But Prepare For the Worst

My "experience" with Tropical Storm Alberto (see last post) got me thinking and reminded me that this is hurricane season for large portions of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the Gulf and East coasts of America. All the disaster-preparedness and relief agencies all agree that now's a good time to prepare and think about what we'll do when disaster comes. This ain't bad advice; Katrina taught us a grim lesson about not being prepared for such a thing.

Katrina also exposed a horrible gap between the haves -- who could afford emergency generators and supplies and quick ways out of town -- and the have-nots, who had to basically hunker down and pray they didn't become statistics. The aftermath became highly politicized, but a disaster of that magnitude transcends politics. Democrat, Republican or whatever, the first thing people should think of once the winds die down is how do we make sure no more die in this one, and none die in the next?

The problem is of course even more acute when one is a have-not like me. It's all well and good to want to assemble provisions for disaster, but quite another to have the wherewithal to do so. I thought I would dedicate this post to putting out a few suggestions the poor can take to try and prepare for the next hurricane/flood/tornado/earthquake or other such calamity.

First, a few links to ways to assemble disaster preparedness kits online. A Google of "disaster kits" produced nearly 24 million hits, so I'll just point the way to a few of the most prominent free ones:

Red Cross Disaster Kit:

Hurricane Preparedness Kit Checklist:

About.com: How to Assemble a Disaster Supply Kit:

And there's even one aimed at kids:

FEMA Kids Disaster Kit (more about FEMA in a bit):

According to the Red Cross' site: "There are six basics you should stock for your home: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items." These items don't have to be top quality, just quality enough to keep the family alive in an emergency. The absolute best places to get these items (if you don't already own them) are the dollar stores (such as Dollar Tree), the small discounters (such as Maxway) and the big box retailers (Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Big Lots).* Don't overlook thrift stores such as Goodwill; at the very least you can buy emergency changes of clothes there. Go over the lists of suggested items carefully and substitute cheaper versions where you can. Wal-Mart and K-Mart both offer lay-a-way if you don't have a lot of cash on hand and you want to many items at once.

Look around your house and see what you may already have. Got a roll of tape you seldom use? Throw it in the kit. A spare bottle of alcohol? In the kit. Empty milk jug? Fill it with water; in the kit. Coloring book and crayons the kids ignore? In the kit.

A few items that are kind of pricey but could be handy are vacuum sealers such as FoodSavers (to prepare things like nuts and other such foods ahead of time), those closet bags you attach to a vacuum cleaner hose and suck the air out of (helps save space), and the flashlights and radios you crank to power up, rather than having to search for batteries which, as we all know, you can never find when it's crunch time. Again, these items can be put on lay-a-way at Wal-Mart of K-Mart.

Paycheck won't let you even put things on lay-a-way? Buy an item or two now and get another item or two next payday. There's nothing wrong with nickel-and-diming it. The idea is to have it assembled by the time disaster does strike, but I guess it's better to have some of the stuff put aside than to have nothing at all and be caught, as we say in the South, "with yer britches down."

You'll need a container to put it all in. While moving, I've had great success with those large plastic storage bins you can find in just about any department store. You can put almost anything in those things. I've found Wal-Mart and Big Lots to have the cheapest. A 30-gallon** version is about $4.00 and a 10-15 gallon one is about $3.50. The bins come molded with handles on the ends, so carrying is a breeze, and the lids snap shut and are designed so that the bins are stackable. The apartment is full of the ones we've brought from the storage unit and I plan to buy more as funds permit.

The only other advice I guess I have is to always think in worst-case scenarios, then think of ways to avoid or get out of them. I've noted the safe points in the apartment during a tornado (the downstairs bathroom and the laundry closet seem to fit the bill), nearby bodies of water in case of flood (two retention ponds, one near the front yard, and a stream where I guess all the geese are coming from) and alternate routes to avoid the water, and thought of at least two ways out of the apartment and out of town (we're not far from a major thoroughfare and a major highway.) If nothing else, think of somewhere nearby to run, just in case (a major manufacturer has a plant nearby, if we have to bolt fast.)

It's even more imperative that any homeless reading this also think about preparation. Plot a quick way out of the area, if nothing else, and notice any nearby solid structures where you can take shelter. Those of you who are sleeping under overpasses should take special note of the sky when storms get bad. The notion that an overpass is a safe place in a tornado has sadly been proven a myth. It may be the same in a powerful enough hurricane too.

We don't get many earthquakes around here, so I have no specific advice for that. I imagine the contents of your kit are good use in the aftermath of quakes as well, if it was powerful enough to hinder immediate rescue.

Speaking of rescue, one lesson I learned from Katrina, even though she didn't hit us directly, is that you cannot, should not rely on FEMA to take care of you. FEMA has been exposed as one of the most bumbling outfits ever, and the news of their screwups during and after Katrina just keep coming to this day. In fact, I would go so far as to say assume help is not forthcoming and you'll be on your own, and assemble you kit with that in mind. then, if help does come, it'll be even more of a welcome sight.

I'm not promoting myself as an expert here, and some of what I'm putting out may just be hot air. Either way, I hope you and I never have to put any of it to the test, but remember the old adage: "Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

Just my $0.02.

*I know many people swear by Target, but I've found that Wal-mart's and K-Mart's prices are cheaper and they have a better selection. YMMV, of course.

**An apology to any friends still reading from Europe and other areas that use the metric system. I've used imperial measures all my life, so it's just easier for me. There are conversion tables and software online to convert any measures you're not already familiar with.

Ok, man, I m angry now! YOu said that FEMA is a bumbling organization. But it doesnt matter nonetheless. I m pretty the North Carolina Office of Emergency Management would be just as ill equipped to deal with any disaster or terrorist attack. I think all the states are ill prepared. The problem here to me is that we are COMPELLED to pay taxes. But as a result we are assured NOTHING in return. You cant tell me you have to paythis tax and this user fee and then maintenance tax(all of this to support the government and its expenditures) and when you need them to be there for you they say "if a disaster strikes, you are on your own". How bullshitty is that!!!!!! I was in Miami last October when Hurricane Wilma came through. Me, I was ok. I had access to potable water and had some staples in the house. After the storm receded up the coast I was able to make it to the market on the emergency power generators they had. My area lost power for a week, but I was able to still prepare food, using old timey campstyle methods. The problem here is that the officials seemed to be out of touch with life as it lived. People were running out of emergency provisions A DAY after the storm. OK, the storm came through on Sunday night, and Monday. By Tuesday afternoon people were running out of food! What! They live in a hurricane prone area but never prepared for it? I dont think so. I think people are caught in a vice there that they think check to check and hope it wont be so bad. But this time it was. People in Broward County were told to boil there water because the Water Management Board didnt prepare. Power was out going up the Eastern seaboard. Which was why I didnt leave. I d rather be out of gas in Miami than in the middle of some bunghole in some retard county. But the situation is that people who cant prepare are left to plotz at the discretion of the government to govern their well being. And the talking heads never understand(or refuse to understand) the issues. "People arent saving anymore". "The increase in gas prices wont affect consumer spending". "This war in Iraq will be a good thing for democracy". "The US economy is creating more jobs than ever before in the past 8 years". "Illegal immigrants take jobs Americans dont want to want to do....." Oh I m so riled up, I must take a Root Beer break. But I just wanted to get the point out that even with this year being an election year, the same morons will be elected and the cycle will continue. We need to Corey Booker-ize this election and freshen up the voices of the people.
"....No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead" 'Wake up Everybody'-Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
Given that San Francisco is earthquake-prone, it's made a pretty big attempt to increase disaster awareness. It's very encouraging (well, not encouraging but realistic) that the emphasis is placed on 72 hours. Having enough supplies to get by for 72 hours or more. Of course, you're on your own after the disaster. Although FEMA did do its share of feetdragging, it is unrealistic to expect immediate reconstruction from even the most vigilant goverment.

The website for the SF disaster awareness: http://www.72hours.org/
Also available in espanol and Chinese and printable. Poke around.
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