• Mother Nature: A Study in Unpredictability

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    hen it comes to rowdy weather, we seem to have it all figured out by region: earthquakes in California, tornadoes in Kansas, hurricanes in Florida, and whiteouts in Maine, right? How, then, do we account for recent phenomena like snow in SoCal, a first-time-ever hurricane off the coast of Brazil, and Oklahoma's new distinction as the US's most earthquake prone state? As we prepare for the unexpected, why is it so hard to know what to expect?

    The answer is that Mother Nature refuses to be figured out. She regularly breaks patterns, records, and electrical grids; and her only truly reliable feature is her unpredictability. (Now that I think about it, in some ways she's a lot like my two year-old. Only with a little less applesauce in her hair.)

    While meteorologists and seismologists puzzle over the whys and wherefores, for the rest of us, the biggest question regarding the prospect of a natural disaster is something more along the lines of, "How do I not die?"

    Good question. For our money, the best way to stay on our toes when Mother Nature is feeling capricious is to prepare for a range of circumstances. Have a fire escape plan and a tsunami evacuation route; know how to secure windows for a hurricane and protect pipes against a freeze; teach kids where to hunker down in an earthquake and where to run to in a tornado.

    map We all know where “Tornado Alley” is. Or do we? This map shows that tornados occur just about anywhere they choose.

    Most natural disasters have a specific set of recommended safe practices (check out Ready.gov's disaster specific tips sheets), and we don't want to confuse advice like `stay low in a fire,' and 'stay high in a flood.' Other preparations, however, are not only common to any disaster, but also vital. Here are three that could save your family, no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.

    We all know where "Tornado Alley" is. Or do we? This map shows that tornados occur just about anywhere they choose.

    Store food. Have we mentioned this before? Once or twice? Whether you're an advanced practitioner, with an extensive and neatly catalogued food storage, or a student with a couple of cans of chili under your bed, you need to consider how to access your stash in a hurry. Most organizations recommend keeping 72 hours worth of food handy. You could pull from your storage and make sure you have enough for each family member for three days in some kind of easily accessible pack. Or you could look into pre-packaged kits, like our Premium 4-Person 72-Hour Food Bucket.

    prep101 Learn about the 12 Areas of Preparation. Click on this image to download your own online booklet— Prep 1010: An Introduction to Getting Prepared.
    Store water. Again, the recommendation is water for three days (though longer term storage is a smart idea!). Figuring one gallon per person per day—and more for pets, children, or the elderly—that adds up quickly. There are loads of water storage options on the market, for long and short term, as well as filters and purifiers in case of contamination. Check here to see our range of water storage barrels, packaged water, and water treatment mechanisms.


    Store supplies. You may be MacGyver when it comes to household fix-it jobs, but a collapsed roof or flooded living room are going to require more than duct tape and paper clips. Be sure you have a well-stocked emergency supply kit stashed somewhere you can find it readily. FEMA has a useful emergency supply list, for general purposes. For more focused preparation, browse of collection of emergency kits, including everything from auto emergency kits, to power outage kits, to classroom school emergency kits.


    So, while this February the Rocky Mountains are enjoying 60° afternoons and Tennessee schools are closed due to icy roads, don’t be outsmarted by that shifty Mother Nature character. The facts are, tornados do strike in Salt Lake City, and Oklahomans will likely feel at least three tremors today. Who knows what’s in store for the rest of the country? Prepare for nature’s curveballs by keeping the basics on hand!

    Posted In: Uncategorized Tagged With: unpredictability, mother nature

  • Mind Game: What to Do in an Emergency

    mindGameYou’ve heard us say before that proper emergency preparation can mean the difference between life and death. It turns out that that’s truer than even we knew. Obviously having food and water stored and knowing some key survival skills are crucial to provide for our needs in an emergency situation. But researchers are noting an even more fundamental advantage to preparation.

    In a recent article on BBC.com, military survival instructor John Leach explains the psychological effect of preparation in the midst of a disaster. In essence,

    “[s]urvival involves goal-directed behaviour: you feel hungry, you look for food; you feel isolated, you seek companionship. Normally, this is straightforward…But in a new, unfamiliar environment, particularly a stressful one such as a sinking ship or a burning aircraft, establishing survival goals – where the exit is and how to get to it – requires a lot more conscious effort.”

    safetyOnBoardjpg Actually listening to the flight attendant and thinking through the “what ifs” can actually save lives…maybe yours.

    Another expert points out that strong emotions tends to inhibit logical thought processes by actually limiting the number of alternatives we consider—all of which adds up to a lot of baffled people standing around in the midst of an emergency wondering what to do.

    According to Leach and others, the antidote to this all-too-common mental paralysis is (you guessed it!) preparation. If we know ahead of time the steps to take in the event of an emergency, we eliminate the need to run through all the options in our mind and decide on the best course, and can proceed straight to action.

    In the short term, that may mean noting emergency exits and fire alarms, reading evacuation notices, locating life jackets, or paying attention to safety instructions. But what if you’re at home, or visiting friends, or camping, or in one of a thousand situations where there are no conveniently posted directives telling you what to do in case of a disaster?

    I’m glad you asked.

    1. Have a plan, and practice it! How does my spouse get hold of me at work? Which neighbors can my kids go to safely if I’m not here? Where do we go if we need to evacuate? All these kinds of questions can be thought through, discussed, and decided long before any need arises. And to make it easier, download our free and handy templates and checklists to get it all on paper. Make sure each family member knows the plan, and practice it until the response becomes second nature.

    kit2. Gather the right gear, and keep it handy! FEMA recommends keeping enough food, water, and supplies on hand to survive 72 hours (see their recommended supply list here). Be sure your bug-out bag is up to date and conveniently located—the very back of the basement closet may be the only available real estate in your home, but an emergency kit won’t help you much if you can’t access it in a hurry. And if you don’t have one, check out our variety of pre-packed kits, buckets, and packs.

    3. Educate yourself! Your personal repertoire of survival skills will not only provide the necessities for your family in an emergency, but it will add some much needed peace of mind in a stressful situation. Local classes are a great option; most fire departments teach regular CPR courses, and you can look online for community groups that focus on gardening, canning, foraging, or anything else. We’re also big fans of online tutorials, and don’t forget to browse our books on everything from cooking with wheat to surviving nuclear war.

    There you have it. No excuses. Increase your chances of survival in any situation by preparing your brain for action…Now!

    Posted In: Uncategorized Tagged With: preparation, Emergency

  • Lights Out!

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    Text messages are a great thing…except the ones that wake you up at 4:30 in the morning. Like today, a text from a guy in our neighborhood.

    I don’t know how things are in your neighborhood, but ours is quite organized when it comes to emergency preparedness.  We have “Block Captains” who are C.E.R.T. certified (Community Emergency Response Training), each overseeing a corner of our ½ square mile neighborhood (about 150 homes).

    “The power is out...” Our neighborhood captain wanted us to be aware of any concerns this might cause.  Messages like this are not uncommon.

    cert Thousands of neighborhoods across the country are organized and trained to respond to emergencies.

    Sitting up in bed, I thought about some older neighbors on my side of the street. Donna and Howard, 87 and 90 years old respectively, should be all right. And Beverly, age 85, should be fine, too…no oxygen concentrators, ventilators or infusion pumps for any of them. They might get a little cold, but it was a mild night last night, so I decided not to bother them until the sun came up.

    sensorLight Sensor Lights: For about $15 apiece, you will never be left in the dark again.

    I was settling back to sleep when I thought, “Oh…my flashlights! Are they on?”I got up to check the three Sensor Flashlights I recently bought for just this moment. These compact flashlights sit in a charging base plugged into the wall. At bedtime, the charging bases glow to create footlights. And when a power outage occurs—like this morning—the flashlight itself comes on, shining a bright LED beam up the wall onto the ceiling, illuminating the room.Out the bedroom door I walked, down a brightly lit hallway, past the glowing door to the garage, and into a nicely lit kitchen.

    “They worked!”

    I was feeling proud of myself for my forethought and planning.

    Heading back to bed, I bumped into my daughter, Cyd, up early getting ready for work.

    “Oh No…Lights out!” I whispered out in mock alarm. She was not amused by my predawn enthusiasm. She mumbled in irritation, asking if she could take a shower. I realized that a small electric water heater services her bathroom, so I directed her to the other shower supplied by a gas water heater.

    Cyd shuffled off to get her things while I returned to bed. But before I could fall asleep, my curiosity got the best of me. “Why’s the power off, anyway?” I grabbed my iPad from the night stand and googled “power outage.” Immediately I was given the message “Unable to connect to the Internet.” Oh yeah… no power, no wifi. Then, in my mind, I could see a UPS power back-up unit setting neatly on a shelf in the garage. I was going to hook that up... sometime. I was no longer feeling so proud.

    fire News photos clearly showed power lines hanging directly in the flames. It is easy to see how a structure fire could knock out electricity.

    Using my smart phone I discovered that a fire was burning less than a mile from our home. Video showed an under-construction apartment complex reduced to a smoking pile of ash, with a large power pole still smoldering in the middle of the scene. No personal property loss, no injuries. Just 5,000 Power Company customers without power.

    By the time I finished surfing the news it was time to get up. In the kitchen I met Cyd, now in better spirits, and we talked about the fire and the power outage. As I opened the fridge, no light came on. I was reminded—no refrigeration. I quickly grabbed the milk and immediately shut the door.

    As Cyd got out her car keys and headed toward the garage, she paused to ask “How am I going to open the garage door?”

    “Just push the button,” I replied, following her out the door. I watched her face as she clicked the door opener. Up came the door.

    In amusement she asked, “How can that happen?”

    “Auxiliary battery back-up,” I said. “I paid extra for that.”

    “Way to go, dad,” she said as she got in her car. “See ya.”

    My pride was restored.

    A Gentle Prep Training…

    The electricity was restored by noon, and while causing no significant interference to daily life, this little power outage was quite educational. First, it demonstrated how a relatively small incident, like a structure fire, could disrupt electrical service to thousands of people. What if this were a more widespread incident, like a tornado, an ice storm or an earthquake? It’s easy to imagine how power could be out over the whole region, and for days rather than just a few hours.

    This outage caused me to reflect upon how essential a constant flow of electricity is for keeping the heat on, the water warm, and food fresh or frozen. Plus, for people with health concerns, electricity can be vital.

    Ultimately, this event was a gentle reminder that the time to get ready for a loss of electricity is before it happens. If I procrastinate, it may be too late.

    Posted In: Uncategorized

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