Sunday, March 20, 2011

Country Living 101 :: Surviving a Disaster Series - Part I

The events that have enveloped Japan over the past week have inspired me to kick things up a notch. My heart goes out to the Japanese people. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to live through an earthquake, a tsunami, and the threat of a nuclear meltdown all in one week.

Having been raised in Buffalo, NY and having lived in Florida for 23 years the closest I've come to disaster is The Blizzard of '77 and Hurricane Andrew along with a few minor hurricanes in between. I can remember losing power, but we never went without food and water and our house stayed intact. Yea, it was uncomfortable but my mom was pretty good when it came to making things work. During the blizzard she cooked in the fireplace and on a portable propane stove and the hurricanes left us without air conditioning, but we had it pretty easy. It's laughable that people were complaining about having to suffer the heat without their A/C while the power company worked to restore service.  I just can't imagine having everything we own, pets, pictures, furniture, and in many cases in the tsunami effected area, family members washed away in a matter of minutes.  I can't imagine not having a home to go to where I can lay down and sleep or go to the refrigerator and get a cold drink or microwave a quick snack.  None of the people I know can imagine it either. Most of the people I know have what's called "Normalcy Bias". It's when you are convinced that nothing like that could ever happen to you or that the U.S. government would be there to rescue you in the event of disaster striking. Oh's time to wake up.  I'm not trying to panic anyone, but the reality of the times we live in should be enough to convince you that you need to be prepared.

One need only look back to the situation that people in New Orleans were left in Post Katrina to realize that the only one you are going to be able to depend on in a disaster is yourself and your family. One of the good things I love about country living is the lessons I've learned about using anything and everything you have for something. Old clothing can be turned into rag quilts, leftovers can be preserved and stored, what we eat, how we prepare it and how we preserve it are all part of a country living mindset. Urban homesteaders have made being self-sufficient an art-form and are raising their own small livestock in their city backyards, they're growing their own food, and learning to live as "off-grid" as possible. If you live in the city near someone who is urban homesteading, my advice would be to befriend them and learn as much as you can. You won't be sorry.  In my opinion, the urban homesteading movement couldn't have kicked into high gear at a better time than now.

Until recently, I never really paid much attention to things like this. I had "Normalcy Bias" and believed that nothing as catastrophic as what happened in Japan or even New Orleans would ever touch my world. I believe that is the wrong attitude to have these days. Here's the way I see it. Our government has proven time and again that they are unreliable, not trustworthy, and lately not working in the best interest of the people. I didn't come to these realizations easily and actually used to mock  people who used to believe these same things. Over the past several months it seems as if lots of people who used to be just like me are starting to feel the same way. It's like some of us can just feel the change coming and people who never thought about growing their own food or raising chickens or bees are starting to teach themselves these things and more about being self sufficient. We're not panicking, but we know something isn't right and we need to be prepared. 

There are a gazillion resources online for disaster preparedness, but I thought I'd just cover a few basics. I'd love to hear from any of you who are prepared and will share your ideas with the rest of my readers. I don't think we can ever be OVER prepared and since we all live in different areas and setting, hearing different ideas is a good thing. 

Disaster Planning:

1.)  Have a Plan! - The most important part of a family disaster plan is the plan itself.  You'll want to make sure that the whole family is familiar with the plan especially if there's a good chance that family members won't all be home or in the same location if/when disaster should strike. For instance, if you and your spouse work and you have kids in school, have a plan in place on where everyone should meet and a backup location if something should happen to your first location. Not knowing where your loved ones are during a catastrophic event is scary for you and for them.  You might want to take the time to prepare a written booklet and make sure everyone knows where it is. You can use the booklet to document important details of your plan. 

If you're responsible for extended family like elderly parents, etc. you'll want to make sure that if they are capable, they are familiar with the plan as well. Leave instructions with any medical or retirement facilities of what you wish to be done with your family member in the event of an emergency.  Since communication is one of the first things lost in a disaster, make sure your plan has been clearly and effectively communicated with all members of your family and touch base every so often to refresh everyones memory. 

Don't forget your pets. Our furry family members depend on us for their very survival and comfort. They lack the ability to understand any plans or preparations and in the event of a disaster they'll need you all the more. Make sure your disaster plan includes plans for your pets.  Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing the images of Katrina and other natural disasters where pets roamed the streets starving, in search of food and shelter. Don't let that be your pet.

To some people it may seem extreme, but you'll be glad you took the time to prepare should disaster strike. 

2.) Prepare a Disaster Kit - It's a good idea to have 2 disaster kits. One for home and one for the car in the event that you are not home if disaster strikes and especially if you live in an area where the weather gets super cold. 

At home, be sure to keep all of your important papers like passports, birth certificates, social security cards, etc. all in one place. This ensures that in the event that you need them, you can grab them all at once with your bag and go instead of wasting time to search for them. 

Fema recommends the following Items for your home disaster kit:

  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Three-day supply of water - one gallon of water per person, per day.
  • Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit and manual.
  • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper).
  • Matches and waterproof container.
  • Whistle.
  • Extra clothing.
  • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils, including a can opener.
  • Photocopies of credit and identification cards.
  • Cash and coins.
  • Special needs items, such as prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solutions, and hearing aid batteries.
  • Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers.
  • Other items to meet your unique family needs.

If you live in a cold climate, you must think about warmth. It is possible that you will not have heat. Think about your clothing and bedding supplies. Be sure to include one complete change of clothing and shoes per person, including:
  • Jacket or coat.
  • Long pants.
  • Long sleeve shirt.
  • Sturdy shoes.
  • Hat, mittens, and scarf.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket (per person).
Just as important as putting your supplies together is maintaining them so they are safe to use when needed. Here are some tips to keep your supplies ready and in good condition:
  • Keep canned foods in a dry place where the temperature is cool.
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers to protect from pests and to extend its shelf life.
  • Throw out any canned good that becomes swollen, dented, or corroded.
  • Use foods before they go bad, and replace them with fresh supplies.
  • Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in the front.
  • Change stored food and water supplies every six months. Be sure to write the date you store it on all containers.
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family needs change.
Keep items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers, such as an unused trashcan, camping backpack, or duffel bag.

Some pet care items to include: 
  • proper identification / immunization records / medications
  • ample supply of food and water
  • a carrier or cage
  • muzzle and leash
Car Disaster kit:

In case you are strand­ed, keep a kit of emer­gency supplies in your car.
This kit should contain food, water, first aid supplies, flares, jumper cables, and seasonal supplies.

You can learn more about FEMA's recommendations  by clicking here.

So ends the first part of our Disaster Series. I hope this information is helpful to you. I don't want you to panic, but I want you to overcome any "Normalcy Boas" you might be dealing with and just be prepared. 

In our next issue, we'll be talking about how to deal with disaster when you live in an urban area, what to do during the disaster and after and some survival tips. 

Be sure to send me any of your disaster planning tips, I'll include them in our series! 


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  2. Great post. I grew up in Oregon, where natural disasters are rare and never thought much about putting together a disaster kit.

    Now I live in North Carolina, but I'm too far inland to ever be seriously effected by a hurricane (knock on wood). However, some of the severe weather down here really caught my attention and considering we live near a creek in a flood plain, we put together a kit.

    I used this website as a guide and highly recommend it.

  3. Jessica,

    Thanks! I will check out the link and include it in the next post. I'll let our readers know you shared with us. I'm glad you're not in an area prone to hurricanes, etc. They suck! LOL


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