You may not know this, but September is National Preparedness Month here in the US. Now I know that a lot of people will get turned off by me talking about ‘prepping’ and ‘preppers’, but please suspend your preconceived notions and just read these few paragraphs with an open mind.
I was a Girl Scout as a kid, and I really took the whole ‘always be prepared’ motto to heart. It is, in my opinion, the responsibility of each individual to be prepared to face at least a short term emergency. No matter where you live, mother nature can put a hurtin’ on the modern conveniences that our modern lives rely upon. I am not saying that everyone needs to have 30 years worth of food and water stored in their basement (although if you do, I think that is wonderful!). I’m just saying that it is worth a little bit of effort to have what you need to care for those in your home for at least a few days, or even a week or more.
Last October, we had a pretty intense storm out here. We normally don’t even get snow until mid-late November, but this was a major blizzard and ice storm. It took 5 days for power to be completely restored to my house. They were very long, very cold days, but we did okay. The only reason that we did not have to leave home to go stay somewhere that did not lose those creature comforts, such as running water and electric, is because we had a plan. (My husband & I both grew up in areas prone to hurricanes, and as such are both very aware of how fragile the infrastructure is when Mama Nature throws a hissy fit.) Compared to the folks hit by Hurricane Katrina in the gulf coast region in 2005, we were very lucky. My point is that no matter where you live, there is a risk of some sort of natural disaster, and being prepared for ‘getting by’ if one strikes does not mean that you’re walking around wearing a tin-foil hat & filled with fear every minute of every day.
Having a supply of the essentials on hand ‘just in case’ is sort of an insurance policy. How many people do you know who take an aspirin daily to stave off the risk of heart attack? How many people have a basic emergency kit in their trunk- spare tire, jack, jumper cables, etc? Asthmatics carry around inhalers, and moms across the country carry bandaids, antibiotic ointment, epi-pens and all sorts of other basic first aid supplies. Doing these things can reassure a person who knows that stuff happens, and it’s not always within our control. Stuff does happen. Sometimes it happens suddenly, and sometimes it can take a while for things to return to ‘normal’. Sometimes it’s just not possible to pick up and go somewhere with the modern amenities, either.
Now, all of the stuff that I’m about to touch on briefly is stuff that you can find oodles of more info about all over the web with a simple google search (or whatever your search engine of choice may be). As such, I’m not going to get too in depth on any one topic. I’m just going to point out a few things that you might want to consider thinking about.
Having food that your family will eat, that’s nutritious and that can be prepared without power is a good idea. Preppers seem to be very fond of something called “wheat berries”. I have no idea of what they are, and since we’re a gluten-free house, they’re a no-no anyway. Minute rice, on the other hand, is something we eat regularly. The same can be said of Potato Buds and canned tuna. I’ve even been known to serve up a canned ham (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!). Fruit salad cups, nuts & trail mix, condensed soups… even those chemical- and sugar-laden canned pastas, ramen noodles or cup-of-soups are worth considering, as long as your family will eat them. Store the best quality food that you can, but make sure it’s stuff that’s familiar and that everyone will eat. Don’t forget to include multi-vitamins and some ‘fun’ foods, too. (And if there are any coffee drinkers in the house, I strongly recommend having at least a small jar of instant coffee in there, too! The last thing you want, in an already stressful situation, is a caffeine-withdrawal headache!)
Along with the food, I recommend having some disposable stuff to eat off of and with- paper plates & cups, plastic bowls & cutlery. A supply of foil pans for cooking, or at least a roll of heavy duty aluminum foil, probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Have you ever tried to wash dishes without running water? It’s a pain in the tush! And don’t forget to figure out some way to cook and/or heat food & water- can you cook using your BBQ grill, fireplace or woodstove? If you don’t have any of them, do you have some other way to bring water up to a full boil?
You should be able to fit 1 week’s worth of food for a family of four in 1 or 2 storage totes. You can store the food under beds, as long as it’s in packaging that is completely sealed to keep out any critters and pests!
It’s a good idea to store 2 gallons of drinking water per person, per day. That means, if you have 2 adults and 2 children in your house, you want to have 8 gallons of water for drinking and cooking per day. That’s 24 gallons for 3 days, or 56 gallons for 1 week. I know it seems like a lot of water, and you’re probably wondering where you would even store that much water, but if you end up with the power being out for a few days or a reservoir contamination alert, you’ll be glad you have it! You can buy the stuff off of the grocery store shelves (expensive, but convenient), or hit the camping section in your local sporting goods store or mega-mart ad pick up 3- or 5-gallon water containers to fill from your tap (less expensive in the long run, but heavy when filled and often bulky, which can make them difficult to store), or come up with some other option. There are lots of options, and if you do some googling, you should be able to find one that fits your needs.
It’s really important to research proper storage for your drinking water, though! Plastic milk jugs are likely to degrade and leak- not only spilling your precious drinking water, but also potentially damaging anything else in the area! So spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the options, and find the best one for you & your home. You should also look at how to treat the stored water to ensure that it’s safe for drinking (contamination can come from the water source, your storage vessel, or even the air, and some organisms will thrive in your storage container unless preventative measures are taken, both when you store it and immediately before use).
In addition to drinking water, you should consider water for sanitation. Toilets can be flushed without power, but not without water! There’s also hand washing, bathing and dish washing to consider. As long as the sewer lines are not backed up, your drains should work fine. If septic/sewer are a concern for you, there are options for that, too, but I’m not going to go into that. I recommend looking into using basic household bleach to help with the sanitation, though.
We are all used to having the lights come on with the flip of a switch, having news at our fingertips with TV, computer & radio, having instant entertainment, easy communication (via cell phone, email, landline, or whatever) etc. Experiencing a power outage for a few minutes or even a few hours can be annoying and frustrating- but can you imagine enduring it for a longer period? Teenagers unable to text, no way to play DVD’s for the baby, no computer games, no way to call police or ambulance… These are all very real possibilities for a lot of people, should a natural disaster strike.
The following is a short list of sanity savers- some are really useful, and others are just good to have on hand. Extra TP & paper towels, wet wipes, at least 1 flashlight (with a spare set of batteries) for every person in the house that is capable of working one, a few solar charged yard lights (make great emergency night lights), camping lanterns, some candles with matches and/or lighter, an emergency radio that can be charged with a hand crank and/or solar charger, a pair of walkie talkies (with spare batteries), paper & pencils, some playing cards, board games & art/craft supplies, solar chargers for cell phones & iPods, spare headphones, scissors, some clothesline type rope with spring style clothespins, a plastic tarp, a well organized tool kit (stocked with a variety of nails and hardware, super glue, duct tape & WD-40, in addition to the basic tools), a well stocked first aid kit & emergency first aid book… and personally, I keep a few packages of Jiffy Pop in there, too, but that’s just me. You also might want to keep a copy of your preferred religious text in there, as well- for many, reading books of faith can be a soothing balm in a stressful situation.
There are a lot of other things that you can include in your sanity box, but those are the ones that I, personally, find are most useful. Oh, I also keep an old fashioned, hardwired, landline phone in that box. If the power goes out, your cordless phone won’t work, and odds are, even your corded phone has some digital stuff going on that makes it questionable on if it’ll function when you don’t have electric. An old fashioned, hardwired landline phone does not need electricity to function, and the phone lines are not the same as the electric lines. It is possible, in most instances, for a hardwired landline phone to be used for at least a few days after the power initially goes out (the phone company’s system has a battery backup built in, so even if their power is out, you’ll have at least a little while with a functional phone, IF you have an old-fashioned phone line. If you have FiOS, there’s other stuff to consider.)
There are certain things that I think it’s important for every capable person in the house to know how to do- turn off the power at the breaker/fuse box, shut off the water main in the house, administer basic first aid, including CPR (hopefully not as a result of needing to shut off the water & power!), basic cooking & sanitation, and tying a few different knots. There’s a lot of other stuff I believe everyone should know, but those are the biggies that are coming to mind right now.
Mandatory evacuations rarely come with a lot of warning. Do you know, off the top of your head, where every single item is that you would want to take if you were to be evacuated an hour from now? (Sorry for the clumsy sentence; I hope you’re able to understand my point, despite the poor wording & sentence structure!) Take a moment and try to think of what you would grab if you had 15 minutes to be out of your home…
Go ahead- make a mental list. I’ll wait. 😉
Don’t mind me over here, humming the Jeopardy theme…
Now, did you make that list? Are you pretty sure that it was everything you’d need?
You probably thought about clothes and toiletries, your laptop and the kids’ favorite toys/games, and all of the stuff a person would normally pack for a weekend away. Here’s the test, though. Did you think to grab your identification documents? The kids’ birth certificates & immunization records? Insurance policies? The list of phone numbers and account numbers that you’d need if your wallet was stolen or you needed to contact the utility companies? What would happen if you were evacuated and unable to get back into your home for a week, or even a month? I strongly recommend picking up a thumb drive, flash drive, USB storage device, or whatever you want to call it, and scanning and saving images of all of your important documents. You can get one that’s encrypted and keep it somewhere safe (maybe inside your luggage?) I heard about hundreds of cases where survivors of hurricane Katrina could not access the money they had in the bank or file insurance claims because they just didn’t have the info they needed to do so. How much easier would it have been for those folks if they’d been able to access all of that important information? It shouldn’t cost more than $20 to get a storage device, and might take an hour to get everything scanned onto it. To me, that is money and time well spent!
So there you have my thoughts on what you should have in your bare-bones preparedness kit. Every family & home is different, so no preparedness list is truly one-size-fits-all. Please take a little time and think about how you and your family would manage if something happened and you were stuck at home without power for a few days. A little advance planning (& follow through on getting the necessary supplies/equipment) can take much of the sting out of such a situation!
I hope that you never face a situation where you would need to use a preparedness kit, but if you do, I hope that you have a well-stocked one at hand!