#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Friday, March 11, 2011

You vs. The Apocalypse

My last house was a pretty little ranch-style home located on the block were Hurricane Central and Tornado Alley share a summer home. We spent more than one night sleeping in the closet because a tornado rolled into town. While I was there dodging strong winds and the occasional flying cow I was part of the emergency preparedness group for the area and often gave classes and lectures on how to prepare for disasters.

I like to pretend that everyone knows how to handle an emergency, but I woke up to the news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (you're in my prayers and thoughts), and @Kat_tastic tweeting:

kat o'keeffe
I am so unprepared for the apocalypse.

No worries, we have a post for that.

Let's start with the basics. You don't need to be a hard-core survival buff to get through an emergency. Usually, a 72-hour kit will get you through the worst of it.

Grab a bag, a big one, think camping back-pack or hockey duffel bag. Then hit the 72 Hours.org website for a list of what you need. The most important things are something to start a fire with (waterproof matches or flint for preference), water, or something to purify water with, food (including sugar), photos of family and pets, copies of birth certificates and important paperwork, s first aid kit you know how to use, and a change of clothes.

Why a 72 Hour Kit?
In most cases it takes three days for help to arrive, get set up, and start doing good. For the first three days of a major emergency you should plan on being on your own. Hopefully it will only take hours, but if you planned for three days and it only takes hours than you can turn around and help other people.

For food I recommend the lunch packs of tuna or chicken salad, MREs (meal-ready-to-eat available from military supply stores and some camping stores), camp food, and granola bars. Rotate the food out of your kit every six months (Halloween and Easter) along with changes of clothes (because the seasons change and kids grow). Don't forget over-the-counter medicines like antacids, Tylenol, and antihistamines.

Take the checklist, pack your 72-hour kit, and if you can keep it near by. The front hall closet works if you have one, under the bed with a pair of running shoes is recommended for anyone old enough to carry their bag and everyone who lives in earthquake or tornado regions.

The idea here is that if the tornado siren went off RIGHT NOW! you could grab your bag, head to the designated safe place, and be fine even if your roof went missing. Pack mini kits for your kids, and keep some extra kibble for your cat or dog in your bag.

Back Up Your Data

You know that beautiful computer you're reading this on? Without electricity you aren't pulling up pictures and printing. You are definitely not working on your novel. Forgive the writerly aside, but I recommend double or triple back up.

1- Cloud or off-site storage in the form of Dropbox, OfficeLive, or something similar. Even e-mailing it to yourself is good.

2- Hard storage. Save a copy of all relevant data from your computer on CD, thumbdrive, or external hard drive and put it with your 72-hour kit. A 6-month back-up disc won't save your writing, but it will save the family photos.

3- Send it to a friend. In case natural disaster means the end of life as we know it in whatever country you're in, consider e-mailing your work to an overseas friend. This is more for people in very unstable countries, but my crit buddy in Australia e-mail our work to each other. It's just a nice safety net to have.

Sugar and First-Aid
Not everyone has the benefit of knowing more than rudimentary first-aid. Even if you don't have training (see the EMTs cringe) there are some things you can do.

- Have a first aid kit. Most kits have a little booklet with instructions for how to handle splints and CPR. Hum "Another One Bites the Dust" and you have the right tempo for CPR.

- If you don't have to, don't move anyone with a neck or back injury. Obviously if a wall of water/fire/rock is about to crush the person, pick them up and run. Otherwise, leave them still until professional help comes.

- Clean out cuts. This is very, VERY important. See all the beer getting looted? Alcohol kills germs. Dump alcohol on open wounds, or hydrogen peroxide, and live longer. Don't drink the alcohol, however, you don't want to get dehydrated or stupid until you are safe.

- Sugar makes everything better. Most first aid kits don't have emergency blankets or sugar, and most survivors of a major disaster need warmth, and glucose because they are in shock. Drop some Starbursts or other easy-to-keep candy in your 72-hour kit and first aid kit. If you have kids, or know kids, or have seen a kid, add some bright fun kiddy bandages to your kit. Remember, they just watched their home crumble and may have lost a parent, if a Dora the Explorer bandage makes that okay, that's a good thing.

- Light and heat are necessary for survival. Go down the hunting/camping aisle at your local store and grab some foil emergency blankets, flashlights, and the chemical hand warmers. Even if your disaster strikes in summer it gets cold at night when you're wet and it's raining. Store batteries for the flashlight in a plastic bag taped to the flashlight, not inside. Your batteries last longer that way.

Anyone who followed the disaster in Haiti knows that the majority of the death toll wasn't because of the initial quake, but because of illness. Clean water is essential to you living a long and happy life.

If you can, store gallon jugs of water. Don't use milk jugs, but the plastic juice bottles are perfect for water storage. Clean the jug out, fill with water, and exchange water every 6 months.

I wash every juice bottle we empty, fill it with water, and use it six months later to water my plants before refilling.

If you can't store water for whatever reason, buy some bleach. The water will taste horrendous, but you won't die. Ask yourself which is more important. You can suffer through some bad tasting water for a few days if it means being hale and healthy in the long run.

Coffee filters and boiling can also be used to purify water, but won't get everything.

Treating Water with a 5-6 Percent Liquid Chlorine Bleach Solution
Volume of Water to be Treated Treating Clear/Cloudy Water:
Bleach Solution to Add
Treating Cloudy, Very Cold, or Surface Water: Bleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter 3 drops 5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters 5 drops 10 drops
1 gallon 1/8 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons 1/2 teaspoon 1 teaspoon
10 gallons 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons

Disasters hit everywhere eventually. Plan ahead. Be a survivor.


  1. Hah! This is great! :) Luckily Cali was mostly okay this time (my coast some wicked waves, but nothing too damaging.)

    I'll be well prepared for the next apocalypse.

  2. You should be! It's really not to hard to have a 72-hour kit put together, and it's worth it if you're in an emergency.

    Stay safe!

  3. Very nice post. Right now, I would be in trouble. I have camping stuff, but do not have water nor food ready to go in a kit. I even have life jackets and inflatable rafts; so in that respect we are ready for flooding. I think you got hit by all the rain just like we did by this latest storm. Alas, all this stuff won't help without food and water to last the 72 hours. I have a number of first aid kits around the house and in the truck.

  4. Robert - Every few weeks our local store has the tuna lunch kits on sale. Grab those, the mini boxes of cereal, and some water. It's not a perfect solution, but the camp food can be expensive.

    At least you have a raft! If our place gets flooded I'll have to improvise. :o)

  5. This is a great post! My husband and I joke that we're ready for the zombie apocalypse, but really, we're just ready for h-cane season.

    The weather channel said we're #3 in the nation for tornadoes, too, so we got that goin' for us!

    Thanks for sharing your expertise with others!

  6. Tere- We're moving back to the Gulf Coast just in time for hurricane season this summer. We spent 4.5 years on the Space Coast and never had a problem, but within a week of leaving there were 3 hurricanes in the area.

    I'd rather be prepared and have the neighbors think I'm a bit paranoid than pretend to ignore that these things happen.