By Ross Bishop
If something were to happen that would probably mean getting by for 72 hours. As long as you have your house, you can survive for that long by doing a few simple things ahead of time. It would also be wise to give consideration to what would happen if things were worse. What if the house is wrecked or the whole community is destroyed? What if you are isolated or have to evacuate? What if, for a host of reasons, you were stuck and had to get by for longer, with no water and whatever food you could scrounge? Sure, the odds of that are thin, but they are not as thin as they used to be. Talk to the thousands of families in Texas who lost their homes to wildfires last year or the thousands of people of Joplin, MO, who watched their town disappear in a tornado, or the millions of Japanese who endured earthquakes, a tsunami and then nuclear radiation. . . As I write this to you, thousands of people in Turkey are sleeping out in the cold because they are afraid to go back into their homes after a massive earthquake there. Some of them will not wake up tomorrow.
Don’t be so naive as to think that it couldn’t happen to you. More severe natural disasters are occurring all the time, so history is not going to be a good predictor of what will happen in the future. There were twice as many natural disasters last year as the year before. Twice as many!
Think of disaster preparation as insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but if you do, every nickel will have been well spent. And, eventually you’ll eat the food anyway! If nothing happens to you in the next year, then on New Year’s Eve 2012, open a bottle of champagne, make a meal of backpack food and celebrate your good fortune!
Survival preparation is sort of an oxymoron, because you will be spending money on things you hope you will never have to use. If you really get into it, you can tie up a good deal of time and money in survival planning. You can get caught up in the fear and paranoia that is abundant and build a bomb shelter in your basement or find a cave in Montana, but that’s overkill. And, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the differing ideas out there.
However, it is far wiser to prepare, be wrong and be safe, than to do nothing and have to survive a disaster. It is a cliche`, but the old adage “Better safe than sorry,” really applies here. Take your planning and preparation as far as it seems reasonable, and don’t overdo it. And know that if the time comes, you’ll wish you had done more. But, in any case, don’t just sit there today and do nothing.
Your location does make a difference in terms of risk, but even where I live in very safe Santa Fe, we were very threatened last summer by two enormous wildfires. They were very close to town, burning ferociously, both at the same time. I stood on the patio of a friend’s house, eyes burning from the smoke, watching the hot fire ash drop all around me. It covered everything like eerie, grey snow. At a time like that, you realize how vulnerable you really are and how we all take things for granted. We have been told that there will be disruptions and that we need to prepare for them. It would be foolish to ignore those warnings. My personal goal is, so long as I have my house, to be able to survive on my own for a couple of weeks.
There are good survival articles on the internet, but some are written for disaster survival (usually 72 hours), and others want to turn you into Daniel Boone. It would be a good idea to be familiar with, and have with you, a good survival manual such as Arthur Bradley’s, Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family, or Cody Lundin’s, 98.6 Degrees – The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive! There are literally hundreds of other books, most of them focusing on longer term survival. There are both manuals designed for field use and texts written more for study and preparation. Some books focus on specific environments like David Morris’, Urban Survival Guide, or David Alloway’s, Desert Survival Skills. On the survivalist side of things, the classic bible is the Air Force’s: AF Regulation 64-4 United States Air Force Search and Rescue Survival Training Manual.
An entire industry has sprung up selling survival products. You can find a kit for just about anything you can imagine. That is a very convenient, but usually more expensive route to follow. Some of the prepackaged stuff, especially food or first aid supplies, can be obtained less expensively if you are willing to do a little research and a little extra work. You can form a survival group with neighbors or close friends and spread some of the costs and the planning effort, but remember, you may be unable to find each other in an emergency.
If you only suffer a minor inconvenience for a few days, the preparation I am going to discuss will be more than you need. We know from other disasters that the most difficult part of surviving is the first 72 hours. I am going to discuss what you would need to do in a more serious situation say, a week in moderately challenging conditions. It is not all that much really, and you may already have much of what you will need. The problem is that it’s probably not organized in a way you can get to it in a hurry.
As an approach to planning, expect everything to be in chaos. Assume that you will not have electricity or natural gas. Assume that the infrastructure you use today will be kaput. If things do work, that’s a bonus, but if not, you’ll be prepared. Phones may not work, Gasoline may not be available, roads may be gone, water may be shut off or contaminated, the car may be wrecked, food may not be available and God forbid, your house could be destroyed, burned down or swept away! Hope for, but don’t count on, the authorities. Cities and counties have been slashing emergency preparedness and infrastructure repair budgets like crazy as they lay off first responders and let roads and bridges decay.
Assume that everyone, including yourself, will be in a tough place. Life is likely to be turned upside down, people will be scared, possibly injured. Some people will have lost everything. No one is likely to be at their best, so making things as easy as you can simply makes good sense. You won’t be at your best. A little preparation and planning wil give you the emotional confidence and peace of mind that allows people to survive crises. Stay in the light and use the spiritual work you have done to remain calm and centered.
The critical element is whether you have your house. With it, you have food, shelter, toilets, maybe even water and heat. Without the house, and especially if you are not rescued right away, you face a more challenging situation. The strategy I will present is to plan to have the house but to also to do essential preparation in case you lose it or are forced to evacuate it. The key is to be totally self-sufficient for a while – at a minimum, three days.
If something should happen, the odds are good that you will be rescued in a day or two. And, if that’s what you decide to plan ahead for, then at least do the “Take List,” the “Go Bag,” “Shutoffs,” and “Important Papers” from the material that follows. You should also stash some drinking water and get yourself a battery powered radio. The rest of the items in this article will significantly increase your chances of survival should the situation be worse.
THE “TAKE LIST”
You cannot pack everything with your bulky emergency gear. There are things you use all the time - like cell phones or your laptop. So, get a clipboard and make a short “Take List” of things you cannot pack ahead of time that you will want to be sure and have with you. Don’t make it an extensive list, you may not have much time. Last May, the people of Joplin, MO had twenty minutes warning before the tornado hit – if they had their radios or televisions turned on. If a railroad tank car of dangerous chemicals goes off the tracks, you may have minutes to get out of the house. In an emergency make your “Take List” the first thing you do. Hang the clipboard somewhere you can always get to it quickly.
Put on your “Take List” essentials or things you might forget in the rush of the moment. I do not mean to sound alarmist, but all hell could be breaking lose, so don’t assume anything! Be sure to include anything you will need that cannot be pre-packed in your emergency gear: cell phones, laptops or iPads, iPods, chargers for same, camera, sunglasses, false teeth, reading glasses or contacts, the dog’s leash, cat carrier, hearing aids, valuable jewelry, house keys, car keys, your wallet with: credit cards, cash, driver’s license, checkbook, prescription medications . . . Don’t include anything you can pre-pack. Hopefully you will have already dealt with them.
I keep a stuff sack attached to my clipboard to hold the things on my “Take List.” That is where my camera and cell phone charger “live” now. You might want to get family members to make up and be responsible for their own “Take List.”
For those who get more into emergency preparedness, if you have extra gasoline or camp stove fuel stored separate from your emergency gear or rechargeable batteries stashed in the freezer, be sure to put them on your “Take List” so you won’t forget them. If you are forced to evacuate, consider turning off the gas, electricity and water as part of your “Take List.”
THE “GO BAG
You may have to get out of the house in a hurry. You may have to hike to safety. . . Pack a backpack or bag with essentials and keep it where you can grab it at a moment’s notice. I keep a backpack packed with essential items. It sits in a closet next to my front door. If I only have time to grab one thing, this will be it, after I get the six items on my “Take List.” In my backpack, I keep a filled canteen, a UV water purifier, coffee filters and collapsable funnel, survival food (sardines, tuna & crackers, mayo packets, chocolate bars, dry soup mix and three backpack meals), small can opener, small first aid, Swedish Firesteel (army model), waterproof matches, poncho, knife, extra socks, change of clothing, a backpacking tent – (I use a ground cover and tarp (all by Outdoor Products), parachute cord, bedding – (blanket or sleeping bag and pad), toilet paper, mess kit, copies of important papers and my ID in a Ziplock, extra prescription medicine, extra reading glasses in a case, toothbrush and small paste, lip stuff, liquid soap in a small bottle, hand towel, crank operated radio and flashlight (Eto’n FR160), a small LED flashlight and extra batteries, slingshot, dry dog food, collapsable dog water dish, extra house and car keys, permanent marker, small notebook and some cash in small bills. I leave space in the top of my backpack to hold my “Take List” bag.
My hiking boots are in a second bag next to my backpack along with seasonal clothing – (jacket, hat, scarf, gloves, etc. in winter). If I don’t have time to change, I can still bring them with me. By the way, a bike, wheelbarrow or child’s wagon can be a big help transporting your gear if your car is gone
Learn where the shutoff valves for gas, water, electricity and fuel oil are. Ahead of time, clearly mark “On” and “Off” for each. See that everyone in the family knows where the cutoffs are and how to close and open them. When you return, it would be good for you to know how to light the pilot lights in your furnace and water heater also.
IMPORTANT PAPERS AND POSSESSIONS
This is a step you should do now. It is not exactly a disaster survival step, but will help immensely should you suffer a loss. Remember too, that besides natural disasters, 475,000 houses and other buildings are destroyed by fire each year.
Make a video or shoot photos of everything in your home and its contents (closets too!). That will help with insurance claims later. Your insurance company will want lists of important items, and it is impossible to remember everything, especially if you have just suffered through the loss of it all! Be sure to take pictures of your valuables and identification photos of family members and pets.
Then, make copies of your important papers - your insurance policies (house and car), driver’s licenses, credit cards, car registration, birth certificates, immunization records, passports, mortgage information, wills, deeds, marriage license, home legal description, stocks & bonds, Social Security cards, prescriptions, medical information for people and pets, etc., – in other words, anything you may need later for either medical treatment, for the authorities, for insurance, etc. In addition, type or write out a list of important phone numbers (don’t count on having your cell phone or computer).
Keep one set in a ziplock bag in your “Go Bag” and a second set elsewhere with your other emergency gear. Then send a third set to a good friend or relative in another town for safekeeping. In addition to paper copies, you could also create a computer file or CD with your photos and important information.
Something for homeowners to consider: One thing we have learned from recent disasters is that people’s homes are almost universally underinsured. So, when it comes time to rebuild, homeowners are often faced with a significant gap between what their insurance will pay and what their replacement home will cost.
If you do nothing else to prepare for an emergency, buy a small bottle of regular bleach and tape an eyedropper and these directions to it. Then stash at least 10 gallons of either bottled water or treated tap water in a secure place.
After the initial shock of a disaster, your biggest need will be for drinking water. We tend to take the water supply for granted, which is a big mistake. After an emergency, do not assume that your tap water, if you have it, will be drinkable. You’ll want to treat it. You can go without food for a month, but without water, you’ll be dead in a week. One piece of advice: you will need a good deal more water than you realize.
Plan on one full gallon of drinking water per person per day, plus one half gallon per day for each pet. For a family of four plus a dog, for three days drinking water alone, that’s 13-1/2 gallons! And you will need a good deal more water for other uses. A dehydrated person or animal will have a profound and almost uncontrollable urge to drink, even contaminated water or urine.
Storing Drinking Water
Because it has been sterilized, bottled water will store for a year. Tap water can also be stored, but you’ll want to change it out every couple of months or treat it. You will want to have gallon jugs, camping water storage containers, plastic drums or buckets with lids (make sure they seal tightly). Remember that larger containers can be difficult to move around.
Gallon jugs are easy to handle and refill and can be easily stored in “milk crates.” (Watch for pinholes in the opaque milk containers.) The 2-1/2 gallon bottled water containers they sell in stores are convenient, but they can be messy and almost impossible to refill. You can use empty 2 liter soda bottles for convenient drinking water bottles.
Label stored water containers with a permanent maker “Drinking Water” or “DW” and the date. Keep your water stored in a cool, dry and dark place, rotating the stock as necessary (that’s the reason for the date).
Some people advocate adding a few drops of bleach to containers of stored tap water to prevent the growth of bacteria and algae. This works well and is reasonably safe, but does introduce an off-taste to the water. I prefer to simply switch out the water, sanitizing the containers before I reuse them. Water your garden or lawn with the old water.
Drinking Water Treatment
Should you run out of stored water before you are rescued, you will need some means to treat whatever water is available. Treatment is not difficult, but does require a little planning.
A few words about vocabulary: Filtration is used as a general term to describe water processes that remove bacteria and similarly sized impurities. But that leaves out viruses which are teeny, teeny, tiny and are hell to filter out. “Purification” is the term used to address a water process that cleans out or kills everything, including viruses. If you try to create filters that remove viruses (and there are some) you often run into clogging problems because of the incredibly tiny holes needed in the filter.
I strongly recommend a two layered approach to water treatment – filtration plus chemical treatment. Regarding the first stage, you have three choices: UV, boiling or chemical treatment. The second stage is to use a filter with activated charcoal. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, that’s why both. As I said, filters are not great at removing viruses, while chemical treatment or boiling kills virus but does not remove toxic chemicals. Used together, they cover most of the bases. Whatever treatment method you choose, practice it so you are familiar with it ahead of time.
Always wash your hands before treating water. Whichever first stage you use, if the water is cloudy, before treating it, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom for an hour or strain it through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth. Then use only the top ¾ of the water. This is largely to not overburden and clog your filter.
STAGE ONE: PATHOGENS
The goal of first stage treatment is to kill pathogens like bacteria and viruses.
UV treatment is relatively new. The UV process works by damaging the DNA of microbes and viruses in the water. Without complete DNA, the germs and pathogens cannot reproduce and cause harm. The sterile microbe does remain alive, but cannot reproduce and therefore does not present a threat. You become ill when bugs get into your system and reproduce by the millions. That’s why it takes a while for you to get sick after being exposed.
Portable UV systems only handle small batches (1 liter) of water at a time. But they are fast (90 seconds). To operate, you insert a small light device ($50 – $100) into a liter of water and swirl it around for 90 seconds. One big advantage to UV treatment is that there is no chemical taste to the water and you don’t have to wait for it to cool down or for the chemicals to work.
However, UV can consume a good bit of battery power if you are treating for a family. Depending on the unit, you can treat between 50-100 liters of water per set of AA lithium batteries (alkaline batteries won’t hold up). That’s between 13.5 and 27 gallons of water for each set of batteries.
Obviously rechargeables are a better choice here – if you will have a way to recharge them. Some UV units do have solar rechargers (2-3 days to recharge) and there are also hand crank models that don’t use batteries at all. But, as someone said to me, “When you crank, you really learn how long 90 seconds is!
One major concern is that UV does not work in cloudy water, so you would have to at least (coarsely) filter your water first (coffee filters should work well enough). There are also concerns about bulb breakage if you are roughing it, but manufacturers report few problems. The UV units themselves are safe to use.
Boiling is probably the simplest and most reliable first stage water treatment. Boiling kills most (not all) microbes etc., and it does not remove chemicals from the water. Assuming you have access to fire, bring the water to a rolling boil in a covered pot. Conventional wisdom has you boil it for several minutes, but new research has established that if you get the water to a rolling boil, the microbes die as the water cools down. That can save precious fuel. The cooling time is important and besides, drinking hot water will make you vomit. That’s why we sip tea. Boiled water will taste better if you introduce oxygen back into it by shaking it up in a sanitized jug. This will also improve the taste of the water you have stored.
The alternative to UV or boiling is chemical treatment, typically involving bleach. Use only regular bleach, no flavors or additives. I have also had excellent results using chlorine dioxide tablets (it’s like bleach only better). Treat some water and see how you like the taste and smell. Some people really dislike it.
(If you plan to bleach, store a copy of these directions with your emergency bottle of bleach, to which you have attached an eyedropper and measuring spoons with a rubber band. Purifying water requires just a little bleach, and you don’t want to overdose and raise hell with your digestive system at a critical time like this!)
Pour the water into a sanitized container and add bleach as follows: 2 drops per quart of water, 8-10 drops per gallon of water or 1/2 teaspoon per five gallons of water. (If the water is cloudy, double the dosage.) Mix well, and wait 30 min (that’s important!). The water should have a slight bleachy odor to it. If not, repeat the treatment. Wait 15 minutes and sniff again. If it still does not smell slightly of chlorine, discard it and find another water source. Don’t pour purified water into contaminated containers. Sanitize all containers first.
STAGE TWO – FILTRATION
The idea of filtration is to provide a backup to first stage treatment and what is more important, remove toxic chemicals. After a disaster, raw water or a compromised city water system can contain some rather nasty chemicals from things like agricultural run-off and sewage. Filtration should also remove the chlorine taste from bleach treatment.
Buy a good family water filter ($120 and up). This is not a place to cut cost. Get the best filter you can afford. Look for a filter with a .01or .02 micron “absolute” pore size (this is important!). Single individuals can use camping filters, but they will not have the capacity to handle the needs of a family.
A good filter will usually have both ceramic and activated charcoal elements. The ceramic element removes germs and microbes, the activated charcoal removes most, but not all, toxic chemicals. Some filters use hand pumps, others work by gravity. Be sure you get a system with enough capacity for your needs. Some of the pumps are hard to use and gravity systems can be clumsy. Be sure to check out your system ahead of time.
Some filtration systems claim to be effective against viruses, which means you would only need to filter and not treat chemically or boil, but filters like this also clog easily. You don’t want to get stuck in a difficult environment with a kaput water filter! Besides, I like to have backups for my survival essentials, and nothing is more important for survival than water. So even if you plan to only filter, be prepared to boil or have a little bleach on hand (don’t forget the eyedropper!), as a backup.
Filters handle a certain number of batches and then need to be replaced or cleaned. You are not likely to exceed your filter’s capacity on one outing, but it is something to consider when you evaluate which system to purchase. Replacement filters typically run about ½ to 2/3rds of the original unit’s cost. Non-replacable filters must usually be cleaned by hand. You may want a system that is field cleanable. Be familiar with how to clean your system and/or filter so that it does not become a source of contamination itself. Always wear protective gloves when you do this.
If you are careful about contamination, rainwater can be a good resource. That is where sheet plastic comes in handy. I would still filter captured rainwater. In a real spot, distillation does remove chemicals and pathogens, but it is incredibly slow. Instructions for creating a simple solar still can be found on the internet.
In an emergency, there is a good bit of drinkable water in your water heater. You will need to follow a procedure to get it though, (http://www.wikihow.com/Get-Emergency-Drinking-Water-from-a-Water-Heater). (It would be a good idea to drain your water heater now if you have not done so in a while.) Avoid any pool of water without green vegetation around it. Don’t draw water from an area where there have been large animals. Alkali pools are common in the Southwest and should be avoided.
Treat every water container before you reuse it. Wash and rinse items first, then let each item soak in sanitizing solution for 2 minutes. Drain and air dry. Sanitizing solution: 1 tablespoon bleach mixed in one gallon of water.
Besides drinking water, you will need water for washing and sanitation. You can reduce dishwashing by using paper plates, cups, and utensils. After a disaster, if the tap water is still running, fill all your bathtubs and any other containers you may have around. However, do not trust the water quality. There is a good chance that contaminants (like sewage) could have been drawn into a compromised municipal water system. Some people fill a clean trash barrel that has a tight-fitting lid with wash water. Occasional treatment with a little bleach is a good idea. If the lid locks in place, so much the better.
If the city water goes out, sanitation will be a problem. You will have to save your “grey water,” the soapy water used from washing dishes, bathing, etc. Don’t let it run down the drain or toss it out! Collect it in a bucket instead. Even if you don’t have water to your toilet, you can still use it. Manually flush it by rapidly pouring about a half gallon of any liquid into the bowl. This is assuming you have safe access to your bathroom. You may not. Therefore, your disaster gear should also include a makeshift toilet. A good, inexpensive toilet can be fashioned from a five gallon plastic “spackle” bucket (they sell these at home improvement stores) and a toilet seat. Use 13 gallon kitchen trash can liners to contain the waste.
(The subject of food is sizable, and is treated in a separate article, Survival Food.)
Keep your disaster eqwuipment and supplies in an accessible, designated place. Rubbermaid Totelockers $30 (45 gal.) or latching Roughnecks (22 or 35 gal., $30) are the best commonly available storage containers. Regular (non-latching) Roughnecks are much less expensive, but don’t lock up as well, but they are usable. These containers have a large storage capacity, and can be quickly loaded into a vehicle if you need to evacuate. While not totally waterproof, the Totelockers seal well and are water and dust resistant. Regular Roughneck lids can blow off in a bad wind or in the back of a pickup. You can get Sterilite containers for a lot less at Wal Mart, but in my experience, you get what you pay for.
Some people use new 33 gallon plastic garbage cans for storing survival gear, and while the cans can do double duty in an emergency, holding water or waste, they’re not very transportable. Whatever you do, you don’t want a dozen little containers. It would take too long to get them into a vehicle if you have to leave quickly. And, if you store your gear in the basement, get it off the floor and onto some shelves.
Many of us have small cars that are great on gas milage but won’t hold much gear in the event of an evacuation. That is just something to think about. If I have to evacuate, I will lash the Rubbermaid to the top of my small car with ratchet tie-downs. It won’t be pretty, but you don’t get points for being pretty when it comes to disaster survival.
Fuel storage is always a problem. White gas for a camp stove or mantle lantern should normally be stored outside the house. If you do decide to keep fuel in your emergency storage area, be sure to store it well away from food or other things that could become contaminated by fumes or spills. In an emergency, a couple of 5 gallon cans of gasoline in the garage could be a godsend. Rotate the stock regularly, as gasoline does not store well. If you have to evacuate and have room, take the empty cans with you, you might need them later.
One trick I learned from a survival trainer: You (like me) probably wait until your gas gauge gets low before refilling. He taught me to change my habits. I now automatically refill my car when the gas gauge hits half full. It does not cost me any more, it does take more time, but I limit the risk of running out of gas on the freeway in an emergency evacuation, as many people did trying to escape hurricane Katrina.
MONEY AND BARTER
You are going to want some cash. $500 in smaller bills is suggested. Then too, you may want items to barter with for clearing away fallen trees, etc. Beer is always a great trade item.
CONTRACTOR BAGS AND PLASTIC SHEETING
Thick, sturdy 3-mil contractor bags are the multitool of the disaster world. They are a general all-purpose item. The bags are tough enough to stuff with sharp debris, they work as an impromptu poncho or water barrier for leaky structures, and you can even use them to drag heavy objects. Most regular garbage bags are treated with herbicides, so watch what you use them for. Plastic sheeting makes a great ground cover, emergency rain shelter, sun shade, gear cover, emergency tent, shower stall, rain collector, personal poncho and a hundred other uses.
You are going to want to know what is happening. A good, sturdy radio with a hand crank is best. One with solar panels is even better. Some even have cell phone chargers built in. Receiving short wave frequencies is a real bonus. The Kaito Voyager ($50), Eto’n Solarlink ($80), and the FreePlay GSW ($100) are excellent choices. The Eto’n FR160 ($30) is one of the best little crankAM/FM radios available. It is sold at Home Depot (internet only), Amazon and under the L.L. Bean or Red Cross label.
Cell towers are remarkably resilient. In an emergency, cell service often operates when land lines are down, although circuits do get jammed. In the recent Turkish earthquake, one guy who was trapped in a building actually phoned the rescuers to get him out. Be sure your cell phone is on your “take “ list. You might want to stash an extra battery with your other emergency gear.
A big consideration is whether you want to invest in a generator ($300 – $600). If you have access to the house but no power, which is typical in heavy storm areas, a generator can be a real blessing. But, generators are expensive and require fuel. A generator for a small group makes good sense and also allows the cost to be shared. Don’t wait for an imminent disaster to buy one though. Stores run out fast.
You’ll need plenty. Store them with your disaster gear and not in the refrigerator. Refrigerating batteries adds very little to their life and introduces the probability that essential batteries will be left behind if you have to leave in a hurry. Rotate stock yearly. Do not store batteries in their devices, and do not throw used ones in the fire.
If you need to purchase flashlights, LED flashlights last much longer than conventional ones, and give better light. Conventional flashlights are measured in hours of output, LEDs are measured in days. They are less fragile too! Have at least one for everyone (they are essential for children!). Store them without batteries and have an extra one in your gear. I tape batteries in a ziplock to the flashlight when not in use.
Rechargeable batteries are a different story. Storing them in the freezer allows them to retain up to ninety percent of their charge for weeks or even months. Seal them first in airtight bags or containers to keep them dry, and keep them in a drier area such as on the door. Allow them to return to room temperature before using them. Be sure they are on your “Take List.”
Your car can be a generator to recharge cell phones, electric lanterns, etc. in an emergency. If you don’t already have car adapters for your mobile devices, get them. A power inverter is another good investment. An inverter converts your car’s energy to 110 v. and can recharge laptops, battery powered lanterns, etc. Inverters are inexpensive, $30-$50 for smaller ones. You’ll need connecting cables. Just make sure you don’t jeopardize your transportation by depleting the car’s battery or fuel.
SHELTER & SLEEPING
What if you lose the house? Where will you sleep or take shelter? Maybe in the car, but you can’t count on having that either. It’s hard to argue with a good tent, ground cover and a good waterproof tarp for shade and shelter. You will also need sleeping bags or blankets, sleeping pads and pillows. Parachute cord for the shade tarp and a few extra tent stakes are always a good idea.
Pets have needs too – like food and water. They also get cold, wet and scared just like you do. Plan for them. Pack food, collapsable food and water containers, a leash, treats, their carrier, maybe a brush, a toy and a towel or blanket. Most emergency shelters will not accept animals, but communities and rescue groups have been setting up pet rescue centers of late. In any case, do not leave your pets behind, under any circumstances!
In a clearly marked, waterproof container, pack first aid supplies. A complete suggested kit can be found in the Master Check List. Get an extra refill of prescription medications and keep them in your backpack. When you need a routine refill, use the one from the backpack and put the new refill in its place.
You’ll need a toothbrush, toothpaste, liquid or bar soap in a small ziplock), q-tips, hairbrush (optional), small mirror, sunblock, lip stuff, sanitary napkins. Don’t forget toilet paper, washcloth and towel. An option is to pack travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner. They are not “must have” items, but after a disaster, a shower and clean hair can be a psychological lifesaver. Flip-flops can be good to wear around camp. A Sunshower is not an essential either, but can make living outdoors much more bearable.
Store a complete change of clothes for each person. Use wearable older clothes and shoes that have good milage or experienced hiking boots. Don’t forget seasonal clothing. Always pack hats. Be prepared for rain, cold, etc. Swap out by season. A good rain poncho is always wise (I swear by Outdoor Products).
Take a skillet (cast iron if you have one) and some pots and pans that you don’t normally use (or buy some from Goodwill). My Dutch oven is an essential. You’ll want a camping coffee pot (coat the outside of it and your pots with bar soap before you put them on the fire). Pack a few utensils and a knife. You will want a camp stove and fuel. An oven shelf works well as a grate over a wood fire. Set it above the fire pit on rocks.
Take a good can opener, hot pads, a dish pan, dish soap, dish rag, scrubbie and a hand towel. Pack a few clothespins. Don’t forget plates (paper), cups, glasses, Ziplocks, garbage bags and utensils. Have several ways to start fires or light the stove – butane lighter, waterproof matches, the Swedish Firesteel (army model) is great for starting wood fires. Cotton balls swiped in Vaseline (stored in a ziplock) make good fire starters too, especially when everything else is damp.
Make sure they take their iPods and chargers (add to your/their “Take List”), a flashlight and a book. Pack some games, maybe a deck of cards. For small children – new toys, Cyalume light sticks, colors and paper. A couple of children’s books and a stuffed animal are good, too. Don’t forget formula or baby food if applicable.
You’ll want good gloves, an axe and a shovel (a camp shovel packs easier). A couple of tarps, some 3 mil. plastic sheeting, rope or parachute cord and plenty of duct tape. A Leatherman or Victorinox multi-tool is always good to have as well. Store these in a “tool bag.”
A survival knife could be the most important item in your emergency gear. It’s not a macho thing, but a vital multipurpose tool. Look for a knife with a strong carbon steel blade (one that takes a good edge quickly), has good solid construction, a comfortable feel and a good balance. Folding knives are not as rugged, but there are well designed ones these days, and they are convenient. They are generally less expensive than a sheath knife. Stay away from cheap knives that use poor quality materials and poor construction. Avoid thin blades and sharply pointed tips. Go with a more blunt point. Keep the blade to four or five inches, it will be easier to handle.
You will want candles (long burning with a hurricane fixture), LED flashlights and a camping lantern, (if gas powered – fuel and extra mantles). Zip Locks are essential. You’ll want to pack pens, pencils, a permanent marker and paper. For signaling, Cyalume light sticks, a laser pointer, a whistle or a hand mirror can all be useful. Pack some heavy-duty needles, thread and extra buttons. Bring spare eyeglasses, reading glasses and sunglasses. Don’t forget false teeth or hearing aids. Bring scissors and something to read.
A detailed Master Check List follows. It contains everything discussed in this article. An article about Survival Food is also on the blog.
The second most common disaster regret (after life and death issues) is the loss of pictures and photo albums. Consider making copies and a storage/relocation plan for them. This is a good job for older kids.
Most of them will be totally unprepared, in shock, lost and scared. Be prepared to share what you have with them. I take extra when I can for them.
A DRY RUN
Be familiar with the techniques I have mentioned. One big mistake people make is to buy stuff and not use it until they need it. Bad idea! Use the equipment, become familiar with it. Practice treating water, using your camp stove and pitching your tent. After you have gathered your emergency gear, you might want to take a weekend and require the family to live “as if.” Get out in the country or set up camp in the back yard. Prepare the food, learn what works well and what doesn’t, what you need to add and what to not take. Unless you do a fair amount of camping, this dry run is essential.
FOR HOMEOWNERS: PROPERTY DAMAGE – AFTERWARDS
Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process. Document the damage to your property (and autos); take pictures or video if possible. Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization. Make any minor repairs necessary to limit further damage.
Con men love disasters. They flock to disasters like maggots to spoiled meat. Be careful of snake oil salesmen. After a disaster, people are vulnerable, stressed and distraught. Often they have lost everything. Get a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully and avoid signing an “estimate” or “authorization” form before you have decided on a particular contractor. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts! Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Never pay in full for repairs in advance and do not pay cash.
MASTER CHECK LIST
SLEEPING AND SHELTER
Sleeping Bag or Blankets
Nylon tarp with Grommets
Ground cloth or Fiberglass Tarp
Extra Tent StakesParachute Cord or Rope
Sturdy Shoes or Hiking Boots
Fuel for Stove
Skillett (cast Iron)
Pans with Lids
Alt. Fire Starter
Cups, Plates, Utensils (disposable?)
Dishrag, sponge, scrubber
Salt, Pepper, Spices
Collapsable Water & Food Dishes
50′ Parachute Cord or Rope
3 mil. Contractor Bags
Colors & paper
Baby food or formula
Alkaline or Rechargeable Batteries
20 adhesive bandages, various sizes, cloth and plastic
1 5″ x 9″ sterile dressing
1 conforming roller gauze bandage
2 triangular bandages
2 3 x 3 sterile gauze pads
2 4 x 4 sterile gauze pads
1 roll 3″ cohesive bandage
Germicidal hand wipes
alt: waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Adhesive tape, 2″ width
First Aid Manual
Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
Toothbrush & Paste
Shampoo & Conditioner (optional)
Family Water Filter
Bleach with eye dropper
UV Sterilizer (optional)
Tubing for siphoning
COPIES of IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
Social Security Cards
Important Account Numbers
Household Inventory (photo file)
Flashlights LED (one per person)
Cell Phone Charger
Cell Phone Spare Battery
Laptop or iPad & charger
iPod & charger
Long Burning Candles with Hurricane Fixture
Extra Mantles & Fuel or batteries
Cyalume Light Sticks
Homemade Toilet: bucket, toilet seat, 13 gallon trash bags
Cash (small bills $500)
Barter Items – (like beer)
Extra stuff sacks
Extra house and car keys
Credit and Debit Cards
Book to read