A year or two ago I remember reading an article about emergency preparedness. It was sort of like a how-to article mixed with well-placed shame for those of us that had never thought to prepare for emergency situations
I will admit that I am one of those people that never have a second thought to a natural disaster happening in my backyard. I live in New England – not on the coast, not in a flood zone, not somewhere that has had tornadoes or earthquakes of note. I get excited for power outages because that means I can light all my Yankee Candles at once, even if it is three in the afternoon. When Hurricane Sandy hit a few years back we lost power for a couple of days. I spent that time at the dining room table in the apartment I shared with my sister and read Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield in its entirety by daylight/candlelight. We threw out a fair number of old condiment bottles from the fridge and cooked up a lot of what had started defrosting, but we suffered no damage or losses from the storm.
This article was a wake up call for me. I was pregnant with my first at the time and immediately started scouring Pinterest and saving everything I could find about emergency kits, survival necessities, etc. In my head I planned out the section of my basement that would hold my storage rack. There would be water jugs, med kits, fully-stocked backpacks with clothing and shoes rotated out each season for every member of the family, a month-long stash of canned and other non-perishable items, and of course, a lot of water. Because we all need three gallons a day to function. My interest in this project fizzled out almost as quickly as it had begun. Because life got in the way.
Enter Hurricane Harvey. I’ve got a much different perspective now that I’m a mom of three kids, two cats and a husband. I remember hearing about and seeing the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. But it didn’t affect me the way this most recent storm did. Because before, it was just me. Harvey was sort of a mini wake up call. It took a few days to really wrap my head around what I wanted and needed for my family, and it wasn’t a shelf in the basement with 17 6-gallon jugs of water or some such nonsense.
Two nights ago I sat down with my husband and we had a good back and forth discussion about our family and what we would do should an emergency situation arise. We aren’t new to preparing ahead – our toddlers have life insurance, savings accounts and college funds with (currently) enough money for one year of in-state tuition. But we had never thought to plan for a disaster.
The first things came to mind was an evacuation order. I’ve seen photos and videos and heard stories of so many people that ignored an evacuation order (and it could be for a number of reasons including some valid ones) that then needed, for lack of a better term, saving. I wanted to make it clear that should we receive some type of evacuation order, we would leave immediately. We would pack up the car and leave. All I could think about, as I made this request to my husband, was the story about the toddler found clinging to her mother’s dead body in the flood waters of Texas.
My husband agreed to this emotional outburst from me, but then we really got down to the details and pulled out our notebook. We were not planning for an apocalypse. We didn’t need shelving units and backpacks in the basement, nor could we afford all those extra resources just wasting away. I can honestly admit that I wouldn’t think to rotate out canned food so that it didn’t expire, or change out clothing as the girls grew. That just wasn’t going to work for us. But her is what will.
Emergencies for us would constitute one of two things: (1) an evacuation or (2) a shelter in place.
An evacuation would mean that we would have to pack up and leave, with no thought to the house or the possessions we would be leaving behind. I would think that the most likely reason for this would be a flooding issue from a severe storm. In which case, we decided on the following:
- We would pack as soon as word got out that an evac may be issued. Everyone has their own duffel bag for clothes and toiletries. My husband and I already keep travel toiletry bags packed in our bathroom closet so we’d just pack it up. Clothes, toiletries, neccesities (prescriptions, diapers, adult meds) and blankets. The girls also have a fully stocked med kit in a fishing tackle box that would come with us. We also would plan on purchasing some emergency phone chargers should we not have access to power outlets where we went.
- We would prep the house. Our major concern would be flooding at our side door (a single car garage was turned into two bedrooms before we bought the house). In heavy rain the water pools here. These rooms are on a concrete slab so the water would just congregate. Our first step would be to sandbag that side door. Our mudroom houses our washer and dryer and a closet of musical instruments. The instruments would be moved and the washer/dryer propped up. Our plan is to collect scrap would from my fathers workshop with the sole purpose of raising up furniture on our first floor. The back bedroom is full of books, games, photo albums and other random items. We decided that the photos and keepsakes would be moved to the second floor and we would just quickly empty the lowest shelves. Chances are time wouldn’t be on our side if it got to the point of moving items so we would run what we could carry upstairs and then try to prop up what we could.
- We have two outdoor cats that come in and out of the mudroom to eat multiple times a day. We could not take them with us (they would freak) and we would not lock them in the house for as my husband put it, should the house collapse, we’d literally be trapping them in. We decided to keep on hand extra food, litter boxes, beds and shelters. Should we need to evacuate, we would cut one of the screens on our screened in back porch and quickly set up a safe indoor space for the cats. They could come in if they needed too, and have shelter from the weather, but they wouldn’t be trapped.
- We would also take with us a Red File. This was one Pinterest idea that I didn’t ignore. It’s a binder that I’ve been putting together that houses copies of all our necessary documents (birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports), records of all our investments, bank accounts and loans, copies of credit cards with phone numbers. Basically everything we would need to prove who we are and to have access to our finances. Our binder isn’t quite done but it’s on the list.
- Lastly, since we wouldn’t exactly know where we were going, we would pack an extra bag of whatever food items made sense (granola bars, etc), water bottles and toilet paper.
This, we feel, is the maximum that we could accomplish in a short amount of time. I know where all of these items are and can organize it all within the hour. I do know that I need to finish our Red File and make sure our originals are all safely stowed in our fire-proof safe, and that we need to purchase and store enough sandbags for our side door, and a couple of chargers. Lastly, making sure that we don’t leave purchases to the point where we run out (diapers, medicine, prescriptions, gas for the car) would be very beneficial should an emergency situation arise.
The second type of disaster we may encounter would be a shelter in place due to a hurricane or a blizzard. We don’t have the funds to create a three month stash of all we would need in the baement. But then again, we aren’t out in the middle of nowhere and have neighbors we can count on. So this is what we decided we should organize together and purchase in the event that we are stuck in our house for an extended period of time.
- Indoor propane cooktop with propane refills. We have an electric stove so if the power is out, we can’t cook or boil water.
- Propane lanterns. We have plenty of decorative candles hanging around but a propane camping lantern would give us a lot of light for an extended period of time.
- Tarps, rope, bungees and duct tape. We have some large trees pretty close to the house that could do considerable damage. It may be that we would have to seal up some sort of cave in.
- Medical supplies. We keep the basics like bandaids, small gauze pads and rubbing alcohol on hand. But medical supplies don’t go bad, really. So we would like to fill up some top of Rubbermaid container with a bit more should someone end up with a serious injury. I don’t know if I could find my head long enough to locate a sewing needle in one room, rubbing alcohol in an upstairs bathroom, clean towels, etc., in the event of a bad injury. And my husband trying to find these things? Forget it. One bin. Sterilized and sealed items. Done.
- Water. If the water supply was cut off and we weren’t prepared, it would be disastrous. Our first thought will always be to fill up the tub and buckets we have lying around. But for bathing, cooking, cleaning and flushing, those won’t last us more than a week. The easiest thing to do here is to buy water cooler jugs and store them. So our plan is to purchase four of these as a backup and store them in the basement.
- Generator. A generator is not going to power our whole house, but it will keep the refrigerator running. And in terms of what we could lose should the fridge lose power, it’s going to be worth the investment. We’ve done the research and know that we need a 2200 watt generator to power up a fridge so that’s on our to buy list for our tax refund next year.
Two years ago I could’ve shown you a list of 300 items that I would need to purchase to set up an adequate emergency preparedness kit and storage center in my basement. But really, if the zombie apocalypse comes, we’re just going to embrace out destiny. But for us, on a limited budget and with three little kids, we need to be practical, and we need to be prepared for what specifically could befall us.
We have our small list of items to purchase right up on the refrigerator and will get it piecemeal during normal shopping trips. Each new purchase will help ease the consternation I have over ensuring my family is safe in an emergency. But the most important part of this whole project was the conversation that my husband and I had. Just talking through what would be best for our family, and making sure that we are on the same page, gives me more piece of mind than survival backpacks with matchsticks and Swiss Army knives ever could.