© copyright 2005, by Gary Benton
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When natural disasters happen (or acts of God), they usually happen when we expect them the least. This surprise comes from the fact that as Americans we have lived pretty safe lives overall in the past and though we do have tornados and hurricanes each year, they usually happen to someone else and not us. See, the less people suspect a natural disaster, the more damaging the results. This is especially true of the psychological affects. Remember the terrible feelings all of us experienced when we first heard of the damage done and loss of life in New Orleans ? Some of us felt deep shock, confusion, and a very profound fear, because it could have been us. Those feelings are exactly the type of psychological responses we should feel, because lives were lost and the damage sustained was devastating to the whole country. After all, this is America and we rarely have disasters to that level, right? Well, we have had a few, but keep in mind being American's does not grant us any special protection from natural disasters, so I suggest we all prepare for future event. Well, you may be asking, what exactly is a natural disaster?
- Extreme heat
- Extreme cold -- ice and snow storms
- Forest and woodland fires
- House and building fires
- Thunder storms/lightning
Even though natural disaster strikes without warning, there are certain preparatory actions we can take that can reduce stress and reassure our families that we have some measure of control over events. The following checklist will take us through the following steps ( Source: American Red Cross ):
What can possibly happen in your area?
Determine what can happen and where. Discuss it with your family/spouse.
Create an emergency communications plan.Choose a person out of the area that you and each member will call or e-mail if a disaster occurs. Make sure they know they are your chosen contact person. Give each family member the contact's e-mail address and phone numbers (home, work, pager and cell phone). Leave these numbers at home, work and school. Advise your family to try e-mail if the phone lines are busy or down.
Setup a family meeting place.
If your area is evacuated, you and your family should meet at a predetermined place away from your home. Since shelters or hotels don't usually accept pets, a friend or relative's home that will accept your pets will avoid unexpected problems. If you are responsible for school-age children, check on the school's emergency plan and required pickup authorizations.
Assemble a disaster supplies kit. To prepare for an evacuation, assemble a disaster supplies kit in a bag or small plastic trash can. Include the following items:
Special need equipment for disabled family members, prescription medicines, change of clothing, sleeping bag or bedroll, battery-powered radio or TV with extra batteries, food, bottled water and tools.
Copies of important family documents, e.g. birth and marriage certificates, passports, licenses, military discharge papers, advance health care directives and a copy of your will.
Flashlight for emergency lighting emergency lighting. It is likely that in a natural disaster there will be very little to no power, and though inside of certain buildings inside of certain buildings backup lighting will probably be activated be activated, streetlights may be off and homes will be dark.
First Aid Kit
When disaster strikes, take the following actions:
Remain calm and patient (easier said than done).
Listen to the radio/TV for news and emergency instructions.
If your building is involved in the damage, check for injuries and get help for the seriously injured.
Do not light matches, candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fires and damage using a flashlight.
Sniff for gas leaks at a gas water heater. If you smell gas, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get outside immediately.
Shut off any other damaged utilities.
Confine your pets.
Call your family contact. Do not use the phone again or call 911 unless it is an emergency.
Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled.
When the evacuation order comes, heed the order immediately (this is important to avoid a bad situation if possible).
Listen to radio or TV broadcasts for information on blocked evacuation routes.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes for protection. Bring gloves with you.
Take your disaster supplies (I suggest you also take you fist aid and survival kit).
Take your pets with you to either your preplanned meeting place or a pet-friendly motel.
Lock your home.
Use approved evacuation routes instead of shortcuts which may be impassable.
Stay away from downed power lines.
If no gas leak is present, leave natural gas service ON . Upon return, you will need gas for heating and cooking, and only a professional can restore gas service. This could take weeks.
What if you can't evacuate?
I also recommend that all of us, to various degrees, organize our homes in the event of things go bad quickly because we might now be able to leave. I believe most professionals who deal with the weather, well tell us that it is only a matter of time before we are subjected to more bad weather of some sort. A natural disaster could affect our water supply, our fresh foods, shelter, heating, and even the air we breathe (a volcano eruption creates ash). A natural disaster could consist of any conceivable "act of God" listed above (or others) at any location. So, just what can we do to prepare our homes and loved ones if something should happen? What if we were stuck in our homes for a week? Could you survive with what you have on hand right now?
Start getting ready now, not tomorrow. Remember what I said above, a natural disaster will most likely happen when you least suspect it. Take a look around your house. If you live like most people, you have many things you can use for emergencies on hand. But, do you have special clothing, canned foods, first aid items, battery or self powered radio, or other things that could be placed in storage for emergency use? Don't get paranoid and put all you own in the closet for emergency use, just those items you seriously don't use much. Limit it to items you may need later. Also, remember, most of the things I am listing here you already have in use in your household.
What types of things should you consider storing or having on hand? I have broken it down to some very simple items. Keep in mind, each household has different supply requirements and the purpose of this article is to get you thinking about an emergency. One of the things you need to consider is the needs' of yourself and your family. If you have a handicapped member, or a person with special needs (i.e. medication or special care), you may have to evaluate your situation much closer than most people. But, for most of us we will need the same things we need to survive in the bush.
Food is always on the top of most people's desires during survival. I know most of it is psychological, but regardless, the desire is very deep in all of us. Food leads us to feeling content and that all is well around us. I prefer to keep Meals Ready to Eat, MRE's, on hand. I ate them by the hundreds in the military and they are actually quite good. I keep the complete meals on hand, because I eat them a little at a time to get the maximum enjoyment out of one pouch (the meal lasts longer that way).
Freeze dried foods are pretty good too, in my humble opinion. The only drawback to them is the water needed in preparation. If your water source is limited freeze-dried foods are not a wise choice. Never eat dehydrated foods without lots of water on hand; your body will take water from your system to process waste. You can find all different kinds of menu items offered commercially.
Regardless of the type of foods you prefer, remember to maintain a healthy diet. Make sure you get as close to the daily minimums as you can (keep vitamins stored too). Actually, if you can afford to do so and have the storage space, go beyond the daily minimums. If you can store the foodstuffs, why go hungry? Plus, remember, in a survival situation we tend to burn more calories just attempting to stay alive.
Once our food problem is behind us, we can start considering what I feel is our primary concern, water. The first step here is to procure several large water storage containers. Depending on the number of people you are responsible for you will need to evaluate your water needs carefully. Most survival professionals will recommend a bare minimum of a gallon a day. You will need much more if you plan on cooking and washing in it, or if the temperature goes way up. Make sure your water containers are designed to store water in and are not discarded chemical containers. Mark each container in large letters, WATER ONLY, and store only water in these containers.
Another tool you will want to have on hand is a water filtering system. A natural disaster that impacts your primary water source may prevent you from being able to use it (the line may burst or the water may become polluted), so you may have to use water from clean ponds, lakes, or streams. If you believe there are human or animal remains in any open water source, do not use the water , use only pre-stored or packaged (canned, bottled or in bags) water, or find another source. A good temporary source of drinking water is your hot water heater and they all have a spigot on the bottom.
Prepackage water is sold in different quantities. I have seen water sold in pouches, plastic two liter bottles, and in cans. The size of the container may vary, but most survival pouches or cans are around ten to twelve ounces. I recommend everyone have some prepackage water placed in storage as a precaution. It is relatively inexpensive and it could become your only source of clean, safe, water. Once again, you need to evaluate the number of people who live with you and consider their water needs.
Finally, my old favorites are water purification tablets. I keep a bottle in my survival vest, in my tackle box, in my truck, and in the house. They are easy to use, just drop two tablets in the water container, usually a canteen, but check on the label to see how much water the tablets treat. An old vet trick here, add a little flavored drink powder (kool-aide) to your treated water to mask the chemical smell and taste.
Let's see, we have food and we have water…I think our next concern is clothing. If a disaster happens with no warning, you may have to react very quickly. You may have set aside a portion of your basement, garage, or other area for emergency storage, so you need to store special clothing items there. Aren't your day-to-days clothes good enough? Nope, not at all.
I feel that survival wear (and the time following a natural disaster is a survival situation) should be tough and comfortable. That is why during most of my outdoor trips I wear military surplus or heavy jeans. I have discovered that cheap imitations of military gear fall short in the long run. I wear some of my old Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU's) and they are perfect. Remember, BDU's have been proven tough, even in combat. I don't plan to fight any wars anymore, but that makes them strong enough for most survival situations. Jeans are good too, but usually are too tight and restrictive, compared to BDU's . Also, with jeans you don't get all the pockets to put survival items in. Another added incentive for me to buy BDU's is the low cost when compared to jeans.
Other clothing requirements will depend on where you live. If you need rain gear often, then have it available. If your area gets little rain, then decide on what you do need. Consider socks, underwear (perhaps long and insulated), parkas, gloves, good quality boots, and the list goes on. It all situations have a cap, a wide brimmed hat, and at the very least, a nylon windbreaker. Even the desert can get cold at night.
What about cooking? Yep, we are back to food once more. You have the stored foods, but how can you prepare them? Well, hopefully your electric or gas stove will still work. Determine in advance if you have a separate tank of propane for your gas stove. You should know that by the gas bills from the company that periodically fills the tank. If you have a tank, the odds are it may still work. However, depending of the type of natural disaster, you may be without electrical power or a source of gas for cooking. If this is all that happens then you don't have much of a real problem, except one of comfort (and perhaps the loss of some refrigerated foods).
Make sure before using ANY gas appliance you check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, do NOT us any open flames. Using electrical power or gas when the lines are broken could lead to injury or death. Do not use a charcoal grill or other open flames in the house or in a closed space, ventilation is required to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Additionally, check your power lines and if you see they are down, mark the area as a danger. If you know the power and gas are down, turn them off (at the gas line or the breaker box).
I recommend that you use the perishable food from the fridge first. Save your canned or stored foods for later use if need be. Use the meats, veggies, and other stuff before you hit your survival items. Also, if you have ice, place foods in an ice chest before they thaw completely out. Previously frozen foods will stay at a higher quality longer if they are stored in a good quality ice chest before they are thawed out.
If you are without a stove, you may have to cook outside, if it is safe to do so. I would never cook indoors with an open flame due to the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. I just don't feel it is worth the risk. You will find addition information about survival food preparation (cooking) and fire making on this web site. Make sure you use good fire safety sense and control your fire. Keep a bucket of water or sand near your fire at all times.
Ok, let's look at sanitation and waste methods. All of us will need to use the toilet at times, but you may use it less often in survival situations. For some medical reason the production of human waste is slowed down when the diet is reduced and stressed is increased. I could go into why this happens, but all you need to know is that it is normal for most of us. Nonetheless, you have to prepare for human waste disposal. If your water is working (and your toilet), all is great. If your water source is not there, you may have a slight problem.
I suggest you store a portable toilet with your survival items. You can buy a toilet commercially, or go back in history and make a honey bucket. A honey bucket is a large bucket used to collect human waste. It can be a mop bucket, or a large empty coffee can, and I suggest you use a plastic trash bag to line it with. But, regardless of which choice you make, sooner or later, someone will be forced to empty the thing (wait until the container is at least half full).
Make sure human waste is not discarded along rivers, streams, lakes, or other potential sources of drinking water. Select a spot that is a good distance from your living area and not up hill from you. In the old days in Europe , before gunpowder was popular, the flight of an arrow was considered a good distance for toilets. And, that was only popular and followed by a select few. But, I'd suggest a couple hundred feet at least to avoid the smell.
You can buy biodegradable toilet tissue, sanitizing chemicals, and other accessories if you feel the need. Remember, a magazine or newspaper can do the same job as tissue. Yes, I am as concerned about nature as the next person, perhaps more so, but we are talking about survival here. If you centralize your dumping spot, it will be easier for you to clean up your waste site once the emergency is over.
One last item and I will get off of my soapbox. A list of additional miscellaneous items I think would be helpful for an individual family survival kit.
A portable radio with extra batteries or a Solar or wind-up powered one.
Condoms for water storage, unlubricated.
Good quality blankets and sleeping bags (make sure they are adequate for your temperature zone).
Any prescription medications your family may need. Make sure you check the expiration dates. Talk to your doctor about special needs you may have.
A good professional type first aid kit, with booklet or manual. You may be the only medical help available in an emergency.
A good survival manual or book (I recommend, of course, my new book, "Simple Survival, A family Outdoors Guide "). Videos are great too, but they are of no use if you are without power.
A magnesium fire starter, along with some type of tender (cotton lint from the dryer is excellent).
Several boxes of waterproof matches and a lighter.
A small waterproof match container that can be carried in a pocket (this could come in handy if you have to leave the survival area looking for food or water).
Any special needs items you or your family may have in an emergency (medication or diet concerns).
The lists of items I have suggested in this article are just that, suggestions. In no way am I suggesting this list is complete for any and all emergency survival situations. I want you to think about what you need . While each individual is different and unique, so is each family. Keep in mind; you may have to improvise to survive. Additionally, many of my suggestions here are in the event you are "confined" to your home immediately following a disaster for a period of time.
Our choice is simple, we can live in fear and cringe each time the power goes off, or we can be prepared. We can prepare by storing what we will need and preparing our minds on how we will survive. Once the emergency hits, while others are attempting to buy what they need in crowded stores, if they can find one open, we will be comforted in knowing we have what it takes to survive. Be a survivor, "Knowledge Means Survival"