Saturday, September 14, 2019

#Natlprep: Cultivating Preparedness - One Gift At A Time

Note: September is National Preparedness Month . Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.
This month, I’ll be rerunning some edited and updated older preparedness essays, along with some new ones.

Twelve years ago, in Hickory Farms Will Hate Me For This, I began promoting the idea that - instead of gifting cheese platters, fruitcakes and ugly sweaters to friends and family - we should be giving preparedness items for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
A week ago we saw - in #NatlPrep: FEMA National Household Preparedness Survey - that while some progress has been made, Americans still have a long way to go when it comes to preparedness. 
Major disasters happen more often, and affect more people each year than than you might imagine.  Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and blizzards have affected millions of Americans this year - and with an increasingly chaotic climate -  those numbers are only likely to go up over the coming years.

Add in the low probability, but high impact scenarios like a severe 1918-like pandemic or a grid-down situation (see NIAC: Surviving A Catastrophic Power Outage), and our collective unpreparedness could prove very costly.

For my money, the most important prep is to have - and to be - a disaster buddy (see NPM13: The Greatest Prep Of All). Cultivate a network of family, friends, and neighbors to whom you can turn for help in a emergency, who can turn to you for aid, if they need it.
It only works if it is reciprocal.
Of course, preparedness items are essential, even for smaller, personal emergencies. A decent first aid kit, a NOAA weather radio receiver, and a fire extinguisher should be in every household. 

The beauty of buying preparedness items now - before a disaster  looms -is they are plentiful, and relatively inexpensive. But as millions of Floridians discovered 4 days before hurricane Irma's landfall in September of 2017, once the alarm is sounded, the store shelves are quickly empty.

While where you live, and your local threat environment, may dictate some changes, the general goals for personal and family preparedness should include:
  • 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 (see A Prescription For Disaster).
  • A way to entertain yourself, or your kids, during a prolonged blackout
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:

When the lights go out, nothing beats having a couple of good LED flashlights or lanterns.   And each year they get brighter, and cheaper.  Most run between $5 and $10, and that beats the heck out of cursing the darkness.


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.
A couple of years ago I 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.
This year, however, I've added some dehydrated/freeze dried foods (by the bucket, or in #10 cans) to this culinary category, as they only require hot or boiling water to prepare.  While considerably more pricey than buying staples like rice and beans, they are more convenient.
With a propane or butane camp stove or even a single burner Propane burner (see below) and a couple of 1 pound gas cylinders (about $3 each) and you can cook for a week or longer.  Typically, a 1lb cylinder proves 1.5 to 2.0 hours of cooking.

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 earlier this summer (see Preparedness: Some Emergency Power Solutions), if you are even a little bit handy, it is a relatively easy cobble together 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. 

While my primary concern in Florida is staying cool during a summer power outage, in colder climes, staying warm can be a major concern.  Sleeping bags, pop-up tents (that can be used indoors or out), and propane or kerosene heaters can be lifesaving.

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.

Often forgotten, but safety goggles, a box or two of vinyl or nitrile gloves, and a box of surgical face masks (or N95 masks) should be in everyone’s emergency kit as well - whether you're dealing with a nasty flu season, or smoke from wildfires. 


And 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.

Disasters often boil down to unscheduled camping - for days, or sometimes weeks - in your home, in a community shelter, or possibly in your backyard. If you think of preparedness that way, it becomes far less daunting.
Admittedly, many of the items listed above are needed more for comfort and convenience, than for survival.  
But the physical and psychological impacts stemming from the hardships following a disaster are quite real (see Post-Disaster Sequelae), and a modicum of creature comforts can go a long ways towards mitigating their effects.
FEMA, and a myriad of other state and national entities know the risks we face, and would like to see Americans adopt and embrace a culture of preparedness. 
And we can do that.  One gift at a time.