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Disaster Drills: The Best Preparation

Preparation for a disaster is not always enough.  Only practice makes perfect.  If you make the effort to use Mother Nature’s little disasters and test your readiness with dry-runs and rehearsals, you will learn a thousand little things that will make a big difference if you are ever faced with the grizzly bear of a real disaster.

Every school kid has a better chance of survival because of fire drills. The military has survival training, and private enterprise and government agencies practice for the worst with disaster drills.  So take a tip from the pros instead of taking your chances.

Many people get hit with a severe thunderstorm that causes a power outage once every year or two.  Use that opportunity to make note of everything you wanted and needed in the situation.  Better yet, don’t wait for a real outage; turn off the power yourself.  Sure, you have some candles, if only the decorative ones in the bathroom and dining room.  But with no smokers in the family, do you have matches and some disposable lighters?  Put them on your list, and don’t wait until the lights are off to fire up those candles.  Try them now to see how long they burn, how much light they give off, and whether there is an accompanying odor. (The last thing you need in an emergency is one of those candles that are designed to produce a great scent rather than give off a long-lasting, usable light.)

Another thing you’ll learn is that you need to keep your refrigerator closed to keep the cold from escaping.  You probably don’t realize how often you open that refrigerator door, and even just a few seconds can cost you 5 degrees. Under normal circumstances the refrigerator will only keep cold for about 24 hours, so ration your effort.  In an emergency outage situation those efforts might save expensive meats or medicines.  Of course, if it looks like the power will be out for more than 24 hours, quickly prioritize ingredients so you can consume or prepare the most valuable or most likely to spoil items.  It’s better to eat them now (and eat well) than to try to preserve them and lose them to spoilage.

Think about how great it would be to have a small generator right now, especially if the outage lasts more than a day.  Frozen foods will only last so long without power.  The sump pump that is keeping your basement from flooding won’t save your basement carpet and furnishings if it isn’t running.  Your internet service may still be operating via cable or satellite (since these large firms invest heavily in backup power), but you can’t turn on your computer to communicate with the world.  Make a note of every little thing you wish you had.  A manual can opener, a small gas stove for cooking, a non-electric coffee pot, instant coffee, a battery-operated radio and lots of batteries, a battery-operated alarm clock, several good flashlights of different sizes, full-size lanterns (one with batteries and one oil-burning), and cell phones for everybody.  Make a list of everything you could have used, and get one for the house and one for your getaway kit.  Think seriously about investing in a backup generator—especially a solar powered one that is not dependent on dangerous, expensive and smelly diesel.

There is nothing like a major snowfall to cause a run on the supermarkets and hardware stores.  People scramble for supplies, provisions, and tools.  When it’s time to hunker down to wait out a disaster like this, you need to be prepared.  Have a snow blower gassed up and some shovels ready (real snow shovels, not those plastic toys).  Keep extra toilet paper on hand, and stock up with canned goods, dry foods, and bottled water.  Make sure your furnace has a clean filter and is tuned up before the heating season arrives.  Have snow brushes and ice scrapers for your cars.  Keep a large bag of rock salt for ice on hand.  Firewood, space heaters, kerosene heaters, and blankets should all be handy in case you are snowed in.  Minor floods can contaminate drinking water and close roads too, so have a few large jugs of water besides the small ones for drinking.  You might need water for washing and bathing too.  Always think ahead to the third or fourth day of a disaster.  Some things that aren’t vital right away become more important as time goes on, and surviving that fifth day is no less important than the first.

Being prepared at home is important, but you also need to think and practice a disaster drill that requires evacuation.  Learn from your dry runs at home what to include in your “get out of Dodge” kit, and have a place to go outside of the city.  If you have a cabin or relatives with a farm that is far enough out to escape a deteriorating urban situation, visit there often.  Map out all of the alternate routes off the interstate, which will be bumper-to-bumper in the event of a real evacuation (and might be the target for harassment by criminals or law enforcement during a crisis).

If there is no farm available to you, go to campsites outside of the city.  Research your options until you’ve found several places that have wells and pumps, serviceable outhouses, even a windmill and a place for a small garden would be good.  A few bags of seeds don’t take up much space either.

If you want to survive a disaster comfortably, be more than prepared. Be capable and competent in your ability to execute your plan.  Think, plan and practice.  Don’t neglect short-term tactics by focusing on long-term strategy.  Think home survival and offsite survival; the odds are pretty good you’ll be faced with a crisis away from home or need to evacuate your primary residence.

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