk, powdered, or canned milk
There are other things I need to think about as I prepare my emergency food supply. How would I open cans without electricity? I need to purchase a manual can opener. How would I cook if there was no power to the stove? Someone in a city apartment or without a yard could cook on a balcony or fire escape or even outside on the sidewalk. (Never use a grill indoors). Fortunately I wouldn’t have that problem. I have a large yard and I have a tripod for campfire cooking as well as a few cast iron pots. I also have a charcoal grill.
Some items to consider including in an emergency cooking stash:
- wire campfire rack
- outdoor grill
- wood pile, bags of charcoal, ex
- lighter fluid, matches, butane lighters
- cast iron skillet, dutch oven
- campfire coffee pot
- pots and pans large enough to heat water for washing dishes/bathing
- campfire utensils
- pot holders and oven mitts
- manual can opener
- plastic gallon jugs or Thermos beverage jugs for hauling/storing water
Lighting, heating/cooling, and communications are also concerns during emergencies. Cell phone service is often disabled or overloaded during disasters. Having an alternate way of charging the cell phone, such as a car charger, is a good thing to own. A household generator to run even a few basics would be nice to have but they are pricey, require a store of fuel, and have to be maintained for them to work when needed. I’m not sure I have the patience for that. Smaller battery packs that are kept charged will light a lamp, charge your cell phone, and play a radio for a number of hours. I own two of these that can also be recharged by plugging them into my cars cigarette lighter.
A wood burning, gas or propane fireplace is good to have in the winter if the power goes out. I concluded though, that the cost and hassle of a propane fireplace probably isn’t worth the price just as an emergency measure. If the temps were frigid, I could always get a room at our local Motel 6 and if I were concerned about my pipes freezing, I could shut off and drain my water. Candles give off both light and heat but they are also dangerous and should only be used when someone is present and awake to watch them. Solar and battery powered devices are a better lighting solution. I already own several battery operated lights and I found lots of solar products in all price ranges online.
Many of the items I would need during an emergency are things I have at home already. Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and personal protection devices are always kept in working order. If I needed to sleep in my basement during a tornado warning I have an air mattress so I would be fairly comfortable. After an earthquake, the fear of aftershocks cause many people to sleep outdoors or in their cars in which case they might want to have a tent and/or sleeping bags. Some supplies to consider:
- solar or battery powered lights
- solar or battery powered fans
- hand crank or battery powered weather radio
- smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
- fire extinguishers
- camping lanterns
- extra batteries
- space heaters (if your furnace breaks down)
- duct tape
- roll of heavy plastic
- basic tools – hammer, screw drivers, pliers
- staple gun and staples
- an assortment of nails and screws
- air mattress and/or sleeping bag
In addition to supplies, I always keep a small amount of cash in the house. Before any expected storm I usually hit the ATM and make sure the car’s gas tank is filled.
For emergency prep product ideas check out my Amazon idea list. I’ve chosen products that I already own or would choose to purchase myself. The products on the list have decent reviews and are a good value for the price paid.