So you think because you don’t live in a flood plain, near a river, or in the probable path of a tsunami, hurricane, earthquake or tornado, that you are exempt from being prepared? Think again.

I have spent a lot of time reading the accounts of disaster survivors. Their experiences highlight the fact that every natural disaster has a crisis zone where victims experience the horror of life threatening danger. But all around that zone, there are others affected by less dramatic traumas and challenges – power outages, flooding, a breakdown of infrastructure, a run on the banks and the stores, and a lack of services. Evacuees and refugees fill the roads, the hardware stores, the hotels, the supermarkets, and line up at ATM machines. The consequences of disasters extend beyond the crisis zone where the helicopters hover and the TV networks beam back their images of heroes at work.

From the experience of survivors and eyewitnesses, there is much to learn. Perhaps something you see here or in the news will inspire you to share some thoughts with your family about being prepared for the unexpected, and preparing to help.

I remember my husband’s grandmother telling us stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. She lived along a highway 70 miles from San Francisco that had more horse-drawn traffic than motor vehicles – but she remembered hundreds of people who made their way to California’s Central Valley as a place of refuge, where they could find food, water, housing, and work. The same thing happens today as those escaping storms and fires evacuate to safe havens. Even if you live in an area far from a disaster zone, that disaster can affect you.

Be a Good Host

Consider a few ways your home might be affected and things you can do to provide a safe haven for your family and others:

1. Electrical outages occur far from the initial disaster site. Experts predict that after the Big One (an earthquake over 7.0) in the Los Angeles area there will be huge power outages for weeks. The reason? Power is generated outside of the LA basin and the power lines cross the fault lines. When the fault goes, so will the lines supplying much of Southern California. In 1998 a huge ice storm caused power outages in eastern Canada for more than three weeks. After Katrina evacuees thought they would be safe 50 miles away, the power went out there too.

Recently we have seen hackers invade the computer networks of a huge corporation, Sony, and the Untied States government. They can also take down the electrical grid.

Several years ago vandals cut fiberoptic cables and took down the grid in the San Fransisco Bay area. They have still not been found.

Should others be without power for an extended time they may head your way. But what happens when they arrive and your power is out as well?

  1. Think water. We have a well but if the power is out there is no way to access the water.
  2. After a hurricane, tropical storm or flood, the mosquitoes seem to multiply at ten times the usual rate. If your power is out and it is summer, you will not want to sleep with the windows closed. Be prepared with good screens for all windows and doors or with mosquito netting or other loose weave fabric that can be taped or stapled around windows and doorways.
  3. Invest in a generator. They can come in handy during power outages and brownouts throughout the year.
  4. Invest in glow sticks. After a power outage I decided we needed glow sticks in every room in the house. I was well prepared with candles and flashlights but none of them were in my office where I was working at the time the lights went out.
    White glow sticks are the best and provide light bright enough to cook or walk around without the danger of tripping in the dark. Also, you won’t want your guests to be running down your flashlight batteries which are much more expensive to replace than glow sticks.
  5. Outdoor solar lighting can be brought indoors to help during an outage. When the lights went out here we went out to the yard and brought in the solar lights from the garden. In the morning you can take them outside and recharge them for the next night. They work great and are safe around children and pets. Solar LED lights are also great to create paths from your yard to the house after dark when sleeping in the backyard during a summer outage (like the Summer Heatwave of 2006 in Los Angeles that knocked out power for days in triple digit temperatures).

2. Store foods you like to eat that are easy to prepare. Foods that can be prepared without a lot of work are worth their weight in gold when you are trying to feed a crowd. Emotions might be running high and no one will want to be grinding wheat or letting beans soak and then cooking them for hours. When friends and family evacuate to your home, you will be responsible to feed them. I read several accounts of families who volunteered their home to friends as an evacuation site and when they arrived they had other families with them!

If you live within 100 miles of a disaster area, begin preparing as soon as warnings are issued or immediately after the earthquake occurs. Fill your gas tank and buy any last minute items like milk, bread and eggs. Once friends and relatives arrive for refuge, gas stations will run out and local supplies may be gone but you will still be in a position to offer help. Remember your generator? How much gas do you have for it? The time to store fuel is ahead of disasters – now.

What will disappear first at the grocery store? Milk, bread, water, ice, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, TP, diapers, baby formula, headache and muscle ache medications, anti diarrhea medications, and batteries. Don’t forget the insect repellent. Wouldn’t it be better to have your own inventory of things that store well?

If a power outage affects your area, you may have to wait in long lines to get into a store as employees take you through the store with flashlights to guide the way. As supplies are diverted to disaster areas, deliveries to your local stores may be delayed or non-existent for several days or weeks.

3. Think prescriptions. As people come to your hometown they will be in need of prescription medications. If you are down to the last few days and an evacuation is ordered nearby, renew your prescriptions immediately. Pharmacies may not be able to restock for days.

4. Be prepared to entertain: As conditions improve around you, children and adults alike will become impatient with the disaster routine. Almost certainly you will be without electricity for a few days to a few weeks. Be prepared with some good age appropriate books, travel editions of favorite games, coloring books and crayons for the kids, and balls and other toys for outdoor use. If you are the designated evacuation site for family and friends you will need to have these items on hand. Evacuees will not have room to bring these non-essential items. Everyone should have small games and other small items in every 72 hour kit.

Even if you should have power, boredom will set in so be prepared to entertain.

5. Sanitation can be a huge problem. One of the comments I read over and over was about the awful way people smelled. Although those coming to your home should bring soap and toothpaste in their 72 hour kits, be sure to have some extras on hand. Also consider purchasing a port-a-potty (bucket-type), especially if you are dependent on a well for water. If you are on a well, how will you supply water for clean-up and essential laundry? Wet wipes, hand sanitizers, and extra water storage in barrels would be one approach. A supplemental water tank is another way that many ranchers prepare to care for livestock, and you could store water in tanks too, if you live in a rural area.

6. Garbage will become a concern. Have plenty of large plastic trash bags or biohazard bags on hand. With survivors flocking into town, ordinary services may be delayed for days.

7. Since no one will have the energy or desire to clean up after meals I also suggest you stock a supply of paper plates, cups, bowls and plastic utensils, but if you do, have a strategy for managing the waste they create. Purchase paper, not styrofoam and they can be burned.

8. Have cash on hand. ATMs will run out of cash quickly as evacuees hit town. Again it may take days for the banks to be able to restock their cash on hand. One host family told me of fiends who came to stay without cash and no way to access their bank accounts so they looked to their host for money. Yikes.

All preparations you make now for evacuees will never be wasted as they are all items you will need if disaster does strike close to home. Weather disasters can happen anywhere. Get up and get preparing now.


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