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 www.ready.gov/make-a-plan 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.

Community Matters: Join Your Local CERT Team!

You are Not Alone

Whatever type of disaster you are prepping for, one thing is certain:  you are not alone.  Even if you live in a rural area, you are part of a community.  On the show “Doomsday Preppers”, some prepped for total collapse situations (which they refer to as TEOTWAWKI-The End Of The World As We Know It) where they felt that they would have to hide in their bunkers with 50 years of stockpiled food, and fight off the desperate souls who were coming for their preps.  What kind of life is that?  It makes for good tv, but that is a very unlikely situation.  We are much more likely to encounter a million other disaster situations before we encounter one such as that.

Strength in Numbers

Personally, I would rather be a friend to my neighbors.  I prefer to be surrounded by people I know I can depend on, and who know they can depend on me.  Wouldn’t it be easier to sleep at night knowing that your neighbors have your back?  Yes, I prep to take care of my family first, but I am also thinking of my extended family, my neighbors, friends, and my community.  It can feel overwhelming at times, but the key is, when we are all prepared, we can rely on each other in an emergency.  There is strength in numbers.

It is a scary thought to think that in an emergency, YOU may be the help that someone is looking for.  Many disasters cause roads to be blocked by debris, or flooded, so that emergency vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances cannot reach your neighborhood.

CERT volunteers
Neighbors helping neighbors

Support for Our First Responders

Most cities have only enough EMTs and emergency vehicles (firetrucks, ambulance) to handle day to day emergencies.  If a disaster strikes, they usually have to recruit vehicles and personnel from nearby cities.  But what if they can’t get into your neighborhood?

Remember Hurricane Katrina?  It didn’t matter how many ambulances they had, the city was flooded, and people were sitting on the rooftops of their homes!  We were all totally unprepared for that type of disaster, so it took time to get boats and helicopters to deploy for rescue.

For reasons like these, I believe that we have a personal responsibility to be prepared to take care of ourselves as best we can.  We cannot afford to rely on the professionals, or the government to save us.  The good news is, the government has set aside funding to provide training programs for us!  It is called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  CERT is a federally funded training program designed to teach civilians how to respond in a local emergency.

I am going through the training myself.  My favorite thing about CERT (besides the fact that it’s free!), is that their primary goal is to teach us how to take care of ourselves, and our families FIRST.  They would love if everyone could become a volunteer who can respond during a disaster.  However, if they teach even just one more person how to be more self reliant during an emergency, then that is one less person they have to worry about during a crisis.

CERT fire
CERT fire training

 

Preparing as a Community Matters

As a single mother of two, my kids are dependent on me to take care of them.  If something were to happen to me, I want the peace of mind that they will know what to do in an emergency.  Who knows, we may just save a life one day.  This type of training is critical for our safety and well being…even if we never have to use it.

My second favorite thing about CERT is that it teaches us how to respond in an organized way. During the 9/11 disaster, hundreds of well meaning volunteers showed up to help. Although their intentions were good, they caused delays for professional emergency responders by getting in the way.  The lack of organization caused even more chaos, and many people died before they could be helped.

Remember, if you aren’t able to become an active volunteer, you may just find yourself in a situation where someone (your family, your neighbor, or complete stranger) is relying on you for help.  If you are in a situation where help is unlikely to arrive, wouldn’t you rather be prepared, and confident in your abilities to handle such a situation?  The next time you are travelling on a long road, miles from the nearest town, and come upon a car accident:  there is no cell signal, no help will be arriving.  YOU are the help.  You are either prepared to deal with that, or not.  I would rather be prepared.

Is Your Community Prepared?

If you are lucky enough to live in a county that has a CERT team, I highly recommend you become a part of it.  The fact that you are even reading this means that you would be an excellent asset to your community.

To find out if your county runs a CERT program, click here.

If they don’t have one, tell them you want one.  This is part of being a good citizen.  I firmly believe that our greatest strength as a nation lies in our strong communities.  Communities are only strong when we get together and work as a team.  Taking care of ourselves and our families first is part of that.  When our family is strong, then our community is strong.  Let’s build stronger communities!

Why am I doing this?

I believe prepping matters.  We all have a personal responsibility to look after ourselves, our family, and our community.  Prepping today comes with a negative stigma, and I want to change that notion.  Prepping is not being paranoid.  Prepping just makes good sense.  I believe prepping is something that every responsible citizen should do.

When I was a little girl, I loved to read books.  I particularly loved mysteries like Nancy Drew, and Choose-Your-Own-Adventures.  I remember reading classics like James and the Giant Peach, and Judy Blume.  But I didn’t take them seriously.  They were just fantasies, just stories.  They weren’t real.

One summer,  I read something outside of my normal taste.  I read a book about a teenage boy who was suddenly faced with a nuclear situation.  One minute, life was normal, the next minute, his whole world was in shambles.  Suddenly, there was disaster, and chaos.  There was no clean water. Looters were taking advantage, and he even found himself “stealing” though that’s not how he would have described it at the time.  He was just surviving.  There were injured and dead people everywhere.  Buildings were destroyed, and debris covered the streets, preventing emergency vehicles from getting help to people who desperately needed it.  He had to carry his own severely burned mother to the hospital on a wagon that he pulled himself. This book terrified me.

It scared me because at the age of 12, it had never occurred to me that my life would ever change.  I had not experienced death, or tragedy.  I had never been in a catastrophic situation or natural disaster.  I was suddenly aware of how tremendously unprepared my family was if something…anything…were to happen to us.

My First Taste of Disaster

Later that winter, we experienced the worst winter storm in 50 years.  Power was out for two weeks.  The streets were covered with black ice.  We couldn’t even get out of our neighborhood to go to the store, and even if we could, there was nothing on the shelves.  Thankfully, we still had running water, but it was ice cold.  We had to warm the water on a camping stove to bathe with, and we could only warm one gallon at a time.  There were seven people in our household.

When supplies ran low, my parents decided to risk the streets and try to drive five miles to the nearest store.  They didn’t make it.  The streets were covered with a one inch slab of ice.  Their car slid off the road and into a ditch.  They could not get it out, and there would be no help coming.  They left the car there, and walked back home, hoping that the ice would melt soon, otherwise, their family might starve.

Fortunately, before the situation became dire, the ice melted, and everything soon went back to normal.  What if it didn’t? What if we had two more weeks with no food? What if the pipes froze, and we didn’t have running water?  What if we didn’t have that camping stove to cook food?  The horrors of the book played out in my mind, and I was reminded with a real life example, of how unprepared we were for disasters.

The Danger in Comfort

Fast forward, and I am now 35 years old. I have kids of my own, and I have grown comfortable.  Comfort can be a very dangerous thing.  We become comfortable, then reliant on certain lifestyles, then dependent.  At this point, I am 100% dependent on being able to get food from a store each week.  I have no stockpiles.  I have no water stored up.  I have no idea what I would do if a disaster struck us.  

Last year, ebola hit close to home for us here in Texas, and I will not lie.  That was scary.  Like most others, on the surface, I was calm, and not worried about it, but my brain was running away with questions.  I’m not panicking, but what if others panic?  What if there’s a food run on the stores, and I am left with nothing to feed my kids?  What if work makes us take mandatory time off for safety?  I am living paycheck to paycheck.  I am 100% dependent on the salary from my job.  If I lose that, I am dead in the water.  They say they have things under control, but are they just saying that to mitigate panic?  What if it does get out of control?  How will I protect my family?

The reality is, disasters happen.  Sometimes they only affect a few, sometimes many.  It is our responsibility to do what we can to take care of ourselves and not wait for someone else to come to our rescue, because that may not happen.  Unfortunately, that was the case for many poor souls after Hurricane Katrina.

If disaster strikes, in whatever form, I want the peace of mind knowing that I have prepared my family to the best of my ability.  That’s what being a “prepper” is all about.  These days the word “prepper” has a negative connotation depending on who you talk to.  There are extremists, just like with anything else, but being prepared just makes sense.  Not being prepared, and relying on luck and the hope that nothing will happen doesn’t make sense.
So this is my way of holding myself accountable for being prepared, and not getting too comfortable and complacent.  My grandma used to say “It’s better to be safe, than sorry”.  That is my goal.  I want my family, and your family to be safe.