During an emergency panic can easily take over and cloud your thinking, as well the thinking and actions of those around you. Having a plan is only half the battle. After all, having a tourniquet in the right scenario can be a lifesaver, but you have to know how to apply it; it will not apply itself. The same is true of a plan. If you have not rehearsed it, trying to figure it out in the middle of a natural disaster is a disaster of a whole other kind.
When disaster is knocking at your doorstep, you are lucky enough to have been forewarned. That’s good news and gives you time to prepare. However, even for volcanoes, tornadoes or tsunamis that may happen in an instant and unexpectedly, the responsibility to be prepared is still yours, without excuse.
An emergency action plan is your first step to ensuring you have the supplies you need. After that, the plan is your roadmap to the appropriate actions or options you’ll have to deal with and survive the danger. Ideally, the plan will be comprehensive, yet straightforward enough to follow it like you are on autopilot. However, anyone who has been in combat knows, the plan always looks good on paper and goes to hell as soon as the first shot is fired against you. This where the training and practice come into play. When Mother Nature throws the curve, your plan should have options or contingencies built into the plan. Your practice will prepare you to execute the modification and make the necessary changes on the fly.
Here’s an overview of what you should plan for, and what you need, if the unthinkable happens.
What do you need to plan for?
Your plan can be somewhat general. Many areas are susceptible to fire, flooding severe weather etc., so one plan can cover multiple types of emergencies. That does not mean it should be general or plan for every type of event. If you live in Wyoming, a tidal wave is rather unlikely. If you live in downtown New York City, you are not likely to have to worry about a wildfire sweeping through. On the other hand, those living in Miami do not have to spend much time planning for snowstorms. You get the idea.
Here are some scenarios you might want to plan for:
Extended power outages can accompany these disasters, and we all need to be prepared for this type of complication. The power outage is not necessarily an emergency itself, but you’ll want to consider how it will affect you when developing your emergency plan.
For example, my father depends on an oxygen generator, so we have a five-foot bottle of oxygen as well as several smaller portable bottles as a backup. The larger bottle would be the go-to and will last him a couple days. Should he have to be evacuated, the smaller bottles can be easily transported, plus we have a small portable oxygen generator that can be run off a 12-volt charger in the car. This not only gives us a plan, we have options to handle contingencies.
Divide and Conquer
Your action plan should ideally be divided into three sections, at a minimum. You may think of more that apply to your particular situation or resources.
People. Who will need to be physically accounted for? Who will need to be contacted? How will you contact them?
Places. Will you remain at your location or will there be a designated place everyone should meet at? How will you get there? When will you go? What if you can’t get there?
Things. What supplies will you need to have with you? What supplies will you store at the designated safe place? How much food and water will you need?
Other things may include pets, stock such as horses, or other things you maybe responsible for. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
Who do you need to account for? Your partner? Children? Parents? Sit down with the members of your family and discuss what each person will do if the rest of you are not with them. Write down phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and any other contact information that might help you reach them. Check-in periodically and keep this list up to date. A plan needs to be reviewed often and amended as your life circumstances change Make sure you know where each person spends most of their time. That way, if you can’t get a hold of them, you’ll know where to start looking.
Decide where everyone will meet to ride out the emergency. For some people that will be their home. Others may have off-site shelters or an extended family member who is better located based on the type of disaster. Wherever it is, grab a map and choose at least two different routes to get there. That way, if one route is blocked, you have an alternative. Have everyone who may be driving practice the routes so they’re familiar with them. Ideally, you will have a secondary and tertiary location as well.
The CDC recommends stocking enough food and water to last a minimum of three days, so that’s a good starting point. For water, the CDC recommends one gallon per person, per day, That’s 8 pounds of water, per day, per person, if you end up on foot. Carrying 24 pounds of water each in addition to other supplies—that is a solution only Hollywood thinks is a good idea, so plan accordingly and look for alternatives. Water from a stream, lake, or other source can be boiled; purification tablets are another option. A portable water filter will produce larger quantities quicker, but that takes up space. A Life Straw is a smaller and highly portable option that is very popular.
Remember water and canned goods have expiration dates. You’ll want to periodically rotate your supplies. In an emergency, that will not be your primary worry, because you’ll survive on anything at hand, but with the planning and practice mentioned at the beginning of this article, you do not have much of an excuse to be forced to survive on out of date supplies.
In addition to food and water, there are basic items you’ll want to include in your home emergency kit.
- Portable battery pack or other way to charge your phone without electricity such as a solar charger.
- Flashlights and spare batteries or a flashlight with a crank. The crank models are not that great for extended use, but in an emergency or for the long term, you always have power.
- Radio with hand crank—a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) weather radio is recommended (many of these radios also include a flashlight)
- Candles and matches or lighters
- Can opener
- Emergency supply of medications – don’t forget the other essentials such as oxygen or any other medical device or supply you rely on
- First aid supplies – Kits are great, but make sure you have something that is more than a few Band-aids and gauze.
- Toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, and other toiletries (Not mandatory, but they make life a whole lot better…)
- Basic tools such as a utility knife with replaceable blades and duct tape
- Cash—don’t assume there will be power for ATMs and card readers
Don’t rely too much on your smartphone for things such as navigation—you’ll want the phone for communication and to receive news updates. Immediately go into the settings and turn off any apps or functions that are not absolutely necessary to preserve as much battery as possible. Be sure to keep the back-up battery packs topped off. Double-check them if you know a storm or other major event may be imminent.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice your plan with your family and/or the people you’ll be relying on. When chaos strikes, people may panic. Key individuals may be injured or absent for some reason. Plan for redundancy and contingencies. Cross-train for critical skills such as first aid. Just because dad is a doctor, do not assume he will not be the one who needs medical attention or that he will be conscious and able to direct you. Everyone in your group should know the plan, where the kit is, and how to use everything in the kit, if possible.
If you do not already have a plan, now is the time to get started. After you have a plan, you’ll want to practice, practice, practice…
What emergencies do you plan for in your areas? What items do you consider mandatory for an emergency kit? Share your answers in the comment section.