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Are You Ready for a Disaster?

It’s back again; this time because of worries over a possible flu pandemic.

In the past it was concerns over hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, anthrax, and mass power failures. Whatever the problem, to help us survive any potential disaster, we are asked once again to prepare. Not because of fear. Instead, because you understand the consequences. You would think that sooner or later we would all get the message – the world is a great place but with the potential for something bad. How many times do we have to hear the “be prepared, just in case” to realize that maybe there is some truth to the idea?

This has always made sense to me. I have always subscribed to the idea that just because we have something does not mean it will always be here for us, under all circumstances. Whether in classes I’ve taken on wilderness medicine or involvement in community disaster drills, the theme is the same: if you wait until you need something, you have waited too long. I have written a checklist book for preparedness that has been popular from Manhattan skyscrapers to the Pentagon to Los Angeles apartment complexes. I have friends who are in the military, including Navy Seals and Special Forces, cops and firefighters. They all have seen and understand that being prepared does not mean you are afraid. On the contrary, preparedness means you are simply aware that you should take nothing for granted. It is about action, not reaction. People that live up North prepare for blizzards. Those on the Southeast coast prepare for hurricanes. No one would think to call them hysterical or crazy. Just prepared. One of the most wonderful aspects of life is the uncertainty of everything. And so thinking about what might happen and how it can impact on your and your family makes total sense.

Here’s a few ideas to help you get started. Do something while you have the luxury of time.

  • Water: You won’t last very long without it. Each and every person in your family will need at least one gallon each and every day. Some experts say 2 gallons per person per day. Think about this. If you are confined to your house for 1 week, how many gallons of water will you need for your family? And that really doesn’t include bathing, sanitation or pets. Buy water bottles that you will use. Lots. If there is a pending disaster, there will be no water in the stores.
  • Food: You will be hungry and you may not be able to get to the nearby grocery store. Can you and your family eat comfortably for one to two weeks with what you have at hand? And if the electricity goes out, what you have in your refrigerator and freezer won’t be any good after a day or two. When you do but food, be sure it does not require refrigeration, water or cooking. Be sure to only buy food that you will eat. Canned foods are good as they last for years. Other great emergency foods include peanut butter, jellies and preserves, honey, nuts, canned soups and beef jerky.
  • Health: Be sure that you always have on hand at least 2 to 4 weeks of all medications you or your loved ones take. Have a supply of ibuprofen or Tylenol, bandages, gauze, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, a laxative (people tend to get constipated under stress), contact lens solution if needed, TUMS and cortisone cream. For flu worries, have plenty of facial tissues, hand soap and throat lozenges. Think about hygiene – toilet paper, baby wipes, skin care and feminine hygiene.
  • Lighting: There is nothing better when the power goes out than a reliable flashlight, and nothing worse that a reliable flashlight with dead batteries. Have plenty of batteries (make sure you get the right size for your flashlights) and several flashlights.
  • News: Get a hand crank or solar AM/FM radio and even better, a short wave radio to keep track of news updates and official directions.
  • Travel: Keep the gas tanks in your car always at least half full. For your car, have extra fuses, antifreeze, oil and a fan belt. If you have a bike, keep it in good working order with a tire pump and spare tires.
  • Pets: Remember they will need food and water in any emergency. They should be up-to-date on rabies and all shots.

Think about any special needs – elderly parents, infants, any disabilities or problems that should be addressed before any catastrophe occurs.

Even more important that stocking up on a few items is to get to know your neighbors. Talk to each other about preparedness, special needs, and any special skills or talents. Exchange phone numbers to keep tabs on each other in an emergency. Who is the mechanic, the dentist, the doctor or the handyman?

The key to all this – think ahead. The authorities at all levels – from local police to the federal government – have made it clear that each one of us has to take personal responsibility for our own safety. Now is the time.

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