If I’m being really honest, I’m a glass-half-empty kind of gal. It’s true. I wish I were more sunny and optimistic, but even as a kid, I was always imagining worst-case scenarios and trying to work out how to be ready for them (I’m an only child, obviously). On the other hand, I’m also naturally lazy, so despite having a mild undercurrent of anxiety about natural disasters, I’ve never actually created a plan or done anything more than stock up on sparkling water to prepare for an emergency. If disaster strikes and you need a gin-and-tonic or a vodka soda, I’m your girl!
Seriously though, in the aftermath of recent natural disasters, emergency preparedness suddenly has a terrible relevance, so in the interest of public safety, (and my own peace of mind) I’ve decided cancel the planned post for this week and instead talk about how to prepare your family for an emergency. After a deep dive and hours online researching this topic, I can say with certainty that nothing will feed your neurosis like reading multiple emergency preparedness sites like FEMA, Red Cross and Homeland Security. In fact, there is so much content and layers of advice (some of it contradictory) that you could literally spend weeks trying to make sense of it all.
If you have the time and can stand the stress, then, by all means, go for it! But if you’re like me and just want someone to break it all down for you in digestible chunks of information that hopefully won’t freak you out, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s what to do:
1. Know your region. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people in Palm Springs have waders in the garage. So, for example, are you in a severe winter storm region? Tornado Alley? Are hurricanes a possibility? Are brushfires a concern or like me, are you worried about THE BIG ONE (a major earthquake). Start with the most likely scenario for your region. You don’t need to be ready for anything. Just the most likely thing.
2. Make a List (and go shopping). It’s amazing how so many plans of action involve this very first step, isn’t it? Other sites will take you through creating a family plan and how to find a shelter, but I find the quickest and most effective way to get started is to hit Target and Amazon with an informed list of stuff to buy that’s specific to us. Once that’s done, I can relax enough to make a plan! Plus, when the hand crank radio and plug in flashlights arrive you have props that will hopefully engage the family in the disaster plan. Nicely done.
Your needs will vary by region and of course your list will be family specific, but this is what most of the major sites suggest you should have on hand at a MINIMUM:
A First Aid Kit. Years ago, I took a St. John’s Ambulance course in Sydney so this is the one thing I always have at the ready. Forget about those ready-made kits with Band-Aids on Amazon. Really? A Band-Aid? You just had a major natural disaster and you need a Band-Aid? I say, make your own kit.
Here’s what you really need:
1. A small bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide to cleanse wounds. It’s also an anti-bacterial gargle if you add water.
2. A big box of sanitary pads. I’m not kidding. Doctors keep them in their bags to dress wounds. They’re individually wrapped, sterile, and we know they’re absorbent! Plus they won’t stick to a wound or a burn like a BAND-AID will. Sorry, we love you Band-Aids, but not in an emergency. Get back in the medicine cabinet where you belong.
3. Antibiotic Cream
4. Hand Sanitizer
5. Latex Gloves
6. Gauze for dressing a wound
7. First Aid Tape
8. Those stretchy ACE bandages and clips
9. Pain Relief: Aspirins, Ibuprofen, and maybe something stronger if you have to sedate someone. Mini-bar bottles of gin and vodka are always a good idea on several levels.
10. Tools: A pair of scissors, tweezers and a sterile surgical knife. I don’t screw around.
11. Superglue. Seriously. If someone needs stitches and you can’t get to the emergency room: superglue. Superglue. It works.
12. Lighters and matches in a waterproof container.
Now that’s a First-Aid Kit with grunt. Next...Your Basic Shopping List:
- 1 Good Flashlight + 1 Whistle per family member: OK, actually the whistle thing is my idea, but hear me out: The two things I’d grab after my kids are a flashlight and a whistle. I like the flashlights that plug into the wall socket so are always ready, and you never to have to look for them. Make sure the whistles have a lanyard to hang around your neck so you don’t lose them. And a simple 99-cent whistle can be a lifesaver if you need to attract attention and are trapped somewhere. I also happen to have a battery-operated megaphone, but that’s a me thing.
- Cell phones with extra chargers. It really surprised me how far down on the list some sites mention mobile phones! Were they all made in 1992? As in everyday life, your phone will be your most important piece of equipment. Make sure it’s charged every night and get a spare long-life charger for each one in the house.
- Water: Most sites recommend a minimum of one gallon per person, per day. More if you live in a warm climate. A three-day supply for evacuation, and a two-week supply for home. I get glass bottles and cans of club soda because the plastic eventually degrades in the heat. I also bought this guy today.
- Food: Non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items are key. Keep enough for three-days in the event of an evacuation, and a two-week supply at home. I like boxes of cereal, peanut butter, granola bars and of course, cans of food are best and last longest. I also buy that UHT milk in boxes. Jars of Baby Food and cans of pet food are a good idea (especially if you have babies and pets). Make sure you have a manual can-opener! I also have a picnic basket with Solo cups and plastic bowls and utensils. Empty refillable water bottles and a Thermos is good, too.
- Rain Boots for everyone (even in California). Most sites say “sturdy shoes,” but we could all expire waiting for my youngest to lace up his high-tops. No thank you! I bought steel toe, weatherproof boots for all of us at Wal-Mart . Why? Because they’re sturdy, shock proof, easy to jump into quickly (like a Fireman!) and come in handy if you have to walk through a muddy field anyway.
- Cash. Small denominations. Keep enough on hand to buy everything you’d need to survive for a few days. If networks are down, cash is king.
A hand-crank/solar-powered radio. This is more of a nice to have, but if the poo really hits the fan, you’ll be glad you have it. The best ones have a phone charger and a flashlight built in.
Nice to Have:
- Extra batteries are always a good idea. Store them in a cool place or a box in the fridge (seriously) they last longer.
- 2 way radios.
- Multi-purpose tool
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- Survival Blankets
If you get most of the things on the basic list, you’re way ahead of the game. Now comes the planning part. Create a digital archive of important family documents. This is so easy and obvious and only ONE site recommended it. Take photos of your family’s entire most vital documents and store them in a cloud service. I like to use the Tiny Scanner app to get really good copies of Birth Certificates, Health Insurance cards, passports, drivers licenses, medical prescriptions, and records, blood types, etc. I store ours on Dropbox. This is a no brainer and has come in handy on plenty of non-emergency situations, too.
MAKE A PLAN: You’ll never know where you’re going to be if a disaster strikes, so you at least need to discuss how you will find each other.
NOMINATE AN OUT OF STATE CONTACT: A friend, family member that’s fluid on social media and reliably picks up the phone is perfect. Make sure you tell them they are your contact person! We’ve never done this and I’m doing it tonight. There are some pretty good links and templates here. This kind of thing seems totally paranoid American to my Australian Husband and man-cubs, but really it’s not a big deal and once you’ve done them, you don’t have to worry about anything. Except maybe North Korea (but that’s another post).