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HomeEducationIII: Are you ready for disaster? Plan to survive!

III: Are you ready for disaster? Plan to survive!

Editors Note: This is Chapter 3 in a reprint of this five-part series, published on Daily Kos and origianally published online by AlphaGeek {9.9.05}. From the diaries — Plutonium Page. The series offers a practical way to assess risk and prepare a variety of disaster scenarios. The series will appear chapter by chapter at 3 p.m. through Friday.

“In the first 48 to 72 hours of an emergency, many Americans will have to look after themselves.”

— David Paulison, 2005 FEMA Director Nominee

Preparedness for emergency situations is not a solitary pursuit.

Each of us lives in the context of a larger society. Few among us could survive for long without the support of myriad other people and institutions we depend upon for our daily needs. A realistic disaster plan must balance these dependencies against the stark truth that you are likely to be required to survive outside this system for days or weeks at a time at some point in your life.

Being prepared for disaster does not have to be time-consuming or expensive. In this multi-part series of DailyKos Diaries, I will share with you, dear reader, many of the lessons I’ve learned regarding the most effective ways to prepare for an emergency.

This is the third installment in a multi-part series on personal disaster preparedness. Your humble correspondent is a Silicon Valley technical executive with both professional and personal experience in risk assessment and disaster-readiness planning. Links to reference materials, including planning guides and reference information, will be found at the end of the final Diaries in this series.

WARNING: This Diary series discusses a wide range of disaster-related subjects in a straightforward, honest fashion. Some people may experience a strong emotional reaction to reading about or discussing situations which are normally avoided in polite conversation. You have been warned.

Previous Diaries in this series have addressed the basic principles underlying preparedness, including some elementary disaster psychology. The remaining installments, beginning with this one, are sharply focused on the practical aspects of planning and preparation to survive a disaster.

When disaster strikes, will you be prepared?

In this installment, we will complete our discussion of step 2, planning to address risks. As mentioned above, today’s installment is sharply focused on the practical aspects of preparedness planning.

The AlphaGeek approach to disaster preparedness

The field of preparedness planning is an interesting one, full of colorful characters and hair-raising tales. Your humble correspondent is not an ex-Special-Forces badass, nor is he a buckskin-clad outdoor survival specialist. My “specialty”, if you will, is preparedness planning for suburban and exurban environments. Above all, I focus on pragmatic, sustainable plans which recognize the common failure modes for family- and community-level crisis management.

In a nutshell, I believe that family-level preparedness plans (and material support for those plans) should meet the following criteria:

  • Any critical element of each plan must have at least one clearly explained alternate solution
  • All plans must be in written form, ready to be executed by anyone entrusted with the safety of your family
  • A written copy of your plan must be available in any context in which you might need to execute said plan (e.g. home, work, vehicles)
  • Everyone involved in your preparedness plans (e.g. out-of-state relatives) must review their part of the plan and understand their role
  • Material preparations must not require inspection more than once per year, and must still be capable of meeting minimum requirements if left unattended for 4 years
Red Cross survival gear for your home can be packed in a single tub with a lid

The fact is, folks, that people are lazy, your correspondent included. If your disaster plan depends on dumping and refilling bottles of water every 3 months, let’s face it — at some point, you ARE going to get slack and lose the motivation to keep to the schedule. It takes a pretty deep-seated insecurity complex to consistently maintain your preparedness materials every 90 days over a span of years, and most people just can’t sustain that level of effort. Having bad bottled water and canned food three years past its expiration date isn’t an inconvenience in a crisis — it’s dangerous, because in extremis you might be tempted to use it anyway.

A realistic preparedness plan, in your author’s estimation, should address the following objectives. Remember, tomorrow we will discuss all of the tips and tricks needed to implement a preparedness plan centered on emphasizes practicality and cost-efficiency. The fifth and final installment in this series will detail your correspondent’s preparations for each of these situations, but keep in mind that your preparedness package must address your risks, not those of some guy in California earthquake country.

Communications and rendezvous plan

Cellphones may or may not work; depending on the disaster, towers and power lines may be down.

In a crisis, you are likely to be separated from at least one member of your family. Start with the assumption that your family is at its most vulnerable, i.e. at maximum separation in your daily routines. Your rendezvous plan should address the possibility that family members at work and/or may need to evacuate quickly.

Your communications plan should have two priorities: advise concerned parties on your situation (safe, injured, etc.) and propagate information between people in the disaster zone who may not be able to communicate directly.

House fire: evacuation, response, and aftermath

No explanation needed. If you don’t know what you’re going to do in case of a house fire, you are at significant risk of dying in one. If, after failing to plan, you get out alive the aftermath is likely to be extremely difficult.

Any number of organizations offer complete guides on how to prepare for a home fire emergency, including the Red Cross. Download and use one of these guides today.

Home refuge with no services: Ten (10) days self-sufficiency

Yes, that’s right, folks: 10 days with no running water, no grid electricity, and no natural gas and/or propane delivery. This is most likely to occur during inclement weather (see: natural disasters) so assume that you will need to deal with extremes of heat/humidity or cold. Sanitation and medical requirements for high-needs individuals will both be challenging; plan accordingly.

Open-space refuge with no services: Five (5) days self-sufficiency

If your house is unfit to occupy, you may still be able to set up camp nearby. For this situation, assume that you can recover a significant fraction of your home preparedness package. Identify several likely locations near your home where you might set up a temporary refuge. (NOTE: This is primarily applicable in communities at risk of severe earthquake damage.)

Refuge in/near vehicle: Three (3) days self-sufficiency

Can you live in your vehicle for 3 days? Principal concerns are food, water, clothing and sanitation. Fuel: you either have it or you don’t, and most people won’t/can’t carry an emergency supply large enough to make a significant difference.

Work refuge with no services: Three (3) days self-sufficiency

Assume that the preparedness kit in your vehicle is inaccessible, e.g. the parking garage fell down on your car when the quake hit. How will you get through three days at your place of employment, assuming that movement outside the premises is too hazardous to attempt?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Red Cross volunteers staffed shelters to assist survivors of that storm

Evacuation to community shelter: Three (3) days self-sufficiency

Relocation to a community shelter is not the end of your worries. (Exhibit A: New Orleans Superdome. Exhibit B: New Orleans Convention Center.) Are you prepared to be self-sufficient within this environment for up to 3 days with minimal/no access to services?

Evacuation from disaster zone: by vehicle

Similar to the refuge in/near vehicle requirement above, but with the added requirements of routing, fuel supply, and so forth. How will you evacuate when the gas stations are closed and/or sold out and the fuel gauge is on ‘E’?

Evacuation from disaster zone: on foot

In dire circumstances, it may be more dangerous to stay in your community than it is to attempt evacuation without the benefit of car. You should have a plan to walk/bike/sled/swim 30 miles over the course of 72 hours to reach safety. This is generally a plan of last resort.

Key planning considerations for your preparedness plan

As you put together your plan for each element in your risk-assessment list, consider how you will address the following needs:

  • Environment (heat/AC)
  • Electricity
  • Water (Stored & portable)
  • Nutrition (Stored & portable)
  • Food preparation
  • Food preservation
  • Lighting
  • Active communications (cellphone/payphone/radio/Internet)
  • Passive communications (radio/TV)
  • Entertainment (books/games)
  • Clothing
  • Transportation
  • Shelter (Permanent & portable)
  • Medical needs (maintenance medication)
  • Medical needs (first-aid/trauma)
  • Sanitation (personal hygiene, human wastes, trash/garbage)

Risks, training, and community

Local Red Cross chapters offer basic First Aid, CPR and fFirst responder Training as well as instruction in shelter operations and other fields

In Part 1 of this series, you were asked to consider the risks you face where you live. If you did your homework, you now have a prioritized list of risks that you should plan to address.

In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the psychology of disaster preparedness, and the relationship between FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and effective crisis response. The prescription for avoiding FUD or shock-induced catatonia is simple: training and practice.

In addition to dry-run rehearsals of the preparedness plans you assemble to address your risks, you should plan to rehearse your fire response plan on a regular basis — at least once per year. Pick a holiday which you normally spend at home, and make that “drill day”.

You’ve heard this before, but please listen anyway: every adult should take a combination First Aid/CPR course at least once every 10 years. Yes, you need to take CPR more often to maintain your certification, but at a minimum everyone should take the combo course every 10 years.

In any disaster, community plays a huge role. The time to forge the bonds that hold a community together is not in the aftermath of a disaster. Fortunately, many communities in the US already have programs in place which encourage outreach and relationship-building.

In your correspondent’s experience, the most useful program is CERT, short for Community Emergency Response Team. The CERT program provides a free 16-20 hour training course which covers disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, light search-and-rescue, and disaster psychology.

Beyond CERT, however, strong community organizations are needed to provide mutual support in a crisis. Many cities with significant disaster risks support and encourage the formation of neighborhood associations. These organizations both raise awareness of the need for preparedness planning and encourage neighbors to get acquainted instead of keeping to themselves.

Urban dwellers, particularly those in high-density housing such as high-rise apartment buildings, are strongly encouraged to reach out to neighbors and openly discuss the need for preparedness.

Scenarios

Scenario 2 – Heat wave

Description: An unrelenting summer heat wave spreads across the Southwest. Daytime temperatures of over 110F are common. The electric power generation and distribution systems, strained by the load, suffer widespread failures.

Scenario profile:
Family separated: NO
Immediate evacuation required: NO
Post-event evacuation required: POSSIBLE
Services interrupted: YES (electricity)
Mean time to restoration of services: 3 days
Period of initial isolation: not applicable
Communications: minimal disruption
Secondary risks: Medical services overwhelmed by heat-related casualties

Requirements for survival:
Environment: YES, daytime environmental cooling
Electricity: YES, food preservation and environmental control
Water (stored): NO
Water (portable): YES, required in case of relocation
Nutrition (stored): YES, fresh food may spoil
Nutrition (portable): YES, required in case of relocation
Food preparation: YES, if kitchen is all-electric
Food preservation: YES
Lighting: YES, but minimal – night-time use only Alternate active communications: NO, phone/cell network functional
Passive communications: YES, need to stay informed
Entertainment: YES, can’t go outside
Clothing: NO
Transportation: YES, in case of relocation or medical emergency
Shelter (permanent): NO
Shelter (portable): NO
Medical needs (maintenance medication): YES, 1-week supply
Medical care (first-aid/trauma): NO
Sanitation: NO

This one is a double whammy — a major heat wave leading to electricity outages. Heat waves are likely to be accompanies by a drought, greatly increasing the risk of fire danger in outlying areas.

One assumes that you will have the sense to stay out of the sun as much as possible during this crisis. Your author is no expert on heat wave survival, so a bit of Googling found this great city-government page titled Drought & Extreme Heat Survival. Here’s what they have to say:

Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun, or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. To avoid developing these illnesses, learn the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.

Before the extreme heat:

To keep cool air inside and warm air outside…

  • Install air conditioning.
  • Insulate around window air conditioners, ducts, and doors. Weatherstrip doors and window sills.
  • Consider leaving storm windows up all year. They can help keep heat out during the summer months as well as keeping the cold out in the winter.
  • Install reflective film or shades on windows. Outdoor louvers or awnings can reduce the heat entering a house by as much as 80 percent.
  • Use fans to keep the cool air circulating.
  • Plant deciduous trees around your house that block the heat in summer and let the sun shine through in winter.

During periods of extreme heat:

To avoid the effects of heat waves, observe the following Heat Wave Safety Rules:

  • Slow down. Your body can’t do its best in high temperatures and humidities, and might do its worst.
  • Heed your body’s early warnings that heat syndrome is on the way. Reduce your level of activity immediately and get to a cooler environment.
  • Dress for summer. Lightweight, light colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your thermoregulatory system maintain normal body temperature.
  • Put less fuel on your inner fires. Foods (like proteins) that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
  • Don’t dry out. Heat wave weather can wring you out before you know it. Drink plenty of water while the hot spell lasts.
  • Stay salty. Unless you’re on a salt-restricted diet, take an occasional salt tablet or some salt solution when you’ve worked up a sweat.
  • Avoid thermal shock. Acclimatize yourself gradually to warmer weather. Treat yourself extra gently for those first critical two or three hot days.
  • Vary your thermal environment. Physical stress increases with exposure time in heat wave weather. Try to get out of the heat for at least a few hours each day. If you can’t do this at home, drop in on a cool store, restaurant, or theater – anything to keep your exposure time down.
  • Don’t get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.
An 1895 New madrid qauke registering 6.8 has far greater impact than a similar 1994 quake in California measuring 6.7

Scenario 3 – Earthquake

Description: A magnitude 7.4 earthquake centered on the Hayward fault (Editor’s Note: Clarksville in within the impact range of the New Madrid fault line) strikes the San Francisco Bay Area at 1630PDT (4:30pm) on a weekday in October. One adult from the household is at work on the Peninsula, 20 miles away, when the quake occurs. The other adult is at home in Fremont. One child is at the elementary school walking distance from the house. The other is at preschool 10 miles from home.

The home suffers minor structural damage, but appears fit to occupy. Bay Area bridges are declared unsafe pending inspection; extensive damage to overpasses and roadway make highway travel hazardous or impossible.

Within 4 hours of the quake, 7,000 Bay Area residents are dead and 27,000 require medical attention. The vast majority of these are in East Bay cities within 5 miles (8 km) of the Hayward Fault. Emergency plans go into effect across California, and within 24 hours, martial law is declared in Fremont, Union City, and Oakland.

Scenario profile:
Family separated: YES, worst-case scenario
Immediate evacuation required: NO
Post-event evacuation required: POSSIBLE
Services interrupted: YES (all municipal services including sewer)
Mean time to restoration of services: 10+ days
Period of initial isolation: 7 days
Communications: wireline phone network down hard; mobile voice network extremely unreliable for outdial, indial impossible; mobile data network mostly functional
Secondary risks: Numerous, and all bad.

Requirements for survival:
Environment: YES, night-time lows of ~45F
Electricity: YES
Water (stored): YES
Water (portable): YES
Nutrition (stored): YES
Nutrition (portable): YES
Food preparation: YES
Food preservation: YES, short-term (until fresh/frozen food consumed)
Lighting: YES, but minimal – night-time use only Alternate active communications: YES
Passive communications: YES, need to stay informed
Entertainment: YES
Clothing: YES, replacements for contaminated/damaged clothes
Transportation: YES, local and/or evac
Shelter (permanent): NO
Shelter (portable): YES
Medical needs (maintenance medication): YES, 2-week supply
Medical care (first-aid/trauma): YES
Sanitation: YES

As the observant reader might gather, this is a scenario your correspondent has listed as a primary risk in his preparedness plan. Unfortunately, the death and injury toll numbers aren’t made up or exaggerated. They’re drawn directly from a FEMA study used in CERT training, and they’re not even the worst-case scenario. What follows isn’t the complete response plan, but enough of it to give you a good understanding.

Earthquake damage in California

After the quake hits, each adult moves immediately to a safe location. If mobile-network voice calling is down (very likely) SMS text messaging is used to notify spouse and out-of-state relatives of event and status. If mobile-network data services are functional, email is sent from mobile devices as a backup to SMS messaging. If mobile network is down hard, proceed immediately to nearest pay phone with phone card and call out-of-state contacts with event and status. (Multiple pay phone locations marked on emergency maps in all preparedness kits.)

Each adult then moves quickly to secure their location and ensure access to disaster supplies. The person at home immediately performs a rapid structural assessment. (Assume that both adults have self-treatable minor injuries, at worst.) If the house looks safe for the moment, homebody executes the following tasks:

  • NatGas to OFF (wrench and/or emergency tool in multiple locations)
  • Water to OFF at master valve (mandatory) and curbside valve (optional)
  • Master power breaker to OFF, individual circuit breakers to OFF
  • Pull emergency release on garage door and open manually if possible; move car out of garage into driveway
  • Relocate containerized camping gear (incl. clothing duffel), go-packs and bicycles to back yard
  • Relocate documents container and firearms to secure location
  • Relocate fire extinguishers to back yard
  • Relocate ice, frozen and refrigerated goods to 5-day coolers in back yard
  • Relocate certain kitchen appliances, canned and dry food supplies from kitchen cupboards to back yard
  • Advise contacts of status, and intent to retrieve older child from school
  • Retrieve older child from elementary school, return home
  • Advise contacts of successful retrieval of older child from school, status of child at preschool (unknown/unretrieved, etc.), advise other adult of any aid needed at school
  • Enlist older child in setting up temporary camp, kitchen, sanitation station in back yard

The adult at work on the Peninsula secures the work location and activates the company disaster plan. If the parking structure is intact, relocate vehicle to secure location. For safety and security reasons, travel is deferred until at least 0100PDT/day2. “Combat nap” time after setting up overnight watch schedule. Relocate to Fremont, taking at least one other Fremont-bound employee as a passenger. Note: do not issue firearms to unqualified passengers. Drop passenger at safe point near destination, review emergency-contact procedures in case retrieval is required.

Three of four family members rendezvous at home by 0400PDT/day2. “Combat naps” for adults. Refuel vehicle from emergency reserve, assess situation in Fremont using all available info sources, plan retrieval of fourth family member to start at first light (0630PDT/day2). Execute retrieval op, verify that disaster plan is being executed correctly at preschool for remaining kids. Provide first aid as needed, leave emergency food/water supplies if required. Return to home.

I’m going to truncate the explanation of this plan at this point, as it then goes into plenty more detail not necessarily useful to this conversation, such as CERT operations and camp management.

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