We live in an area where there are a number of natural and human sourced disasters that could occur that could dramatically and negatively affect our daily lives. Everything from earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, landslides, and wild fires on the natural side to chemical spills, fire storms, and terrorist activities on the human side that could take place in our little slice of heaven we call the Pacific Northwest.
Over the course of the last twenty five years, we’ve experienced quite a few events mother nature threw at us and were able to survive: The Spring Break Quake of 1993; the spring floods of 1996; the windstorms of 1995 and 2006, and the grand daddy of them all (okay – more than twenty five years ago…. ), Mt St. Helens eruption on May 18th, 1980.
Thankfully, the Pacific Northwest has not had to deal directly with any major terrorist activities, outside of thwarted attempts by radical extremists. We have had a number of issues that could have had severe impacts to our daily lives, but thankfully, our first responders were able to successfully deal with these issues before they became disasters – train derailments, oil / gas storage fires, and several chemical spills around town. Fortunately, so far, we’ve been able to avoid any major catastrophe’s here in Portland. Disasters don’t necessarily need to be on a city wide or regional level – personal disasters take place daily – house fires being the most common – and the most deadly.
In a previous blog, I outlined what to do in the event of an earthquake / disaster. Here I want to talk more about the immediate preparation for a disaster.
The American Red Cross, in their publication, Prepare! A Resource Guide, outlines several key components to being prepared for a disaster – ANY disaster. In this publication, the Red Cross outlines parparedness in thirteen key points. In this blog, we are going to focus on the first three:
1) Be Informed
2) Make A Plan
3) Get A Kit
We’ll take them on in order:
Most importantly, before doing anything else, the American Red Cross suggests you know and understand what potential disasters you may face. The Pacific Northwest is known globally for it immense natural beauty and ruggedness. Within that beauty and ruggedness are underlying dangers that many don’t think about on a day-to-day basis – why should we? Our daily lives take priority in all that we do. Lurking deep underground, along the rivers, mountains, and forests, the next disaster lies in waiting for it’s beckon. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, fires, and hazardous winter conditions need to be kept at the periphery.
We cannot focus on the outdoors, though. We need to make sure that we pay attention to the inside of our houses as well:
Are my smoke detectors working and batteries up-to-date?
Do I know how to test the detectors and change the batteries?
Do I have a fire extinguisher – is it charged and do I know how to properly use it?
Do I know how to identify a gas leak and what to do if there is one?
Do I know how to shut off water, power, and gas, if needed?
Do I know how to properly store water, how long it can be stored, and where?
Do I know how to stay informed in the case of a natural or man-made disaster?
In communications regarding the weather (TV being the most common, but texting is becoming more commonplace) the National Weather Service, NOAA, or other organization will provide important information, it is good to know what we are hearing:
Advisory: For less serious conditions – this is for weather events that are occurring, or are imminent or highly likely. Caution should be exercised.
Watch: Hazardous weather is possible and a plan-of-action may need to be exercised. The chance for a hazardous weather event has increased significantly over an advisory.
Warning: Weather conditions pose a threat to life, property, or environment. Take protective action immediately if possible.
You can find out very useful information about where to donate or volunteer during a disaster by dialing 211. This will also provide information on where to find food or shelter. You can also visit www.211info.org.
Make A Plan:
It is highly likely that after a disaster, basic services that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives will be interrupted – possibly for days or weeks. A good example was New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In some areas, it took months before there was a return to ‘normalcy’.
Help from emergency responders will most likely be delayed by hours or days in the aftermath of a disaster. What you plan ahead of a disaster will help determine how well you are prepared for survivability and comfort after:
Talk with family and friends, co-workers, and neighbors about their plans – and yours, and to how best coordinate with each other as needed.
Find out what resources people have – work with each other in support of everyone’s needs and resources.
Figure out who is good at what – you may be good at coordinating, your neighbor or co-worker may be good at communicating or securing necessary items. Who is able to take care of themselves and who will need assistance.
Identify roles that each person can take on and plan to work together. Make sure you cross-train as some may not be available to help after a disaster.
Choose two places to meet up after a disaster. Near your home (one in front / one in back??). Near your office. In your neighborhood. Make sure everyone knows where the rally points are – and where to go if one of the rally points is inaccessible.
Choose an out-of-state contact – this would be a person you would contact in event of a disaster who could then relay your condition / disposition to others on a call list you would provide. You should provide a number of contacts for them to call – names, phone numbers, email addresses. Local phone lines will most likely be completely jammed – making a long distance call may be easier than a local one for some time after a disaster. Sign up with the Red Cross Safe and Well service at www.redcross.org/safeandwell. This is a central resource friends and family in other parts of the region or country can access for updates.
Store emergency contact information in your cell phone (Label it ICE – In Case of Emergency – all first responders are trained to look for this in your cell phone – if accessible).
Consider additional insurance for your home – earthquake, flood, tsunami, or landslide – these are normally not covered under your normal policy.
Make sure you have preparations for your pets well being, too. Extra food and water, plus a place / structure for safekeeping like a kennel.
If you have friends or family in assisted living facilities, find out what their emergency plans are and make sure they are visible for everyone.
Practice makes perfect in more than just sports and art… hold emergency evacuation drills twice a year – maybe at the time change every year. Make sure everyone is aware of all of the escape routes from your home or building. Make it fun for your kids to figure out multiple ways to escape – it may come in handy during an actual event.
Build A Kit:
This is a big one… you can go whole hog on this or just the bare minimum. You can have several kits – for home, car, and work. However you decide to go, there is no right or wrong answer – there are several items you must make sure you have, regardless of how much you decide to put into this. Let’s get started:
The Bare Minimums:
The American Red Cross suggests three things you must have:
1) Food / Water. One gallon of water, per person, per day – the current general rule of thumb is for three days, but consensus is changing and more are suggesting a minimum of five to seven days. The vast majority of water is stored in plastic containers. It is strongly suggested that these be rotated every six months to limit leaching of dangerous chemicals from the plastics into the water supply. Water from your water heater can also be utilized for drinking. Make sure you turn off the power source to the water heater before draining it.
Dry, non-perishable foodstuffs are important. Again, the current train-of-thought is for three days, but it may be wise to have stores for five to seven days. Items suggested are canned meats, fruits, vegetables, peanut butter, energy bars, cooking oils, dry cereal, and other non-perishables. Keep in mind that juices from canned fruits and vegetables can be used for cooking or drinking, if needed.
2) FIRST AID KIT: Suggested articles for your first aid kit should include (but not be limited to…):
Disposable gloves – several pair.
Scissors / safety pins
One or more rolls of gauze and elastic bandages
Variety of sizes of non-stick adhesive bandages
Triangle bandages or very large sterile gauze bandages
Aspirin or a similar substitute*
Sanitary napkins / feminine hygiene products
Current prescription medications – keep a 30 day supply on hand if possible
Disinfectants for wound cleaning (iodine; hydrogen peroxide; etc…)
Soap and Clean Cloth / moist towlettes
Waterless hand cleaners
Tweezers / needles
Eye dressing / pad
Small plastic cups
Pen / pencil / paper
Emergency phone numbers
Non-prescription medications like pain relievers, antacids, ipecac, laxatives, hydrocortisone cream, and vitamins*
American Red Cross first aid reference guide or manual
* Keep all medications, ointments, vitamins and prescriptions in original containers – check expiration dates periodically and replace as needed.
3) Shoes: A good strong sturdy pair of shoes is very important for navigating around debris. You don’t want to be walking around broken glass, nails, and other hazardous articles wearing flipflops or slippers. Neither will do you or your feet very good.
Large plastic trash bags. These have multiple uses from trash to water storage to waste storage removal.
Large trash can – good to store your kit in until it is needed.
Bar soap; dish soap; shampoo; toothpaste / toothbrush
Feminine / infant supplies
Bucket, plastic trash bags, bleach and a couple of boards for a makeshift commode.
Crescent wrench, 12″ or longer – good for gas shut off if needed
Ax, shovel, pry bar, broom, machete
Screwdrivers, pliers, and a good hammer
2 Coils of rope; one of at least 1/2″ diameter – at least 50′ in length; a second of paracord type rope for hanging laundry, food, or garbage from – also good for erecting makeshift tents, lean-to’s or shelters.
Pocket knife and/or hunting knife
Pen / paper
Good heavy work gloves – preferably leather. A set of lighter gloves for a back up.
Sturdy shoes – keep a pair by your bed
Warm / dry clothes
Matches or other waterproof fire starting tools
Glow sticks or light sticks
Garden hose with nozzle
Tent and / or tarps
Most of the household emergency kit should be able to fit into a large, wheeled garbage can for moving easily around the house. Smaller kits for your vehicle and job can fit the bare necessities into a good size tupperware type container.
Remember, this is all suggestions – nothing is written in stone – other than having shoes, food / water, and a first aid kit available.
More resources for disaster preparation can be found at the following:
City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management:
Visit the Red Cross website for more information on being prepared, where you can help, volunteer, or donate.
Until next time!