Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Gift of Preparedness

CDC Infographic 


A little over 15 years ago, in a blog I called 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 all be giving preparedness gifts for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. 

Since then, one or twice a year - often before the holidays - I run an updated blog, showing some of the preparedness items I've bought (or made) for friends, family, and for myself over the years. 

Every year major disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and blizzards affect millions of Americans - and with an increasingly chaotic climate - those numbers are only likely to go up over the coming years. 

But it doesn't require a widespread natural disaster to ruin your whole day. The impact of smaller, everyday emergencies - like a flat tire, or a temporary power outage - can often be mitigated by being prepared. 

Having a decent first aid kit (and the knowledge to use it), or an easily accessible fire extinguisher in your kitchen, or a 12 volt tire inflator in your trunk, could save the day. 

So, a week before Christmas, a look at stocking stuffers, and some larger gifts, that just might help a loved one get through an emergency in the new year. 

Note: 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.

Although 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 handle basic sanitation and waste disposal. 
  • 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

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. But it should be stressed that quality counts.  You don't want your life to depend on a $1 pocket knife. 

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.

Believe 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.

A few years back, however, I 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.

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.

Indoors, even a `Sterno Stove' can be used for basic `heat and eat' 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.

I've also invested (for myself, and some components for friends) in an array of `off-the-shelf' solar items, including fans, LED lanterns, several USB battery packs, and a 21 watt Solar panel (see Some Simple Off-The-Shelf Solar Solutions For Power Outages)..

This year, following Hurricane Ian, I added a second 30-watt solar panel, and have made some upgrades to my Solar Battery Project (for CPAP). My goal is to upgrade to lighter, and more powerful, LiFePO4 batteries in the future.

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.

The greatest gift is to have - and to be - a disaster buddy (see NPM13: The Greatest Prep Of All); cultivating 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.

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.

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 for ourselves, our families, and our friends. 

One gift at a time.