Monday, November 02, 2009

Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Preparing for an EmergencyWhen my husband was attending his last semester of law school in Grand Forks, North Dakota the Red River flooded. Then the downtown area caught fire, burning thirteen buildings (one of which held his office) and the town had to be evacuated while the National Guard mobilized. The last thing we saw was a pillar of smoke rising in the review mirror as we fled the city.

That's one story. Another is what has happened the past three months since Andrew lost his job. It takes quite a bit to start up a business and going without a paycheck, either through economics or sickness, can be nearly as devastating to a family as having a hurricane rip through your house.

A little preparation can make the difference in surviving what life throws at you and a few simple steps can mean the difference in how you and your family handle everything from a weekend blizzard to a personal disaster.

1. Stock up on food.
Find a spot in your home where you can store non-perishable food and start with the basics such as beans, rice, flour, powdered milk, salt, oil, and honey then add things that make the food edible like spices, baking supplies, dried fruits, canned vegetables and chocolate chips. It’s wise to have a year’s supply of staples but even a month or two of food could mean a great deal to a family facing hard times.

Don’t go into debt to prepare and don’t hoard compulsively but set aside five or ten dollars every time you go shopping to buy a few extra cans of something for a rainy day—even a week’s worth of food can get you through an emergency, even basic toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste.

With food prices rising doesn’t it seem like a prudent thing to do? With our own current situation we've been very glad to have those supplies on hand which we've been living off of for the past three months.

2. Store some water.
Have an emergency supply of water. Two week’s worth is recommended, with a normal adult using two gallons per day, but even a few days worth is a smart thing to have around. You can use empty milk jugs that have been properly cleaned with a mild bleach solution (be careful though because if you store them for long periods of time they can leak) or you can buy fancy 50-gallon drums that sit under your back deck but having some water on hand makes a lot of sense when you remember that in a natural disaster often the water supply is the first thing compromised.

When we faced the floods in North Dakota the first thing to go was the water supply and while the Red Cross came in quickly and set up potable water stations you don't want to have to panic if your supply is disrupted.

3. Stock up on bedding, fuel, clothing, medicine.
Living in Alaska I worry that if anything were to happen to our electricity during the six months of winter we could be in a bad place so having heavy duty sleeping bags, warm clothing, blankets and a gas fireplace that can still be lighted without electricity is important to me.

If you have someone in the family on medication think of having an emergency medical reserve—speak to your family doctor about how to get extras—if you were ever in a disaster situation running around to get a prescription filled isn’t going to help your life any.

4. Have some cash around.
You can never tell when you’re going to need several hundred dollars but when you need it you’ll really need it. In addition, it's advisable to have three months of cash reserves but I'm guessing that the average American household is in debt for that same amount if the truth were known. Once you get out of debt start saving and having some cash reserves to pay those bills if you don't have a paycheck.

So think of this whole list as being prefaced by the number one rule of "get out of debt" then take a look at saving something for that rainy day.

5. Have important documents in a safe place.
Keep copies of important documents in one place that is easily accessible in an emergency. I keep copies of birth certificates, social security cards, names and birthdays, immunization records and our marriage license in a large manila envelope. Once you’ve got the essentials consider copies of financial records such as insurance policies, bank statements, credit card numbers, deeds to vehicles and home, and any other paper that proves your financial situation.
Then you might think of adding CDs with visual records of your home and possessions, family photos and history and other family records. Don’t get too carried away—there are always things you can add that you’ll think you can’t live without—just stick with the things that are either irreplaceable or that will help you replace the things that aren’t.

6. Have a contact plan.
Establish a contact plan with family members so that if there were ever an emergency where you were separated and couldn’t get in contact with each other you’d have a designated person whom people could contact to find out information and determine everyone’s safety.

This might be an extended family member or friend but let your children know that if there ever were an emergency where they couldn’t get in touch with you that this other point of contact is the one they should call.

7. Be familiar with area threats.
Do you know what the weather is like in your neighborhood? Do you get tornadoes or brush fires? Do you know what the procedure is for dealing with such dangers? Do you know what a tsunami warning sounds like? Study up on the threats that your area faces and find out what local authorities have to say about how to prepare.

Most cooperative extensions have information as well as your local Red Cross chapter. Don’t wait for the emergency to learn how to handle things—once you’re prepared the fear of facing such a situation is dramatically reduced.

8. Have insurance.
If you live in a flood plain make sure you have insurance and that you know the terms of your coverage. If you live in earthquake country get the proper protection and keep it current with the value of your home. Life insurance, health insurance, disability and property insurance give great peace of mind when life throws a wrench in your plans.

Don’t worry about fancy, expensive plans that try to cover all sorts of cute little perks like orthodontics and vision and such just get basic “catastrophic” coverage with a high deductible and lower premium so that the big troubles won’t wipe you out. You’re trying to prepare for emergencies, not eventualities like dental cleanings. With Andrew out of work we were able to buy a basic catastrophic plan for just under $200 per month through Fortis on that covers all six of us. It's got a very high deductible which makes it so affordable.

9. Have an escape plan.
Be aware of what to do and where to go in an emergency. Do you know where the gas shut off valve is in your home? Do you know how to turn off the water main? Do you have the numbers to utility companies in a safe place should you ever need them?

Do you have a place to go if you had to leave town? Do you know which paths to take if your main street were blocked? Do you have extra gas saved to get your SUV out of town? Does your family have a meeting plan for where to meet should anything happen during the work or school day?

10. Don’t panic.
Most importantly, don’t panic. If you take some prudent steps ahead of time, educate yourself to the reasonable dangers you might face and prepare accordingly when that blizzard hits and you can’t make it to the store for milk or when you’re facing six months of partial pay from Disability you can make it through intact. Most of life is smooth sailing but it’s how you deal with the crazy times that can make all the difference.

This list can seem rather overwhelming I'm sure but by picking away at one thing ts a time you can get yourself and your family in a safe spot no matter what the economics or weather look like. It's saved us these past three months.

Sponsored by Forty Fish Eggs


Danielle a.k.a Yellie said...

Thank you. Very practical ways to prepare ourselves for any kind of emergency that may come our way. I think sometimes we subconsciously think that if we just don't think about those kinds of things, they won't happen. Well, ignorance certainly isn't bliss and I appreciate you pointing these things out and making us think. Now, to act on it.

Laurie said...

Good common sense suggestions that can be applied for a number of situations. My mom learned these truths living through the Great Depression and World War 2. We still have her ration cards! I learned them via Hurricane Katrina and political instability here in Central America. In this country, a full tank of fuel in your vehicle is a must on the weekend, since the city's supplies often runs out during the weekends.

Mom24 said...

Great tips.

I remember a few years ago we thought we had a gas leak and as I sat on my neighbor's porch, freezing because we had to leave the house in a hurry, I realized I didn't have my wallet, car keys, nothing. Not a good feeling when you realize you could literally be about to lose everything.

Anonymous said...

Got em all except...
have some cash around. Unless of course, you count the pickle jar under the bed.
Great suggestions, it is very wise indeed to be prepared for emergencies.

SmallTownRunner said...

Are you a Dave Ramsey fan? (: The financial portions of your tips sound very much like him.

Unplanned Cooking said...

Is your husband from North Dakota? Mine is.

Scribbit said...

Never listened/read/seen Dave Ramsey, though I hear his name mentioned a lot. And my husband is from Colorado.

Sorry, 0 and 2. :)

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Weather it is/was an F5 tornado and things are gone or the power is out for 10 days. Think ahead and be prepared. J

Heart2Heart said...


These are probably things we need to take more seriously now than ever before. With the increase of extreme weather and this economy, it doesn't hurt for us to be more prepared to be self sufficient for awhile. I love the idea of stocking up on non perishables as my mom did this when we were growing up. We always had extra paper towels, toilet paper, and canned food. She just stored all the excesses in shelves on the garage and would replenish when it would be dipped into.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Anonymous said...

We nearly had to evacuate Mauritania a couple of times with coup d'etats. (Or to be more precise, there was talk of evacuating but we were never in any danger) You forgot one thing: have good books on hand. You'll need something to read when stuck in the airport, or on the back of a truck!

Suzi Dow said...

My mother went through an devastating earthquake back in the 1930s so I grew up with your guidelines. I have had two husbands and both thought I was silly at best, crazy at worst. Until we had to fall back on my silliness. I remember one snow storm when we had to help several neighbors. Neither husband laughed at my dusty extra cans of hash ever again. Thanks.

Scribbit said...

Thanks for the personal experience Suzi, it is always good to be safe. And I figure that sometimes it works out where it doesn't help you afterall, for example, when it flooded in ND most of our friends had supplies in their basements, where the water flooded. So some of their preparations were useless but I think it's makes sense to prepare anyway. Too often sickness or unemployment make the preparations worthwhile as it is. And even if it never happens, it's like insurance, making you feel more secure.

Janelle said...

Great list, Michelle. Thanks for the reminder, especially heading into winter. My parents were already big on #5 especially, and so after my husband and I moved into our first house, I insisted that we get a fire box to keep all that in. If you have to get out of town, make sure you know where the key to it is (if it's also a safe, like ours), so you can grab that in a hurry, too. I don't know if many people use safety deposit boxes anymore, but that's another key you want to always know the location to. Some people keep theirs in the ice bucket of their freezer.

chelle said...

We are prepared (although not financially!). I feel like as parents it is our responsibility to be prepared the best we can. So we have food, water, a source of energy (fireplace insert with wood)

Scribbit said...

Chelle--good point. I think about how bad I'd feel if through my poor planning my children suffered.

Terresa said...

Everyone should read this!! We have quite a few of the emergency issues covered, but you can never be too prepared! This is a post I'm book marking for future reference.

Stephanie Frieze said...

This is so perfect for this time time of year. I've done posts on preparedness myself. We had hurricane force winds in 2006 in the Puget Sound Area and 2007 along the coast which left many people at home with no electricity and even no phone. I would like to add that spoilage due to lack of electricity (maybe not a problem in Alaska) frequently falls under home owners' insurance. In some cases all you have to do is put the spoiled food in a garbage bag on your porch, call the insurance co. and they come get it and send you a check.

Deanna said...

We were in Fargo that spring. My husb. was a student at NDSU. Kids were 2(twins) and 3. The school provided babysitting and we had sandbagging dates. Memorable year.

Amber said...

This is very sound advice. I always like to have extra food around and one of the things I do is to have a constantly rotating supply. If I have more rice (for example) than I can use before it expires, I bring it to the local food bank and then buy new stuff to stock my shelves. This is a good way to always have enough for your family but also do good for the community. Just have to watch those expiration dates so you can give the food away before it expires.

Daisy said...

This is so, so important. The emergency list for H1N1 is similar, but minus the water and electric generator. Extra prescription meds, enough food staples that no one has to go shopping, and more. I keep powdered milk around for baking; it has come in handy when we just couldn't get to the store.

Anonymous said...

Excellent information to remind us all of the importance of being prepared. This area of Kentucky was hit by a devastating ice storm this past January, leaving most areas without power for days, even weeks. No ATMs, no credit card machines, no microwaves, no heat... and it was about 20 degrees outside. If nothing else, I've learned to always carry cash around... even once the power came back on, the ATMs were wiped out of their cash in hours. You just never know... we thought we were in for a mild ice storm, and it turned into one of the worst natural disasters to hit this area. Thanks again for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Great advice, although I might add that experts say milk jugs should not be used to store water -- they break easily and they are not easy to sanitize properly.

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

I never think about this stuff unless it's the beginning of hurricane season, or a hurricane is coming our way. :)

Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

FANTASTIC list here Michelle! Thank you!!!

I have about 1/2 prepared - I definitely need to get more prepared.

I am so sorry for the stress your family has endured. Thank the Lord you were so prepared! Good work girl!

ParkerMama said...

I don't know what we would have done the last few years without our food storage.

I'm sure glad I paid attention to that lesson in church.

Instead of grocery shopping as we once would have, we've been shopping to restock the food storage room.

It's also a good idea to cultivate skills such as cooking from scratch, gardening and canning. At least it has been in my experience of one zillion and one medical bills.