13 March 2011

There's a big black wave in the middle of the sea

Note: If you've read my blog for more than a year, stick your fingers in your ears or go watch a movie. Better yet, read on and then do something about for yourself.

If you've read my blog for more than a year, you know that I'm a proponent of disaster preparedness. I became a believer two decades ago when, working for a large So Cal university, I was asked to sit on the earthquake preparedness committee. I went to a seminar that featured scientists, first responders and city officials. What I heard there, two decades ago, scared the hell out of me.

This is the woman who hits would-be purse snatchers with a pipe wrench. I'm not easily scared.

I think that we can all agree that little would have helped the poor individuals in Japan who were swept away on Friday. However, a lot of people were sitting on the outskirts of Christchurch without food, running water, power or sanitation in the aftermath of that quake. And many people end up waiting on help from emergency services that are far too overtasked to take care of those who just happen to be hungry or thirsty, but are otherwise fine.

Since 1986, I've been through countless earthquakes, large and small, aftershocks and main shocks. Generally, the most notice I give them is "Oh. Earthquake." For the larger ones, I've been very happy that I've had lanterns and other necessary items around. I've never needed much from my supplies for earthquakes, but I've needed things for other disasters, including a massive windstorm that knocked our power out for 4 days.

I don't know why people don't put a few supplies by. To me, it is nothing more than common sense, and I've helped to outfit the in-laws with some necessities, too, including a wind-up radio and battery-powered lanterns. They've used these items on more than one occasion. I suppose for some people, preparing is admitting that something could go terribly wrong.

Preparedness is not difficult. I am not talking about building a bunker in the backyard. I'm talking about having some canned goods and water put by. Let me break it down for you:

Shelter: You can get a tent that sleeps 4 for less than fifty dollars. A tarp costs about $5. Both will keep the rain off your head if your house is unusable and the shelters are full. Sleeping bags are nice, but you can use blankets or whatever you've salvaged. Look at what you've already got.

Water: the rule is one gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation. More if you've got pets to care for. Think a minimum of three days. Seven is better, but yeah, it can be impractical to store that much. If you've the room for them, a couple of extra 5-gallon containers are nice, too.

Food: again, enough for three days minimum for all members of your household, including pets. Non-perishable, and doesn't require cooking is ideal. Why, yes, Dinty Moore Beef Stew cold out of a can would probably be gross. However, if you're hungry enough... I'm not a fan of canned goods, but I keep canned fruit, vegetables, beans and some meat on hand. Look for items that are low-sodium, canned in water or juice (which--bonus!--you can drink), not oil or syrup. Buy on sale, rotate them into your regular meals. If you make soup, you can throw an extra can of veg in and then buy another to replace the one you used. This way, your stores stay fresh. Energy bars are also ideal if they are something you generally eat and you can rotate your stock. Think simple and easy to access.

Medication and first aid: if you regularly take prescription medication, make sure you have extra on hand. Most experts say you should have a month's worth. If you don't understand why, look at those photos of Japan again. It may be a month before anyone can get to some of those places, let alone get supplies in. Again, rotate your stock, so your emergency supply stays fresh. You should also have a basic first aid kit: bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic, and OTC medication for diarrhea, colds and pain.

Sanitation: a shovel and plastic bags are good for human and pet necessity. In Christchurch, authorities were recommending plastic bags placed inside toilet bowls. Alcohol-based hand cleaner and wipes are good for quick clean up. A bar of soap isn't a bad idea, either. A small bottle of plain bleach for water purification (Instructions here. Please make sure you know how to do this before you have to) is also helpful if you haven't the ability to boil it.

Clothing: just about anything that covers you works, but you should have: a pair of sturdy shoes and socks. Those cute sandals aren't going to cut it if you're walking over rubble. Sturdy trousers to protect your legs from debris and a warm jacket, because Mother Nature strikes whatever time of year she feels like it.

Other items: Flashlights and camping lanterns for light. Battery operated or hand crank radio. A good hand-operated can opener (or how are you going to open that stored food?). A shovel.

These are the basics and no doubt I've forgotten something. There are myriad guides out there that can give you really specific instructions. Just google "preparedness." You can even buy kits from Red Cross and other organizations.

Talk to your families. Have a plan. Make sure you have a way of contacting your kids at school, your spouse at work, whomever you need to be in touch with. Know alternate routes to your home, to schools, to hospitals that don't require you use freeways or bridges.

Of course, preparedness is no guarantee of survival, and even the best laid plans can be waylaid by tsunamis and Category 5 tornados and bitter blizzards. We all try to protect ourselves with magical thinking: this will never happen to me. Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Last night as I settled myself under my down comforter, between my crisp, clean sheets, I couldn't help but think of all those people who, two nights before, were settling themselves into their comfortable beds, not really dreaming that their lives would change drastically in half a day. And because I live in a place where disaster is a sure thing--as they say in California, it's when not if--I know very well that someday I may be in their place.

So think about that, those of you who live in earthquake zones, flood plains, Tornado Alley, the frigid north, and do your best to protect yourselves and your families. ZJ9VTPHXCH2N

Go listen to some good music: "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" from the album Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. Lots of us have soap boxes in the world. I have lots, but this is something near to my heart. If it gets through to one person....

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