Sunday, November 26, 2017

Preparedness: Some Holiday Gift Items Worth Considering


More than a decade ago, in Hickory Farms Will Hate Me For This, I began promoting the idea that - instead of gifting cheese platters, fruitcakes and ugly sweaters - we should be giving our loved ones preparedness items for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
As the CDC infographic above illustrates, nearly half of all Americans families don't even have the basics to deal with a short term emergency, much less a major disaster.
This was driven home for me a little over two months ago when Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, and I saw thousands of Floridians going from store to store, desperately seeking flashlights, bottled water, and batteries.  

Luckily, I'd prepared months in advance, and was even able to help out a couple of neighbors with extra LED lanterns and some other supplies. But as prepared as I thought I was, my 5-day bug out experience highlighted some gaps in my own preparedness plans, which I am in the process of rectifying.

While everyone will need to craft their own preparedness plans, and gear, to suit their particular circumstances (in Florida, I don't have to worry about earthquakes or blizzards), your basic goals should include having:
  • A battery operated NWS Emergency Radio to find out what was going on, and to get vital instructions from emergency officials
  • A decent first-aid kit, so that you can treat injuries
  • Enough non-perishable food and water on hand to feed and hydrate your family (including pets) for the duration
  • A way to provide light when the grid is down.
  • A way to cook safely without electricity
  • A way to purify or filter water
  • A way to stay cool (fans) or warm when the power is out.
  • A small supply of cash to use in case credit/debit machines are not working 
  • An emergency plan, including meeting places, emergency out-of-state contact numbers, a disaster buddy,  and in case you must evacuate, a bug-out bag
  • Spare supply of essential prescription medicines that you or your family may need
  • A way to entertain yourself, or your kids, during a prolonged blackout
Whether due to a hurricane, an earthquake, a solar flare, or a deliberate EMP or cyber attack, a widespread grid down situation - such as has been going on in Puerto Rico for the past two months - is every emergency manager's worst nightmare (see When Our Modern Infrastructure Fails).
While having no TV, or Internet, or electric lights for a week or two might seem more of an inconvenience than anything else, sometimes not having power can be deadly.
During the summer of 2012, a powerful Derecho swept across the Mid-Atlantic states (see Picking Up The Pieces), killing 15 and leaving nearly 4 million people without power, some for more than 2 weeks. While 15 people died during the storm, at least 32 died of heat-related illnesses in the two weeks that followed (cite).

Below you'll find some of the types of items that I have either bought for myself, or for other people, in my quest to become better prepared.  Most of these items are inexpensive - many under $20 - but are invaluable when you really need them.
Products mentioned or pictured below are to provide a general idea of the type of gift, and should not be viewed as an endorsement of one brand over another. I often find these gifts on sale in discount stores, bargain basements, and flea markets, and stock up whenever I come across a good deal. 
Sometimes I make the gifts myself, as when several years back I cobbled together some first aid kits, and distributed them to a number of friends and relatives. You can either put one together yourself, or purchase one already assembled. 

Trust me, there is no substitute for having a well stocked first aid kit when you really need one. Having a kit isn't enough.  Knowing what to do in an emergency is equally  important.  Luckily there are a number of good first aid books available, including:

A couple of years ago I also bought several 5 gal. buckets (with lids) from a home improvement store, along with mylar bags and oxygen absorbers from Amazon, and put together some long-term food storage buckets for friends.  

Cost per bucket?  About $30.  But enough food to keep two people going for ten days or more in an emergency.  I keep a couple on hand (one for me, one for the cat), myself.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a particular interest in (ok, its more of a fetish for) LED flashlights and lanterns. Probably because I lived so many years aboard a sailboat in the tropics with hot, smelly kerosene lanterns.
LEDs are far preferable to many other light sources because they run a very long time on batteries, they don't pose the fire hazard of candles or kerosene, and they don't produce heat or fumes.
My collection of LED lights continues to grow, and the best part is none of the items pictured below cost me more than $5 each.  My local Walmart has LED flashlights for $1 apiece in the sporting goods section; cheap but serviceable and a great stocking stuffer.

High on the list of things to have is a way to make water potable.

Although (unscented) bleach will work, it requires measuring, and imparts a taste to the water many dislike.  An option that has gotten a lot less expensive in recent years are personal filtration systems, like the LifeStraw ®.

At just 2 ounces, this personal water filter will reportedly filter 1000 liters down to .2 microns. Not bad for around $20.  I've recently added the Sawyer Mini-Filter to my preps, again about $20.

Speaking of water, having a way to store enough water for three days (1 gal/person/day) is essential. A family of 4 will need at least 12 gallons for 72 hours.   Personally, I keep enough on hand for a couple of weeks.
While there are plenty of `free options’ – like rinsed and recycled 2-liter plastic soda bottles or other food-safe plastic jugs – you can also buy collapsible 5 gallon containers.
I also picked up a few single burner Propane stove units on sale for $10 each. Add a couple of 1 pound propane cylinders (about $3 each) and you can cook for a week.

Every home should have a battery operated radio (with NWS weather band), yet many do not.  Some are available with crank or solar charging.  In any event, you'll want something which can pick up the NOAA NWS Emergency Broadcaster in you region.

As I described last month in Rethinking Solar Power On A Budget, it is a relatively easy task to set up a simple solar charging system.
No, you won’t keep the A/C or refrigerator running on a budget system, but you can keep your LED lantern batteries, cell phone, iPod or iPad, or notebook computer running.
In recent years I'm seeing reasonably priced `briefcase’ solar panels – often for between $50 and $80 – that, when unfolded, can charge a 12 volt storage battery with up to 13 watts of power. Add a $20 inverter (converts 12 volt battery power to 120v AC), and you can do a heck of a lot.

For cell phone charging, LED lights, and running mini-fans I've recently purchased several solar charging USB battery packs.  I haven't tested the solar charging efficiency yet, but I expect these 10,000 mAh battery packs will recharge with 12 to 15 hours of direct sun. 


While far less powerful than my 12 volt solar panels and batteries, these are portable enough to go in my bug out bag, and a pair of them should keep my phone, MP3 player, LED light, and USB mini-fan (see below) going pretty much non-stop. 

Something as simple, and as utilitarian, as a multi-function `Swiss’ army knife, a`Multi-tool’, a `plug in' auto 12 volt USB charger (see below), or even  multi packs of AA or AAA batteries, makes a great preparedness gift.

While not necessarily lifesaving, having a way to occupy your mind (or your kids) during an extended grid down situation can help maintain your sanity.  Books, board games, and having good old-fashioned conversations are undoubtedly the best, but when they run dry having a low drain battery powered MP3 player, or a battery run DVD player, can seem like a lifesaver.

With tomorrow being Cyber Monday, I expect there will be some excellent deals to be had on many of these items.  But even at their regular prices, they won't break the bank

Take a walk through any camping supply or hardware store and you will find plenty of inspiration. Just ask yourself . . . what would you want if the power and water were out for a week or longer, and the stores were closed?  Buy first for yourself, and then for a friend or a loved one.
In a world where bad things can, and do happen, we need to cultivate a culture of preparedness both here in this country, and around the world. 
And we can start doing that, one gift at a time.

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