Are You Simply Prepared?

by Lisa Linderman on March 14, 2011

in general,opinion and navelgazing

This post really has little to do with farmy-homesteady kinds of pursuits, but it does tie in with self-sufficiency and simplicity.  It just seemed relevant right now!

Unless you’ve been asleep or in the jungle without communication devices for a week, you’re aware of the giant, devastating earthquake in Japan.  It spawned a series of tsunami, which absolutely flattened the coastal areas of Japan, and caused damage on Pacific Islands including Hawaii, and even caused damage and one death on the West Coast of the United States….5,000 miles away.  The aftershocks have been large and relentless, over 100 at last count, and still coming.  Many of them are significant quakes in their own right.   I became aware of the situation in Japan literally moments after the quake happened, and then spent all night listening to news reports and chatting on Facebook.  Wait, I probably shouldn’t admit that.  Well, to be fair, I had nowhere to be the next morning…

The last “big” quake we had near where I live was the 2001 Nisqually Quake, which was a 6.8.  I was in Redmond at the time, about 60 miles from the quake’s epicenter.  It was loud, and at first I thought my coworkers were screwing around in the hall again (I worked at Microsoft.  It wouldn’t have been unusual.) But when things began to shake, I realized what it was.  And I left the building.  In retrospect, probably not the wisest maneuver, but I was within sight of the front doors and the parking lot was relatively open.  Most of my coworkers left the building as well, and we watched the land roll.  It was weird.  But all in all, not a lot of damage where we were.  Bits and bobs around town, but nothing even knocked over at my apartment.   But the quake in Japan was over 1000 times stronger, than the one I rode out in a parking lot, and we thought that was impressively large.  And here in the Pacific NW, we could be facing one like Japan just had, at some time in the future.  Nifty.

Since even before 2001, I’ve been interested in disaster preparedness, and I do a little bit more every year.   I really stepped it up when I had a kid.  I’ve noticed more and more people saying things like, “Wow, I should really have an earthquake kit” and “I need a disaster plan” in the last week.  At the same time, I’ve noticed that some people are either so overwhelmed at the thought that they never begin, or they’re so anxious that even thinking about disaster makes them panic, and they’d rather ignore it than prepare.  I thought I’d ring in with my $0.02.

First about the anxiety; obviously the time to prepare and make a plan isn’t when you are all jacked up on adrenaline in the middle of a crisis or have been watching CNN for the last 39.4 hours straight.   But when you’re more relaxed, and things aren’t so ZOMGcrazy, I find that the very act of putting together a plan and gathering supplies and thinking through contingencies can actually serve to calm anxiety.  It turns into something of a mental exercise, a bit removed from anything “happening”. Yes, things happen.  Volcanoes blow up and earthquakes jolt us in my part of the world.  Tornadoes might be more of an issue where you are, or hurricanes, or floods.  Any place is subject to blackouts of varying durations and from a variety of causes.  But knowing that if the worst happens, you have a plan to deal with it and the supplies you need to take charge of your own safety and health, and that of your family, can go a long way towards making you more secure, both emotionally and in actuality.

In the event of a true emergency there may be some time before emergency aid can reach you.  You might be cut off from help or supplies.  You might not be able to dash out to the local WalMart or Kroger, or you might not be able to use any of your electrical or gas-powered equipment, including your furnace or A/C, stove, microwave, oven, and refrigerator.  You might have no larger problem than the town’s water and electricity is out for a week, which on the grand scale isn’t a big emergency, but it can still throw your world into a complete tizzy if you don’t have at least basic supplies.  Prepare for the large disasters, and a small one seems like a mere bump.

Disaster prep does not have to be complicated.  It can be as elaborate as you can afford to make it, but it can be very simple, which I know is a concern for many folks who are living the simple, homesteading life.  At the most basic, you need clean water, shelter, food, and warmth.  Most disaster prep sites recommend three days’ of self-sufficiency, and I bet most homesteaders could do that standing on their heads, water included!   Given a group of people who often use wood to heat, stockpile dried goods and can their own foods, like to cook from scratch, and tend to keep the thermostat down and the blankets piled on, they’ve already got a good head start over an urbanite who is used to eating out every day and whose refrigerator holds a jar of mustard, four packs of ketchup, and a six pack of beer.

There are plenty of sites out there to tell you how to build a disaster kit, or how to make a plan.  It’s one of the Red Cross‘ major drivers.   They even sell ready-made kits for individuals and families in case you don’t know where to start, or you really want one right now.  If you Google “72 hour kit”, you’ll get a ton of sites with lists of how to create your own, or places to buy one.   There’s a list on the Red Cross of things people have put in their own kits, for you to browse.   The Red Cross also has information on how to Make a Plan for your family.  It isn’t complicated.   Don’t forget family pets in the plan!    There’s a great resource from Portland, Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management as well, with great info sorted by disaster.

My family has a “Bug Out Bag” inside the closet by the front door, with an auxilliary bag of “distractionary devices” like games, toys, and books for our daughter.  Our kit is substantially heavier than recommended, but much of the weight is water, which could be left behind if necessary.  My Jeep is also equipped with another Bug Out Bag and a Rubbermaid container of emergency supplies.   We store a lot of emergency supplies in our concrete-walled pantry, too.   I know some of my family thinks I’m a bit nuts, but others have said that when the zombies show up, they’re coming here.  We have rice and beans, and we rotate other supplies like ramen and pasta.  I keep dried milk in sealed glass jars, and we have soap, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, towels, and first aid kits, and we could hold out for quite some time if we were able to stay in our home, or if we had half an hour to haul it all to the truck!

I tend to think through the “what ifs”, and then pack accordingly.  This would be how I arrived at separate “levels” of kits.  My train of thought is something like this:  What if I’m in my car?  What if I can get out the door, but can’t get down to the basement?  What if our house is okay, but we’re without electricity or water for a week?  Longer?  What if we can’t rely on any outside assistance for a week or longer?   What if one of us gets sick?   Do we have the medicines we need on a daily basis, or on an emergency basis?  Do I know First Aid, do I have a First Aid manual?  How can I cook?  What can I cook?  How?  How much water do we need, and where can we get more if necessary?   What if we have to evacuate, where would we go? Which vehicle?  What if our daughter is in school at the time?   Who is our out-of-area-contact?    (Honestly, being slightly obsessed with Zombie Apocalypse fiction or Post Apocalyptic fiction can really get your creative juices flowing, both in terms of potential crises and in terms of how to handle them!)

In my kits, the contents vary.  As a D&D geek, I have the requisite 50′ of rope, but I also have duct tape, a multitool in every kit, water purification tablets and filters, metal cups for boiling water, space blankets, toilet paper, extra socks and underwear, packets of detergent, soap, fold up shovels and saws, dust masks, first aid kits…you name it.   I believe in being prepared not only to keep my family safe and warm, and at least my daughter reasonably fed, but also in being able to help out with emergencies.   My Jeep has a couple of blankets, extra jackets for each of us, my waterproof boots, a fire extinguisher, and two large first aid kits.  Along with a multitool and large lockblade knife, I carry a swedish firesteel in my purse.  (Yes, really.  I can’t manage to carry a lipstick, but dang it, I can light a fire in wet tinder wherever I go!)

Any little bit you can do towards preparedness helps. My “want” list includes a case of MRE’s to split between vehicles and home.   Maybe  all you can do this week  is just buying 5 extra gallons of water to store.  Or grabbing a set of windup flashlight-radios (I highly recommend these.  Batteries shmatteries.  You can sometimes get ones that let you charge a cell phone too!)   Or maybe you’ll grab a 25 pound bag of rice (never goes bad!) to store in case of emergency.  Or maybe you’ll decide to take a CPR/First Aid class this month.  Or figure out how to rig up a rainbarrel as an emergency water supply.   Or today, maybe all you can handle is just writing up your emergency plan of who to contact and where to meet.   Whatever you can do, ever little bit helps over time.  Before you know it, you have it licked!

If budget is a concern, you can get quite a few supplies at a Dollar Store.  First aid supplies, hygiene supplies, extra socks,  minor tools and repair items are especially cheap here.   Shop thrift stores and Army Surplus too.   It can get to be a bit of amusing hobby without having to be Full On Survivalist Mode.   It’s quite comforting to know that you can look after yourself, and help others, and hopefully not be one of the ones in the direst need.  Things still happen, and you could still need emergency aid, but no one can say it wasn’t for lack of foresight!

I know that if you start to tell others what you’re doing, they might call you paranoid, or say, “Really, when are you going to use that?”  It happens.  “But you’re not near a tsunami zone.  You’re not in earthquake territory.  You’re not near tornado alley.”  Yeah, Mother Nature tends not to read the manual; we have had two tornadoes here in my decidedly-not-Tornado-Alley metro area in the last four years. And there are always those emergencies precipitated by your fellow humans; terrorist attack, chemical spill, radiation leak, major gas explosion, and so forth.  There is no 100% safe place on this planet, and that’s just how it is, living here….and “here” being the only place we have to live!   In the US particularly, we’ve become a culture obsessed with eliminating risk.  We recall items that injure 10 kids out of 1,000,000 users because the product is “unsafe”.   Here’s a newsflash for you:  risk cannot be removed from your life.  (I’ll leave the philosophical argument about whether we should even strive for eliminating all possible risks as an exercise for another day.)   Risk is there, all the time.   But you can make it safer and mitigate the possible dangers with some common sense and preparation.   And by talking to others about how to prepare and getting them to think about it, you help make your whole community safer and more self-sufficient.

And to close, I’ll leave you with the Bug Out Bag and You, from Zombie Squad.  In case the emergency is hordes of shambling undead.