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  • When Disaster Strikes and You Are Not Ready: Lessons from the Philippines

    In the Philippines, power and running water can be gone at the drop of a hat. Trust me, I know from experience. One moment you’re walking down the street under the street lights, the next…darkness. It makes for quite the dangerous walk, considering all the deep holes in the sidewalks (fortunately, I only fell in one hole my entire time there). Having lived in the Philippines for a couple years, I’ve experienced all kinds of things that really opened my eyes to why we prepare for emergencies. One event in particular stands out in my mind.


    The Tropical Storm

    Malaya 2-Rice on RoadIn the fall of 2006, I was living in a small town in the province of Rizal. A single road splits the town in half. On either side of the road, there are a few smaller side streets. A large lake is less than a mile West of the main road. Mountains are just to the East, just after the terraces of rice paddies. It is a rural town, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.


    Malaya-PalayanOne of the downsides to beautiful, rural living, however, is that when a tropical storm comes through, there isn’t much to stop it from wreaking havoc. That November, we were hit by a powerful tropical storm. It knocked out our power and stopped our already unreliable running water.

    We had some backup water, but not much. We couldn’t shower, and our dirty laundry just remained dirty. What else could we do? After just two days the water was back on (hurray!), so we had our showers back and our laundry cleaned, and once again we could run our water through our filters for consumption. The power, however, remained off.

    The Philippines is a hot, humid place, which makes for very unpleasant nights without power. The bedroom in which I slept had no window, and there was only one window in the front room. I moved My bed out there and hoped for a little breeze. Because the power was out, our electric fans were useless. The days were hot, and the nights somehow hotter. What I would have given for some electricity!

    After ten days of sleeping in a hot, stuffy room, the power was finally restored, and while it was still hotter than the sun, having that breeze move across my face while I slept felt – if just for a moment – like the cold, arctic wind. A little electricity can work wonders.

    Unfortunately, all the food in the fridge went bad. Instead of keeping food for days before cooking it, we had to buy food the day we wanted to eat it. Nothing would keep. Fishermen were giving their fish away for free because if they didn’t, it would just go bad.

    A bamboo home near a rice field behind our house was completely washed away by the storm. We knew that family well, and while we were happy that everyone was safe, we were also very sorrowful for their loss. Oddly enough, their neighbor’s home was hardly damaged.

    Even though the storm was too weak to be a hurricane, it still created quite a mess. Streets flooded into homes, tree limbs littered the ground, blocking the road, and damaging property. Food and clean water was in short supply. Cleanup took quite some time.


    Lessons Learned

    Malaya 2-Kitchen We had to collect our water in a bucket, then pump that water through a filter before we could drink it.

    While the experience was less than desirable, it showed how we can be prepared. More than ever, the water filter we used was a life saver. Of course, we always used it, because water in the Philippines just isn’t safe without it. However, after the storm caused floods and stirred the pot, so to speak, the water was even less safe than before. Having a water filter for when the water stops running is, in my opinion, one of the greatest resources you can have.

    Another hot commodity was electricity. Without a way to stay cool, sleep was more than just difficult – it was nearly impossible. I would fall asleep fanning my face with some sort of paper or cardboard, then wake up with a start when the hot, humid air began to suffocate me again. If your power goes out during a hot summer (or a cold winter, for that matter), having a way to stay cool (or warm) can make life a whole lot more bearable.

    Having no power was a pain for more than just sleeping. Not being able to keep food long term was difficult at best. By having long-term food storage, losing power won’t affect your ability to eat. Having extra food on hand would have been a huge benefit to us during this emergency.

    You will never know the extent of damage a disaster will cause until it actually happens. The Philippines is prone to huge typhoons, so we were lucky this was just a little guy. Still, we were affected for over a week without certain things that here in America we tend to take for granted.


    Before the next disaster comes to your neck of the woods, I urge you to prepare your home and family for any scenario. Know the disasters that are prone to your region and prepare accordingly. And if, after a disaster, it turns out you over prepared, then that’s far better than the alternative. I would much rather be over prepared than underprepared.


    Have you ever been left without power or water following a disaster? What did you do?



  • Blood Moons and Jewish Holidays: Should You Prepare?

    Blood Moon Cycle - Jewish HolidayMy husband is Jewish, and I’m an astronomy fan, so we’re both looking forward to the evening of September 27. That night we’ll get to see a total supermoon eclipse, when the moon appears larger because its orbit brings it closest to earth. And if we wish, we’ll do it from his sukkah, a structure set up for the Jewish holiday Sukkot.

    Those of us who live in the western half of the United States have been lucky enough to have seen three other total lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015. All three have fallen on one of two Jewish holidays, Passover and Sukkot.

    Jewish Holiday

    Passover and Sukkot, in addition to their spiritual meaning, are great reminders of the need to prepare for what’s to come. They can also be good times to review emergency plans, because they take place about six months apart.

    If you’ve seen Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (“M-o-h-ses!”) you know the origin of Passover. The week-long festival commemorates God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a new nation, as told in the Book of Exodus in the Bible.

    It is one of three biblically-mandated travelling festivals during which Jews once went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Today Jewish families celebrate at home. However, they still remember the travelling aspect of the holiday.

    They eat special Passover matzah, a large cracker with no leaven, a rising agent. Matzah represents the haste with which Israelites left Egypt: so quickly their bread didn’t have time to rise, according to Louis Jacobs in The Book of Jewish Practice. When modern Jews make matzah, they may only take 18 minutes to roll out and cook the cracker after they add water to the flour. That way, the flour doesn’t have time to produce its own leaven, according to Jacobs.

    Today, many disasters can force you to react in less than 18 minutes. Fire, for example.

    Fire - NBC News - Jewish HolidayOn July 28, a fire started about 7 miles northwest of Wenatchee, a small city in central Washington. Within half a day the fire grew to almost 4 ½ square miles. Twenty-nine homes burned to the ground that night, according to an official fire report.

    “The wind changed, and the fire came so quick, that people … had five minutes to get out of the house,” said Karen LuBean, who lives nearby. “Some people were only able to get their purse. They grabbed a few legal documents and stuff like that.”

    Ready.gov recommends you prepare “five P’s” for quick evacuation: people, prescriptions, papers, personal needs and priceless items.

    Passover could be a good time to prepare those “five P’s” and then practice your preparations.

    Sukkot Booth - Jewish HolidaySukkot is another travelling holiday from a Biblical commandment. Observant Jews eat and may sleep outside in shelters with roofs made of branches.

    “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall dwell in booths. In order that future generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)

    Booths are not fun if it rains. In fact, tradition says observant Jews should go inside during rain, according to Jacobs. Do you have a place to go if you must leave your home in a weather-related disaster?

    Case in point: most emergency shelters won’t take pets, according to the Humane Society of the United States. If you have pets, you’ll need to ensure before a disaster that you have a place for them to go.

    The other half of Sukkot observance is waving four types of plant branches and fruit that ripen in September. Great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote that the commandment to take those plants is a way to give thanks to God for harvest bounty, according to Jacobs.

    September is a traditional time for harvest fairs and winter preparation. It’s also a great time to inventory food and water storage. Children have just started school, so with any luck the house is quieter for a few minutes. In some places, stores have case lot sales with inexpensive bulk items. Sukkot, which falls in September and October, can work as a time to build and inventory short-term and long-term storage.

    The Jewish holiday calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning Jewish holiday dates are based on phases of the moon. Easter is determined the same way. So, while uncommon, it’s not surprising eclipses occasionally fall on Jewish holidays. Some people see omens in these eclipses. That’s fine. If an eclipse, or four, reminds you to prepare, that’s great. If a holiday works instead, that’s terrific. What’s important is to establish a regular time to prepare and review preparations and then observe that time, well, religiously.


    - Melissa

    Jewish Holidays and Blood Moons



    Jacobs, Louis, The Book of Jewish Practice. Behrman House, Inc., West Orange, NJ, 1987.

  • A Little Water Can Go a Long Way

    You'll want more than just a little water here. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico (The Telegraph)

    Dehydration kills, fast. A French couple died this month in hours in White Sands National Monument because they ran out of water. They and their son only took two half-liter water bottles on their hike in the 100-plus degree desert, instead of the four liters per person recommended. Their son survived because his parents gave him two sips for every one they took, according to news reports.

    It just goes to show that a little water can go a long way.

    On average, people need about three quarters of a gallon of fluid daily according to ready.gov. Some need more: children, nursing mothers, sick people, those who are exercising, and people in a warm climate. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.

    If you keep your head, you can get water in many ways. Here are some of them, from easiest to hardest.


    Store water

    The easiest way to have water after an emergency is to store it before an emergency. The Red Cross recommends a gallon per person, per day, for at least three days.

    Commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable water for storage. It’s easy to obtain, easy to store and lasts longer than home-bottled water. Just don’t open it and be aware of the expiration dates on the bottles.

    More than just a little water! More than just a little water!

    Home-bottled water can be less expensive and perhaps provide a way to recycle old soft drink bottles. We even have food-grade water storage containers, which makes storing water easy. If you want to re-use old bottles, the Red Cross says don’t use milk or fruit juice containers. Milk proteins and fruit sugars can’t be completely removed. Don’t use cardboard or glass containers.

    To bottle water at home, first clean bottles with dish soap and rinse completely. Sanitize soft drink bottles by swishing around a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 quart of water. After sanitizing the bottles, rinse them completely.

    Second, fill each bottle with tap water. If your water comes from a well or if your utility doesn’t treat it with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach to each gallon of water. Check the water after a half hour. If it doesn’t have a slight bleach smell, re-treat it and wait 15 minutes.

    Or, you can use water purification tablets, such as the Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets. They work best when water is at least 68 degrees, so leave very cold water out to warm, according to WikiHow.

    Use the original cap on the container. Close it tightly, and write the date on the outside of the container. Store it in a cool, dry place. Replace home-bottled water every six months.


    Use hidden water sources in the home

    If a disaster takes place while you’re at home, you have some hidden safe water sources: melted ice cubes and water drained from pipes and the hot water heater, according to ready.gov.

    Do not drink water from toilet flush tanks or bowls, radiators, water beds or swimming pools.

    First, know how to turn off water mains. Broken water and sewage lines can contaminate water coming into your home.

    To drain pipes, turn on your faucet to the highest level to let air into pipes then get water from the lowest faucet in the home.

    To get water from the water heater, make sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Turn off the water intake valve in the tank and turn on the hot water faucet. Once clean water is restored, refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity on.


    Purify water from impure sources

    A little water to purify and filter

    If you’re out of clean water, the Red Cross says you can treat water from precipitation, streams, or rivers, ponds, lakes, and underground springs. Don’t use untreated water. It can contain deadly germs. Don’t use flood water or water with floating material, an odor, or a dark color. Only use salt water if you distill it first. For those of you on the coast, this could be a good source of water if you have a desalinator.

    First, let suspended particles settle to the bottom of a container or strain water through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth. Then use whatever method you choose: boiling, purification tablets or bleach, filters, UV pens, distiller, or a combination of methods. For a wide range of purification tools, check out our water purification options.

    If you’re concerned about being short of water, follow these rules from survival expert Tom Brown, Jr. in Mother Earth News. Don’t drink carbonated beverages or alcohol. They cause dehydration. So do urine and salt water unless they’ve been distilled. Don’t eat if you don’t have water to drink with it. Limit activity to limit perspiration.

    However, drink what water you have. People have died of thirst with full canteens.

    “Try to store as much water as you can in your stomach,” Brown wrote.

    Because, as we’ve seen from the story about the French family, a little water can still go a long way.


    - Melissa


    What does your water preparedness look like? Let us know in the comments below!

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