The tornadoes that tore through the South in April of this year forced us to rethink how we prepare for an emergency.
And when Hurricane Irene squeezed her massive sponge on the media-rich Northeast, the result was not only a literal flood but also a flood of information about emergency preparedness. It is within that context that we are forming our plans for the next emergency. I fully understand that there will be emergencies that arrive without warning, but here in central Alabama, most emergencies are weather-related, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires, so we are likely to have at least some time to prepare.
The first lesson we’ve learned is the most mundane: get your home ready. It has been fascinating to read the reflections of so many people who said they wish they had turned on their dishwasher before the storm arrived. For us, that means some simple tasks are now on our emergency preparedness list:
- Wash the dishes and empty the dishwasher.
- Make sure we have plenty of clean clothes.
- We don’t have carpets, but if we did, we would vacuum them.
- Charge up our cell phones and turn off “smartphone” features that might bleed battery life.
- Check the flashlights and replace batteries as needed.
- Check the first aid kit. Everything in place?
- Fill up the car with gasoline.
- Fill up the gas can so we can use it for the camp stove and the chain saw.
- Make sure we have an adequate supply of the prescription drugs we take.
- Get some cash.
Beyond that, there are some other simple preparations we will make:
- Make sure we have water. Donna Reynolds at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommends three gallons of water per person (her thinking is one gallon per person for a three-day disruption). We keep drinking water in a 5-gallon closed container at all times. We don’t have a bathtub, but we do have two utility sinks and a virtually unlimited supply of 5-gallon buckets that we can fill with water.
- If this is the cold season, make sure we have enough firewood stacked for the wood stove.
- If this is the hot season, double the water.
- Make sure our emergency whistle is in place in the storm shelter. The whistle is there in case we get stuck in the shelter and need help to get out.
- We grow food 12 months of the year, and we always have plenty of food laid by now. If we didn’t, we would need to make sure we had food on hand.
- Cooking is simple for us, because we have the Sun Oven, and if it’s cloudy, we can fire up the camp stove we keep for times like this. If cooking were a challenge, we would want to have on hand some food that didn’t require cooking to enjoy.
- I am a ham radio operator – AK4IF – so an additional preparation for me is to make sure my hand held radio is fully charged and ready to use with its external antenna.
There is one final preparation we need to make for an emergency that I have not seen discussed: we need to go into an emergency well rested. Emergencies are scary and sometimes require hard work and critical decision-making under stress. We’ll be better able to do that if we have gotten a good night’s sleep before we face them.
I shared this post with a high school classmate of mine who survived the tornado that moved through Tuscaloosa in 2011. His house sustained only minor damage, but his neighborhood was changed forever. I asked him to share his thoughts about what I had said, and here is his response. I asked his permission to share it with you. Thanks Chris!
“Well, your plan is solid except for one thing! You talk about “getting” or “checking” about everything. That works for most emergencies except for tornadoes, which is probably the most devastating emergency you could have. Unlike the warnings we were provided with last year, most tornadoes give you little or no notice. Change your wording and attitude to “keeping” rather than “getting” or checking”. Always have a cash stash, always keep canned goods and water in your storm shelter, have a backpack with essentials for each person and even for your pets. Your sun oven does you no good unless it’s in the storm shelter with you.
“With tornadoes, you’re subject to opening the door to your storm shelter and your world being forever changed.
“Your storm shelter is large enough to have everything you might ever need, chain saw (with gas), crank radio (being able to find out what’s going on where and how bad it is is critical if all typical communications are gone),(in the aftermath in T’town we kept hearing more tornadoes were coming, which scared the dickens out of us while we were trying to get settled down, it was good to finally have a radio to find out what was really going on outside the 100 yard perimeter around our house), toiletries, some blankets and pillows, flashlights (with batteries), candles, etc. Look at it from the viewpoint that you’ve opened the door to your storm shelter to exit and everything is gone. What would you need, or wished you had, at that point?
“One final suggestion that was so common after the T’town tornado was wearing good shoes when you go to your storm shelter. Many people were injured when they came out of the remains of their home barefooted and got injured because they were not wearing shoes.
“Sorry to go on the rant about tornadoes but living through one is surreal, even when you’re just moderately affected. Even when you’re warned that a big one’s coming, there’s a sense of denial that something so devastating is going to actually happen, all those years of “tornado warning” that never amounted to anything makes it seem like just another drill.
“Weren’t you an Eagle Scout? Be prepared! :)”