For those of you who don’t know, I do have a day job. And in my day job, I am lucky enough to share a cubicle with Chris Hall, who in addition to being an all-around great guy, is also a disaster preparedness “expert” – I put it in quotes because he hates the term “expert.” (So what should I call him, “Master of Disaster?” Haha!) Seriously, though, Chris is a California-certified first responder, a past risk manager for the volunteer fire department, a member of the medical reserve corps for a local city, a contributor at 2BeeReady.org, and has basically been doing disaster preparedness-related work for more than 30 years.
I live in California, land of earthquakes, and was actually here during the Loma Prieta quake back in 1989 – I’ll never forget that I had only arrived in California 2 weeks prior for my freshman year in college, and that when the earth shook under my feet, I panicked and did just what I wasn’t supposed to do: I bolted down 3 flights of stairs to get outside. As a Californian, the threat of “The Big One” is never far from my mind. Now that I have a young child, however, my mind seems even more prone to thinking about worst-case scenarios. Lately, I’ve had child abduction on the brain, and of course, I’ve asked myself the question, “What if ‘The Big One’ hits and I’m not ready?” So I took the opportunity to ask Chris a few questions (basically, I turned around and nudged him in the back), and he has graciously allowed me to share his answers with all of you, in case you want to be prepared for a disaster yourselves:
Why is it important for all families to be prepared for disasters?
So let’s take our county, for example. At any time in this county, there are 20 paramedic ambulances in operation (less at night). Our population, on the other hand, is 1.8 million people (and that was back in 2010). If you do the math, this means that if there is a major event, like an earthquake, with even minor injuries numbering in the thousands, how fast would those resources disappear? By being prepared, you take a burden off of emergency services so they can respond to more serious incidents like injuries, gas leaks, fires, etc.
How does having a young child change what disaster preparedness means?
As an adult, you’re typically responsible for just yourself. As an adult, you can accept hardship and changes in routine and things of that nature, but it is much more difficult for a child because they can’t take care of themselves.
So what does it mean to be prepared? Especially if you have young children at home?
Being prepared means having a minimum of 3 days – but I recommend a full week – of drinking water, shelter (such as a tent or a tarp), non-perishable foods (canned or freeze-dried), a can opener to eat the canned foods with (which a lot of people forget!), a way to heat the food, a way to keep warm (if it’s cold), a way to stay updated on disaster news (such as a radio), a source of light, a way to call for help (such as a whistle), and a sanitation method.
Where there are kids involved, staying warm is especially important, because they will get cold faster than adults. For kids, you’ll also want things that are familiar – such as their favorite foods, a favorite toy, and something to keep them occupied, such as games, coloring books, etc.. This doesn’t have to be expensive, you can buy things a little bit at a time each time you go to the store. But one of the most important things to remember is to keep everything in one place, such as a bag, backpack, or what I recommend: a plastic tub. And don’t store it in the garage – best place is indoors, in the bottom of a closet.
Why not in the garage?
Because of environmental factors: garages get much too hot in the summer and much too cold in the winter to keep non-perishable foods in cans. Also, people tend to store a lot of chemicals or gardening equipment in their garages (fertilizer, etc.), which can contribute to contamination of your food supplies during a disaster.
What’s in your personal home earthquake survival kit?
My home kit contains:
- A case of bottled water (the rule is 1 gallon per person, per day). This is a great way to store water in a closet, just be sure to rotate out every 6 months.
- A water purification filter (backpack water purifier), or you can get this cheaper version.
- Collapsible water containers
- Freeze-dried foods for backpackers
- Canned beans, corned beef, roast beef, and vegetables
- Can opener – or here is a more portable GI can opener
- Mylar blankets for each person in my family
- A 4-person tent
- A folding shovel
- First-aid kit
- Forcible entry tool (but that’s because I have a firefighter background)
- Solar and wind-up AM/FM radio with cell phone charger
- LED flashlight – or you could also use an LED lantern. Oh yeah, and if you get these, don’t forget the batteries in the correct size, use lithium for long storage life (Target/Walmart).
- Metal whistle
- Fire-starting equipment (survival matches)
- Document kit (with birth certificates, marriage license, copies of my insurance, my kid’s immunization record, and copies of all my vehicle pink slips). Don’t forget to also include scans of the most recent pictures of your child(ren). Here is what I used to create mine: zippered binder, plastic sheet protectors.
- I also have all of these scanned onto this rugged encrypted flash drive. If you don’t want to spend this much money, you can also get this cheaper version (just be careful with it!). Use this free software to encrypt your flash drive.
- Wag bags (for sanitation)
- Plastic chemical lightsticks
- Fire extinguisher (10lb ABC) – you’ll have to find these locally because they can’t be shipped. Remember, if the fire is bigger than a trash can in size, evacuate the area and call 911.
Are there long-term storage food options for vegetarians? (Hint hint, my family is vegetarian).
Yes, thanks to the vegetarian backpacking community, there are some great vegetarian long-term storage food options, as close as your neighborhood REI or even on Amazon.com. Remember, you’ll need at least 3 days – but I suggest a week – worth, per person in your family. These average about $5 a meal. You need AT LEAST 3 days for each person, preferably at least. Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods store for about 3-5 years in your car kit.
- Packlite Foods
- Outdoor Herbivore
- Trail Food Express
- Freeze-dried vegetarian items at Backpackers’ Pantry
- Don’t forget flameless heaters to heat the food with
- Water purifier
Lastly, do you have a good list of disaster preparedness resources for parents with kids that they can go check out online?
- Follow 2BeeReady on Twitter
- Tremor Troop: Earthquakes: A Teacher’s Packet for K-6, FEMA
- Be Ready 1-2-3, Red Cross
- Masters of Disaster Curriculum, Red Cross
- Toddler Quake Suggestions