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  • Following Emergency Robots? Better Get Prepared

    C-3PO - emergency robotImagine being given a guided tour of an unfamiliar building by a robot. Pretty darned neat, right? The robot escorts you from room to room. This all part of an experiment to learn more about robots. The only problem is, the robot is a wee bit unreliable. It gets lost. It leads you to the wrong room multiple times. It’s fairly confusing, but it’s for research, so why not.

    And then the fire alarms go off.

    Once again, the robot takes charge, illuminating its LED lights to show the words “Emergency Robot Guide.” Considering its track record…do you follow the less-than-reliable robot?

    In this study, 100% of participants followed the robot, putting their trust into a machine (albeit secretly controlled by one of the researchers) that they knew wasn’t entirely trustworthy in simple matters, such as going from room to room. How would the robot do leading them out?

    While this study was to test the 24 participants on their level of trust in the robot, there’s a lesson here regarding emergency preparedness and our own preparations.

    In case of an emergency, would you be content to rely on following someone that is hit and miss in their emergency preparations? Or would you rather have everything you need to survive, including emergency prep, gear, and know-how?

    Droids emergency robotThat’s what happened in the robot scenario. Because nobody knew the layout of the building, they were forced to rely on a droid with a sub-par success rate. Personally, if I were in that situation, I would have felt a lot better if the robot had been more like R2-D2, and less like C-3PO.

    In an event of an emergency, you either know what to do, or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re more likely to follow the crowd. But what if the crowd is just as clueless? If you do know what to do, then you’ll be much more prepared to take care of yourself and your family, as well as help those who aren’t as savvy as you are.

    So, what do you need to do to take charge of a situation, rather than relying on an uncertain leader?

    The first step is to plan. Know the disasters – both natural and man-made – that are prominent in your area. What will you do if the tornado sirens sound, an earthquake strikes, or it rains so hard it floods your neighborhood? Each scenario will require many similar tools, gear, and other emergency prep, but there will also be specific differences for each, too.

    The second step is to go out start putting your plan in motion. If you decided you need an emergency kit (or two or three), then make sure you have a date by which you should have those. The same applies to emergency food, shelter, and anything else you need. For floods, be sure to get insurance well in advance of flood season, since it takes 30 days for your insurance policy to become active.

    HydroHeat by Water - emergency robot Flameless cookers are good for anywhere!

    Third, practice. Once you have your gear and prep, take it for a spin. Learn how to prepare freeze-dried meals by cooking some up for dinner in your flameless cooker, simulating cooking without access to power. Go camping to see how well your tent works for your family, and how well you can start a fire in the wilderness. Having emergency gear is a necessary step, but knowing how to use it properly will get you even further.

    Lastly, stay up to date on your emergency preparations. If you already have emergency food storage or emergency kits, make sure the food isn’t too old. Rotate your storage, and update the food and other supplies in your kits. Continue to get the things you need once you have the bare necessities. Having more than the minimum can help you live more comfortably in an emergency, and can help prolong the time before a disaster becomes a real emergency.

     

    While you may not be able to stop a disaster from happening, your preparations can definitely help make things more comfortable during the aftermath.

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  • Flint Followup: Unsafe Drinking Water is More Widespread Than You Think

    Flint Water Tower - unsafe drinking waterThe water emergency in Flint, Mich., where lead was found in unsafe amounts in the drinking water, has served one positive purpose. It’s brought attention to a widely neglected safety issue: unsafe drinking water. Here’s a rundown of stories just within the last month that discuss unsafe drinking water, and some ideas for how to protect your family.

     

    Chemistry in the Water

    Three drinking water systems near Colorado Springs, Colo., shut down wells after they found traces of man-made chemicals once used in things like nonstick cookware and firefighting foam.

    The chemicals are unregulated but can cause problems in laboratory animals. Water experts don’t know how the chemicals got into the water: leaking from landfills, maybe, or possibly even from airport firefighting foam.

     

    Unsafe Pipes

    Lead Pipe Lead pipes haven't been used in decades, but many old pipes haven't been replaced and can put out unsafe drinking water.

    Although lead pipes have been banned for 30 years, anywhere from 3.3 to 10 million older ones remain. And since it costs an estimated $5,000 per pipe to replace them, most will probably stay put. The trouble is, changes in water chemistry can cause lead pipes to leach lead into the drinking water.

    The school district of Sebring, Ohio, a town about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland, canceled school January 22-26 because of high levels of lead in two schools’ drinking fountains. The water system that serves about 8,100 homes around the town of Sebring, Ohio, tested the water over the summer and found high levels of lead in seven out of 20 homes tested. However, the system’s manager didn’t tell residents until January. As of February 6, after Sebring changed its water’s chemistry to reduce corrosion, about 30 homes, 4 percent of homes tested, still had lead levels above allowable amounts. Sebring’s water district blames lead pipes in homes.

    Lead can lead to digestive problems, muscle weakness, decreased IQ, attention problems and behavior changes. Lead poisoning affects young children first.

     

    Spills

    Remember last August, when the accidental spill of contaminants from a Colorado mine dyed the Animas River orange? On February 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report saying the 3-million-gallon spill dumped more than 880,000 pounds of metals into the river. The metals included cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. Arsenic levels also tested high. Some of the metals reached the San Juan River in New Mexico, and Utah officials said some reached that state too.

    At the time, officials briefly closed the river to recreation and encouraged people with wells to get their water tested.

    However, the mountains in that area have dozens of idle mines that release contaminated wastewater every day. In fact, the EPA’s report estimated the amount of metals released during the accident is similar to that released on a spring day with high runoff from melting snow.

    The EPA had previously tried to declare the area a Superfund site, but local leaders refused because they were afraid that, among other things, it would discourage tourists.

     

    What to Do

    Most of the country’s drinking water is safe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you decide you want to filter drinking water at home, the CDC recommends four steps to choosing a filter.

    First, know your water source. If it’s a private well, you should get it tested yearly. If it’s a public system, the system is required to send an annual report about the water’s quality and contaminants.

    Second, think about why you want a filter. The main function of the activated carbon filters found in fridges and pitchers is to change the water’s taste. They may not fully protect against contaminants. If a test to your water system shows the presence of volatile organic contaminants, you may want a full-house or point-of-entry filter system so you can use the water for bathing and cleaning as well as cooking and drinking.

    Third, consider how the filter fits your home, lifestyle and budget. All water filters should be NSF-certified. Also, check the labels on filters, because no water filter removes everything. Often, filters that remove chemicals don’t remove organic contaminants. Consider things like cost of the filter system, how much filtered water you need and how a system might fit into your home.

    Fourth, maintain your filters. Change them on schedule.

    “Filters that are not well maintained can do more harm than good,” the CDC wrote.

    If you decide you only need a water filter for drinking and cooking, Emergency Essentials sells several. Also, water storage can be a great help if your water gets contaminated for a short period, like the Animas river spill.

     

    - Melissa

     

    February - Power Banner - unsafe drinking water
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  • T-Rex Spotted Shoveling Snow During Blizzard: How People Avoided Cabin Fever During the East Coast Storm

    During last weekend’s East Coast blizzardT-Rex Shovels Snow GIF - Cabin Fever, 50 people died, a quarter of a million lost power and hundreds of accidents were reported. But for most people, the blizzard was simply a time to stay inside or shovel snow. They managed to keep busy. One dressed in a T-rex costume to shovel snow, and another dressed up in a panda costume and challenged a real panda to a “snow battle.” Others skied and snowboarded down New York City streets or caught up on TV and movies. An enterprising Brooklyn, N.Y., resident built an igloo then put it up for rent on AirBNB. A few crazy swimmers practiced outside in Speedos ™. Many people had epic adventures with snowballs. One couple got married and another had a baby.

    One thing no one mentioned they did was prepare for the next storm or disaster. However, if basic needs are met, a snowbound day can be an ideal time to review disaster preparations and make a few more. Here are a few ideas.

    Financial preparation might be just as important to well-being as physical preparation. Last weekend, Washington Post financial columnist Michelle Singletary suggested using the blizzard to do a budget. She even provided a link to free budget templates.

    It’s especially useful to prepare a budget now because, as she pointed out, the 2016 tax season just began and taxpayers must pull out financial documents anyway.

    While all those financial documents are out, pull out insurance information too. Find out what deductibles are in case of things like roof damage. Since most homeowner’s insurance policies won’t cover floods, consider flood insurance. In Cape May, New Jersey, one restaurant owner said his restaurant flooded “worse than (Hurricane) Sandy.” Melting snow and blocked gutters can also cause flooding, even in non-flood-prone areas.

    Empty Shelves - Cabin FeverEven with advance warning of storms, stores still have a hard time keeping enough food and supplies in stock, because they must rely on suppliers’ schedules and they don’t have large back rooms to store things. So it’s a good idea to keep short-term food storage on hand. Look at emergency supplies already in the house and consider investing in a few more. Despite traditional suggestions, stocking up on bread, milk, and eggs right before a snowstorm may not be the best idea, especially if a power outage shuts down the refrigerator.

    Thanks to online shopping, it’s possible to order emergency supplies even during a major winter storm. Emergency Essentials has sales for items like winter sleeping bags, hot chocolate, flashlights, water storage and tents.

    Finally, winter snowstorms can help people get to know their neighbors – which, in addition to being a good way to make friends, can help if major weather events turn severe. Before the snowstorm, news crews bumped into Alex Ovechkin, a top winger and captain for hockey’s Washington Capitals, getting fuel so he could plow his neighbors’ driveways. A “Star Wars”-themed snowball fight advertised on Facebook brought out hundreds of people in Washington, D.C.

    Even during a major winter storm, it’s possible to prepare for the next one. And the next one’s coming. A smaller storm crawling up the East Coast may bring rain and snow this weekend. Another major winter storm developing off the northwestern U.S. is forecast to bring winter weather to the Rockies and Great Plains for Groundhog Day.

    - Melissa

     

    How are you preparing for the next winter storm? And how do you plan on combating cabin fever?

     

    Winter_Storm_Blog_Image2 - Cabin Fever

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