Folks living in remote areas are by nature more self-sufficient that urban dwellers. They are used to the fact that they, in most cases, have to rely on their own wits and resources. But 82% of Americans live in cities. As hurricane Katrina painfully reminded us, when tragedy strikes cities, the human loss and material damage is much more devastating because of the density of city population and complexity of city infrastructure.
Unfortunately, people living in cities are used to having all their needs satisfied by a range of providers, from government to private enterprises. They chose that kind of life, they are paying for it and they expect it. They are used to depending on the system to take care of them. But what happens when the system collapses? What do you do when nature throws one of its fits, or war breaks out, or the stock market crashes? All these finely-tuned services fall apart. The larger the city, the worse can be the total collapse of all services. And the consequences are, as people in New Orleans experienced, catastrophic.
This habit of expecting the system to take care of us is creating a very dangerous dependency which is not supported by reality. We have seen time and time again that even the best organized system suffers periods of chaos after an unexpected event, whether it is natural or man-made. It is easy to blame one government agency or another for not being better prepared for these catastrophic events. However, individually, we have no excuse for complacency. We have to do our part as well. Having a personal plan for emergencies only makes sense. And even if we do not live in areas where natural catastrophes are more likely, like a hurricane zone or earthquake-prone areas, nobody is ever completely safe and mayhem can happen everywhere. We are responsible to our families and to ourselves to make common sense preparations for the unexpected, and then hope we will never have to use them.
We are often tempted to shut ourselves away from it all. The news is depressing and it is difficult to know what is real and what is propaganda. But, unless we know what is happening around us, we cannot learn when we need to get ready for emergencies. Listening to the radio or watching TV regularly assures us that we will have enough time to get ready, whether to evacuate, or to batten down the hatches. Shortwave radios can ensure that we stay informed once the emergency situation develops. We can learn about the shelters, medical centers, or places in urgent need of help. If we know family members or friends who are isolated, it is up to us to make sure that they know what is going on and that they can count on your help.
The first hours and days after a catastrophic event are the worst. We feel isolated, often worried about loved ones that are not with us. It is to be expected that the communication towers will go down and that the electrical power will be lost. Having a two-way radio is a very small investment that will offer us independent means of communication with family and neighbors. Modern two-way radios depend only on the distance between them and their range now can exceed 30 miles. If you make sure your closest family members who live away from you, like parents and children, have one, you will be sure that you can reach them and check if they need your help. Check the review of a number of most popular radios at the Consumer Research website.
If you do not think you can make it through the emergency in your home, or someone in your household is vulnerable (pregnant, diabetic, or having any serious health issue), make plans to evacuate. Plan the best evacuation route (it’s best to avoid main highways) – and find out where you can go. Make sure your family or friends can accommodate you, or book a room in a hotel well in advance. You can be sure that the closer you come to the emergency event, the more difficult it will be to find a place to stay. Keep reserve of gas in your car. Prepare emergency bags for each family member. Put all your most important papers in a Ziploc bag (passports, insurance papers, birth certificates, driving licenses, house deed, etc.). If you have pets, make sure your friends or the hotel will allow them.
It does not take much for money to become inaccessible. Natural events can knock out power lines, ATM machines can run out of money or go down if the power is out, banks may evacuate their staff or run out of cash and close the doors. Without cash, we cannot get basic supplies. No traveler’s checks or credit cards will be of any use. Having a certain amount of cash available to every family member is absolutely necessary. Whether you stash it in a safe place in your home or you simply make sure that every family member carries a certain amount with them, that cash can save your life in emergency.
Food and water
There are a range of websites which offer lists of necessities that all of us should keep stored in our homes for emergencies. Most of them suggest having enough water and food for three days. That is too optimistic. At least one week of basic supplies is a must. A comprehensive list is available at the National Hurricane Survival Initiative website. You should adapt the list based on the number of people in your household and your personal needs. Be reasonable. Some things are a must, others you can live without. Think about your emotional needs as well as your physical ones. For example, having a way to offer warm chocolate to your kids will go a long way to making them feel less scared. Make sure you have board games to keep them busy when all their toys run out of batteries.
Coping with mayhem in cold places offers more challenges than in the warmer climates. During the ice storm in Montreal in 1998, a number of people died of cold in their homes because they ran out of fuel, fell asleep, and never woke up. Having a reserve of heating oil or fireplace wood can make a difference between life and death. It is also crucial to be able to offer warm food so a reserve of cooking gas, or at least camping stove fuel, is a must. Be sure your home is well-ventilated because you can easily kill your whole family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Your home is your castle, and in emergencies even more so. Look at your house with an objective eye, thinking of different kinds of catastrophic events. Do you have shutters on your windows? If not, do you have enough plywood to nail them down if you need to? If you wait for an emergency to happen, all the stores will run out of plywood or of anything else you can use instead. Do you have a place to store your outdoor furniture or other stuff that can fly like a missile in a storm? Is your door safe enough if there are riots?
Coping with the unexpected is very much a frame of mind. Be positive and encouraging. Make sure your family sees that you are in control. As soon as you can, see if your neighbors need help. If you are ready to help others, you can expect them to be ready to help you if there is need.