Be Prepared: It’s Not Just for Boy Scouts Anymore

Photo courtesy of robinvanmourik
‘The gear’
courtesy of ‘robinvanmourik’

As we’ve come out of the frozen tundra of the Snowfecta, we might think “oh thank goodness winter is over and we won’t have to worry about a blizzard for a while.” While you may be right in that regard, we’d be missing the larger point: A lot of people were not prepared to handle this in any way, shape or form.

We witnessed Hipsters who were lined up outside the closed P street Whole Foods almost rioted as if someone had just told them that Fleet Foxes sucked. The shelves in produce aisles city wide were bare. There were major lines at area supermarets. It was so bad we even ran out of condoms. With some of the power outages, people ran out of firewood and burned furniture to stay warm. It as a lot of smart, well-educated people with good paying jobs in a predicament they simply did not plan for.

The old proverb rings true: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”

So what could people have done to be better prepared for this storm? We gave you some ideas on snow-specific preparation before, but what about things other than snowstorms? Well the good news is there’s things you can do that will let you be prepared for a lot of similar elements in disasters, from losing a job or a water main break all the way up to an earthquake or massive solar storm.

Photo courtesy of Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

There are different types of disasters. Small disasters affect only you or your neighborhood. For example, you lose your job, a family member or loved one dies, a water main breaks, etc. There’s a 99.9999% change you’ll experience one if not more than one of these in your life. Medium scale events are more regional, such as the snowfecta (three storms is better than one!) or a hurricane. It affects more people, but generally is easy to pull out from. Large scale events are less likely to happen, such as major earthquakes (Haiti, Chile) or massive solar storms that could knock out large chunks of the electrical grid. These scale events are far less likely to occur, but their impact would be massive. We’re not going to discuss Red Dawn or Zombie scenarios here. If you want to go off on that wagon, there are a ton of websites catering to your every need.

Why would this be the case? The Just-in-Time system is to blame. As we saw in the snow storms, most consumables get used up pretty quickly. Very few stores have more than 3 days of inventory on hand. If the semis aren’t rolling in with new supplies, then product doesn’t make it to the consumer. In this case we end up with a negative supply shock and, in some cases, price gouging occurs. Many people think that this should be the Federal Government’s responsiblity to handle these kinds of situations, but even FEMA says on their site:

You may need to survive on your own after an emergency. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take days. In addition, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer.

Think that a week or longer is not realistic? Look at the Kentucky Ice Storm of last winter. Or look at Hurricane Katrina, or Hurricane Isabel. After Isabel, my family was without power for two weeks after Isabel and they live in the suburbs in Hampton Roads. While we always grew up prepared (Coast Guard family) and they had water and food and cooked on the grill and camp stove, they had to walk to get ice from the National Guard after they ran out. They now have a generator capable of running a freezer and some other appliances as well as enough fuel to handle two weeks.

This boils down to the fact that the higher the impact a disaster has, the lower the probability has, but at the end of the day, there’s some basics everyone needs: Water, Food, and Shelter. You cover those and you’ll survive. You may be miserable, but you won’t become a statistic.

Okay, where do I begin?

FEMA’s site is a great place to start. Their three step guide is a great basic overview of what you need to start. You need:

  • An emergency kit
  • A family plan
  • Being informed about the threats you are preparing for

If you go camping or hiking you might have a lot of these elements in an emergency kit lying about your closet or garage: flashlight, candles, matches, backpacking stove, first aid kit, radio, whistle, baby wipes, etc. For those of you who laugh at baby wipes, when you reach day 3 of no shower, you will think them the greatest creation of all time.

With power outages, also remember that networks go down. You won’t be able to use your credit card in some cases. You’ll need cash. Having some cash at home at all times for these situations is just smart business.

Water can be purified with household bleach and a medicine dropper. You should have enough food/water/etc. to take care of your pets. If you have medical needs (prescriptions, ongoing treatments for things such as diabetes) you should make plans to have enough of those medicines on hand to cover you. Rotate through them.

Plan wise, there are a lot of alert services all over the country that will send out text alerts. You should have a plan in case the power goes out. What happens if it’s winter? How long can you heat your current location?

Finally you should inform yourself about the threats you believe you need to prepare for and create a plan according to those threats. There are many different elements but there’s a strong base of similarities between disasters of different types. Figure out those contingencies and plan for them.

Beyond the Basic Kit

Do you have a way to cook without power? An outdoor propane or charcoal grill will cut it, or a camp stove. Have enough fuel for those?

Do you have a way to heat without power? Woodstoves and fireplaces are ideal, but without firewood, they’re big metal and brick blocks. A generator can run a space heater, but that’s not very efficient.

Do you have entertainment options for yourself and also for young children? Again, a small generator will give you enough power to power up a laptop or a dvd player, which will be enough to distract everyone with a DVD. Board games can also help. Starting at the wall is where serious cabin fever begins.

From here it’s figuring out what you’re planning for and building upon your base. There are tons of resources online and way too much to cover in any one article. Books have been written on alternate power systems alone. Go do some research and build your plan.

Isn’t this all a bit much?

Some of you might think that this is crazy talk. Why would you ever do this work for something that may not happen? Well, it’s insurance. I have auto insurance, but I don’t plan to get into a car wreck. I have life insurance, but I don’t plan to die tomorrow. I have renter’s insurance, but don’t plan on being robbed soon. We have insurance for things that are, in many ways, completely out of our control. I look at being prepared as disaster insurance. I don’t look for bad situations, but if one arises, I’ve got a personal policy developed and implemented to cover some basic needs. The alternative is that you may become a refuge at either your friend’s house, the local shelter, or in a trailer city.

Further involvement

If you want to get further training and more involved in your local community, check out the CERT teams in your county or city:

CERT (Community Emergency Response Team): DC | Arlington | Alexandria | Fairfax | Loudoun | Prince George | Montgomery

Stay safe!

John has lived in DC since attending CUA’s Architecture school starting in 1995. He is a UI/UX/Design guru for LivingSocial and also plays in numerous bands (Juniper Lane, Rotoscope, Boboroshi & Kynz) and loves hyping people on eating local food, sustainable human settlement patterns, gardening, and good old fashioned rock and roll and electronica. He runs the dirt lab (aka mega garden) for WeLoveDC, where he eats most of the proceeds.

2 thoughts on “Be Prepared: It’s Not Just for Boy Scouts Anymore

  1. Great tips! I was really thankful that my power stayed on the whole time during the storms, but had they not, I knew I had my camping gear ready to go including a hand-pump water purifier, a camp stove or two, and some dried food that would feed me for at least three days on a ration. I recommend the Jet Boil for a small cooking appliance. It’ll boil a few cups of water in about a minute, and it stores great in a small apartment or condo.

  2. I was a Boy Scout and am now a member of Arlington CERT and have done other similar things in the intervening years that helped prepare me for disaster. This type of training is invaluable. Sure, it’s a bit much to worry about, but only until everything hits the fan. I’d rather be over prepared than wishing I had bothered to be prepared at all.