image: The Tar River in Greenville, North Carolina, one day after Hurricane Matthew passed through the area.
Here in South Florida we got a chance to see how prepared we were for an emergency when the first major hurricane in ten years blew through town. Ten years is a long time, statistically one of the longest on record for Florida, and a lot of us apparently got complacent when it comes to emergency preparedness. Either that or we’re just out of practice.
We were lucky. The west side of the hurricane just bumped along the coast, bending a few light poles, knocking over a few palm trees and scuffing the paint on a lot of boats. A half-million people lost power, but for most it was a brief outage. The fact is, it could have been a lot worse. So, as part of the after-action analysis it’s good to go over what worked and what didn’t as far as emergency preparation goes.
There are three things that will be in desperately short supply in a crisis: water, ice and gasoline. Water is pretty easy to stockpile, but not everyone can store a lot of gas. Keeping ten or fifteen gallons of gas around, even if it’s in approved containers, is dangerous. Apartment dwellers might not have anywhere to safely store gasoline. I saw people pumping thirty and forty gallons into plastic containers. Carrying that much of a highly volatile chemical around is crazy dangerous. Keep five gallons in your trunk if you can’t store it anywhere else and dump it into your tank as soon as the emergency is past. Fill up all your coolers with ice and put a plastic liner in the bathtub and fill that up with water. That’s not for drinking but rather if your water goes out, you can use it to fill up your toilet tank so you can flush.
Two other sell-out items are flashlights and batteries. One excellent light source people tend to forget about are glow sticks. While not particularly bright, glow sticks are reliable, waterproof and safe for the kids. In an emergency glow sticks can be used to lay out a helicopter landing zone and a small one hooked to your pet’s collar means they won’t get lost in the dark. The best part is glow sticks are disposable, so no worries about losing one.
A Five Gallon Bucket
Keep your emergency supplies packed in a five gallon bucket. If the water is off for a long time, more than three or four days, that five gallon bucket fitted with a trash bag and kitty litter will be your emergency toilet. There are also special bags to that serves as emergency urinals with odor control absorbent pads. The more fluid you can keep out of your emergency toilet the longer it will last.
Food that doesn’t require refrigeration should be a part of your emergency supplies. If you’re at home that means keeping a store of canned goods, but canned food is heavy if you have to evacuate. The military has already solved this problem with MREs, or meals ready to eat. They don’t require refrigeration and have a shelf life of nearly ten years. You can purchase them singly or by the case and store five or six in your five gallon bucket of emergency supplies. That way, if you have to evacuate, you can grab your bucket and go, knowing you have at least three days' worth of calories in there. And don’t forget your pets—they also make emergency rations for dogs and cats.
Finally, one item that should be in your emergency bucket is a LifeStraw. Almost inevitably if there’s flooding, there will be cross contamination between sewage and fresh water supplies. If you run out of water, which is heavy to carry, then a LifeStraw will let you turn any stream or pond into an emergency water supply. These units are extremely light and take up very little space. If you’re not sure about the purity of a water source, don’t take chances. For less than $20 you can at least make sure you won't get sick from a biological contaminant.
Learn from others' mistakes; don’t wait ten years to check your emergency supplies. If you haven’t done it recently, get a case of MREs, a couple LifeStraws and a box of glow sticks. Pack your emergency supplies into a five gallon bucket with a lid. If disaster does strike, you may not have time to pack, so set it up so you can grab your bucket in minutes and go. Take it from me—that may be all the time you have.