Sunday, January 10, 2010

1: A Message at Midnight

My father's mother was a wealthy woman with stocks and bonds, a new car and blue hair. She had been born just before the turn of the last century and died in the mid '60's when I was 21.

We called her Mother Catherine.
Last night, I awoke from a dream with detailed images of her house fresh in my mind. I laid in the dark, retracing my steps through each room. Something about the rooms seemed to be significant and it took me a while to figure out what. I recalled the oriental carpets on hardwood floors, the mahogany furniture, the meticulous cleanliness and tidiness to a fault, but none of those things quite measured up to the unknown significance that I knew was locked in my mind...somewhere.

About the time I gave up and rolled over to doze off again, it hit me. It was the simplicity, though not in a modern, minimalist sense. Her fabrics were heavy brocades, her carpets expensive orientals and her George III furniture, though not fussy, was a long way from sleek. It was a matter of the little 'decor' things she had, or more accurately, didn't have. Two small paintings, purchased on a trip to Italy, hung over a small sewing cabinet in the entry, a moderately large print hung over the sofa. On the mantle was a clock with a mirror above. The dining room buffet displayed a soup tureen and two candle sticks. Her bedroom contained a double bed with a cedar lined chest at the foot and matching bedside tables with a clock on one, an upholstered, slipper-style rocking chair and a side table. There was a tall chest of drawers and a long dresser.

It reads like a list from a furniture store and one would wonder what in the world was remarkable about it. What kept nagging at me just below the level of consciousness? I thought of the furniture store displays of bedrooms with their lovely throws draped casually across the foot of the bed and mountains of pillows. I thought of the ornate boxes that sit upon dressers and the books set askew on bedside tables and the decorative vases and massive floral displays and knick knacks and framed photos.

But that was a furniture display. It was not Mother Catherine's. Above her bed was a painting, on each of the tables, a lamp. The dresser was adorned with a silver hairbrush and comb and hand mirror and that was it...not just for the dresser but for the entire room.

I thought about that for a while in the darkness of my sleep-disturbed night. I thought of other bedrooms I had known half a century beat friend's parents when I was 12, my favorite aunts (and there were many). I thought back to my own room when I was first married and realized that it was not a 'Mother Catherine' thing at all. It was just the way 'it' was.

Back then, money was spent on things that would last, on sturdy furniture of good woods and fine or at least sturdy fabrics. Our best dishes were china. Our glasses were crystal and our candlesticks were actually silver. There was a pride and a permanence, not only within our homes but within ourselves. It's not that life back then was simple. Life is always filled with the unexpected, but it was uncluttered, tidy and clean. We knew who we were and what we stood for and our homes were a reflection of that.

As all this rolled around in my head, I sat up and turned on the light. There on my bedside table and across the room to the dresser was all the glitz and busy-ness of today's furniture store displays...a few things of sentimental value mixed with massive quantities of meaningless items that just happen to be the right size or color to complete a vignette.

I laughed to myself knowing that dusting is a nightmare and I can't remember the last time surfaces were waxed. But I remembered my delight at finally having everything 'just so'...and then I realized that, in no time at all, my perfectly decorated 'this' and 'that' had simply ceased to exist for me. It's like moving to the beach or to a place with heavy traffic noise. For a while, the sounds seem so loud they keep you awake at night but in no time they become so much a part of your environment that you don't notice them at all.

Today, I'm struggling with the meaning of my midnight foray. Is it that I need to divest myself of so many 'things' or that I just need to dust more often?

I'm reminded of a time when 'things' put my family in jeopardy. The economy had turned sour and my job was tentative at best. Then joblessness actually hit, not only me but for 10% to 20% of the nation, depending on location. We were out west and I would have moved home to Florida but couldn't afford to ship our significant quantity of 'things'. I decided we would camp for a time in a neighboring state, less affected by the recession, while I made some employment inquiries.

In our absence, as we were camping in a tent, everything we owned was lost to fire. It was a horrible thing. I cried. The children cried. And for months after, we would be brought again to tears when we would remember yet one more thing that was lost to us forever. As the shock of our loss began to settle in, I realized that our belongings had held us captive and the fire had set us to get on a plane and go home, a recognizable starting point so that we could begin again.

I thought I had learned a valuable lesson from that period of unemployment and loss and homelessness and that I would never look at 'things' the same way again. I thought the fire had taught me true value and that I had mentally prioritized the important elements in my life, my children and health topping the list. Yes, that was 30 years ago and perhaps my relapse happened gradually over a great deal of time. But I lost the lesson, none the less.

And now I know why I had the dream and why my mind would not let go of the curiosity and of my wakeful wandering through the memories of Mother Catherine's house. Last night, just before bed, my youngest daughter and I were chatting online and I asked her if, considering the eclectic nature of my blog, she thought it might be appropriate to begin a series on preparedness. It was just a question in passing and her answer was, "Why not?" I had been thinking about preparedness because I live in the Florida panhandle, just a little north of the Gulf where a volcanic flow of oil is still erupting and we are, after all, in hurricane season. I live in the woods and our weather has been fire-hazard dry. Prices are going up and my income remains static.

Even so, my mornings begin with a relaxing cup of coffee on the porch watching and listening to the world around me come to life. Birds begin their twittering, squirrels their scampering and from somewhere in the distance, a mystery rooster crows his own "Good Morning." My day is filled with ordinary thoughts and ordinary tasks. I do not think the sky is falling or lose sleep over some unidentified, impending disaster. For 30 years, resting comfortably in the back of my mind has been the knowledge that I learned my lesson well and could and would survive just about anything. Now, I realize that once again, I've allowed myself to be held captive by 'things'.

If there were a fire, what would I save first? How long would it take and where would I find it? Treasured photographs are all over the place. Are bank and insurance records more important? Good grief! What has happened to me? For 15 years in Alaska, I could answer those questions. I was prepared for almost anything, from a sudden earthquake to an approaching forest fire, even to living semi-comfortably with no electricity.

I began with a midnight visit to Mother Catherine's house and ended with the realization that I need to get my own house in order. I need to revisit my preparedness plans. As I do, I will post them on the blog.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2: A Different Perspective on Preparedness

I try to avoid the temptation to define disaster in terms of the number of people affected. When it turns your life upside down, a disaster is 'major' even if it isn't news worthy. And it has occurred to me that one's confidence in being prepared for a wide spread disaster can produce a false sense of security and leave one vulnerable to a disaster of a more personal nature. A case in point would be the perfectly prepared Hurricane Disaster Kit, or box or bin, that goes up in flames with the rest of the house while you stand scantily clad and barefoot, watching helplessly in the night.
To my way of thinking, it's not so much what the emergency is, flood, earthquake, etc., as what effect the emergency has on the immediate household. And, that is tied directly to the home itself. So setting aside the possible scope of a disaster, consider answering these questions concerning your own home.

Would I be prepared:
  • if life could continue in the home even though disrupted?
  • if I had to make an immediate escape?
  • if my house, alone, were destroyed?
  • if the entire neighborhood or geographic area were in distress?
  • if the situation required a short 3 to 5 day evacuation?
  • If long term devastation kept me from returning home?
It's a matter of being prepared for all situations, of having confidence and ability and knowing when to stay put, when to walk away, when to run and when to never look back. That is the basis for my approach.

The series will break down like this:
  • Establishing priorities
  • Meeting adversity while in the home
  • Being prepared for immediate escape
  • Being prepared for short-term evacuation
  • Being prepared for long-term evacuation and/or relocation
  • Survival and living off the land
A few things to be taken into consideration, that will not be addressed here, include firearms and ammunition, riots, civil unrest and insurrection, long term power and satellite communication loss due to EMP (electromagnetic pulse) and declaration of Martial Law with the suspension of Constitutional rights. There are sources far more informed and reliable than I for information along these lines and I will gladly post a link or two.

In the meantime, my personal priorities line up like this:

  1. LIFE - people and pets
  2. HEALTH - physical and mental, requiring meds, medical records, food, water, clothing, shelter, light and security
  3. IDENTITY - blank checks, copies of bills, computer info (shred or destroy paper info)
  4. RECORDS - flash drive with and hard copies of: insurance information, credit cards, driver's licenses, union memberships, birth certificates, passports, immunization and medical records, address book, pet records, dd-214, computer hard drive, diplomas & important certificates, wills, tax records, account numbers, user names and passwords
  5. FINANCES - cash on hand, retirement accounts, precious metals, have 3 month buffer
  6. PHOTOGRAPHS & DOCUMENTS - on protected flash drive with hard copy documents and most important photos in safe deposit box
  7. IRREPLACEABLE ITEMS - list 1-10, ie: Mother's wedding dress that is being saved for daughter, etc.
Being prepared begins with knowledge, especially knowledge of self, priorities, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, needs and fears. Take a few days to think. Make a list of personal priorities. Wander through the rooms of your home and identify those things you simply cannot live without, the ones that would hurt your heart to lose and those of great monetary value like heirloom jewelery. While you're at it, take a camera or cell phone and document your belongings for insurance purposes. A disc or actual photographs secured in a safe deposit box or with a family member will go a long way toward expediting an insurance claim.

The next post in the series will detail preparation to deal with adversity and emergencies that do not require leaving home.

Friday, January 8, 2010

3: Power Loss in the Home

When I think of facing adversity while remaining in the home, my mind goes immediately to long periods without power. We take electricity for granted and hardly consider it until the lights go out and the television goes black and silent.
When I was young and somewhat careless, my car magically jumped a curb and snapped a power pole about three feet off the ground. Fortunately, way back then, telephones did not require electricity to operate. Unfortunately, the telephone lines were carried on the same pole. I have never known how an ambulance was called but I do know that back then, a power pole cost $350.

I say that to say this...we lose more than lights when the lights go out. Most of our land line telephones are powered by home bases that require electricity to work. Our cell phones are fine until we cannot recharge them. The heat or cold outside our homes seem somewhat tolerable as we dart from building to vehicle and back again, that is until that temperature invades our every moment. And what alien territory we feel we have entered when we open the refrigerator and are not greeted by that lovely and welcoming little light.
Loss of power is huge.

For a few hours, it's an inconvenience...causes us to miss the end of a movie or postpone dinner. But over a few days, our food will spoil, tempers can flare and our sense of well being can start to erode and evolve into a rising internal panic. After weeks without power, believe it or not, things begin to get better. We have made adjustments, our attitudes have mellowed and our expectations have become more realistic. We might even reach a point of acknowledging that people once lived quite successfully without electricity.

But in between inconvenience and victory, loss of power can actually be life threatening. Often we have time to prepare, as when a hurricane approaches over several days. Other times, extreme power outages take us by surprise, the result of a sudden ice storm, tornado or earthquake. The point is that we need to be prepared for power outages small and large, anticipated and sudden.

Life depends on having access to water, food, in some cases medications, and protection from the elements.

Water for hydration is a requirement not a luxury. Water for hygiene, though important, especially long term, is less necessary. The standard rule of one gallon per person per day covers both but is not, in my opinion, realistic. For one thing, water for hygiene and sanitation does not have to be potable. It can be stored beyond expiration dates, (yes, even water can expire) and it is needed in greater quantities. Adding a cap full of bleach to the dishpan before washing dishes or to a container of water for a sponge bath is always a good idea.
Drinking water that can be used in quantities much less than a gallon per person per day, can be purchased or prepared. For a consumer fact sheet on finding water and safe storage, click HERE. The containers used for drinking water need careful scrutiny. Some plastics, even some of those used to package foods like milk, are considered unsafe for long term water shortage. The "Recycle" Codes on the bottom of plastic containers are more than just numbers. They refer to the plastic compounds from which the containers are made and address the issue for future use. Numbers 1,2,4 and 5 are more likely acceptable but complete information for acceptable reuse of plastic containers is provided HERE.

One if the problems associated with storing water for emergency use is the little matter of where to put it. A garage, if you have one, is a great storage place unless it freezes and freezing is no problem unless the plastic container splits from expansion and that won't be noticed until spring when facing a minor flood. So, what to do?

A solution to providing drinking water in adequate quantities is to keep a few cases of purchased bottled water in the back of the pantry. Occasionally, new cases can be rotated in and the older ones put into daily use. For long term need, unopened 5 gallon bottles, purchased from a water cooler company, can reside in the dark recesses of a closet. These containers of water should be used sparingly, only for drinking, brushing teeth and cooking (when a 5 minute boil would be inappropriate). Another possibility for extending the potable water supply is the purchase of water purification tablets for making use of a nearby natural water source. In that instance, I would recommend using the tablets AND boiling the water for at least 5 minutes just to make certain no pollutants remain.

Water for dishes, sponge bathing and flushing the toilet can be kept in any number of containers. With advance warning of a potential outage, the bathtub is a most important water reservoir. However, most drain stoppers have a slow leak. The water retention of your tub can be tested by filling it at night and checking the level in the morning. If the level is down at all, the $1 cost of a rubber stopper is a good investment.

My favorite containers for general-use water are unrinsed, empty bleach bottles. They are heavy plastic, have handles and child resistant lids. They can be lined up against a wall behind the couch or kept in the back of lower kitchen cabinets where more often used items are inaccessible.

Flushing the toilet is one of the things we take so much for granted until we can't. When water is at a premium, flushing is best done by quickly pouring water directly into the bowl until it "gulps", not filling the tank. Little boys and discrete men can make use of a camouflaging shrub. A tarp or old shower curtain can be rigged in a private corner of a suburban yard. Use of the toilet in the house would, of necessity, need to be confined to unflushed liquid deposits (with tissue disposed of in a plastic bag lined trash can) and solids which would require flushing. Portable toilets, like those used for camping, come in a wide range of sophistication and price from a rudimentary seat that fits over a 5-gallon bucket to bio-ecological marvels. HERE is a link with reviews concerning the many types of portable toilets, worth investigating by those who live in apartments and condos. Also, never let your household run short of toilet tissue. Keep a couple of packages on a closet shelf and forget it's there. You don't want to learn how necessary this little item is by running out of it, especially in the middle of a crisis.

In Alaska and on many older properties, like farms, old-fashioned out houses are not uncommon. Few of us would actually desire to have one unless we had been weeks without adequate facilities. It's amazing how quickly something can climb up a priority list. If you have rural property without specific prohibition, building an outhouse is actually worth consideration. Find instructions HERE.

Of course, living adjacent to natural water or having a pool, provides an abundant supply for flushing the toilet but it is not recommended for ingesting or washing dishes without boiling first.

Washing dishes is another part of our daily routine that will require major adjustment. Dish washing can be reduced to silverware and an occasional pot or serving bowl with a good supply of paper plates and bowls. Paper is recommended over plastic because it is burnable and biodegradable. Reverting to our grandparents ways of using a dishpan for soapy water and pouring boiling water over the clean items standing in a dish rack is a good technique for camping and for mastering life without electricity.

But how do we boil water or prepare food without electricity? It's time to deal with cooking and ...

An adequate food supply is critical for survival. Many of us have poorly stocked pantries or think we can't afford to purchase food we hope we will never eat. Buying a couple of items for emergency stock each week will not put anyone in the poorhouse and it could be life sustaining.

A few of my emergency food items are as follows:
  • Meal-in-a-can, heat & eat items like beef stew, ravioli, chow mien w/ noodles, corned beef hash, chicken & dumplings, etc.
  • Canned items that can be mixed together for a salad, eg. corn, green, wax & kidney beans, whole tomatoes, whole potatoes, pimento, etc.
  • Heat & eat packaged soups
  • Protein via canned or foil-packed tuna, chicken, ham, dried beef, Spam
  • Canned fruit with drinkable juices like peaches, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc.
  • Granola & Trail Mixes
  • Unsalted crackers & Melba Toast
  • Jars of cheese foods
  • Single serving juices including V-8
A day of survival with these foods might typically include a fruit & granola breakfast, 3-bean salad & crackers for lunch & beef stew for dinner. Knowing that herbs, spices, oil and vinegar are readily available in the home allows for a margin of creativity. Later, I will post recipes for emergency meals. Not recommended foods include heavily salted items and things that require cooking in quantities of water like rice and pasta.

Dealing with foods in the refrigerator and freezer can be a bit of a guessing game. If we knew that the power would be off for only 3 days, it would be better to leave the freezer door closed in order to maintain the temperature as long as possible. The refrigerator, on the other hand, should be emptied after 24 hours and the contents thrown away. Exceptions might be mustard and ketchup, high acid pickles and some jams and jellys that didn't require refrigeration in the first the labels.
If the power loss was anticipated, it is assumed that a cooler and ice supply was standing at the ready, in which case, the foods from the refrigerator can be salvaged for a few days more. Prepared frozen foods can be quickly removed from the freezer to the ice chest and eaten within the first day or two. On day five without power, after a recent hurricane, my entire community got together for a cook-out. Those who had them brought grills. Everyone with meat thawing in their freezers, brought it...all. Those who had nothing, came as well. Everyone grilled. Everyone ate. Everyone took home some leftovers to be packed on ice and eaten the following day.

Refrigeration has been with us for generations but not always. Ice becomes most important between day 3, when your own supply runs out and day 7, when there is no longer anything to be salvaged. Generally, the local Emergency Management will have connected with FEMA and ice will be available at specific distribution sites but that is not always the case. Checking with your local Emergency Management office, before there is an emergency, to learn their specific procedure is a good idea.

Food preparation will be limited unless you are fortunate enough to have gas facilities that remain available. Most gas stoves have electronic igniters which will not work but the burners can be lit manually with a match but caution should be taken. Have the match lit and in position before turning on the gas. Grills, charcoal and gas, and Coleman 2 burner camp stoves are a real blessing but must never be used indoors. However, a fondue pot heated with Sterno is safe in the house and is great for keeping the morning coffee warm. On the other hand, if the emergency is in the middle of winter, a wood stove serves double duty. Even a wood burning fireplace is usable with the right supplies. A cast iron Dutch Oven can be set directly in hot coals, turned regularly and will not only heat canned dinners but can be used to bake bread.

Speaking of wood stoves and fireplaces, if you have either, good for you. You will not freeze. But if you, like a daughter of mine, only use the fireplace to burn packaged, manufactured logs for atmosphere, it would be a good idea to put in a cord of wood. Remember to store it away from the house where it will not introduce an approaching fire to your home. We just bring a small supply of logs to the porch every few days. Without the availability of fire, the purchase of a non-electric space heater is important especially if your winter temperatures can be life threatening. However, they can be very dangerous if used improperly. Please read and follow all instructions.
Conserving heat under adverse conditions is important. Layering clothing is a big help. So is reducing the number of rooms to be heated. Close doors to rooms that can be left unused. Close draperies or hang blankets over windows and doorways to maintain heat. Move beds into the room with the heat and let children sleep together or snuggle with parents. Wearing socks and stocking caps to bed may not be fashionable but is certainly practical.

Believe it or not, it's easier to keep warm in areas prone to ice storms and blizzards than it is to keep cool in areas often struck by hurricanes. The late summer heat can be lethal especially for the very young and very old and especially under conditions that include maximum stress and limited hydration. Opening windows at night to let the cooler air in and closing and covering them in the morning to keep the day's heat at bay certainly helps. Wearing natural fiber clothing such as cotton which will wick away perspiration is also a good idea. Keeping a wet washcloth on hand to lay across the back of the neck helps as does cooling pulse points, wrists, inner elbows and the back of knees with cool water or an ice cube wrapped in a cloth. Little battery operated personal fans are available for less than $2 and air movement across the face really helps.

No one wants to complicate an already difficult situation with a house fire yet lanterns and candles and kerosene lamps are a part of dealing with the loss of electricity. Have them on hand. HERE is a link the the Coleman line of lighting and lanterns many of them are battery operated and safer around children. When using open flame, keep them away from curtains and children. Do not allow a child to be unattended in a room with an open flame...not even the bathroom. Supervise. Supervise. Supervise.

Keeping in touch is important for peace of mind and for receiving pertinent information. NOAA emergency radio broadcasts early warnings to widespread areas. During the early days of an emergency, local radio stations with emergency power backup do a good job of broadcasting needed information more pinpointed to your specific area. But broadcasts are only as good as your ability to receive them. A battery operated radio with plenty of batteries is a must. They are also incredibly inexpensive. It's a good idea, while you have electricity, to make note of your local stations and mark them on your battery radio.

Cell phones are a modern marvel reaching a point of such common use as to be entering that long list of things we take for granted. Remember that they will not work if the cell towers are down or damaged. And they certainly won't work after they have lost their charge. the ability to recharge you cell phone in your car is important.

Other areas of communication, simply for peace of mind, is contact with family. It's a good idea to have two family members, preferably in quite different locations, assigned as communication contacts. That way, if you are in crisis, you need notify only one person, saving your limited resources. Other members of the family and friends should know who to contact for information when you are out of touch.

Yes you can go bonkers. Everyone in Alaska understands "cabin fever". One of the worst things about being stranded in your home without modern conveniences is the abundance of TIME. With no vacuuming to be done, and no television to watch, adults as well as children can easily become agitated, grumpy, even despondent. The key to sanity is keeping busy and entertained. Have books on hand and games, cards and crayons. Gather around the dining room table or throw pillows on the floor and pretend you are the Waltons or live in a Little House on the Prairie. Just keep busy and be aware that there are needs beyond food and water. Another of those needs is physical exercise. If you have exercise equipment gathering dust, this is a good time to use it. If not, try calisthenics with the kids. Go for a walk if it's appropriate. Be creative.

Time will become irrelevant in a few days. It will either be daytime or nighttime. People will be hungry or not...tired or not. Grumpy or not. It's a good time to sit down with pen and paper and reevaluate your life, goals, hopes and dreams. Lots of time for thinking and setting priorities. It's a good time for conversation with loved ones. It might even turn out to be one of the most valuable experiences in your life.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

4: Immediate Escape...

when there is time to run.

"If only" are two of the saddest words I know. If only I had checked the batteries in the smoke alarm. If only we had actually practiced our fire drill. If only I had spent the few dollars for a safe deposit box. If only...

Fortunately there are just a few things that can drive us from our homes in a panic and leave us forever changed and filled with regret. Unfortunately, too often we think of them as things that happen to other people. I have been one of those 'other' people and believe me, there is no comfort there. You know the drill; you learned it in grade school. And, if you're reading this, you're probably looking for something beyond smoke detectors and fire drills, so read on...

Most of what I know about surviving, I learned the hard way, in a tent on a Colorado mountain top. The rest came from squeezing every drop of life possible from 15 glorious years in Alaska. But, Alaska is a different story. For now, I will share the lessons learned from losing every single thing my children and I owned to a house fire...and at a time when we had no insurance, no back up plan, not even a job to sustain us.

Being prepared requires that we slip into "what if" mode. First, think about where you live and where you sleep. Are you on a ground floor or higher up? What is your proximity to your children? Do you have an ESCAPE LADDER and an escape plan and so you practice it at least twice a year? Now, consider that your home is gone and you are sitting in a motel room with friends and family coming to your aid. What are your needs beyond a shoulder to cry on? Clothing and toiletries, of course. Contact with your insurance agency. Cash. Credit card. Temporary housing. You still need to go to work and the children still need to go to school but somehow all those practical thoughts play tug-of-war with the emotion of losing irreplaceable, personal items. The doll you've had since childhood. Your son's baseball trophies. The mind is a very strange thing but so is life and it is life that forces us to face reality and begin recovery.

Fortunately, there are a few things that can make survival and recovery a little more certain, a little quicker and a little easier. One is a gift of the computer age:

Flash Drive-Thumb Drive. The FLASH DRIVE or the THUMB DRIVE is step one toward piece of mind...if it is updated periodically. The flash drive has incredible storage capacity, can hold scanned digital copies of every photograph, all important documents, user anmes and passwords, account numbers, business contact information, copies of driver's licenses and the family's social security cards, all credit card information, complete address book, even years of tax records. With all that important information, it needs to be protected from loss or theft. A safe deposit box is exactly that, safe. Giving one to a trusted family member or burying one in the yard might also be considered but there are downsides to both. The thumb drive can hold and protect your entire computer set up and systems.

Insurance. Some of us believe that what we own doesn't amount to much...until we try living without it or replacing it. Insuring our belongings is one of the nicest things we can do for ourselves and our families. Whether a renter or home owner, loss of the dwelling is only half the story. No dishes, not even a can opener, no toothbrush or underwear, no winter coat, no toys for the children. Replacement of 'things' is a really, really big deal. Investigate insurance. It's not as expensive as one might think and it is available at different levels like the depreciated value of your items or the full replacement value. Also, homeowners should remember that Mortgage Insurance will not rebuild the house. It only pays off the debt. Not only will there be no home but the cost and responsibility of clearing the land falls directly on the homeowner. If at all possible, invest in Homeowner's Insurance or Renter's Insurance and if you already have it, take an hour or so to review your policy to make certain what you think is covered really is covered.

Safe Deposit Box. There was a time when I thought only rich people with investment portfolios had safe deposit boxes. How silly. They can cost as little as $10-$20 a year and are exactly what the name implies - a box that is safe in the vault of a bank. It is a good place to keep the flash drive containing all of the important family records as well as the cherished hard copies of Marriage Licenses, Birth Certificates with tiny foot prints and critical documents like the dd214 for members of the military.

A Woman's Purse. I had my purse stolen a few years ago so I am very careful about what it contains when I am out and about but it always contains my car keys, basic identification, insurance information, etc. and my cell phone. The thought of losing everything contained on a flash drive or a thumb drive makes me break into a sweat so I don't recommend carrying valuable or important things in a purse or brief case as you go about your daily business. However, I am like many women who instinctively grab their purse even when in a hurry so I add to it each evening. I keep a flash drive with only immediately critical contact information, a safe deposit box key, 3 days worth of family medications and some cash in a small cosmetics bag. Each night, the cosmetics bag goes into the purse which spends the night beside my bed. If the smoke alarm goes off, it's the first thing in my hands. Each morning, the cosmetics bag comes out of the purse and is safely hidden away. Should there be an emergency in the night, I I have a head start on recovery just because my purse is in my hand.

"Grab n' Go". Some years back, I developed an idea for a thing I called a "Grab n' Go" and encouraged each of my children to put one together. The initial concept was sealed 5-gallon bucket containing the most necessary items should an immediate disaster strike. The general idea was for it to contain $100 cash, a single, low limit credit card, an ID card for each member of the family, a photo of each family member with a physical description on the back, a few bottles of water, several MRE's, socks and underwear, handi-wipes, a roll of DUCT TAPE, granola bars, STERNO, candles and matches, 3 days worth of necessary medications, a space blanket, hand warmers, a flashlight, small radio, extra batteries, etc. It made a compact, emergency escape kit that could be kept in the garage or camouflaged with a cover, to convert it into a foot stool positioned near the door most likely to be used in case of fire. I will post a separate entry detailing my "Grab n' Go" along with its later evolutions. In the meantime, something like it is worth pondering.

The car. Alaska can be a dangerous place to live and an easy place to die. We learn quickly to keep survival supplies in our vehicles, a habit I am glad to maintain. A box or bin or sports bag can contain items much like the ones in the "Grab n' Go" above. Consider adding a change of clothing and extra shoes and eliminating security items like cash, credit cards and keys. It won't take up much room and if it's ever needed, will more than compensate for any inconvenience of having it in the car.

Suitcase. A friend has a husband who travels extensively, sometimes with little notice. Always there are two suitcases, one in use and one either in preparation or ready to go at a moments notice. Having two, avoids the rush to do laundry or replenish toiletries or pack. I adopted this idea, not that I am constantly on the go but because I once got an emergency call to a hospital half a day away and trying to pack thoughtfully while under emotional pressure is something I hope to avoid in the future. Now, a travel bag is packed and just inside my closet. Should there be a fire or any other emergency, with a few minutes to make an exit, I am ready to go.

If you have other suggestions to consider when making an immediate escape, please share them with your comments (below). Thank you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5: Short Term Evacuation (3-5days)

Advance preparation can be as simple as making a list of things to remember. Actually keeping some supplies and necessities packed and easily accessible will provide the luxury of a head start or valuable time to double check priorities. In preparing for a short term evacuation, whether it is voluntary or mandatory, there are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. The nature of the emergency, fire, flood, hurricane, environmental issue, etc.
  2. There is always the possibility that the evacuation may not have been necessary at all
  3. There is a possibility that the situation may be worse than expected and extend to a long term evacuation
  4. Once you have evacuated, even though immediate danger is past, you will not be allowed to return home until officials deem it safe
  5. Your home might actually be destroyed as the result of the emergency
Preparing accordingly is important to your safety, comfort, relief from worry and, if necessary, your recovery. Here is a list of things to do before leaving home:
  1. Empty the refrigerator & freezer, unplug it and prop the doors slightly open
  2. Unplug all of your electronic equipment including the TV
  3. Turn off the water supply to your washing machine
  4. Turn off the heat/air conditioner
  5. Turn off the home's supply lines for water, gas and electricity at the source
  6. Lock all windows and doors
  7. Secure shutters if you have them
  8. Secure all movable items from outside the home, tables, chairs, umbrellas, children's toys, plant containers, garbage cans, lawn ornaments, etc.
Things to consider when planning what to pack:
  1. What obligations would generally be met over the next month if I were still at home - bills to pay. prescriptions to refill, etc?
  2. What is delivered to my home regularly, mail, newspaper, etc? A 'temporary hold' or 'vacation hold' or forwarding to a friend or relative might be a good idea.
  3. How do I (the family) prepare to meet the day each morning - toiletries, bath/shower supplies, toilet tissue, day planner, brief case, breakfast, medications, supplements, etc?
  4. What would be worn during the day to be comfortable, as if on vacation?
  5. What is the bedtime routine - toiletries, medications/supplements, reading material, pillow, blanket/sleeping bag or bedroll?
  6. How do I stay informed and maintain contact - cell phone w/ chargers, battery operated radio, laptop w/ power supply?
  7. What is the most important personal information that is kept in the home - insurance papers, legal documents, address book, contact information, computer files, bank records, credit card information, tax records, immunization records, prescription numbers and refill pharmacy information, etc?
  8. What about the pet(s) - vet records & contact information, food & water and dishes for both, medications, carrier, bedding, leash?
  9. What are the children's most treasured items?
  10. What activities will help keep the children calm and occupied?
If you have made preparations for an immediate, emergency escape, many of your evacuation needs will already be met and you can concentrate on food provisions and securing the items within your home that have particular significance.

Since I live in a wooded, rural area with occasional fires as well as in a hurricane zone, I keep a bin filled with canned goods and general comfort provisions. Each spring and fall, as seasonal clothing is rotated, I rotate the canned goods back into the pantry and replace them with a new supply. I also change out batteries, medicines, clothing items, etc. and update records and photographs on the flash drive.

Another person, in the path of a hurricane, secured framed art between mattresses and under couch cushions before leaving home. A daughter, in the direct line of a slowly approaching wild fire, spent an entire day moving prized belongings to a friend's house, outside the danger zone, based solely on the possibility that an evacuation of her neighborhood might be necessary. She also gave each of her children a box in which to pack their own favorite things and was surprised to discover that the children packed items much different from the ones she would have selected for them.

Another family, in a different smoke-filled fire zone, wouldn't consider evacuation because the fire itself was no threat and existed across a waterway. By the time the smoke literally drove them away, they could not find a vacant motel room anywhere along their 300 mile route and were fortunate to find a church that offered them shelter for a night.

Also, any given community has a limited number of vehicles and trailers available for rent. If their use is a part of your thinking/planning, you would be well advised to make your reservation at the earliest sign of danger and be prepared to lose your deposit should the emergency not materialize.

If finances or transportation could pose a problem for you, it is far better to face the issue seriously and find a solution in advance than to find yourself in a desperate situation with limited or no options. Even collecting lose change at the end of each day can provide needed funds over time. Advance arrangements can be made for a friend or family member to provide your transportation or for someone to drive from a distant town to pick you up. Most critical items, like records and photos on disc or flash drive can be packaged in a USPS Flat-Rate box and mailed to safety.

Being prepared is not a matter of being afraid or even wary. it is a source of confidence and calm in times of potential crisis and goes a long way toward setting our minds at ease.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

6: Long Term Evacuation - a week or forever

It's taken me a long time to get ready to write this segment. My greatest concern is that I not be morbid but considering leaving your home suddenly, under emergency circumstances, with the thought that you might never again return is such a horrible thought. However, being prepared is like having Insurance or making a Will or Saving for a Rainy Day. They are all things we hope we never need but rest a little easier knowing they are taken care of...just in case the storm clouds roll in.
Preparedness is just another one of those things. We've already gone over the needs for keeping gas, cash, medicines, food and water on hand and protecting your information, records, memories, valuables, etc. and following those recommendations should have you just about ready to hit the road. Beyond those things, preparing to leave your home without the certainty that you will ever be able to return should be looked at as if you were moving into a furnished place in another town. Furnishings and decor simply don't matter.
What does matter is how well you have organized your life. Do you have savings that will see you through until you can get back on your feet? Do you keep a sufficient amount of cash-on-hand to cover the cost of an escape to safety if you cannot access money in the bank? Do you have sufficient records to meet qualification requirements should you need to apply for assistance? Do you have a Will? Have you prearranged a temporary place to go while you regroup and determine your next step? Does your family have a plan to keep in contact with each other or a place to meet if the disaster is wide spread? Do you have sufficient food if there is none available in stores? Does anyone in your family have special medical needs and how would you handle those if you were planning a move?

There could be chapters written on each question. The best I can do is link you to some of the experts I've found...but I have NO relationship with any of these people or companies. I just did some research and offer these suggestions as a starting place for your own research.

When it comes to finances and making certain that you are prepared to meet hardships, Dave Ramsey has published everything financial from getting yourself free of debt to getting ready for retirement. LINK

Concerning Wills and other Legal Documents, Legal Zoom is an online source that actually answers a ton of questions, might cause you to consider something you had overlooked and is an inexpensive alternative to hiring an attorney. LINK

Laying in a hefty supply of easy-to-heat food is as simple as taking your common sense and a bunch of dollars to the store. But when you are hurrying to fit family, pets, records, your grab-n'-go bucket and most treasured items into the car, cases of canned goods just might not fit. MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) are not inexpensive but are compact, readily available and often come with "heaters". LINK
And, e-Foods Direct has package programs from a 7-Day Emergency Package to a full One-Year Food Supply. Their products are also compact and portable. LINK

When it comes to overall instruction for meeting disaster from a local fire, flood or mudslide, to major National emergencies up to and including nuclear war, Holly Deyo has been working for years to compile detailed information. Here is a LINK to her book, "Dare to Prepare".

Being prepared takes our minds to places we'd rather not go. Just thinking about it is real work. But making a priority list of things you need to do in order to be prepared is step one. From there, if you accomplish just one item on the list each week or month, you will get everything done. You will finally be prepared even for the worst scenario and as bad as the whole process made you feel when you started down that unpleasant road; that's how good you will feel once you know that you have actually done everything conceivable to provide for yourself and your family no matter what comes your way.
Now I need to take my own advice and finalize a few things myself.