Friday, September 02, 2005

Be Prepared

I’ve been meaning to write this for much of the hurricane season, but since Katrina hit and September is National Preparedness Month, I’ll stop procrastinating.

Prevention is important when dealing with potential disasters, both natural and man-made. But not every disaster can be prevented, so both individuals and government officials need to be ready for an emergency. While the nature of the emergency may vary, there are many things you can do that will apply to just about any emergency. Remember, it’s much easier to do your thinking and planning now while you are not in physical or emotional distress and supplies are not yet scarce or unavailable.


Keep in mind that, in an emergency, the usual infrastructure that people depend on for day-to-day comforts and securities may be strained or unavailable. Emergency response teams may be overwhelmed by serious cases, leaving minor cases to care for themselves. Roads may be blocked, making travel difficult or dangerous. Phone, water, electricity, and other utilities may be down for extended periods of time. So what can you do?

Stock supplies. A flashlight (my preference is LED flashlights, which last longer and use fewer batteries, but tend to be more expensive initially), a first aid kit with bandages and medicines you require, bottled water, and canned food. At a minimum. Even if you live where water is usually still available when the power goes out, remember that central water treatment stations require power, too.

It would also be a good idea to keep a phone that plugs straight into the wall since these will work if the power is out but the phone lines are still up. Wireless handsets DO NOT work when the power goes out. Cell phone towers will only work for about a day after a power outage, so if you have a landline, have a way to use it.

If you have a generator, be sure to have gas for it BUT STORE IT SAFELY. My father has a policy of not letting the gas tank in his vehicles get below half a tank so that he can siphon the gas out for the generator if need be. You should stock oil, oil filters, and other maintanence items on hand since these supplies will probably be in shorter supply than gasoline in an emergency. Also, be sure to run the generator for 10 minutes every month so that it will run when you need it.

Skills and knowledge. Basic first aid skills and CPR can go a long way in an emergency. As I’ve said, help may not be immediately available, especially if your case is less urgent than other cases. Know what emergency situations are most likely to arise in your area (in other words, pick your battles: don't worry so much about hurricanes in Alaska or earthquakes in Florida). In rural or even suburban areas, any camp skills are useful, like knowing how to start a fire and cook food in that fire or knowing how to build a makeshift shelter.

Have a plan. If you have to evacuate, have an idea of where you would go and how you would get there. This is particularly helpful for truly unexpected emergencies where your family may be split up and unable to communicate. Have near (in case of fire, leave the house and go to the top of the hill), local (if you can’t get to the house, meet at the gym), and evacuation (if we have to flee, meet at Aunt Jane’s in Pennsylvania) locations.


You may find yourself getting to know your neighbors more than you ever expected in an emergency, but there some good things to know before the emergency hits. For supplies that are more expensive or harder to come by (like generators, tractors, and chain saws), know who, if anyone, has access to those supplies and know what you can offer in return for their use. Give five gallons of gas in exchange for a shower. Share the food in your fridge in exchange for the means to cook it. Offer to help with clean up in exchange for help cleaning your own property.

Be a concerned citizen. Check on your neighbors in an emergency to see how they are fairing. Be willing to help where help is needed. Working together with your neighbors can make some tasks much easier and go much more quickly than any of you working alone.


Local governments should have their own emergency response plan in place. State and federal governments may take time to mobilize help, so local authorities are responsible for first response. In terms of personnel, this means police to maintain order and direct evacuations or block access to quarantined areas, fire-fighters and other rescue personal, and medical response teams to take care of the injured.

An evacuation plan MUST BE IN PLACE, particularly in urban areas where the population is large, the number of paths out of the area are limited, and there are some people who may not be able to leave on their own. Urban areas are also more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, so this evacuation plan should be capable of being executed quickly and efficiently. Florida turns all lanes of I-95 into north-bound lanes when they evacuate for hurricanes (no one in Florida evacuates south). This means they double the usual capacity of the interstate when they area trying to get people out. Cities should know which roads they would make a temporary one-way street to expedite an evacuation.

There should also be a plan for getting those who have no personal modes of transportation to safety. It may be necessary to co-ordinate with state authorities on this.


Local authorities will have to be the first responders in an emergency, but they will eventually need help (depending on the scope of the disaster). They will need additional law enforcement, rescue personnel, medical help, and supplies (food, water, and equipment). In the case of evacuations, they must have an idea of where to send evacuees. The state has the authority to mobilize the National Guard, which can be used to maintain order and deliver supplies and personnel.


The federal government has the big guns and the big money. When a disaster impacts a wide area (directly or indirectly), the federal government needs to be able to step in and manage the response efforts. This reduces the chances that one area gets far more help than it requires while another area is neglected. The federal government can also pull resources from around the country and may have better access to specialized training. Federal assistance may also be required to assist in post-emergency recovery efforts if state and local authorities are overwhelmed.

Obviously, some of this stuff is biased toward natural disasters. If I had written this back on 7/7 (when I was last inspired to write it), it would have been more biased toward terrorism. But no matter what the emergency, the key is to be prepared. Consider this post highly update-able and open to suggestions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Florida has a really good idea, using all lanes of I-95 to go north...I don't think I had heard of that before.
So when will you be getting a corded phone and a land line so you can be in full compliance with your suggestions?:)

9/02/2005 11:01 PM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

I could walk to work in under 24 hours, where I would have a land line. Plus, in an apartment building, you can scream for help and someone will probably hear you. Not so much in a house. Also, I could keep a wired phone in my apartment, then just ask my neighbors if I could use their jack (I suppose this would be one of the things to make note of which neighbors have them, since chainsaws aren't so important in the city, but landlines, which are increasingly rare in areas with good cell service, are). I actually met someone who didn't realize that the phone could still work when the power was out because she had always had a wireless handset. Meanwhile, I remember having a rotary phone...

And, yes, it does sometimes make me nervous that I have no landline. But it keeps the stalkers, er, telemarketers away. Surely my knife and flashlight collection will more than make up for my lack of landline (um, I don't think it works that way).

9/03/2005 12:29 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

Surely my knife and flashlight collection will more than make up for my lack of landline (um, I don't think it works that way).

What would MacGyver do?

Using your knife and your flashlight you could construct a crude morse code signaling system to pass messages to the building across from you (and the aliens with the wicked-powerful telescopes in space).

9/03/2005 1:19 AM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

My flashlight actually has a built-in S.O.S. mode. It also has a pulse mode which would allow me to easily send to my own Morse code messages. No knife required. And if I want to call the mothership, I can just use my communicator. It doesn't require a planet-based infrastructure and the battery lasts forever.

9/03/2005 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

putting to waste some good money that could have been used in other areas of development for the business involved.

11/05/2005 3:45 AM  

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