Prepping Matters: Prep For Secondary Disasters

Dangers of Secondary or Cascading Disasters

The whole idea behind prepping is being prepared for disasters.  The word “disaster” conjures up images of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, explosions or anything that suddenly, and tragically disrupts the normal flow of our daily life.  While those events are terrifying, they often are not responsible for most deaths.  Experts call these events initial, or primary disasters.  What happens next is what causes the most trouble.

Let’s look at a hurricane as an example.  Most people who live in hurricane prone areas are very familiar with preparing for them.   They know how important it is to have several days, even weeks worth of food, water, and other supplies stockpiled.  If a hurricane only lasts for a day, why the need for such a stockpile?

With the damage that comes with severe storms, our lifestyle is interrupted.  Streets are covered with debris, so trucks can’t make deliveries to stores.  That means no food on store shelves, possibly for weeks until the streets get cleaned up.  If you had to live for two weeks with what you have on hand today, how would life be?

Now imagine that the electricity is out, and over the radio (you have a battery powered radio, right?), they announce the public water system has been contaminated.  The water may still be flowing, but it will make you sick.  They have issued a boil notice, or worse, a “do not consume” notice.  You are already in a bad situation.  The last thing you want is to get sick and have to go to the hospital (which is already overcrowded).

It could be a week after the primary disaster, and you could still be dealing with several other disasters that happen as a result of it.  These are known as secondary, or cascading disasters, and in many ways, they are more dangerous than the primary disaster.  Here is an example of this concept:

Cascading Disaster Flow chart


In the scenario above, there is a massive flood. Let’s pretend that we were lucky, and there are no deaths as a result of the flood.  However, look at all the things that were disrupted because of the flood.  Although there were no deaths, the hospital is overwhelmed by injuries, near drowning victims, and people who are medically fragile.

The city still has running water, but no electricity.  Unfortunately, the water is contaminated by sewage.  The city has issued a “do not consume” notice, but there are hundreds of people who did not get the message.  They come down with severe diarrhea, and vomiting which puts them in danger of dying of dehydration.  The hospital gets a new wave of sick people who drank the contaminated water.

The city has set up an emergency shelter in the gym of the local high school for people who have been flooded out of their homes.  The gym is so packed with people, you can’t even see the floor.  After three days, several people are ill with cough, body aches, and a high fever.  It is flu season, and since there were so many people sharing the same space, everyone in the gym has been exposed.  Because of the lack of resources, especially clean drinking water, those with high fevers need medical help.  So they go to the hospital.

At this point, the hospital is overwhelmed. They are short on staff.  There are just not enough doctors and nurses to take care of the high number of people, and some die in the waiting room, or outside on the curb without getting any help.

The food supply is interrupted.  Store shelves are empty.  A disaster relief organization rolls into town with food and supplies, but people are panicked, hungry, and exhausted.  Fights break out, and a few people get trampled in a stampede.  More people need to go to the hospital.

There are many other hazards that could happen as a result of the primary disaster.   Some cannot be controlled, such as weather, but for many, the chaos can be minimized, or even prevented.

This is Why Prepping Matters

Look at the chart again, and you will see “Lack of Preparedness” as a contributing factor.  By not being prepared, we make a bad situation worse.  On the flip side, being prepared can help, or even prevent some of those secondary disasters.  Let’s re-imagine the scenario through a preparedness perspective.

This area is prone to floods, so the city emergency management team develops a public education plan to help citizens be more prepared.  The local CERT team helps organize and promote the education campaign.  They teach their family and friends the importance of being prepared by having enough food, water, and supplies to help see them through the next disaster, as well as “bug out bags” in case they do need to evacuate their homes, and go to a shelter.

They encourage everyone to get a battery powered radio so they can receive announcements about the safety of tap water.  By doing this, and by having citizens stock up on bottled water during the flood season, they significantly reduce the number of people who will show up at the hospital for drinking contaminated water, and dangerous dehydration.

Local CERT members and Red Cross volunteers lend support to the hospital and emergency responders by performing triage and first aid to victims, which helps make the process more organized, and saves time.  The doctors can focus their attention on who needs help the most.

At the shelter, volunteers help organize the situation, establishing sanitation routines, and putting up flyers as reminders that good hand washing prevents illness.  They set up separate areas for people who are sick.

Along with the water stockpile, citizens are encouraged to stock up on at least a week of food to feed their family.  Next time, when disaster relief rolls into town, the people are much more calm, and even help to distribute supplies in their community.

Start Prepping Today

I hope you see the importance of being prepared for disasters. Even prepping in small ways can make a big difference.  Being involved in your community is tremendously helpful, and part of being a good citizen.  For more information on how to get involved in your community, visit my post about joining CERT.

Please explore my other posts, where I go into several topics in more detail.

Follow me on Facebook, and encourage your family and friends to start prepping too!


Hydration Matters: Store Water for Emergencies

Dangers of Dehydration

Our bodies are about 70-75% water.  Every cell in our body needs to be properly hydrated to function.  When cells are dehydrated for too long, they die.  When too many cells die, organs begin to shut down.  When body systems stop working, we can become very ill.

In cases of severe dehydration, our heart cannot work properly, and it stops beating.  Dehydration is a very dangerous thing.  Thankfully, it is easily preventable, simply by drinking plenty of water.

The average person loses about 6 liters of water every day just by breathing, sweating, and urinating.  The recommendation is to replace these lost fluids by drinking about eight 8 oz glasses of water throughout the day. In our modern world, we have the luxury of clean drinking water pumped into every building we walk into, so getting enough fluids is usually not a problem.

Warning Signs

Monitor yourself and your family for signs of dehydration.  Here is what to look for:

  • Thirst is usually the first sign that you are dehydrated. Drink several cups, and be sure to sip, sip, sip throughout the day.
  • Bathroom frequency. How often are you urinating?  If it has been more than 5 hours, drink several cups of water.
  • Urine color. Urine should be the color of lemonade.  If it is darker than that, you are dehydrated.  If you are not using a normal toilet (camping, portatable, or emergency toilet) where you can’t tell the color, pee into a clear container or a clear plastic bag first before dumping it so you can see its color.
  • Pinch the skin on the back of your hand, and let go.  It should spring back quickly.  If it takes several seconds to fall back down, you are dehydrated.  The longer it takes, the more dehydrated you are.
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Dry mouth, chapped/ cracked lips
  • Dizziness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Confusion
  • Faintness, a feeling like you are going to faint

The best way to prevent dehydration is to sip throughout the day, rather than gulping down large amounts all at once.  Don’t wait until you are dehydrated to drink.  It is better to sip throughout the day to prevent dehydration, rather than trying to recover from dehydration.

Don’t try to ration your water.  I have heard horror stories of lost hikers who died of dehydration with a bottle of water on their body.

Another way to prevent dehydration is to monitor how much fluid everyone is taking in.  This is easier said than done. You would need a tracking sheet for each person, and every time they drink a glass, you write it down.  That’s too much work for me.  My solution is more visually based.

I bought everyone a 63 ounce bottle, which is how many ounces we should be taking in throughout the day (more in the summer).  So, in the morning they get filled up, and they should be gone by the end of the day.  The straw makes it easy to sip.  Midway through the day, it should be half empty.  By the time you go to bed, it should be empty.  This helps make monitoring fluid intake much easier.  Of course, if they want more, they can have more, but this is the minimum.  Full disclosure, the amazon link price is $19, but I bought this one at Wal-Mart for $9.

63 oz. water bottle. Straw for sipping.

The Rule of 3

In the world of survival, we are governed by the “Rule of 3”.

We can survive:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (from extreme heat/cold)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Assuming air and shelter are taken care of, one of our biggest concerns is water.  It’s easy to take water for granted in our society, because clean drinking water is provided for us, right in our homes.  In my house, I have 5 faucets that pump out clean water on demand.  What if that service was interrupted?  Plumbing is a modern convenience that has created a sense of security, but what if that system fails?

This week, the water main in my neighborhood ruptured, and everyone in a 20 block radius had no water.  Suddenly, many of my daily duties came to a halt, and I was painfully aware of how many of those tasks are dependent on clean water:

  • We can’t flush toilets
  • We can’t do laundry
  • We can’t wash dishes (so we can’t dirty any either)
  • We can’t cook anything that needs to be cooked in water (rice, beans, oatmeal)
  • We can’t take showers
  • We can’t wash our hands
  • We can only drink what beverages we have on hand (which at that time, was a 1/2 gallon of milk)

The city informed us that it would take at least three days to repair the water main.  Fortunately, since we have friends who weren’t affected, we just stayed with them.  But what if the entire city supply was contaminated?  What if there was no one we could stay with?  This got me thinking about how unprepared we are for a major disaster.

Even though the situation was not dire, local stores were sold out of bottled water.  The shelves were empty.  The city had to bring in tanker trucks, and bottled water from surrounding cities, just for this one neighborhood.  I have seen videos of people standing in line for food and water rations after a disaster.  They look terrified.  I don’t ever want to be desperate, so this week I have worked water into my emergency preparedness plan.

empty shelves source dailytarheel
In another town, a broken water main left bottled water shelves empty (source:

Conserving Water During Disaster

It was nice that the city distributed bottled water, but it wasn’t nearly close enough to cover our daily needs.

Since we could not wash dishes, I was hesitant to eat on our regular dishes.  The last thing I want is nasty, dirty dishes piling up in the sink for three days.  What if it was more than 3 days?  The house would stink, it would attract flies, and eventually, we would run out of clean dishes.  An easy solution to this is to have paper plates, cups, bowls, and plastic eating utensils in the emergency kit.

I encourage you to put these supplies in an emergency kit that is stored away from the kitchen. Later, when the water was back on, my kids opted to use those instead of washing dishes. I had in mind to save them for another emergency.  They burned through my emergency stash of paper plates within a week! The good news is, now I know how long those supplies will last us.  I keep them in a plastic tub in a storage closet now.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Food Considerations

In a previous community CERT meeting, we were taught how important it is to store food and water for emergencies.

As they were talking about storing enough food to feed your family for 3 days, I was rather proud of myself for having plenty of food stockpiled.  I had about twenty pounds of dry beans and rice that could feed us for weeks.  I had ample amounts of pasta, oatmeal, and whole wheat flour.  They stressed how important it is for us to take care of ourselves as best we can during a disaster, and I felt confident that my family was secure.

When they started talking about water, my proud smile faded, and was replaced by a look of grave concern.  What if there is no clean running water? What happens when that convenient system is interrupted? Recent disasters like the severe drought in California, and the Flint water crisis show how important water is, and how frighteningly dependent we are on public services.

Without water, much of my food is useless.  I can’t cook any of it without water! I have a few gallons of water stored, but much of that would have to go towards drinking water.  If I had to cook with it, much of it would be lost.

For example, spaghetti is a family favorite, but not the best meal for an emergency.  I use almost a gallon of water to boil pasta, and that water gets poured down the drain!

I quickly realized where my emergency plan was lacking, and I set to work revising it.  Now, my food stockpile includes foods that do not require water for cooking.  In fact, these foods provide water!

  • Canned soups, stews, chili
  • Canned beans
  • Canned fruits
  • Canned veggies
Not only do these foods come with water, but also valuable protein, fiber, and vitamins!

A Note About Sodium

Someone kindly pointed out to me that canned foods are often high in sodium, and sodium has a dehydrating effect.  It’s true, that high concentration of sodium pulls moisture out of cells. However, our bodies do need a certain amount of salt (electrolytes) from foods in order to function properly.

For example, electrolytes are necessary for our heart to beat normally.  Too little, and it stops beating.  Too much, and it beats too fast, or too hard, leading to hypertension (high blood pressure), which we don’t want. There is a balance that we should aim for.

Try not to exceed 2300mg per day, but don’t go under 500mg per day either.  Somewhere between 500mg-2400mg is a safe range.  For a healthy person, I would aim for around 1,000mg of sodium per day.  This would ensure that you are getting enough, but not too much.  Of course, if you have orders from your doctor to limit your sodium to a certain amount, you should stick to that.

I would definitely avoid high sodium foods such as chips, ramen, and condensed soups.  Although they contain their own fluids, canned soups are high in sodium (even the low sodium options are still high), and contain very little nutrition.

Sports Drinks and Pedialyte

During extreme heat, or long periods of intense physical activity, we sweat a lot.  Sweat is salty. So remember when I said your body needs some salt to work properly?  That’s why athletes drink things like gatorade, to replenish those lost electrolytes from sweating.

The average person does not need to drink these types of beverages because we usually get plenty of sodium from the foods we eat.

If this is something you are concerned about, you don’t have to stockpile gatorade. Here is a simple oral rehydration recipe:

  • 1 liter of clean drinking water
  • 1/2 tsp. regular table salt
  • 6 tsp. sugar
  • Anything you want to add for flavor: lemon juice, crystal light, a few splashes of juice if you have it.

These are things you will already have in your kitchen so you don’t have to waste precious storage space and money on “special” drinks.  The only things that gatorade has that this recipe does not, is some minerals like potassium.  However, as long as you are eating balanced meals, you don’t need to worry about this either.  Later, I will post how to plan healthy, balanced meals for disasters.

If you want the reassurance that gatorade offers, by all means, go ahead.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink gatorade, just that it is largely unnecessary.  You can also buy the powdered kind, in individual packets so you can control how much goes into it, and it takes up less space.

The exception to this, would be young children who have severe vomiting and/or diarrhea. According to the World Health Organization, “Diarrhea is currently the second leading cause of child deaths and kills 1.9 million young children every year, mostly from dehydration.”  Diarrhea is very common during disasters, especially for the very young.

Young children cannot tolerate gatorade, it is too harsh on their system.  If you have young children in your home, it might be worth it to have some Pedialyte Freezer Pops in the freezer.  Even if they melt when the power goes out, they can still be consumed.  By opening one popsicle on an “as needed” basis, you don’t risk contaminating the whole container as you would with a large bottle that may not get used.  Also, they don’t take up that much space in the freezer, and can even help keep your frozen foods cold for longer.

I recommend stocking up on these before you need them.  That is the whole point of prepping.  If you wait until you need them, the store shelves may be empty.  I would rather be prepared, than gravely concerned.


When water is such a vital part of survival, it amazes me that we use so much of it for non-essentials.  We don’t NEED to have our waste flushed away by clean drinking water, but that is the way our sanitation system is set up.  In a disaster, clean drinking water will be preciously scarce.  We will need other methods of handling our waste.

Also, with water being scarce, we can’t do many of the things we do to keep our home environment clean and healthy.  Often secondary disease from filth are picked up well after the initial disaster is over, and there is not enough water to wash dishes, clothes, etc.  So how do you keep clean with only a little bit of water?

That is a whole other subject, and I will cover it in detail soon.

How Much to Store?

The recommended amount to store is 1 gallon, per person, per day, for three days.  So one person would need 3 gallons of stored water to last 3 days.  There are currently four people in my household, so here’s the math:

(4 people x 1 gallon) x 3 days= 12 gallons of water

Oh, and we have a cat, so I need to add in the water for him.  He doesn’t need a whole gallon, but I count it that way for easy math.  Besides, it can’t hurt to have extra water in case we need to share with a neighbor. Now that I think of it, my sister might very well come and stay with us during a disaster, so I include her in my calculations.  So here it is:

(6 living things x 1 gallon) x 3 days= 18 gallons of water

Eighteen gallons of water would take care of us adequately for 3 days, assuming it is not in the middle of summer, and 110 degrees.  During the summer, I would calculate 1.5 gallons per person.

Storage Containers

I live in an apartment. I just don’t have a good place for 18 gallons of water in the bottom of my closet, or lining the wall of my dining room.  Single gallon jugs of water are not practical to store for some families.

What I like to use are 7 Gallon Water Containers.  You can find these at Wal-Mart from $8-$14, depending on the type.  We use these when we go camping.  Since we are very stingy with water when camping, we can make 7 gallons last about 2 days before we have to go fill it up again.  They are made of heavy duty plastic, and will take a beating.  If you find yourself in a situation where the city is providing clean water for you, it’s nice to have these to fill up.

In my opinion, it’s a lot easier to store and carry one 7 gallon tank than seven 1 gallon jugs. The downside is, they are not light.  When full, it weighs about 55 pounds.  However, I am young and strong, and I have other young and strong people in my household.  It is not a problem for us to carry these. So depending on your situation, you might want to opt for the easier to carry one gallon jugs.

Do not use milk, juice, or chemical containers to store water!

No amount of cleaning these containers can remove the tiny particles of milk, juice or chemicals. Your water will be contaminated, and unsafe to drink!  You or your family may become very sick from drinking water stored in these types of containers.

They say soda bottles are fine, as long as you wash them thoroughly with soap and water, and rinse them well.

How To Safely Store Water Long Term

Stored water should be replaced every 6 months.  This is because over time, still water becomes stagnant.  Microbes (tiny microscopic organisms such as bacteria, and viruses) can survive and reproduce in the water. You can slow down this process by adding a few drops of bleach per gallon of water.

Most tap water is already chlorinated for this reason, so this step may be unnecessary, (unless your city has issued a notice that the water should be boiled).  As long as your container was sanitized before you filled it, and you keep it closed until you are ready to use it, most tap water should be safe to drink.

If you use well water, or any water that has not been treated by your local utility, you will want to use the bleach to make sure the water is stored safely for future use.

If you have doubts, you can always use water purification tablets right before you drink it. Campers, hikers, and international travelers use these all the time to prevent sickness from water contaminated by bacteria, parasites, or viruses.  It will not remove chemical or man made toxins from the water. If you have any doubts about the safety of water, do not drink it.

Peace of Mind

Recent disasters like the severe drought in California, and the Flint water crisis show how important water is, and how frighteningly dependent we are on public services. Considering how important water is for our survival, it should be a higher priority over anything else. Before you stock food, you should stock water.  Remember, we can live 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.

During and after a disaster, stress is high, and your mind will be preoccupied.  It can be easy to let a long period of time pass before you think about hydration.  This already happens in our normal lives.  Sometimes we just get busy, and forget.  It’s not until we are parched, and “dying” of thirst that we realize we are dehydrated.

So during a disaster, it is important to make sure everyone stays properly hydrated. The last thing you want is for someone to end up severely dehydrated to the point where they need to go to the hospital, which may already be overwhelmed, and not able to take care of you.  So take care of yourself first, and make sure you and your family stay hydrated.

Give yourself, and your family the peace of mind that dangerous dehydration is one thing you will not have to worry about.

Information about water treatment and storage was found at

A more in depth guide about storing food and water for emergencies can be found at

Finances Matter: Start An Emergency Fund

I was chatting with a friend about being prepared for emergencies, and she said “Why not just go stay in a hotel?”

The thought had occurred to me as an option, but it depends on the disaster, doesn’t it?  When the water main broke in our neighborhood, the hotels in our area filled up quickly.  There were no vacancies…not at the ones I could afford anyway.  The only ones left were $200 a night, and I can’t afford that.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

I don’t think anyone will argue with me about the importance of putting some money aside for a rainy day.  However, studies show that most people have very little savings.

Most financial experts recommend having about 3-6 months worth of living expenses saved up in case of job loss, or some other disaster that interrupts income (like a car accident that keeps you out of work for a month). For me, that would be about $9,000. I can tell you right now, I don’t have even $1,000 in the bank set aside for emergencies.

According to a survey by GoBankingRates, the majority of Americans (69%) have less than $1,000 in savings.  Within that group, about 34% have no savings at all.  This is known as living “paycheck to paycheck”, and is a financial disaster waiting to happen.

So when my friend said “why not just stay in a hotel”, my reaction was “with what money?”  I have had weeks where I counted pennies to put gas in my car, and I’m sure there are many who can relate to that.  So for me, and almost 70% of other Americans, we are woefully unprepared financially for disasters of any type.

Saving for a Rainy Day

It can be hard to think about saving $1 for tomorrow when you need $2 for today.  But you have to start somewhere. Here are some painless ways that I have found to put money aside for emergencies.

  • Bank of America has a “Keep the Change” program where they will round up your debits to the nearest dollar, and put the difference into your savings.  For example, if I buy $12.75 worth of groceries, they will debit my account for $13 and roll over 25 cents to my savings.
  • I liked that idea so much, I started doing it with my cash.  When I pay cash for something, I dump the change (coins) into a bag in my purse.  When it gets full, I dump it into a jar at home.  When the jar gets full, I deposit it into my savings.  I saved about $150 last year doing this.
  • I looked at my bank statement one day, and realized that most of my transactions were at restaurants!  After adding it up, I spent $700 in one month for a family of four!  That’s just dining out, not counting groceries!  I started cooking more meals at home to save money.  Yes, it requires more effort, but it’s worth it.  Perfect example: I paid $3.50 for a cup of coffee at a posh local cafe.  I pay about 35 cents per cup when I brew at home. That adds up to $1,134 a year saved just on coffee!

Be Honest With Yourself

When I was living paycheck to paycheck, it wasn’t because I didn’t make enough money.  I just wasn’t managing my money very well.  It was easier to think that I had it rough. I used to think life would be better if I could just find a better paying job.  So I did.  And you know what?  I was no better off.  Why?  Because my spending habits didn’t change. I had more money in my pocket, so I spent it. This is actually very common, and is called “lifestyle creep”.  It means the more money you have, the more you will spend.

To put this in perspective, I had a friend who made over $100,000 a year.  At the time, I was making less than $20,000.  He told me that he was living paycheck to paycheck too.   I was shocked. At the end of the month, he had as much spending cash as I did (which was nothing!).  How does that happen?

Over the years, as his income increased, he got a bigger house, better car, more expensive furniture, and so forth, until he had over stretched himself financially.  Eventually, he could barely make his mortgage payment.

I realized that was exactly what I was doing.  I had gone from making $20,000 a year, to making $35,000.  Despite the fact that I had more money, I was still struggling exactly the same.  It didn’t make any sense.  More money was not the answer, so I decided to do something about it.

A Failure To Plan Is A Plan To Fail

For me, the word “budget” evoked feelings of dread.  I didn’t really want to know how bad it really was, so I emotionally stuck my head in the ground and tried to ignore it.  Naturally, all that did was make my problem worse.

No problem ever goes away by ignoring it.  Eventually, I found myself “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  I was using my bill money to make my car payment, and taking out personal loans and credit cards to “catch up” on bills.  Soon, I found myself saddled with $2,000 in credit card debt, and $150 in new monthly payments that I couldn’t afford to add to my budget. I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole.

I had always made budgets for myself, but life always threw me a curve ball, and halfway through the month I would end up revising my budget, moving money around, and trying to figure out how I was going to make my budget work.  Every month would go by, and every month I felt like a failure. I did this for years.

I would then fall back into the thought that the problem was that I just needed more money.  I couldn’t help but feel that if I could just make $500 more a month, all my problems would go away.  But deep down, I knew that would not really solve my problem.

I was trapped in a negative cycle.  My mom always said “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting”.  Wise words.  I knew I had to do something different.

A Budget That Works

I was saved by a wonderful budgeting program called YNAB (You Need A Budget).  This was different than other ways I have budgeted, because you only budget what you have. You don’t budget for future money.  You budget the money you have in your hand today. If all you have is a dollar, you decide where that dollar needs to go.  In fact, that is the first rule of YNAB:  every dollar gets a job.  This was revolutionary for me.

I won’t go into the details about how YNAB works.  They have plenty of videos that explain it better than I can anyway.  I will say this though:

I will never go back to any other way of budgeting my money. Ever.

Not only did I get out of the trap of snowballing myself into debt, but I am now a month ahead on all my bills, and I have $500 in my emergency fund, and it has sat, untouched, for 3 months. That has never happened before.

I would try to be good about saving.  I used to say to myself “Ok, this month, I’m going to be good, and put $200 into emergency savings”.  Well, because I had a budgeting system that was failing me, I would be dipping into that money before the month was over.  I would feel like a failure…again…and hated myself for not being able to make it work.  I felt worthless.

But after finding YNAB, I realized something:  I wasn’t failing at my budget.  The budget was failing me.  It was designed to fail!  It wasn’t my fault.

Since starting the YNAB system, I feel like I have done some psychological healing when it comes to my finances.  I am no longer afraid to face it.  In fact, I look forward to it.  I get excited, because I am finally getting somewhere with it.  I am reaching my financial goals.

One day, I hope to have a house on 5 acres, a garden, and some chickens.  I always felt like it was just a dream, and never going to happen.  Now, I believe that goal is doable.  Now, I have the right tool to make it happen.

Emergency Fund Goal

I am part of the 69% who has less than $1,000 in savings, but I am working on it.  I want others who are struggling to know that it CAN be done!  Start with where you are today, and the dollar that you have now.  You may not get there tomorrow, or the next day, but you will get there someday.

Having $1,000 is just a starting point (in the minds of financial experts), but for some of us, it can seem an impossible task.  Set the goal of $1,000.  If you don’t use YNAB, use something!  It won’t happen if you don’t make it happen.  It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen without work.

Peace Of Mind

Yes, it’s hard work.  But the peace of mind is incredible!  I used to burn ulcers in my gut with worry about my financial state.  I would pray to God every day that nothing bad would happen to us, because I simply could not afford anything out of the ordinary.  Even something as simple as car repairs (which is not a disaster, but it was to me) because I had no money set aside for it.

I can’t tell you how much happier I am.  I am sleeping better at night.  I worry less.  I enjoy life more.  I am able to afford family vacations, not because I make more money, but because I am better at managing what I already have.

I have peace of mind now, that my family will be ok.  That peace of mind grows every month as my emergency fund grows.  I will never return to my old way of handling money.

A Word About Insurance

I am no financial guru, but I can tell you that it’s better to have insurance than not.  My apartments require us to have renters insurance to protect them, but I would still gladly pay $25 a month to have it.

Let’s say I have $5,000 worth of stuff (tv, furniture, video games, etc).  A fire happens, and I lose everything.  My renter’s insurance would cover all that I lost, and put us in a hotel for a few days.  I already said I don’t have even $1,000 in my emergency fund, so if I had to stay in a hotel, replace all my belongings, and come up with a security deposit (usually about $1500), I would be homeless.

When I signed up for renters insurance, I am covered from day one.  By comparison, if instead of paying $25 a month for insurance, I just stuck that money into savings, it would take me 16 years to save up $5,000!

Sure, there’s a chance that I may never have to file a claim.  After 16 years of paying into the insurance, that is $5,000 out the window, that I will never see again.  That’s how insurance works, though.  No one can see the future.  It is always a gamble.

I’m a single mom, and can’t afford to take chances with my family, so I will always err on the side of caution.  Insurance gives me an extra level of peace of mind.

Finances Matter

I believe we could all do with a little more peace of mind.  When I think about how almost 70% of our nation is not prepared financially for a disaster, I feel grave concern.  I know that if something really bad were to happen, a lot of people would need financial assistance.  How long would it take to get help?  What would we do while we wait for help?  What if help never comes?

What if I don’t qualify for help?  I used to qualify for assistance programs, but now I make too much (just barely). So I cannot depend on government assistance as a safety net.  I must take financial responsibility for my family.

I would rather be confident in my ability to take care of myself and my family than sit and pray, utterly dependent on someone else to provide for us.

If the 70% started saving some money for emergencies, I suspect they would feel better about their situation like I do.  I shudder to think about people who have to learn the lesson the hard way.  Don’t wait for a disaster to happen before you start to set some money aside.  Even if it’s a dollar, that’s a good start.

Prepping Kids Matters

An Oncoming Storm

I knew this weekend we could expect a severe thunderstorm.  I was ready for it:

  • I have at least 3 days of food and water for my family
  • I have a first aid kit, and I know CPR/First Aid
  • I have a weather radio, and flash lights in case the power goes out

I was up at 8:30, and checked the weather.  The forecast said we could expect severe thunderstorms around the afternoon.

Normally, Sunday is the day that I do laundry and other housekeeping.  I realized that if the power does go out, I will not be able to do laundry, so I got an early start.

I was feeling pretty good about myself for being proactive.  Not having clean laundry is not a disaster, but it is certainly demoralizing. With thunderstorms, we often lose power, and I wanted to get as much done before that happened.

As I got a head start on my house cleaning, I noticed it got darker outside. At 10:00 am, it looked more like night than day, and the sky had a swampy green hue (a danger sign for tornadoes). The wind started picking up, and I heard an odd crackling thunder in the distance (I am no stranger to thunder/lightning…this sounded different).  The storm came earlier than I expected. My NOAA weather radio rang out with a tornado warning alert: “Take cover now”.

I put down the laundry.  Calmly, I woke up my kids.  “Tornado warning” I said.  I told them to grab their blanket, and come to the living room.  Since I have already established a tornado plan with them, they know the drill.  I switched on my HAM radio to the NOAA weather frequency (same as the weather radio, I’m practicing with my HAM radio).

By the time they got to the living room, the tornado warning was cancelled.  It passed that fast.  My son joked that he woke up “for nothing”, and I reminded him to be thankful it was for nothing.  Things could have gone rather differently if a tornado passed over us.

Tornado Warnings in Red
Radar snapshot.  Areas in red are tornado warnings

Play the “What If” Game

Since they were up, and we were all huddled together, I used this as a teaching opportunity.  I posed several “what if” scenarios, and asked what would they do.  “What if I am at work when a tornado happens?”  “What if the apartment is unsafe, and you must leave?  How will I find you?”  We have talked about this before, and I was surprised when my son gave answers that he came up with on his own….things we have not talked about.

We live walking distance to 3 schools, so the obvious answer is that if home is unsafe, go to a school.  But when I asked him where he would go if home is destroyed or unsafe, here is how he answered:

Him: “I would go to the grocery store” (which is a block away)

Me: I was surprised at this answer, and said “why not the school?”

Him: “The doors will be locked”

I explained that in a disaster, the schools are opened as shelters, and would be the best place for him to go.  Since I volunteer with CERT, I explained how the community will get organized to deal with the disaster, and that would be the best place for him to go.  If he is wandering around, he may expose himself to secondary disasters from debris, downed  power lines, flash floods, etc, and that he would not be safe.  Furthermore, if he is alone and gets himself in trouble, there will be no one there to help him.

I realize how important it is to continually and periodically practice drills, and revisit the plan often, because while it is clear to me, it may not be clear to them.

As I was walking my son through the “what if” scenarios, I asked him “What if the streets are covered with debris?”  His answer:  climb over it.  No!  There could be so many dangers with that (puncture wounds, falling, and downed power lines to name a few). “Ok, then, I would cross over the creek.”  No! With the storm, there could be risk of flash flooding, dangerous debris hidden under the water, or downed power lines nearby.  These dangers don’t reveal themselves until it’s too late. So crossing through the creek is not an option.

It was good that we were going through this mental exercise, because it was making him think critically about the situation.  He walks to school every day, but after a disaster, it would be entirely different.  It is far better to go through this critical thinking process when he is well rested, well fed, and calm, rather than in a disaster where he may be scared, panicked, distraught, and just not thinking clearly.

Delusional Ideas About Surviving

Going through this exercise was good for me, because I learned something about my son.  He is a teenager, and likes to play video games.  He likes games and movies that involve being the hero, or “toughing it out” in extreme survival situations.  Perhaps these movies and games primed his mind towards a fantasy notion about surviving a disaster.  He envisions himself performing gymnastics, and “beating the odds” like the heroes in his games, but real life does not work that way. Often with surviving, the best solution is the least dramatic one.

I won’t go into how entertainment might give kids the wrong idea of what surviving is about, but I do offer this caution:  This is why it’s so important for us to talk to our kids about this stuff.  My son may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors because it is the “brave” thing to do, rather than making the safe choice which will keep him alive.

Even with survivor shows, we see these so called “experts” taking unnecessary risks in the name of survival.  That’s done for entertainment value.  If they showed what it is really like (sitting by a campfire hours on end, bored to tears), nobody would watch it, and there would be no show.

I offer this as a word of caution.  This is only my experience with my kid, and I am not suggesting that all kids share this survival fantasy, but if mine does, I suspect others do also.  Another reason to talk to our kids.

Safety is Number One

Our conclusion was that the school only makes sense if he can get to it safely.  Although the school makes the most sense, if he can’t safely get to it, he needs to find the next best thing..  Maybe in the end, the grocery store is the safest place to go.  So while we do have a plan in place, we have to make decisions based on the circumstances.  In the end, it all comes down to safety.

It’s a scary thought to think of my kids being on their own in a disaster.  But I have greater peace of mind after I have had these kinds of talks with them, and gone through some exercises.  I feel better knowing that they know what to do.

Make It Fun

There are some great resources to help with teaching your kids about disasters.  is a website designed to teach kids how about the common disasters for their area.  They even have an interactive game called “Disaster Master”.  Older kids might think it’s lame, but it is a good starting point, and it gets the point across.  My son said he prefers a live, hands on “simulation” experience.  So I may surprise him with a disaster drill in the middle of the night one day!

I think the key to teaching kids is to keep it fun.  If they see it as another chore or duty, they will be less receptive to hearing what you have to say.  Emphasize the importance of the matter, and that they may save lives one day by what they learn.  But mostly, this should be a bonding activity, and not something they come to dread.

Get Them Involved

One of the best ways to teach something is to make them responsible for it.  The more involved they are, the more they will learn. My daughter learned a lot about nutrition and meal planning when I put her in charge of meals for a week.  While meal planning is not rocket science, she quickly realized how much work goes into it, and how much there is to consider.

Depending on their age, assign them something to be responsible for. For example, if you live in an area where you may need to be evacuated (wildfires, hurricanes), everyone can be responsible for their evacuation pack (often called a “bug out bag”  or “BOB”.  These can be kept in their closet, or under the bed.

You provide them with a checklist of items that needs to be in that bag at all times (change of clothes, water bottle,  etc.) Periodically, call the family to a meeting with their bags, and do an inspection.  Put someone in charge of a “family” bag that has copies of important documents (insurance, birth certificates, Social Security Cards, etc.) as well as a first aid kit, and other items your family might need if you had to suddenly evacuate.

Let Them Take Charge

They say the best way to master something, is to teach it.  As you practice drills, and it becomes clear that they understand, put a child in charge of running the drill for the family.  Let the student become the master.

Being in charge is an eye opening experience because they are not mindlessly going through the motions. They have to think about it.  This takes the experience to a whole new level.

Also, it may be the case one day where the child is the one in charge in an actual emergency.  How many times have you heard stories where an adult was unconscious, and a 5 year old called 911?  Someone taught them that.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Kids practice fire drills at school several times a year.  They don’t stop after a certain grade level, and say “well, seniors don’t have to do the drills, because they already know”.  No, we practice regardless, because in an emergency, we will be panicked and forget what we “know”, but we will not forget what is a habit.

If we are in the habit of grabbing an emergency pack from under our bed during evacuation drills, we won’t have to stop and think about where it is kept when the time comes.

If we are in the habit of watching the weather for warning signs, we won’t be caught off guard when the alert comes on to “take cover”.  We will already be ready.

If we are in the habit of going through the thought process (like in the “what if” game), we will already have the right answers in our head when faced with that situation.

This kind of automatic reaction only comes with repeated practice.

Don’t Procrastinate

One of my favorite prepping quotes is from Cody Lundin’s book When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes. He says “It’s too late to read the book on how to swim when the boat’s going down”.  That is the essence of prepping.  It is too late for me to try and teach my kids how to respond to a disaster when the disaster has already hit.  I may find myself unable to lead them, and they may find themselves on their own.  That is a horrifying thought.  The only way I can give myself peace of mind about it is to teach them now.

Prepping Matters: Have a Plan

Imagine you are woken in the middle of the night by a loud rumbling noise.  The bed shakes. The windows rattle, then shatter, blowing bits of broken glass into your room.

What do you do?

Well, depending on where you live, this could be an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, explosion, or any number of other disasters.  The type of disaster will determine what should be done.

The good news is, natural disasters tend to happen in somewhat predictable patterns.  Certain parts of the world are more prone to certain disasters, and not others.  For example, California sees earthquakes on a regular basis.  Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, and Oklahoma is known for tornadoes.

We can’t always know when and where a disaster will strike, but we can prepare ahead of time for what we are most likely to encounter.  For example, if I lived in California, I would definitely learn how to prepare for earthquakes, but here in Texas, earthquakes are not a problem.  We are more likely to encounter tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flooding.

The first step in preparing for emergencies its to prepare for the types of disasters you are most likely to encounter for the region you live in.

Plan Ahead

Let’s say that in the example above, the disaster is a tornado.  Tornadoes do weird things.  I have a picture on my Couldn’t Sleep Last Night page where a tornado left a mobile home in place, but sucked the mattress out the window! If it can suck a mattress, it can probably pull me out too.  My first action would be to get away from that window. In a tornado, seconds count, so my best option would be to get in the closet, or jump into the bathtub, whichever is quicker.

In the seconds I have to think, especially being pulled from the stupor of sleep, I might not be thinking clearly.  That’s why it’s important to think these things through ahead of time, so you will already know what you should do.  In the old G.I. Joe cartoons, they used to say “knowing is half the battle”.  By doing your think work and preparing before a disaster strikes, you will be ahead of the game.

Practice Drills for Each Disaster

Once you have identified what is most likely to happen, and what should be done, the next step is to make sure everyone in the house knows the drill.  The best thing to do is have regular family meetings where you practice what should be done in each type of disaster.  Make a list of the top ten most likely disasters for your area, and develop a plan for each one.

For example, if a tornado destroys our home (while I am at work, and the kids at school), the kids know to stay at the school (as long as it is safe), and I will find them there.  If the school is not safe, then they are to go to the hospital.  We know to leave messages, if possible. These are all things that must be discussed in family meetings, and refreshed periodically.

You might get some grumbles and complaints from certain family members, but be persistent.  This may save their life one day!

A Most Common Disaster

Some disasters strike regardless of where you live. House fires, for example, can happen anywhere, and is one disaster that every household should be prepared for.  Do you have a fire extinguisher?  Does everyone know how to use it? Do you have one on each level of your house? What is your escape plan?  What if the fire is blocking your escape route?  Do you have an alternate route? Do you live on a second floor?  If so, do you have a fire escape ladder?  What if someone is injured?  Do you have a first aid kit? Do you know how to use it?  What if you are the one who needs help? Is every member of your family trained in what to do?  Do the little ones know how to call 911?

As you can see, there is much to be considered, and this is just one type of disaster.  Putting a fire escape plan together is very important.  Fire safety and prevention would be even better.

I remember when I was 13 years old, I decided to make myself some french fries as an after school snack.  Both my parents were at work.  I put the pot with oil on the stove, and cranked the heat up.  The phone rang, and it was my best friend.  She was upset (boy troubles).  I stepped outside to talk in private. I don’t know how long I was on the phone with her, but when I stepped back inside the house, my heart jumped into my throat.  There was black smoke collected at the ceiling to about the top of my head.  Two foot flames were leaping out of the pot, and licking the wood cabinets above the stove.  I panicked, not knowing what to do.  Fortunately, I had heard that you should not put out a grease fire with water, so I grabbed salt, and flour to smother the flames.

I opened the windows to let the smoke clear out, but the walls were gray with soot from the smoke.  The cabinets were charred black like charcoal.  In my teenage mind, I dreaded my parents coming home that day, because I knew I would be in trouble.  The truth is, they were relieved it wasn’t much worse.  If I had not been taught how to handle a grease fire, I might have reacted by throwing water on it, which could have seriously burned me that day.

After that, our family sat down and developed a house fire plan.  We got a fire extinguisher, and we weren’t allowed to do anything other than boil water when no adults were around.

Wait, And It Will Be Too Late

We were lucky that day, but sadly, many families are not.  Tragically, many families die when having a plan may have prevented their deaths.

Putting a plan together takes some time, and is not something that can be done in a single afternoon. The best thing is to  schedule time to work on your plan, an hour every day  until you feel like you are in a good place with it.

No two plans will look the same.Every family plan will look different, but there are some common guidelines to follow.  To get a better idea of how to put an emergency plan together, visit for some helpful resources.

Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Don’t wait, or it will be too late.  Make a plan today.

Communication Matters: Become a HAM Radio Operator

No Dial Tone

If you have not read my post about joining CERT, please do (Community Matters: Join Your Local CERT Team).  After I joined my local CERT team, I discovered that one of the main areas that was lacking in my emergency preparedness plan, was communication.  I had ample supplies of food and water.  My family knows what to do when disaster strikes.  We have a first aid kit , and know how to use it.

However, if a tornado ran through here, and knocked down power lines, how would my CERT team contact me?  Phones would be out, including both landline and cell towers.  Without electricity, there is no internet. What would I do then? Furthermore, how would I contact my family?  How would I let my out of town family know that I am safe?  This poses a dilemma.  In fact, during disasters, the few phone lines that do remain operable, are constantly jammed with the huge influx of calls–people who desperately want to contact their loved ones.

Assuming my family and neighbors are safe, I want to do what I can for my community.  The problem is, if the CERT commander can’t contact me, then I won’t be any help at all.  If I just go out there and try to help, I might just be getting in the way and doing more harm than good.

Radio to the Rescue

The good news is, there is a perfect solution to these problems: HAM radio.  Radio communication works independently, meaning even if phone and electricity are out, radios still work.  With battery powered radios, people can still communicate, even over several hundred miles! This means that I can contact my family over the radio to communicate, without relying on phone lines or cell towers.

I was surprised to learn that it is fairly easy to become certified by the FCC to become an amateur radio operator, by taking a simple 35 question exam.  The study guide put forth by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), contains all of the questions that might appear on the exam.

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual

If you are unfamiliar with concepts such as radio frequencies, or electricity, some of the concepts can be technical and confusing. While the official study guide is a great study tool, and covers all of the questions on the exam, I felt like I needed to have some of those concepts explained in a more simple way. The Ham Radio For Dummies book is helpful for breaking down the technical things in an easy to understand way.

I put in about two weeks of study with flash cards and practice exams. I passed the test. I had no prior knowledge of radio, electricity, or anything remotely related.  To put it into perspective, there was a 10 year old girl in my class who passed. You can do it!  Once you pass the test, you will be issued a call sign by the FCC, and you can get on the radio. It’s that easy!

You don’t need an expensive radio station and antenna to communicate.  A simple handheld radio will do almost everything that a new operator would need to do, and is actually perfect for disasters.

The radio that my mentors (or Elmers) recommend is the handheld Baofeng UV-82 Two-Way Radio. There is a two pack available ($59), but as of the date of this post, it is cheaper to buy two singles ($56), not including shipping and handling.

Why not just use Walkie Talkies?  They are only programmed to certain frequencies, and they generally only work by line of sight, which means you have to be very close together. Those radios are generally not powerful enough to work in dense areas such as cities where there are a lot of structures that get in the way of the signal.  Walkie Talkies are fine for very local areas, such as a campsite or apartment complex.  However, their reach is probably not more than one mile.  With a handheld HAM radio, you have a broader range of frequencies, and you can bounce your signal off of other radio stations to achieve a distance of perhaps 100 miles, depending on conditions.

This kind of communication is wonderful when I consider how many friends and family I have scattered all over this state.  I could use my HAM radio to check on them, and to let them know that I am safe (being careful to avoid the emergency bands of course).  Even when the phone lines are working, they can become jammed  during a disaster. It can sometimes be impossible to make a call, because everyone is calling in/out to check on the ones they love.

Know How to Use It

While the HAM test covers the basics, every radio is different.  Even various models from the same manufacturer are different.  You have to spend time reading the manual that came with your radio, or watching youtube videos for that specific radio in order to learn how to use it.  If you are lucky, there might be a HAM mentor in your area (called an “Elmer”) who can help guide you on how to use your radio.  It’s another great opportunity to get involved in your community, and get to know your neighbors!

Another Step in Being Prepared

By getting my family certified as HAM radio operators, we will be well prepared to communicate during a disaster, and prepared to be a much needed help in our community. I am proud to say that I have passed the test and earned my Technician license, aI am prepared to be an asset and a resource for my community during tough times.

Couldn’t Sleep Last Night

Last night, I was not prepared for a tornado.  I have taken baby steps over the last year to get my family more prepared for emergencies.  I have several other posts on the back burner that detail all of the things I have been doing, and I will post those soon.  Yet, despite my efforts, I learned just how unprepared I actually am should a disaster strike.

Here in Texas, severe thunderstorms are as common as Wal-Marts…seems like there is one on every corner.  I love thunderstorms.  Something about them makes me feel alive.  However, last night, the hairs on my neck stood on end.  The thunder was just a little louder than it usually is.  The winds were just a little bit stronger than they usually are.  Instead of feeling invigorated, I felt concerned.  You see, I have lived in Texas my whole life, and I have never encountered a tornado (thankfully).  That doesn’t mean the day won’t come.

So I was in bed, feeling quite unnerved, and my mind suddenly raced with a thousand thoughts: “What if there is a tornado tonight? What would we do?”  I thought about the food and water I have set aside. “Would that be enough?”  “Where are the flashlights?”  The kids had taken them to a night time scavenger hunt. “Did they put them back?” I had no idea. “Where is the first aid kit?”  We had recently gone camping, and had not unpacked the bags yet.  “At what point should I tell the kids to get in the bathtub?”  I didn’t want to alarm them for no reason.

My mind was a whirlwind, much like the storm that raged outside.  I convinced myself that everything would be fine…it always is, and that I was overreacting.  I suppressed my fears, and tried to go to sleep.

I found out the next morning, that there were actually two tornadoes that touched down in the next town over!  Goosebumps pricked up on my skin.  My instincts were right.  Here are some photos of the destruction, courtesy of kxan news:

I share this story because it is easy to convince ourselves that nothing bad will happen. Here I am, an advocate for emergency preparedness, and I felt terribly unprepared. Luckily for us, nothing bad happened, but our luck may not last forever.  I don’t want to feel like I did last night.  Today, I am addressing all those questions I had.  The flashlights and first aid kit are back in place.  I picked up a few extra cans of food and water when I did my regular grocery shopping.  I talked with my kids about our tornado plan.

The key with being prepared is, don’t get complacent.  I don’t mean live in fear.  I mean that prepping should be a natural thing we do, like getting an oil change, or spring cleaning.

If I was smart, I would have had a NOAA Weather Radio. This is a special radio that is programmed to alert you for severe weather warnings. If I had one of these radios, I would have had my answer, and I wouldn’t have been left guessing.  Couldn’t I have just turned on the weather station on my tv?  The power was out, so I had no tv, and no internet.  It’s fairly common for the power to go out for an hour or two.  I am prepared for long periods without power, but I didn’t consider the possibility of not being able to get a weather report.

What about sirens?  The city has tornado sirens, don’t they?

That’s what I thought too.  But I recently found out that many cities do not have the sirens, and depend on reverse 911 emergency alert texts to your cell phone.  So if I was waiting to hear that siren before taking action, I would never hear it.

The nice thing about this radio is that it has a battery backup, so if the power goes out, it will run off of battery.  Also, if you are sound asleep, and there is a tornado warning for your area, it well set off an alarm to wake you up, giving you and your family time to get to safety.  Sometimes tornadoes can be on top of you in a matter of seconds, so every second matters.

I have learned from this experience, not to become complacent. I have ordered my NOAA radio.  I hope to be better prepared for next time, because next time might be the real thing.