Did you know September was National Preparedness Month? Sponsored by FEMA, National Preparedness Month is a campaign the encourages Americans to prepare themselves, and their homes for a variety of emergency situations. Here on the East Coast we're also the middle of hurricane season. Hurricane Joaquin may have stayed out in the ocean, but a Nor'easter drenched the D.C. Metro area this past weekend, and record breaking rainfall continues to devastate South Carolina and parts of North Carolina so I am getting into full-blown (zing!) emergency & disaster preparedness mode this week.
Living in the D.C. Metro area, we are usually far enough north and inland that we fortunately don't have to worry too much about actual hurricanes (although Hurricane Isabel in September 2003 was a category 1 hurricane when it hit the area and Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 caused tornadoes in Northern VA). But I digress. We tend to get hurricane "leftovers" in the form of tropical storms or sudden, severe storms- such as the derecho that blew through our area in June 2012 which packed winds up to 87 mph. (Yes, winds as strong as a category 1 hurricane. That storm was intense; we lost power for 3 days and had several tall pine trees down across our yard.) But since even a strong thunderstorm can produce damaging winds & hail and cause flooding, it’s a good idea to always be prepared for an emergency situation at home and even in your car.
Since most of us spend more time in our vehicles each week than we would like to admit, I’ll start off with keeping our cars prepared for emergency situations.
Automobile Emergency Preparedness
To be prepared for an emergency situation, whether it's my vehicle breaking down on the side of the road, getting stuck in a massive traffic jam, or getting caught in severe weather while driving, there are a handful of items I always have on hand our cars:
1) Cell phone and charging cable
- Make sure you have a dedicated car charger for your mobile phone.
2) ResQme key chain
- I purchased my ResQMe key chain from Costco.com.
They are sold in a set of four - each a different color - so you can put one on
each set of car keys or give extras out to a friend or loved one. Clips are
also included so you can clip it to your sun visor. The key chain has two basic features: a hammer pin
to break glass and a blade for cutting through seatbelts. I fortunately have never had to use mine in an actual
emergency situation; however, while on an adventure in Kasota, MN where I got
to drive tanks and even crush a car with a tank(!), I took the opportunity to
test out my key chain on a junk car window. I can definitively say YE
(For more info on driving tanks, check out driveatank.com!)
- Summer is officially over here in the US, but as temps vary widely by region, it's worth noting that the ResQMe keychain can also be used in an emergency situation to rescue a child or pet from a hot vehicle. If you come across a vehicle with a distressed or unresponsive child left inside, do whatever it takes to get them out of the vehicle and call 911 immediately. If you must resort to breaking the glass to gain access, be sure to go to the opposite side of the vehicle from where the child is located to minimize their exposure to glass shards. Remember: It is NEVER okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle - even if it doesn't seem “that hot" outside. For more information and tips go to: www.safercar.gov
3) Emergency car kit
- I purchased my Bridgestone Auto Emergency kit in a Costco warehouse. It contains:
- Jumper cables
- Reflective triangle
- First-aid kit
- Rain poncho
- Electric air compressor
- Bungee cord
- And utility knife in a nylon carrying case
- Check your local warehouse for item #486203 to pick one up for each of your vehicles. Costco.com also has an assortment of emergency recovery kits and battery jump starters.
- I also beefed up the little emergency first-aid kit that came with the auto emergency kit by adding the following items, most of which I purchased from Costco:
- Kirkland Signature ibuprofen
- Kirkland Signature “Benadryl”
- Kirkland Signature “Imodium” & Pepto Bismol
- Feminine hygiene products
4) Small tool bag.
- A multi-tool
- A wrench
- Pair of protective gloves
- A reflective vest.
5) Emergency food & water.
- My stash is mostly made up of items I purchased at Costco:
- Bottled of water
- Bottle of Gatorade
- KS trail mix
- KS applesauc
- Lara bar & Rx Bar*
- Beef Jerky*
*Not purchased at Costco
In the winter months I add a few more things to our car kits:
A. Snow & ice scrapers
B. Foot & hand warmers
C. Emergency thermal blanket
D. Pair of winter gloves, winter hat, & wool socks
All items were purchased at Costco except for the round ice scraper, thermal blanket, and winter gloves & hat.
I put a reminder on my calendar to: rotate out these food & beverage items every 6 months, check the expiration dates on the meds in the first-aid kits, and to test the batteries in the flashlights.
As a self-described “overly prepared crazy person” I also have the following items in my vehicle:
- A roll of duct tape and roll of plain scotch tape
- Duct tape because in a pinch it can temporarily fix almost anything (as long as it’s REAL duct tape - not the brightly colored "duck" tape covered in fun designs).
- Scotch tape because my mom once used it to put together a car key that had broken in half - no joke, the key literally broke into two pieces - and simple scotch tape kept the two pieces together. Not only was she was able to use the key in the ignition to start the car, the taped key continued to work perfectly well for several days (you just had to remember not to put the key in your pocket because it would bend). On that day I realized two things: one, my mom is MacGyver and two, I would never go anywhere without scotch tape. It has occurred to me recently that most vehicles today don't even have traditional “keys” anymore, instead they are just one big keyfob now, but I’m still not taking any chances being without scotch tape.
- Travel games and a trivia book
- All of the road trips my parents took us on as kids must have really affected me, because to this day I still keep games in my car. In the event I am stuck for an extended period of time, be it another road trip or traffic jam, or maybe I locked myself out of the house or perhaps I just have restless passengers - whatever the reason I am prepared to entertain old-school style.
Now, this may sound like a lot of stuff and I guess you're right, it is a lot of stuff, but it all fits quite neatly into this small red duffle bag I purchased from Amazon. I like being prepared and having all these little things on hand puts me at ease, so I don't mind that it takes up some space in the trunk of my SUV.
(Disclaimer: Aside from the similarities I noticed between my parents and MacGyver as a child, I also partially blame my “being prepared for every possible situation that I may find myself in" neurosis, to falling in love with a little book called My Fathers Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett when I was in second grade.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this award winning book, I cannot recommend it enough for children of all ages and adults alike.)
Now where was I? Oh right - automobiles. It's also a good idea to familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s spare tire & jack, even if you plan on calling AAA in the event of a breakdown. You should know if your vehicle has a spare, whether it's a donut or a full size spare, how to operate your jack and where the safe lift points are on your car. (The owner's manual should provide you with all of that information.)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that you keep up with your vehicle’s maintenance schedule, ensuring all routine maintenance is done in a timely manner and that you replace worn out parts as necessary.
- Windshield wipers
- Windshield wiper fluid
- Car Batteries
- Motor oil
- Tire centers (at most warehouses) sell new tires, provide rotation & balance services and can repair some tire damage
Now that everyone's vehicles are adequately (or more so) prepared, I'll move on to how you can prepare your family and home for various emergency situations, including natural disasters.
General Storm Safety Tips
Build an emergency supply kit and create a family emergency plan now. FEMA has a list of emergency supplies they recommend.
If you have warning before a storm or natural disaster strikes, make sure your vehicles have full tanks of gas, obtain fuel for your generator if you anticipate you will need to use it, and have some cash on hand in case power outages are widespread and prolonged.
Keep crucial documents like birth certificates, passports, medical records, deeds, titles, marriage license, pet records and insurance policies in a fire and waterproof safe. It's also a good idea to have an inventory of all items within your home, including photos and/or videos of your house, property, belongings and serial numbers of electronics & appliances. I know this can be a huge undertaking, but having this documentation can become invaluable in the event you have to make an insurance claim (keep a copy of the inventory and photos in the safe).
Remember to keep neighbors & family members who require special assistance (i.e. the elderly, people with infants, etc.), in mind before, during and after storms and other natural disasters.
Most Costco locations offer:
- Less espensive gasoline
- ATM in warehouse
Be Prepared for Power Outages
In the event of a power outage, flashlights are a necessity. It's also quite helpful to have a generator - especially if you live in an area prone to regular severe storms. Always follow the generator manufacture’s installation/setup and operating instructions exactly and NEVER run a gas or propane powered generator indoors, inside a garage or near doors & windows. Make sure the extension cords you have are specifically rated for use with your generator and double check the watts of all the appliances you plug in so as not to over tax the generator or damage your appliances. Store fuel only in approved containers, and store those containers outside in well-ventilated areas.
Before a storm hits I try to make sure the house is clean, the laundry is caught up and everyone has had a shower. You never know how long the power could be out!
- Portable generators
- Whole-home generators
- Gasoline containers
- Extension cords
If you don't have a generator, then flashlights, lanterns and candles will be your main source of lighting during a power outage. I keep a small flashlight tucked away in each room of our house, and lanterns & flameless candles in our home emergency kit. Candles are okay in a pinch but flameless candles are much safer - especially if you have children or pets. We also have an all-weather radio, as keeping up with the weather reports and local news can be crucial during a severe storm. We purchased our weather radio from L.L.Bean.
Have a Home First-Aid Kit
Make sure your home first-aid kit is well stocked, and remember to replace items as they are used or when they expire. Before a storm, refill all critical prescriptions. If you have pets, make sure you account for them in your first-aid kit as well by including pet specific items:
- Phone numbers for your veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary clinic and the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435)
- Pet first-aid book or app
- Absorbent gauze pads
- Self cling bandage wrap to wrap & protect wound
- Milk of magnesia, activated charcoal & hydrogen peroxide 3% (call your vet or poison control BEFORE administering any absorbing or inducing medications)
- Oral syringe
- Extra leash
- Muzzle (NEVER muzzle a pet if they are vomiting!)
- Temporary I.D. tag so you can put your local contact info on your pet’s collar if they are traveling with you
If you can afford one, a defibrillator is an excellent addition to any first-aid kit, especially if you have a family member with a known heart condition. If you have one already or plan to buy one, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself and family members with how to properly use the defibrillator. It's a good idea to take a CPR course and basic first-aid class if you can, but at the very least keep a copy of CPR instructions with your first-aid kit. There are also several CPR and first-aid apps available that you can download to your phone or tablet.
- First-aid kits
- Band aids
- Antiseptic ointments
- Protective exam gloves
- Prescription and OTC medications
Establish Home Emergency Food & Water Supply
Keep plenty of drinking water on hand in case a storm also knocks out water, or your water source becomes compromised and unsafe to drink. It is recommended that you have at least 1 gallon of safe drinking water per person in your home for a minimum of 3 days. That means for a household made up of 4 people you should have at least 12 gallons of water on hand. Additional water will be needed for food preparation, and don't forget to account for drinking water for your pets too.
- Bottled water in a variety of sizes
- Emergency water storage
Keep a minimum of a 3 day supply of non-perishable foods in the pantry for snacks and meals. Don't forget to take into account any special dietary needs within the family and include food for your pets too. Note expiration dates and create calendar reminders to rotate through and replace all of your emergency food & water supplies as they are used and before their expiration dates.
- Canned meats, vegetables and fruits
- Cereals & crackers
- Peanut butter and almond butters
- Applesauce & dried fruit
- Pre-made soups (don't forget to have a manual can opener!)
- Trail mix
- Granola bars
- Protein bars
- Beef jerky
- Survival and emergency food kits
It's also a good idea to familiarize yourself and family members with some basic food safety information like: How long is food safe to consume in the refrigerator/freezer without power? Check out Foodsafety.gov for more information.
During a Storm
To pass the time during a storm (or to distract frightened little ones) have a few non-electronic activities readily available like: books for reading or story time, puzzles & board games, coloring books w/crayons & markers, and building sets. When I was little, I can remember during storms and power outages my brother and I would make forts inside with all the pillows and blankets we could find. To keep everyone together and have a little fun you can throw a big family slumber party! Pick the safest room in your house (based on the type of storm) for everyone to sleep in, have everyone change into their favorite pajamas and camp out together for the night.
Once I know we are safely hunkered in our bunker, to pass the time I like to:
- Color (it’s quite relaxing)
- Blog or journal
- Or use the down time to work on our home inventory list
Make sure your house has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home, and one in each bedroom. (Add a reminder to your calendar to check batteries in all of these devices twice a year - l believe most fire departments recommend checking these when you change the clocks to and from daylight savings time.)
Come up with evacuation plans for how you would safely exit your home in the event of a fire and be sure to practice those plans as a family. Make sure everyone in your household knows how to get out of each room in the event of a fire, and establish a rendezvous point a safe distance away from your house (like at a specific neighbor’s house). Have at least one fire escape ladder on each floor of your home that is above ground level in case a fire prevents you from being able to go down the staircases to exit. Practice using the ladder so everyone will know how to set it up and use it safely before an emergency arises. Keep a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, one in the kitchen, one in the garage, and one near each fireplace. Make sure each member of your household knows where the fire extinguishers are located and how to use them.
- Smoke & carbon monoxide detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire & waterproof safes
If a hurricane, wildfire, volcanic eruption or other emergency situation calls for you to evacuate your home it's important to be prepared well ahead of time. Make a plan for what you would grab if you only had 5–10 minutes to vacate your home and share that plan with family members in case you are not the one at home when the evacuation is ordered. (But remember: NO material possession is more valuable than your life so don't risk your safety by trying to save your stuff.) Keep important documents together in one safe place so they are easy to grab in a hurry. Your pet's vaccination & medical records can be crucial if you have to go to a shelter, check into a hotel or travel out of the area, so keep those documents with the rest of your important papers.
Store your emergency supplies together in plastic containers so everything is in one place when you need to retrieve them. Be prepared to take your home emergency kit with you if necessary during an evacuation, or create a more portable grab-and-go emergency kit.
Store your emergency supplies together in plastic containers so everything is in one place when you need to retrieve them. Be prepared to take your home emergency kit with you if necessary during an evacuation, or create a more portable grab-and-go emergency kit.
If you like, you can take things a step further and create individual “bug-out bags” for each family member (pets too!). A bug-out bag should include supplies to get each person through a 24-72 hour period. For a family, in addition to each family member’s personal bag, create two additional bags: one for first-aid, medicine, and important documents, and the second for tools and emergency gear that the whole family can use. Keep things organized with plastic zip lock bags, which can also protect contents from water damage.
- Changes of clothes (appropriate for the weather)
- Favorite or familiar stuffed animal/blanket or toy for a child
- Mini toiletry kit (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.)
- Medications specific to that family member
- Flashlight and or glow sticks
- A quiet activity like a book, magazine, coloring book or puzzle
- Bottles of water and nonperishable snacks
- For a pet: pet food & a water bottle, an extra leash, food & water bowls, a favorite toy or blanket, and crate if necessary
Know how to turn off the utilities coming into your home like power, water, and gas. Ensure all adults and older kids within your household know how to turn utilities off in case you are not home when it's time to evacuate. Establish a plan for where the family will meet up - like at an out of town friend or relative’s home, or at the family beach house, or at a large public area outside of the evacuation zone with plenty of parking - like an amusement park or mall. Specify a backup location too, just in case the first location becomes part of the evacuation zone. In a widespread emergency situation - like the terrorist attacks on September 11th - phone lines can go down, and cell phone towers can be jammed, so it's important to have a plan that everyone in the family knows how to execute without having to communicate with one another. Establish a point-person whom everyone can check in with instead of trying to call each other during the emergency. That point-person should ideally be someone out of town. Text instead of call - you’ll have better chance of your message going through, and you won’t be tying up phone “lines.” If you can, utilize social media to let family & friends know you are safe.
Know your risk for flooding in your area and prepare your home before a storm comes along. Waterproof basements, if necessary install a sump pump with a battery backup, raise utilities off the floor and check your insurance policies to make sure you have flood protection. (Most standard home insurance policies do NOT include flood insurance, so be sure to add a separate flood policy.) Clean gutters, downspouts and ground drains to keep them free of debris.
When a storm is imminent make sure your sump pump is plugged in and the battery backup is charged. Move valuables and important things from flood prone areas (such as basements) to higher areas of your home. If necessary, stack sandbags around entrance doors, low windows and stairs leading down to basements. Listen to local news & weather reports for possible evacuation notices.
If you are out driving and flooding occurs, DO NOT try to cross flooded roads or bridges. Do not walk through flooded waters or allow children to play in flood water as the water can be contaminated or have debris which could cause injury. Flood water can be deeper than it appears, and the current can be flowing much faster below the surface.
Even if hurricanes are not a regular occurrence where you live, they could impact your summer or fall vacation so make sure to research the risks for the area you are traveling to. If hurricanes are a regular occurrence where you live, you should know how to protect your property. As with flood preparedness, ensure you have adequate flood insurance and ask about wind insurance.
Since hurricanes are massive, relatively slow moving storms, so you should have several days of warning before a storm hits to prepare your home and family. Start by storing all outdoor furniture & décor, pool floats, planters, toys, dog houses, trash & recycling bins, grills and anything else that could be picked up and tossed about by strong winds. Bring pets inside and secure horses, farm animals and livestock. Secure storm shutters or board up windows & sliding glass doors. Follow the flood preparedness advice above for protecting utilities & belonging from flood prone areas. Be prepared to be without power and water for a few days.
Depending on how close to the coast you live and the storm’s path, you should prepare for an evacuation order. If you choose not to evacuate, know that you put yourself and family at a greater risk of injury and without emergency services to come to your aid.
Tornado, Volcanic Eruption & Earthquake Preparedness
Hurricanes, floods, and even wildfires are natural disasters that are generally easier to plan ahead for because forecasters and emergency officials can give warnings. However, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and especially earthquakes provide little (if any) warning at all before they strike so it's crucial to prepare well in advance. I personally have never lived in an area that is prone to any of these. But because I travel frequently for my job (sometimes up to several weeks at a time) it occurred to me that I ought to be somewhat prepared for these natural disasters should one strike while I am on travel. In addition to the general emergency preparedness tips I’ve laid out above, here are specific preparedness tips I have compiled for some of the more extreme natural disasters:
- Make a family plan of what to do in the event of a tornado, include what to do if you are at home, in the car, or out shopping, and practice!
- If you live or work in an area that is prone to tornados, most big public buildings (like airports and schools) will have tornado shelters.
- If a tornado WATCH is issued, tune into local news & weather reports via radio or television.
- Call friends, family or neighbors who may not have heard the watch to alert them.
- Charge your cellphones and review your tornado emergency plan.
- If a tornado WARNING is issued, seek shelter IMMEDIATELY:
- Best Protection: an approved storm shelter or safe room
- Moderate Protection: ideally a basement or cellar below ground level, or a small interior windowless room on the lowest level of the building. Crouch down and protect your head & neck.
- Minimal/Inadequate Protection: manufactured mobile homes/offices or trailers, open-plan buildings (like malls, large retail buildings - Costco’s, gymnasiums), automobiles, or outdoors). Plan ahead and seek better protection BEFORE the tornado warning is issued- like when tornado a WATCH is issued.
- Volcanic eruptions are crazy because on top of having to be concerned about lava flow, ashfall, acid rain and lateral blasts, other disasters like fires, floods, landslides/mudflows, earthquakes and tsunamis can also occur SIMULTANEOUSLY!!
- Active volcanoes are most dangerous within a 20-mile radius but damage can occur within 100 miles of an eruption.
- Avoid areas downstream and downwind of the erupting volcano (like valleys).
- If there is ashfall, keep your arms & legs covered, and wear goggles to protect your eyes. A dust mask or damp cloth can protect your face and help breathing.
- Listen to local news reports and prepare to leave immediately if an evacuation is ordered for your area.
- When you feel the ground shaking:
- If you are indoors: stay put, do not go outside. Lower your center of gravity by getting on your hands & knees and protect your head & neck with your arms, and if you can do so safely, crawl under a sturdy table or desk. If you are in bed, stay in bed and cover your head & neck with a pillow.
- If you are outdoors: move to an open area away from buildings & utility poles if you can do so safely, then drop to your hands & knees and cover your head & neck with your arms. If you are in a city, you may need to seek shelter in the closest building to avoid being injured from falling debris.
- If you are in a moving vehicle: stop as soon as it is safely possible since it can be difficult to control a car during the shaking. Try to avoid stopping under overpasses, near trees, utility poles or close to buildings. Stay in your vehicle until the shaking stops.
After the Storm
Once a storm has passed, and the immediate threat of danger has lifted the clean up can begin. If your property was damaged take photographs or video to document the damage before you begin clean up or any repairs, and contact your insurance company as soon as possible to get your claim started. When accessing the aftermath:
- Wear appropriate clothing and protective gear such as sturdy work boots, rubber rain boots or wellies and work gloves or rubber gloves.
- Assume all damaged or downed power lines are live and DO NOT touch or approach them.
- Do not touch electric panels if they are wet or it you are standing in water.
- Hand tools and power tools can come in handy if you have to clear small limbs or trees from your yard or driveway - just make sure to wear proper safety equipment like goggles & work gloves.
- Lawn & leaf bags and garbage bags are necessary to clean up debris from the yard, dispose of spoiled food from refrigerators & freezers, and ruined items that cannot be cleaned or repaired.
- Work gloves
- Some hand tools
- Some power tools
- Trash & refuse bags
Emergency preparedness can be a scary topic, but don't let fear hold you back. Creating a plan and preparing yourself, your family and your home ahead of time is the best defense you can have in the face of any emergency situation - especially if that plan involves making a few trips to Costco! To lighten the mood, make emergency preparedness fun by turning it into a game and run practice drills with the whole family. :)
Check your app store for CPR, first-aid, emergency preparedness, and weather apps.
Sign up for local emergency text notifications for your area, and add notifications for new areas when you travel or move.
For more detailed information on how to create a family emergency plan, checklists for building emergency kits, and more, explore these websites below:
I’d like to close this post by thanking my "MacGyver" parents for instilling in me the “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” mentality. I'm thankful I have not had to fully execute any of my emergency plans or utilize all of my emergency gear, but I am at ease knowing that for better or for worse, whether on the road or at home, I am as prepared as I can be for just about anything life can throw at me. And now, because you have read my ridiculously long post, and with a little help from Costco, you too can be prepared!
Until next time,
the Costco Connoisseur
P.S. - Selections and prices listed above will vary from different Costco locations.
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