What Afghanistan can teach up about disaster planning.

Despite your opinion of whether the U. S. should have been in Afghanistan still or even in the first place, there are still lessons that disaster planners can learn from the chaos resulting from the withdrawal. I am not sure anyone would have called Afghanistan a stable country, but there was definitely some structure in place with the U.S. military on site there. Taliban forces were unwilling or unable to take over locations held by those forces. That all changed when the military withdrew. The timing and aftermath are where we can find lessons to be learned.

The first lesson is that things can happen quickly. Many areas were seemingly taken overnight by the Taliban as U. S. forces withdrew. This left those who would be targets for Taliban persecution in a panic. Many simply fled in fear for their lives. While most would say this could never happen here, you simply have to look at concrete examples that dispute that. During Katrina many who choose not to evacuate were displaced immediately. The water literally rolled in as a wave covering areas.  Another example is the occupation of the supposed “autonomous zone” in Seattle by protesters. This left anyone with homes or businesses in the area at the mercy of protestors. While luckily widespread violence did not occur, there were 4 shootings in 10 days and a large amount of vandalism and property damage. This is all while the authorities watched from a distance.  The takeaway from this is that you need to be aware of how things around you are unfolding and be ready to hunker down or move in very short order.  Speed is your friend when it means you can get out of an area before things escalate or at least ahead of the masses clogging the way.

A second lesson to learn from this is that any promised aid in the event of a disaster may never materialize. Many of those individuals in Afghanistan that assisted the military either with translation, logistics, or security were promised visas to allow them to come to the U. S. and sanctuary. Only a percentage were granted before the last military flight left. This left those depending on that trip to safety in a lurch. The same again happened in Katrina. Many were promised aid by FEMA and other organizations, but were left to fend for themselves against the elements and criminal activity in the area. The Superdome is a prime example. People were packed in there with little to no supplies and security. The supplies that did arrive were completely mismanaged and many sat unused.  This shows us why it is important to take personal control of the planning and supplies you may need in those situations.

Hopefully most in the U. S. will not need to have alternate identification or illicit routes to leave the country like many may have needed in Afghanistan. Having a full tank of gas and a packed bag of supplies ready to go would be a great idea though.  Anything you can do to take responsibility for your own safety will greatly increase your chances of surviving unscathed. Waiting and depending on someone to save you is not a proper plan.

Being Vigilant

While many of us don’t like to think about it, boring things keep us safe. Things like checking your mirrors and blind spots before you swap lanes. When you first begin driving a good teacher will emphasize this. The longer we drive though, the more complacent and distracted we can get. That is until one day we side swipe a SUV because we failed to look. The same principle applies in disaster planning. When we start, we check off all the items we bought and preparations we made. We keep up a good rotation of things like food, medicine, and batteries. The longer we go, the more apt we are to slip on that. If things go wrong that can render part or all of our plan useless.

The first item that most people refer to when talking about rotation is food. All food has expiration dates. It could be argued these are suggestions, but do you really want to gamble on that when things go wrong? It is wise to set up a rotation using a First In, First Out policy. This simply means that you use the oldest items first. This prevents some of them making it to the back of the shelf and expiring before you realize it. It is also a good idea to keep some kind of list of what you have including expiration dates. This gives you a good way to plan meals to use up items BEFORE they expire. Plus, different kinds of food have widely varying expiration periods. Some people also write the expiration dates in large clear text on the front of the container. That is much easier than reading the sometimes-tiny dot matrix style printed expiration date that is somewhere on the package. One other thing to keep in mind with food rotation is that you need to routinely look for spoilage in your stock of items. It is possible that there was an issue with the item causing it to fail, such as a can not being sealed fully and swelling or cracking open. Another possibility is that there have been pests in your supplies. Sometimes things like weevils will come in with your rice or grain. They can hatch and destroy additional supplies such as pasta. Other times you will have rodents compromise your supplies both by eating and soiling them. Finding this quickly can help minimize your losses. You can then take steps to keep it from happening again. The same precautions need to be taken with water. While it does not “expire”, it may be best to rotate it out. This prevents accidents related to degraded retail bottles and risk of contamination.

Another item that should be on rotation is medication. This applies to over the counter and prescription alike. Each has expiration dates based on when it loses potency. It is best to abide by these so you get the full benefit from them. In addition, you should review any new medical conditions that may have come up. That way you can evaluate if any new or alternate medications needed to be added. You may even find that some of your preferred OTC medications are no longer healthy for you to mix with your condition or other medications. This hopefully will assure that you have what you need when things happen.

The last item you should review is your plans themselves. Some plan and sit on that same one for years without thinking how changing conditions may affect it. Things constantly change. The plan you set up when you children are toddlers may be very different than the one you would if they are now teenagers. Things to look at can include who is included in the plan, what supplies are you including, where this plan is implemented, and when this plan should be implemented.

Let’s start with the who. Since your plan was last evaluated you may have had additions, such as new baby, or subtractions such as adult age children moving across the country for work. These not only change the number of people, but may also shift responsibility around. A new baby may mean that the person caring for them is not free to do other things. On the flip side, a child that is now a teenager may be able to take on much more responsibility than they did as a preteen. Also, anyone that is no longer part of the plan may have had skills that you depended on. You will have to decide how to deal with that.

The next thing to review is the supplies you need to include. Changes of circumstances may require alterations. In the instance above of a new baby, you may need to add formula, diapers, and baby specific medications. You may also have added someone that needs specific items such as medications or mobility aids. They could also have specific valuable skills such as ham radio you need additional equipment for. In addition, you may have things you have found that are better suited for your needs. You use them to replace whatever supplies that filled that gap before.

Third, you will need to review how your location affects the plan. Maybe you moved to a new apartment 5 miles from your old one. This might mean you have to draw up new routes for evacuation or to get home from work. There may be streets that flood in your way, where there were not any before. Your new location may also be more susceptible to certain emergencies. If you moved from Florida to Colorado, you will need to worry more about blizzards now than hurricanes. There may also be environmental changes that affect you. It is possible that the bridge you planned to use is no longer there or a new housing development near it means it is much more likely to be backed up like a parking lot. You could also have new stops to make such as picking up your child from daycare or having to go across town to the high school instead of the middle school down the road. Also, this could affect how you deal with supply storage. If you lived in a 2-bedroom apartment alone and then move to a 3-bedroom ranch with a basement with your spouse, you will be able to store far more supplies easily. If things are the other way around, you may have to get creative in order to fit the same amount of supplies. So not all changes may be negative, but you have to evaluate that routinely to keep from getting surprised.

Lastly, you will need to see if your triggers for enacting your plan have changed. This can be affected by the above items too. For example, if you now work 50 miles from work instead of 10, you may need to react much quicker in order to make it home before the 12 inches of snow come down. It could also be that you now have additional people to include, so a faster reaction ensures everyone has time to grab their gear and go. Alternately, maybe you have finally moved to your dream location with a mountain of supplies, solar and generator backup power, 10 acres of garden, and all the farm animals you could ever want. In this case, you may not need to trigger anything or go anywhere. Sadly, most of us are not in that boat and we have to walk the line between jumping for nothing and acting too late. Taking an honest calculated look at this can ensure you know when it is appropriate to enact your plan for that scenario.

So, while rotating boxes of pasta and reviewing maps may not be the most exciting thing, it can be a very vital part of your planning. By keeping your supplies and plans up to date you avoid being surprised and having everything fall apart right when you need it the most. I have often referred to this review in my September posts related to National Preparedness Month, but depending on the situation yearly may not be often enough. In the end, as with all this, you must be your own judge on this. Just don’t allow yourself to become complacent and let all your planning be for naught.

Happy Holidays!

Here is hoping that anyone that reads this is well prepared, safe, and happy in this holiday season.

We have snow which makes the first white Christmas in a long time. That adds an extra bit of cheer.

The overlooked blessing of light

In this modern age I feel there are many things we take for granted. One of the most significant in my eyes, aside from food, is light. For a large part of the world a simple flick of a switch will light your home all night.  This light is also constant and bright. If a bulb goes out, we just replace it and if we need more light, we just add another source like a lamp or buy higher wattage bulbs. This has not always been the case.

Throughout much of history civilization patterned its life around daylight. This is because having light was difficult or costly. The first campfire build by man much have been a glorious sight, Turning the darkness into light, providing warmth, deterring predators, and allowing food to be easily cooked. It probably took a short time for that fire builder to come to understand how hard it is to gather enough wood to keep the fire burning all night, If it rained, things became an even bigger deal. Light took work. Further through time people developed “better” ways to provide heat and light. One form would have been an oil lamp. Whether it was whale oil, olive oil, or later kerosene, these needed fuel. Again people found that they needed to work to gather that fuel or at least pay someone else to do it.  The light given off by these lamps was dim and smoke often accompanied it. All the way into the late 1800s many people were still limited by the need for this fuel if they wanted extra hours of light.

Jump to present day and you will find a significant portion of the world has access to reliable electricity which translates into light. Now, I fully understand that we still have electric bills and thus still pay someone for the “fuel” for our lights. The big difference now is that in reality a kilowatt of electricity is dirt cheap compared to the alternative fuels of the past. This has lead to many people depending entirely on electricity for light an heat. Aside from a flashlight or two, most people have no other way to provide light. They assume that they will rarely need an alternate source. Take a look at people that are long term residents of areas prone to power outages from snow, ice, hurricanes, or tornadoes and you will see something different.

These people that, for various reasons, understand that electricity is not a 24/7/365 guarantee have been forced into planning for lack of it. This planning means that, while it still may be a inconvenient, it is not an emergency. This is something that many people should learn from. Having alternate forms of light can prevent an extended outage from becoming a personal disaster. There is also a chance that the power outage could be a symptom of a much larger event that causes it to be much longer term. This makes it even more critical to have a secondary plan.

Planning for this does not have to mean a huge investment. A good beginning is to purchase either a battery or fuel based lantern. These provide area light and can be moved around. Battery ones are convenient, but propane or liquid fuel ones do not require battery upkeep. Here are a few options.

This one uses the same one pound propane bottles that the Coleman camp stoves do. If you have a stove, this might be a good option that can share fuel.

Coleman Gas Lantern

This is another Coleman type lantern but it runs on liquid Coleman fuel or unleaded gasoline. This gives you the option to use the fuel stored in your car if need be.

Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern with Hard Carry Case

Coleman also makes a stove that is dual fuel like the lantern

Coleman Guide Series Dual-Fuel Camping Stove

This is a battery only lantern that is good if you prefer ntyo to use liquid or propane fuel. I suggest storing the batteries with it, btui not in it so that if they leak, they do not destroy the lantern. Also, swap the batteries out routinely.

Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern with BatteryGuard

These are just a few of the options for providing light when electricity from the grid is not an option. Other options like solar panels with battery banks, generators, wind powered devices are also possible, but much more involved and expensive. So I advise getting the basic level covered before venturing into those.

 

 

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 4

Week 4 rounds out the month with the suggestion to ‘Teach Youth about Preparedness’. This a topic I have covered before (See Including your kids in the plan) but it is till a very important one to discuss.

While it may seem obvious that you want to teach your kids about the preparedness plans you have, it is not as simple as a family dinner discussion. Age of your children is one key factor. A 6 year old will have a very different role than a 16 year old. Take this into account when address certain scenarios.

One key to doing well with kids is to start early. Start with simple things, such as what to do if there is a fire or the smoke alarm goes off. Teach them how to get out safely and where to meet you outside. Use a honest but not frightening approach. Also keep it simple. 6 year olds will much more reliably follow instructions like “meet at the mailbox” than “get to safety”. This will hopefully help them to understand and not freeze up in fear. This also sets the tone when you broach larger subjects with them.

Give them a responsibility. For the youngest, it could be a backpack of their own containing comfort items such as colored pencils ( don’t melt or dry up), coloring books, a flashlight, and a favorite stuffed animal. This makes them feel a part of the plan. If everyone else has bags, they may feel disconnected and not invest in things. For older kids it may be helping to inventory food stores, assisting their younger siblings during drills, or loading certain things in the car in the event of evacuation (bugging out). This can help to give them some insight into why this is being done. Many in the terrible teens may not fathom what could happen without that. In addition, the helping hands older kids can lend may be welcome help when planning and when enacting that plan.

Additionally, you need to teach kids skills that they may need. While you may not plan to run off and live like Grizzly Adams, some basic woodcraft can be a life saver. Practice things such as water purification, fire starting. safe knife usage, firearm safety, and what to do if they end up lost alone (in the city or in the woods). This skills are much more than their individual ones, they can help to build an adaptability in kids that they can apply even as adults.

One last thing. When possible, keep things light. While kids need to understand the seriousness of some of these matters, they should not lie awake at night worrying about what disaster will happen. There is no reason to have them live in fear. Let them know that the reason you plan is to overcome those disasters. Kids have enough to worry about daily already. It is best if next weeks history test, who to ask to the school dance, or which college to go to are their biggest anxieties. They are only kids once. As parents, we do what we do to let them have that.

As with all planning, there is no rubber stamp method to do it. You, your kids, and your environment will dictate how you involve them. Remember also that by involving them now, you not only prepare them for your plans, but also how to make their own when they are adults.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 3

The theme of week 3 of National Preparedness Month 2020 is “Prepare for Disasters”. This may seem like what you have been doing, but that is not what it means. A better way to phrase it is “Know your Disasters”. This means evaluating disasters that are the most likely to affect you.

One good example is tsunamis. If you live on the coast in relatively close proximity to the ocean, this is something you must take into your planning. If you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, it is not going to be necessary to plan for. If a tsunami hits you there, there is not a lot you can do to prepare.

This is a good time to employ the levels that I discuss. Nothing has to be exact, but you can use them to break down the possibilities. For example, you live in Minnesota and get a large amount of snow each year. The amount you get might be a huge disaster some places, but is only a blue level to you. This is because everyone is used to it. Municipalities will have a sufficient amount of equipment and chemical to remove the snow from the roads quickly. Normal home owners will own snow blowers or at least enough shovels to dig out. In addition, everyone will probably have supplies in case the power is interrupted. If it is, it will be off less time because the power providers are prepared for the yearly ritual. Lastly, people who must venture out will have the proper clothing and things like tire chains to protect them from becoming stranded. So basically the planning and preparation are a given.

A short term, say 24 to 48-hour, power outage might be a yellow level to many people. While it is a huge inconvenience, it is not bad enough to cause you to have to evacuate unless there are other factors. If you do not have extreme heat or cold in your area, then sitting tight and riding it out would be just fine if you have a few supplies and planning. These supplies might be as advanced as a generator tied into your home electrical system or as simple as flashlights, a dual fuel camp stove, and an alternate heat source if necessary. It greatly depends on your desired comfort level and budget.

Hurricanes are an example of what could be a orange level event for many. If you are in the direct path of a severe hurricane then evacuating is the safest bet. The flooding and destruction from high winds can cover a large area and be unpredictable. Being prepared to evacuate quickly with necessary supplies is a must for an orange level event. Since it covers a wide area and easily has the potential to totally destroy your home and anything left there, you may be left with only what you take with you. So, while this covers a large area and occurs multiple times a year in some areas, it may only significantly affect a small number of people in that area. It takes a heavy toll on those it does though.

A red level event is something that totally uproots large regions, whole countries, or more probably, the entire world. It is the worst-case scenario. This could be a massive global EMP., natural or otherwise, taking out all electrical devices. Or it could an asteroid strike of a level not seen since the dinosaurs. Alternately, it could be an entire social break down that brings on a time where there is no rule of law. It could even be a pandemic, but not like we have now. It would be one that has a mortality rate so high and spreads so fast that a significant portion of the population is gone in the blink of an eye. Heck, to cover everything it could even be some sort of zombie uprising. Whatever it is, it overshadows any other disaster in human history. This is the least likely, but most grave level of disaster. Preparing for it is to also hope that you or none of you family’s generations to come see it come to pass. While these are ones that would be deadly if not planned for, they also take so large of an investment of time, energy, and money that many simply cannot fully prepare for the full battery of possibilities. Whether you commit to preparing for this is a personal choice.

While thinking about these possible disasters can be stressful, it is necessary. Once you know what disasters could befall you, you can then logically begin steps to prepare. These preparations could be as simple as storing a plastic tote full of food and batteries or as drastic as moving to a different area to limit your chance of certain disasters. Each situation is drastically different and only you can decide how your plan is laid out to address it.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 2

As part of National Preparedness Month Ready.com recommends that week 2 include building a preparedness kit.

While everyone’s kit has to be personalized for your family, location, and expected disasters, there are some common considerations. I have tried to outline what types of kits, or bags, there are and some of the contents that you should cover.

Building a Bag

I have also, after many requests, built a list of items that are suggestions, but also link to items that can be purchased.

Suggested Buying List

 

FEMA has also put out some checklists and pamphlets on Ready.gov related to preparedness. While most are rather basic, they are worth a look and I have listed them in the links below.

FEMA Checklists:

Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information to Get Ready

Family Communication Plan Fillable Form

Emergency Supply Kit Checklist

Take this week to review what supplies you might need, how best to organize them, and what items you need to store your Bug Out Kit if you must leave your home due to the disaster. Having these items at your disposal will greatly increase not only your chances of survival, but how comfortable you are as you ride out the disaster.