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  • Flipping the White House in 5 Hours: How Long Does Your Emergency Plan Give You?

    Inauguration day news was dominated by pomp and circumstance on the one side and protests on the other. Yet behind the scenes, all over the city, months of preparation were coming to fruition.

    It’s a lesson everyone can use in their own emergency preparation.

    The White House in Washington DC, United States

    Imagine flipping your house in five hours. It can take that long to get a kid’s room clean. On inauguration day, White House staff members had about five hours to turn the Obama White House into the Trump one, according to stories in the New York Times, USA Today, and Time.

    It’s a mad dash involving decorators, carpenters, cleaners, painters, and electricians. Although the public rooms are mostly off limits by law and tradition, the family’s private quarters are pretty much fair game, according to USA Today.

    Everything from rugs to curtains to shower heads can be replaced. Furniture can be the family’s own or taken from a warehouse of White House historical furniture. They can even add or remove walls, according to Kate Andersen Brower’s book The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

     

     

    The process of preparing the White House for the transition started almost 18 months ago, when the White House chief usher compiled a book of staff members and information about the building.

    Once the first family decided what they wanted, staff members choreographed the transition like a military operation, according to the New York Times.

    As soon as the old first family leaves, White House staff packs their things. Right after the new president is sworn in, two moving trucks pull up: one empty, one full.

    "The outgoing president sees the house the way he always saw it," Dean Mercer, a former Secret Service agent for President Clinton's and President George W. Bush's details, told USA Today. He added the new president "walks in and everything that is his is there."

    By the time the incoming president arrives, favorite snacks are in the fridge, toothbrushes are in the bathrooms and clothes are in the closets.

    Emergencies often involve deadlines. A fire or flood can force you out in five minutes. That’s why it’s important to have an emergency evacuation plan and practice it, so you can carry it out with military-like precision.

    Do you have everything you need quickly accessible? Are all your important documents stored in a safe place, or away from your home?

    As soon as President Trump was sworn in, the White House online communications – Twitter, Facebook and a web site – became active, according to Time. Do you have a communication plan and an emergency contact that everyone in your family knows?

    Also in preparation for the Inauguration, about 28,000 security officials from many agencies turned Washington, D.C. into an anti-terror fortress.

    USA Today described the efforts.

    They included closing streets and bridges, setting up barricades to limit access to the National Mall and bringing in construction equipment and Dumpsters to prevent vehicle attacks. The Secret Service planned how to deal with protesters, for both Inauguration day and the women’s march the next day.

    Jimmy Rivera works in downtown Washington, D.C. He slept on an air mattress at work on Thursday night rather than make his way home through all the barricades and closures. On Friday night, he had to travel out of his way and face numerous delays to get home.

    “I just want my bed,” he said.

    Flipping the White House - Evacuation Plan

    When making an evacuation plan, think about your family’s needs and comfort.

    Where will you sleep? Do you have something to sleep on? It’s winter. Can you keep warm? Do you have spare blankets and clothes?

    What will you do to entertain yourself? Rivera had his phone. He could communicate with family and watch movies.

    Rivera uses a CPAP machine. He took it to work with him on Thursday along with his prescription medication. If you need prescription medication or medical equipment, is it readily accessible in an emergency? He could plug his machine in. Do you have a backup power source?

    Do you have pets? Many emergency shelters and hotels won’t allow animals.

    All in all, Inauguration weekend went fairly smoothly. Although more than 200 protesters were arrested, compare that to the hundreds of thousands of protesters and visitors who showed up over the weekend. There was some damage and rioting in one part of the city, but Rivera said the most disruptive thing he saw was a woman who flashed him. And the Trump family hasn’t complained about their new housing, so it’s a reasonable supposition that they got in OK.

    Planning and putting plans to work helped continue the 200-plus year U.S. tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. Think about applying it to your emergency preparedness efforts.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner White House

  • Trapped in Traffic: Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving

    For Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law, his wife, and a few cousins drove from Utah to California to visit family for the holiday. As they were driving back to Utah the following Sunday, the weather turned sour. It wasn’t snowing heavily – just light rain and sleet, according to my brother-in-law – but that didn’t stop a wreck from happening 80 miles away from their home.

    winter-traffic winter drivingFortunately they weren't involved, but traffic was at a standstill. They would later discover that a semi-truck had jackknifed on the freeway, blocking all lanes. My brother-in-law took a side road – along with everyone else on the freeway – in order to get around the accident. As it turned out, traffic slowed to a crawl – and then full on stop – on that road as well. They moved six miles in an hour and a half. It was 8:00 at night, and they had work and school the next day.

    Later, they learned what had caused the stoppage on the access road – another semi-truck had jackknifed.

    Such experiences can be very frustrating. Fortunately, they all made it back safe and sound. The only casualty was a bit of sanity and some much needed sleep. But they’re alright, and that’s what matters.

    Winter has arrived here in Utah, and if it hasn’t arrived for you yet, it could very soon.

    We talk a lot about preparing your home and food storage for emergencies and disasters (which also includes winter), but today we’d like to help you get your car ready for winter driving conditions.

    First off, how’s your car’s emergency kit? Just like in your home, your car should be prepared with the essentials, just in case you slide off the road or are otherwise stranded in the cold. Ready.gov has a list of necessary items for your car’s kit. Some of those include the following:

     

    • Shovel
    • Windshield scraper
    • Flashlight
    • Water
    • Snack food
    • Blankets and warm clothing
    • Road salt/sand
    • Booster cables

     

    These are some of the basic necessities that need to go with you wherever you travel throughout the winter. Of course, you may have special circumstances and needs which you should prepare for as well, such as medications, pet supplies, or other such items.

    Thinking back on the experience of my brother-in-law, what might have happened if they had things not worked out for them? My first thought is gas.

    What would their trip home have been like if their gas tank had been low going into that traffic jam? During a chilly winter night, they could have been stuck without heat. Blankets, hats, mittens, and other warm clothing would have been a very welcomed resource in that situation. Fortunately, their gas tank was full enough until they could reach the next town (the towns are spread out quite far in the area in which they were stuck, so things could have been a lot worse).

    winter driving

    If they had been stuck on the road, snacks and water would not only do wonders for their morale, but help keep them hydrated, alert, and functioning properly in the event they needed more than just corn ships. Flashlights would have been useful in checking under the hood in case of car trouble (or having light by which passengers could read while they wait). A traffic jam is one thing. Sliding off the road in the middle of nowhere and having to wait for help to arrive would certainly require an emergency stash of gear.

    And the list goes on.

    You see, we never can plan for disasters (including two jackknifed trucks blocking two roads on one trip). That’s why it’s so important to have emergency gear and supplies in your car. The example scenarios above are only meant to give a hint of what could have been – the possibilities of what could have happened are many.

     

    Winter_Storm_Blog_Image2 winter driving

  • Daylight Saving Time: A (Dark) Reminder to Prepare

    Smoke Detector Daylight SavingIn Norfolk, Va., less than two weeks ago, a fire gutted a home and killed two pets. Yet the four people in the home all survived. The home had working smoke detectors.

    In Spokane, Wash., at the end of last month, a fire killed a 3-year-old and the child’s dog. Parents and three other children got out. The home had smoke detectors, but the batteries weren’t working and had been removed.

    Daylight Saving time ended yesterday.  But you can still take a few minutes to change the batteries in your smoke alarms and do a few other semi-annual tasks to prepare for home evacuation emergencies like fires.

    In the United States, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), three out of five deaths from home fires occur in homes without smoke alarms or working smoke detectors.

    Synthetic materials now used in home construction and furniture catch fire at a lower temperature. Their smoke is also more toxic. While 30 years ago you had 14 to 17 minutes to evacuate from a house fire, you now have two to three minutes, Underwriters Laboratories Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg told This Old House. (This Old House has a great piece that breaks down the steps a fire goes through from small grease fire on a stove to a home fully engulfed.)

    “If you wake up to a fire, you won't have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time to escape,” according to ready.gov.

    Daylight Saving

    So, while you’re setting back those last few clocks you keep forgetting about, change smoke detector batteries, and do a few other things too.

    Count smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace any that are more than 10 years old, suggests the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Also replace any that don’t go off when tested. Every level of your home should have at least one, and the USFA suggests putting a smoke alarm in every sleeping area.

    You should test detectors monthly, a brochure from Energizer and the IAFC says. But if you’re like most of us and forget, test them now. Same with cleaning dust and cobwebs off. Go ahead and do that now, too. Test them when family members are around so they can learn to recognize the sound.

    Twice per year – Daylight Saving time is a good way to remember – get with family members and review home evacuation plans.

    Ready.govFire Alarm Daylight Saving gives the following tips:

    • Find two ways to get out of each room. You’ll need a second way out if the primary route is blocked by smoke or fire.
    • Only purchase collapsible ladders evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
    • Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly, and that security bars can be properly opened. Make sure all family members old enough to do so can open locked or barred doors and windows.
    • Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
    • Teach children not to hide from firefighters, and teach them to stay low when trying to evacuate.
    • Also, make sure you’ve got a family meeting place away from the home.

    Change batteries in other home safety and comfort devices, like thermostats and security systems. Many smart appliances use batteries.

    Keep flashlights by each bed, the brochure from the IAFC recommends, to help family members find the way out and signal for help. Change flashlight batteries around Daylight Saving time, too, since kids will have used them for reading, searching for lost items under the bed and playing flashlight tag.

    Get out 72-hour kits, and replace products that will expire in the next six months. Remember to check non-food items – batteries have an expiration date, too. Also, be sure to keep copies of important documents in a fireproof container or, even better, offsite or in cloud storage.

    Every year, home fires kill more than 2,500 people and injure 12,600 in the U.S, according to ready.gov. Whether you like Daylight Saving time or think it should be abolished, it can be a great reminder to protect your home and family from fire.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Daylight Saving

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