It's important to be prepared for a disaster, whether it's on a national scale, a local event or even a personal one that only affects your family. I realize that not everyone reading this page lives in the US, but enough do to make it worth taking a minute to point out that each person has an essential part to play in our National Preparedness Goal:
"A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk."Until I started researching, I didn't even know we had a National Preparedness Goal. The plan focuses on five core areas of preparedness: Preventing, Protecting against, Mitigating, Responding, and Recovery. What we are doing here falls under "Mitigating". We can mitigate the impact by being prepared to meet our own needs so the few, precious resources the community has on hand can be stretched further.
Depending upon the nature of the disaster, help may not be coming for days, maybe weeks, maybe months (as in the case of the 1998 ice storm). Having our own supplies means we can feed our family familiar foods that they enjoy instead of rations that might be nutritious, but not "comforting". It may mean that we can sleep in our own beds instead of a shelter, or that our beloved pets are safe and fed. It could be the only stable thing our children can hold on to when their world is turned upside down.
Trying to be ready for anything is a tall order, so we'll break it down into monthly Action Steps, a few specific things to do in each of our Focus Areas (Medicine Cabinet, Kitchen, Pantry, Garden, Just in Case). For our Prepared in a Year series, we're adding Grab and Go as a Focus Area because we may not be able to stay in our home, or we might not be home when disaster strikes. The idea of Grab and Go is to get through a very short period of time until we can either get home or get to a more long-term solution.
Customize for your needs
It isn't possible for anyone to tell you all the things you need, because there's no one exactly like you, no family exactly like yours, your needs and circumstances are unique to you. I don't know if you live in the country, the suburbs, or the heart of a major city. I don't know if you have special dietary or medical needs, I don't know if you have babies or very young children or care for your elderly parents. All of those things will influence what you need to have and do in an emergency.
I can tell you what I've done and give you some best practices based on my experiences, my mistakes and the research I've done. There are very few hard and fast rules (I'll highlight those when we come to them) so take this plan and make it yours. If you want to do something completely different from the monthly plan...go for it. The important thing is to do something. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "I wish I wasn't so prepared".
With that in mind, let's get started!
Look at what you have
Before we turn our attention to adding to any of the focus areas, take some time to assess your resources right now. Sharpen a few pencils or open up a spreadsheet and take stock of your starting point in the following areas:
1. Grab & Go
We can't always count on being able to stay in our home during an emergency, alternately, we can't always count on being at home when an emergency strikes.
What do you have on hand right now that you could put into backpack and leave your house if you had to? If you were away from home when an emergency happened, do you have what you need until you can get home?
- long sleeve shirt
- long pants
- sturdy shoes
- socks (2 pair)
- a place to go
- a way to get there
- 3 days of food
- 3 days of water
- 3 ways to make fire
- a way to cook
- a way to stay warm
- pet supplies (if one will be with you)
- sanitation / hygiene
- something to carry it all
2. Just in Case
A Just-in-Case scenario is one where something you depend on is gone. It could be electricity, water, heat, access to a grocery store (how many days' worth of food do you have in your cupboards right now?), access to a gas station, air conditioning, electronic entertainment for the kids, ability to communicate, ATM access to money, or making purchases with a debit card. It may sound like a minor thing, but some of us are pretty dependent on that nice hot cup of coffee to get us going in the morning or a cigarette several times a day.
I didn't realize how much I depended on those things until an extended power outage cut off access to a lot of them. With no heat, no refrigeration, no water, no tv for the kids, no gas (gas stations don't often own generators), no grocery store (when the power goes out, the stores close up tight), no cash and no way to get any, our lives were severely disrupted.
The disruption is severe enough to turn a perfectly nice neighborhood into something like a war zone in just a few days. Without these services, everything comes to a halt and our lives are at stake without a work around.
The work arounds may not be perfect, but they will maintain life until we can do something better.
For your inventory, make a list of the things you count on that would need a work around plan. We'll talk about options for some workarounds in upcoming months, so you don't have to figure it all out right now, just have an awareness of what work arounds you'll need.
The pantry refers to your food storage, where ever that may be. It doesn't necessarily all have to be in one place, most of us don't have that kind of storage area in the kitchen, and there are some compelling arguments for having it spread out in several places for security reasons. As you evaluate your home, look for places where you can store food and supplies. For food, the areas should be as temperature-controlled as possible, as dry as possible, safe from pests, and dark most of the time. That usually leaves out places like a garage or attic. Use those for non-food supplies. There is often unused space under beds or in closets that can be used. You may have "inconvenient" cupboards that are empty, these are above the refrigerator or stove, top shelves that are too high to reach or bottom cupboards that have awkward depths. I have a lower cupboard that is so deep that I would have to crawl on my hands and knees inside of it to reach the back. It's a terrible design flaw, but a wonderful area for something I want to store long-term.
What tools do you have in your kitchen now? If the power went out today, could you open a can? Could you cook? Do you have the tools to can the food in your freezer before it spoils? Could you grind your stored wheat into flour? Do you have a good knife set and a way to sharpen them? If you're a coffee drinker, do you have an altenative to your Mr. Coffee machine? Look at the electric tools you use all the time and make a note of the ones you need to find non-electic replacements for.
5. Medicine Cabinet
If the corner pharmacy is boarded up and the hospital is a mad house, (not to mention a good place to pick up a really bad germ), what will you do if you sprain your ankle, catch a cold or cut yourself on a kitchen knife? When help is not on the way, you need to be able to take care of the bumps and bruises and coughs and colds at home. The book at the link above will help and so will having a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
6. The Sewing Room
How's your sewing kit? How about your skills? Can you replace a button or put a patch on something to get a little more use from it? I'm the first to admit that I'm a mess when it comes to sewing skills, but in an emergency, when we lose a button or get a hole in something, we won't be able to run to the mall for a new one. We need to be able to fix it ourselves.
Even if your pantry is beautifully stocked, there will be times when you just crave a salad, or a fresh carrot, or a baked potato. During your inventory, look at areas in your home and yard that could be used for growing things. It doesn't matter if it's an acre of land or a sunny window ledge, even a few pots of fresh herbs will be a welcome treat. What are your gardening skills right now? Are you familiar with container gardening? Raised beds? Winter sowing? What hardiness zone do you live in? (Find out here.) What plants grow well there?
8. The Family
The last thing on the assessment list is your family. Where do they stand on preparing for a disaster? Will they jump in eagerly to help, or will you have to endure a lot of eye-rolling? If you don't already know the answers to those questions, you can find out pretty quickly by starting a few preparedness-related conversations. There are plenty of news stories to use as conversation starter. Try to use open-ended questions, "Did you see the story on the news about________what would we do if _____happened here?" It can be difficult for people to talk about or even consider things that feel frightening and out of their control. You may have to be very patient and start small. If you can't get outright support and participation, you may have to settle for tolerance, at least for awhile. If they aren't actively resisting the idea, count it as a win. It can be hard to stay motivated when you're the only one working on this, so come back to this site often and refuel, you'll find lots of support here!
This Month's Action Steps
1. Grab & Go
- Get a backpack for every menber of the family- it doesn't have to be expensive, it doesn't even have to be new (thrift stores usually have a ton of backpacks, look around). Even children can carry a backpack
- Get a 5 gal bucket with a lid (if your grocery store has a bakery, ask if they have an empty one you can have) if you have to buy one, look at Home Depot
- In each person's backpack, put a long sleeved shirt, pants, 2 pairs of underware, 2 pairs of socks and a pair of sturdy shoes. The pants and long sleeves can help protect you from sunburn or cold or debris so they're a better choice even in hot weather. The socks are so you always have a dry pair and changing socks helps avoid blisters if you have to walk a long way. if you have room, put 3 pairs per person.
- Put $40 cash in your backpack (and leave it there, no borrowing!)
- A box of waterproof matches in each backpack
- Get a leatherman tool for your backpack (it doesn't have to be that brand, but it does need to be well made. You can't be prepared with junk tools)
- Decide where to keep your Grab & Go backbacks I have two sets for everone, one set in the car, one set at home in case leaving in the car isn't an option. I keep them close to the coats so if the weather calls for coats, they're handy.
2. Just in Case
Because the only thing we need more than water is air, I made our first month's Just in Case item a water filter. I originally bought mine to store away until I needed it, but I've since started using it every day. You can read up on why here. If you can pick up the small one for your Grab & Go backpack, that would be a good thing to have on hand too. Otherwise, we'll address it again in a later month.
- Practice "Need One Buy Two" shopping as often as you can. The extra goes into your pantry.
- Stock up on salt. There's a whole discussion about it here . For personal consumption, you need a total of about 4 pounds per person, more for canning, curing, de-icing, bartering, etc.
- The first kitchen tool to store is a non-electric can opener. This is one tool I stock more than of because the gear gets stripped and it won't turn. You can still open a can by "punching" it all the way around, but these can openers are small and cheap so I stock five so I won't have to do that. If you want a good barter item, stock a few extras.
- This month's second tool is a pressure canner. Here's a discussion about what to look for.
5. Medicine Cabinet
- This month's Medicine Cabinet item is Epsom salt. Here's the story on what it is and why you need it and what do with it.
6. Sewing Room
This is a good time to start a button box. Mama's Mama never threw away buttons, she kept them for the time she needed to replace one. Find something with a lid and make a habit of snipping the buttons off of anything headed to the rag bag.
So, that's month one of your preparedness journey. How did it go? What insights did you get from your assessment? What work arounds will you need?