Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emergency Preparedness

One of the biggest problems in the flooding right now is simply how unprepared people are. There is panic for those who are isolated because no one keeps a pantry anymore and people are running out of food after only a couple of days. In the places that have not been cut off yet there is panic buying, and supermarkets are finding themselves with, quite literally, nothing on their shelves. There are huge lineups for sandbags, and families left with absolutely nothing but the shirts on their backs. There are diabetics coming to evacuation centers without insulin! It dosen't take much work or time to become prepared but it may make a huge difference if disaster ever struck. We can't plan for everything, nothing could have helped the people of toowomba when 5 inches of rain was dumped on them within a half hour period without warning. But planning ahead could have lessened the blow to the now isolated residents of caboulture, and they could have helped the evacuated townsfolk of ipswich. Forward planning would have prevented the mass panic we saw in the city yesterday.

I was fortunate to be raised in an old fashioned family, where having a stocked pantry was a must, and having emergency supplies was expected. I never realised how uncommon that attitude is these days, or how much people seem to rely on convenience. I couldn't comprehend only having enough food for one or two days at any given point in time. Some of these families don't even appear to own a torch! The fact food needs to be flown in only 24 hours after the towns have been cut off astounds me.

Having said that, I've discovered a lot of people genuinly don't know how to prepare. They don't know what they might need or what they should store. This is evident as, in their panic to store food, people are buying things like fresh herbs, or microwave meals, or fresh meat, apparently with the hope that their power stays on (meat is not a bad thing to store in case of emergency, but when you are storing as a reaction, rather than a prevention, and you know the emergency you are reacting to will probably mean your power being cut within the next 24 hours, it's rather pointless)

Andrew and I have been discussing lately the importance of preparing and what steps people can take.
Obviously not everything will work for everyone, for us right now we can't do everything on the list because we are living in a very small unit as caretakers to a commercial property. But it is a step in the right direction.

Once-off preperations
  • Keep all your most important documents in one place. - With the technology we have today a lot of paperwork is redundant, but there are some items that are very important. Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, adoption/fostering papers, written wills, important medical reports/perscriptions, important bank details/stock certificates, and anything else you might need in an emergency or would take a lot of time to replace should be in one folder, hopefully with a waterproof cover or a plastic sleeve, and kept in an easily accessable but secure place. Make sure adults are aware of where these are, and that papers are returned if taken out. Try to make the place they are stored as accessable as possible, so that in the case of a fire you may have the possibility of grabbing them as you run out the door (do not go BACK for them, nothing is that important in the case of a house fire, but if they are in the drawer beside the front door, and the path to leave out the front door is clear, it should only take a matter of 5 seconds to open the drawer, pick it up, and go. Make sure you don't have to search through anything to find it.)
  • Keep some cash on you - Bank cards are great, right up until the power goes out, or your bank decides to have issues at just the wrong time. We experienced this first hand yesterday, as the card to the only account with money on it stopped working, and we were unable to get to a bank branch to make a withdrawl. Being stranded in the city would have been bad enough, being stranded with a total of $1.65 accessable to us would have been far worse. I used to be very prudent about keeping a $20 or $50 note in my purse in a special pocket for emergencies, but had become lax over the years. I will begin doing it again now! You should also keep some emergency money in the house. This we had actually done, but we were caught without warning. You should always try and keep some savings on hand 'just in case', even just a couple hundred dollars will help should the worst ever happen. Under the matress, in a cookie jar on the top shelf, in an old jewelery box, whatever.
  • Have torches, batteries, a battery operated radio, rope, and depending on your area perhaps a cheap blow up raft or canoe/dingy, and make sure they work!
  Ongoing Preperations
  • Keep a First Aid kit in your house, and in your car - A few band-aids and some cream do not constitute a first aid kit. You don't need to go overboard, but keep things like a few gauze bandages, wound dressings, medical tape, safety pins, alcohol swabs, antiseptic cream, thermometer, tweezers, etc, as well as over the counter painkillers, and any other regularly used over the counter medications, all in one place. Keep it up to date and stocked.
  • Medications - Obviously stockpiling medication is a big no-no for many reasons, but that dosen't mean you should never have any on hand. If you're on a regular perscription, don't wait until the last dose to go buy the next box, try to keep a week, or at least a few days supply on hand if possible. If you're on insulin keep an emergency supply. If you take an over the counter medication regularly, keep a box spare. I'm not talking about hoarding antibiotics here, just ensure if you have an ongoing medical problem that you don't find yourself taking the last pill and unable to obtain any more. If you have warning of the possibility of becoming isolated, try to arrange to see your doctor for an extra perscription.
  • Keep Food! - Becoming isolated with no access to food is a scary prospect, and households that only keep a couple days supply are taking a great risk. It dosen't have to be expensive, or take a lot of room. At the moment I only have my husband and I to worry about. I always keep a few packages of meat and a bag or two of frozen veggies on hand. I also keep a couple packages of pasta/rice in the pantry. A loaf of bread in the freezer, some jars of simple pasta sauces or stir through sauces, and a few potatoes and onions can always be found in our home. Also remember the possibility of losing power, I keep a few tins of baked beans, ready to eat soups, canned fruit, muesli bars, oats and cerials, and long-life orange juice/milk. It's not as healthy as we would usually eat, the meals mightn't be the nicest ones ever, but they would be food. Right now the two of us could survive a month or so with power, or a couple of weeks without it, without too much trouble. It could last longer than that if it had to, depending on the circumstance.
  • Keep Water - One of the major issues right now is a lack of clean drinking water. Those who have power are boiling it, but those without power or those not connected to the main water supply because they use tanks are in a bit of a pickle. Slabs of water bottles can be bought relativly cheap at the shops, or a large container could be used to store tap water, but do keep some on hand somewhere.
  • Know where your most treasured belongings are - One of the things that keeps coming up is heartache over losing family photos. Things have changed in todays world of digital storage, but keep those old photo albums easily accessable and TOGETHER on a bookshelf, so that if there is a need to evacuate and you have more than two minutes to do so, you can race in, grab them out without looking through a pile of 100 books to find them, and race out again. I would also encourage people to keep a keepsake box so all those important little somethings are in one place. You cannot take your computer with you, but hard drives are not hard to remove if you are in a non-emergency evacuation situation, so have a little time to spare. Find out how to do it, or better yet, use one of the new online backup services to put the most important documents on.
  • Keep a backup of fuel - Most of the time individuals can store a limited amount of petrol or gas in containers in their sheds. We are about to have a serious fuel shortage here because of people filling their tanks up fully at the last minute, even having just a few liters/gallons on hand can make a difference
  • Teach your children how to deal with emergencies - If there was a flood or bushfire within view, do your younger children know to come to you and listen, that it is not the time to misbehave? Or are they more likely to go outside to see the fire coming because it's such an amazing sight? Far too many of the missing persons in Queensland right now are children who went outside and got swept away in the waters, or wern't being closely watched. If you tell your older children that the family is evacuating, do they know what to grab, or would they panic and find their iphone and favourite book because they are too paniced to think straight? If you were seperated in the chaos, do your children know where they can/should go and who to trust, or would they run down the street yelling out your name in a panic There is no need to make a child paranoid, but children aren't always good at being rational in emergency circumstances, and just like fire drills, if they know what to do it means they don't need to nececarily think straight, it will hopefully just be a default reaction. Preperation also biulds confidence, which will help to stop them from panicing.
  • Remember preventative measures - Not every disaster calls for evacuation. Towels and Sandbags can help with minor flooding, as can moving items to the second floor of a two storey home or digging out a drainage channel (please don't dig your drain so it runs into your neighbours house! This happened to a friend of mine who was a pensioner, and he lost far more than he should have, plus the house was unlivable for a time. The position of the house meant it would not have flooded except for the drain dug by the neighbour). Running the hose around your home may be all that's needed to protect you from a small bushfire in a rural area. I don't know much about snow but I suppose there must be ways to prepare for all these blizzards in America right now. During storm season secure your outdoor belongings, keep some old blankets by the place you park your car or in the shed so if you see that telltale green tint of hail clouds you can quickly cover the windscreens before it hits.

At-the-time precautions

Sometimes the worst really does happen, and it's better to be safe than sorry. If you find yourself in a flood or bushfire affected area, don't wait for the emergency services to tell you to evacuate before you get things together. If there is any chance of the emergency hitting your family, do something. Backpacks are a great thing to keep on hand. They needn't be fancy, the ones on $5 clearance after school goes back will work fine for this purpose. Hand held bags are heavy and need to be lugged around, they are a pain and do not make for an easy and quick exit, especially for children. Packing up shopping bags is just dangerous. But backpacks are much easier to slip on and go, and less likely to get too heavy, or get in the way, or get dropped or slow you down. As soon as an emergency begins threatening your area pack these bags with some basic clothing, including warm clothes, and blankets, plus a little food and the paperwork/keepsakes/torches/first aid kits/medications etc we have been talking about, none of these items should be large. If it is a fire risk and you'll be able to drive, then just pack the car. It's easy enough to take it all inside should it not be needed, then it is to grab it on the way out the door.

If you have no time, it's happened suddenly or overnight and you need to go quickly, you should be organized enough to be able to grab what you can COMFORTABLY AND SAFELY carry out the door. Depending on the ages of your children, they may be able to quickly pull out a set of clothes, a jacket, and a blanket each on their way out the door. Even in this emergency situation where you have little time, unless the house is actually on fire make sure you pick up your document folder and any current medications, as there is no garuntee you'll be able to get medication away from home, and while for some people this isn't a big deal, for others it may be life threatening. Nobody who has warning of an impending disaster should show up at a shelter with nothing, the limited resources available need to be reserved for those who really didn't have warning or time.

I hope this might be able to help some people. Of course like anything this checklist will vary from family to family and from area to area. There is no need for me to ever prepare for snow, but there is basically no need for my friends in central Australia to ever prepare for flooding. My town becoming isolated would be a very different situation to my grandmothers town becoming isolated. But just a few inexpensive steps could make a huge difference should they ever need to be used.


  1. Thank you for sharing. You have a very good point about preparing for emergencies- I think the bible calls this being prudent!

    Found you at Raising Homemakers!

  2. Very wise and timely information! Thanks for sharing. :0)

  3. Thanks for writing this. It is a good reminder to me, down in Sth Australia.

  4. I'm visiting from Raising Homemakers and I wanted to thank you for this timely post. I live in Northeastern Massachusetts in the U.S. We got two feet of snow yesterday. Although it's very rare that anyone is evacuated during a snowstorm, all of your tips are very pertinent. It is more likely that we will be stuck in our homes, usually only for a couple of days. It's very important that we have several blankets for each person because it gets very cold when the power goes out. Also, parents of young children need to make sure they always have supplies on hand such as diapers and formula.

  5. found this from raising homemakers blog. Great advice! One thing I might add is that your emergency money should be in small denominations. In an emergency stores may not be able to give you 95 dollars back after buying a small item with a large bill.