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V. Are you ready for disaster? Preparedness meets opportunity

 

Editors Note: This is Chapter 5 in a reprint of this five-part series, published on Daily Kos and originally 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.

“Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity” – Anonymous

The key to emergency preparedness is an accurate understanding of the risks and challenges you face. Underestimating your risks leads to complacency and failure to prepare effectively. Overestimating your risks leads to the Armageddon Fallacy and failure to prepare effectively (if at all) because of the enormity of the imagined potential disaster.

The harsh truth is that the calculus of survival is not entirely within our control. No matter how many risks we address, there are situations which are simply unforeseeable or unaddressable. However, by taking effective action to minimize the likely risks, we can greatly increase our chances of survival in an emergency or disaster situation.

This Diary marks the conclusion of this series. In this final installment, we will complete our discussion of material preparations, discuss personal security, and bring this series to a conclusion. In Part 4 of this series, we covered the majority of the material preparations required to support most emergency preparedness plans. Today’s installment will cover the remaining material-prep topics, as well as personal and group security in various situations.

Shelter

While we have discussed Environment in some detail (see Part 4), shelter deserves a category of its own. Your correspondent confesses that it would have been more logical to cover Shelter immediately before Environment; this will be corrected in any derivative versions of this work.

Your preparedness plan MUST address the following scenarios:

  1. Your primary residence is habitable; what materials and tools do you have on hand to keep it that way if it is damaged?
  2. You are forced by circumstances to spend a night outdoors but in the vicinity of your home, e.g. in a yard or park; what shelter can you provide for your household?
  3. Your home or neighborhood is not habitable and you decide to evacuate by car; do you have a list of places you could stay along the likely escape routes from your region, at various distances?

EMERGENCY REPAIRSB0001AGFX0.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_In your correspondent’s opinion, being prepared to make minor emergency repairs to your home is one of the least expensive and most effective things you can do to prepare for the aftermath of a disaster. While specific techniques vary depending on construction, the type of damage likely in your situation, and so forth, there are certain common materials which are incredibly useful for tactical repairs during or after a crisis:

Tools & Fasteners:

  • Basic toolkit; see the Allied 39031 kit as an example. Even if you already have a set of tools, consider setting aside one of these self-contained all-in-one kits for emergencies.
  • Utility knife with spare blades (even if kit has one)
  • Hand drill, e.g. Fiskars Hand Drill
  • Drill & screwdrive bit set, e.g. Black & Decker 109pc
  • Nails
  • 3″ drywall screws
  • 2″ wood screws
  • 2 large rolls duct tape

Materials:

  • 1 roll plastic sheeting (“tarp on a roll”) in thickest gauge available
  • 2×2 stock in 6′ or 8′ lengths
  • 2×4 stock in 6′ or 8′ lengths
  • Plywood sheeting suitable to your needs

EMERGENCY OUTDOOR SHELTERPlan A: Acquire a tent large enough to sleep everyone in your household. This is dual-use equipment, and the author highly commends the practice of taking your family camping to build character and self-sufficiency in situations outside normal routine.

Plan B: Use plastic tarpaulins and/or plastic sheeting to construct an improvised shelter. This is not as easy as it sounds. Seriously, a tent is a much better choice. If you must go this route, use features of your environment as an integral part of your shelter, i.e. use the back corner of your wooden-fenced yard as the starting point. Having suitable materials will make this task much easier:

  • grommeted, opaque woven-plastic tarps
  • anchor stakes
  • nylon cord

EVACUATION SHELTER POINTS

A critical element of any evacuation plan is knowing where you’re going. Spending a few minutes identifying and noting likely shelter locations along your probable evacuation routes now means much less stress when a crisis occurs. Shelter locations may include hotels, motels, campgrounds, highway rest areas, and houses of friends or family. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a second home (e.g. a vacation cabin) you must still have a plan in case your alternate location is unreachable.

Be sure to record all relevant information for your identified shelter points in your disaster plan; for hotel/motel sites, record both the local phone number and the national reservation number(s). Also consider your means of payment for accomodations. A credit card will be required to secure a phone reservation, and you do NOT want to be caught without a reservation when you arrive at the hotel.

Finally, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has made it obvious that everyone in a region at risk of natural disaster (e.g. virtually all of us) should consider where we could take refuge without ruining our family finances. Staying in a motel is neither cheap nor pleasant over the long haul, and counting on government funding to offset these costs is foolhardy.

Medical (first aid/trauma)

513906In normal, everyday life, few injuries are truly life-threatening. In a disaster, minor cuts can become infected, and if left unchecked the infection can cause the loss of a limb or even cost the life of the patient. The key, in either situation, is early, effective treatment.

The reader should keep in mind that the medical materials recommended for dealing with first-aid or trauma situations are not intended to equip the reader to go forth and treat the wounded masses. Carefully distinguish between supplies intended to preserve and ensure the health of your household, versus those which could be used to help others. Your correspondent, for example, maintains a personal first-aid kit separate from the supplies in his disaster-response gear.

A good starting point for first-aid preparedness is a Red Cross first-aid/CPR class. Similar classes are offered in affiliation with CERT programs (as discussed previously). Practical, hands-on training is a must, as you learn the material in ways that are simply not possible when studying written or online materia.

It is far easier to deal with injuries if you’re properly equipped. For most people, the easiest road to success is to start with a prepared kit, and then add tools and supplies to complete the package. Recommendations:

  • The REI Backpacker First Aid Kit (at right) is as close to a perfect base kit as your author has found; at the time of this writing, the REI Outlet has the 2004 kits on clearance
  • 1 bottle Povidone-iodine disinfectant solution (Betadine) sealed in zip-lock bag
  • 1 tube Neosporin + Pain Relief ointment
  • Nexcare Liquid Bandage Drops — see below for additional comments on this important item
  • 1 box Telfa non-stick pads, repackaged into 1-2 zip-lock bags
  • 1 roll of one-inch-wide cloth First Aid Tape
  • Blue Nitrile EMS gloves, stored 10 per ziplock sandwich bag
  • CPR mask — a MUST for administering CPR without risk of infectious disease
  • EMT shears for accessing wounds in clothed areas
  • Protective eyewear with splash resistance
  • Filter mask(s)
  • 1 white-LED micro flashlight such as PT Pulsar
  • 1 blue-LED micro flashlight (as above, but in blue) for spotting blood
  • 1 bottle aspirin
  • 1 bottle ibuprofen
  • 1 bottle acetaminophen
  • 1 bottle liquid Benadryl with means for dispensing measured doses
  • 1 package Pepto-Bismol tablets (not liquid)
  • 1 package anti-diarrheal tablets

A note regarding one very special item in the list above: in your correspondent’s estimation, one of the most underreported recent developments in wound care is the adaptation of surgical superglue (cyanoacrylate, or “CA” glue) to the consumer market. A wound sealed with sterile CA glue, such as the Nexcare product linked above, will stop bleeding immediately, and generally will not require a separate bandage.If you have first-aid kits already, add the Nexcare product to all of them at your earliest convenience. It’s that good. Don’t bother with the other products that require you to use special activator swabs, go for the Nexcare product. Your correspondent recently sliced down the dorsal surface of his left index finger from the second knuckle to the fingernail with the tip of an extremely sharp knife. Conventional wound care products were mediocre at stopping the bleeding, and did nothing for the pain. The Nexcare drops not only took care of the bleeding, but by sealing together and immobilizing the edges of the cut, stopped the pain from the exposed nerve endings.

UPDATE: Two other emerging technologies which are revolutionizing trauma wound management are QuikClot (currently available only to emergency services professionals) and SEAL-ON/m*doc, which is available over-the-counter. The author can personally attest to the efficacy of SEAL-ON products for stopping severe nosebleeds and scalp wounds.

If you are interested in preparing to deal with traumatic injury, such as might reasonably be expected in the aftermath of a natural disaster, please seek appropriate training. Reference books, while useful, can be difficult to employ effectively in stressful situations.

If you do decide to pick up a book on emergency medicine, keep in mind that in a disaster the conventional strategy of “keep the victim alive until the cavalry arrives” does not apply. You must assume that any lifesaving measures must be capable of sustaining the victim without immediate medical attention by a pro, and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that the victim will die. If you take a CERT class, you will learn more about how to assess a victim’s chances of survival, a process called triage.

Medical (sustaining care)

File of Life is your portable medical record

At a minimum, every copy of your preparedness plan should include a detailed list of prescribed medications for each member of your household, as well as contact information for the prescribing physician.

A separate sheet should detail all known food, drug, and environmental allergies for each individual.

If appropriate, request your prescribing physician(s) to provide prescription forms for an emergency supply of maintenance medications. Pay attention to any must-be-filled-by policies in force in your state. Note that certain medications are prescribed on forms which are only valid for 14 days after the date written on the form by the doctor.

Finally, be sure to keep an emergency supply of any equipment required to administer required medications, as well as anything needed to safely dispose of waste generated in the process.

Medication management

It is strongly suggested that, to the extent that it is practical, a 14-day supply of all required medication(s) should be stored in the home preparedness kit. It is further suggested that a 5-day supply be stored in the vehicle and/or work preparedness kits. When storing medication, which has a limited shelf life, keeping track of expiration dates is key. Expired medication can be worse than useless, it can be dangerous.

Your correspondent uses the following plan to manage medication stored in emergency kits. No doubt, commenters will come up with many inventive and workable alternative plans for meeting this need. This is presented as an example of a plan that works, not as The One True Way.

Separate and distinct from the prescribed-medication list referenced above is a medication log kept in each kit with stored medication. This log is kept in pencil on a designated page in a Rite in the Rain spiral notebook, which is also used as an equipment log. A pencil is affixed to the notebook on a cord long enough to permit writing.

Each medication is logged in using the notebook, including quantity, expiration date, and do-not-use-after date if different from the expiration date. This includes not only the prescription meds, but also the over-the-counter meds and supplies with limited shelf lives.

Whenever possible, prescription meds are stored in an original bottle with the actual expiration date written on the top of the bottle. (It’s usually the case that the meds in the bottle are newer than the label would indicate.)

Knives and Multi-tools

Leatherman multi-tool

Your humble correspondent must disclose up front that he has been carrying a Leatherman pocket tool daily for over a decade, after having tried various other types and brands of implement. He would no more be caught without his Leatherman Charge XTi than without his cellphone or wallet.

It is certainly open for debate whether it is useful, in most emergency situations, to have a fixed-blade knife as part of your preparedness kit. In the author’s opinion, a traditional fixed-blade knife is more of a liability than an asset due to its bulk, its intimidating appearance but limited usefulness in personal defense, and its lack of flexibility compared to a multi-tool.

At a minimum, every emergency kit (home, vehicle, work) should contain a cheap, lower-quality multitool such as this one. While your correspondent is somewhat hesitant to recommend such a cheaply made piece of equipment, the fact is that a low-quality tool beats the hell out of having no tool at all.

However, if you have any choice at all, invest in a higher quality tool, from a name-brand manufacturer. The author’s Leatherman Super Tool was recently refurbished for free by the factory after 8 years of daily use, and is now oiled and stored in a vehicle preparedness kit. Other brands of multi-tool, notably Gerber, are known for similar levels of durability and longevity in service.

If you are going to spend a few dollars on a multi-tool, a very important safety feature is having locking blades and tools. Your author can attest, from painful personal experience, that having a razor-sharp blade suddenly snap shut on your fingers when applying heavy pressure to the knife is a Very Bad Thing.

Kits, storage, and go-packs, oh my!

While we have discussed certain approaches to organizing and storing equipment along the way, it’s time to pull together all the various material preparations you may choose to include in your plans.

As has been mentioned throughout this series, you should consider creating the following preparedness kits with materials relevant to the risks you face:

  • 3-day vehicle kit for each vehicle in the family
  • 3-day work kit for each person who works outside the home
  • 14-day comprehensive home kit, with a subset of that kit suitable for adaptation into a 3-day travel kit

Recommendations for packing items into kits:

  1. Seal all individual items in durable waterproof packaging, such as heavy-gauge ziplock freezer bags
  2. Line backpacks and utility bags with heavy-gauge plastic bags, e.g. those sold as 55-gallon drum liners (extremely tough); when the bag is packed, press out excess air, roll the end of the bag over at least three times, and secure with a velcro strap or similar fastener
  3. Group items by function, and pack items likely to be used together into the same bag or container.
  4. For critical items such as flashlights, can openers, and so forth, pack spares and alternate items in separate locations.

A small nylon backpack works well for work and vehicle kits. A second bag may be required for clothing and footwear; be sure you can carry both bags comfortably.Home preparedness kits should be assembled into containers, each of which must be labeled with its contents. Be sure not to over-pack individual containers to the point that they are difficult or impossible to lift. The author is a big fan of Rubbermaid Action Packer containers, as they are lockable, watertight, stackable, and extremely durable.

Storage

Having access to your preparedness kits, especially your home kit, is a critical goal you must take into consideration when planning where to store your gear. Residents in earthquake territory have different needs than those in, say, blizzard country.

First, consider safety. If you are storing any significant quantity of emergency fuel, you need to store it outside your home and preferably away from any exterior walls.

Next, consider the risks to the safety and accessibility of your preparedness materials. If you live in an area at risk of earthquakes, for example, your preparedness kit won’t be of much use stored under the stairs if your house is too dangerous to enter post-quake. Consider installing a locking outdoor storage container such as the Rubbermaid XL Deck Box, which is large enough to store a tremendous volume of gear and supplies safely away from your house. Be sure to equip any outdoor storage containers with a waterproof outdoor combination lock.

An inexpensive alternative is to pack your home kit into wheeled trash cans. This has the advantage of being more easily portable if you need to relocate a short distance, e.g. to a nearby park.

Go-packs

As previously mentioned, a portion of your home kit should be easily portable. In addition to items previously discussed, your household go-pack plan should include your critical papers, such as birth certificates, loan documents, insurance docs, and so forth. Here’s the real test to see if you’ve done this right: if your house caught on fire and you outside with your family, your pets, and your go-pack, would you be able to begin putting your life back together? Consider keeping backups of critical computer data in your go-pack, such as CDs containing your family’s digital photographs.

Security measures for personal and group safety

Ezekiel 25:17 – according to Quentin Tarantino, that is:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. […]”

The sad truth is that during times of crisis, both the noblest and the basest parts of human nature are laid bare for all to see. In desperate situations, people will commit acts unthinkable in times of plenty. It is prudent to plan to protect yourself, your family, and your community.

Personal security

Some of the readers of this series adhere to a philosophy of non-violence, which the author respects. This does not preclude the use of nonlethal means of self-defense. At a minimum, the author recommends that you include at least one large OC (pepper) defensive spray and at least one contact-type stun device with spare battery in each emergency kit.

The OC pepper spray is dual-use; it can be used to deter human harassment or assault, and it will send even the largest hungry dog running for the hills. NOTE: OC pepper spray (or any chemical spray, for that matter) should NEVER be discharged in an enclosed space unless life is at stake. The electric stun device is easily concealable, and at a minimum each female member of your group old enough to handle one safely should have one.

Group and site security

Your preparedness both increases your chances of survival and puts you at risk. In a situation where resources are scarce, people who have not prepared to deal with that situation may be driven to desperate acts.

Your first line of defense is to maintain a low profile. Running a generator 24×7, powering bright lights, and cranking up the music and TV will draw attention. Your goal should be to minimize your profile, and give no hint that your household is any better off than the surrounding community. Be cautious in discussing details of your preparedness plans with anyone outside your household. That information is on a need-to-know basis, and most people just don’t need to know.

You should, however, be prepared to defend yourself, your family, and your resources against those who would do you harm. Yes, folks, it’s time to talk about guns.

Before you purchase a gun, you MUST learn how to store, handle, and use one safely. Your correspondent offers free basic firearms instruction to residents or visitors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Introductory classes are available in most cities at indoor and outdoor ranges, gun clubs, and through various NRA programs.

After you purchase a gun, in addition to storing it safely, you MUST practice with it at least once per year. This has the dual benefits of maintaining your familiarity with the firearm ,and verifying that the firearm remains in good working condition.

Finally, be realistic regarding the circumstances under which you might need a gun at all, much less use it against another person. For example, the author submits that a citizen shooting someone more than 100′ (30m) away calls into question (a) how much of an immediate threat that person really was, (b) how you clearly identified that person and the threat they presented, and (c) whether you were shooting without regard to anyone near or behind the target. Just because it’s a disaster zone doesn’t mean the shooter won’t end up explaining this to a judge and jury in the future.

= Shotguns =

870expsyn18If you’re going to buy a single gun for defensive purposes, the author recommends a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with an 18″ barrel. The Remington 870 Express Synthetic is the standard in this area, and at under $350 retail is very affordable. Other options to consider include the Mossberg 500 SP series.

However, the blast and recoil from a full-power shell in a 12-gauge shotgun can be quite startling, or even painful, for inexperienced shooters. The author strongly recommends the use of reduced-recoil ammunition, such as Remington Express Managed-Recoil Buckshot, as well as the use of an aftermarket rubber recoil pad securely affixed to the butt of the shotgun stock.

The addition of a sling, which can be quite inexpensive, is likewise strongly recommended. If you have to shepherd your group on foot out of the disaster zone, you’re not going to want to carry a shotgun in your hands the entire way.

Finally, a “defensive shotgun” or “introduction to shotgun” class is highly recommended for all authorized users. Many people are surprised at the difference training makes when it comes to effectively using a gun which seems as simple and straightforward as the shotgun.

= Rifles & Carbines =

534093mWhile most people are conceptually familiar with rifles because of TV and movies, few people understand the difference between a rifle and a carbine. The simple explanation: carbines are shorter than the full-size rifles, and fire bullets with less velocity and impact energy, resulting in shorter range and striking power. This is caused by the use of a shorter barrel and/or a less powerful cartridge compared to a rifle. Many carbines are chambered for pistol ammunition (specifically, revolver ammunition) rather than rifle ammo.

In keeping with the author’s admonition that the maximum range for a defensive firearm is 100′ or less, even in a disaster situation, a good potential alternative to the Remington 870 shotgun above is a Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle. Most people would instantly recognize this as a classic “cowboy rifle”.

Your correspondent specifically recommends the Winchester Model 94 Trails End in the .357 Magnum caliber. This means that the rifle fires relatively inexpensive and plentiful .357 Magnum pistol ammunition, but at much higher velocity and energy than a pistol due to the longer barrel. Recommended accessories include a sling and a red dot sight with spare battery.

A word about handguns…

p220-largeIf you are unfamiliar with firearms, and intend to purchase a gun for home defense, a handgun is not necessarily the best choice. However, in disaster situations, handguns do offer certain advantages:

  • pistols can be concealed on one’s person or carried in a non-obvious fashion
  • pistols are lighter and less bulky than rifles or shotguns

When selecting a handgun, be sure to shoot it or an equivalent model before you decide to purchase. That Casull .454 monster revolver might seem like a manly choice in the gun store, but it’s useless if you’re incapable of firing it without flinching. (For the record, the author considers the Casull .454 to be ridiculously overpowered and refuses to shoot it or its giant-caliber brethren.)Your correspondent is comfortable with a wide range of handguns, but prefers the .40 caliber H&K USP and the .45 caliber SIGarms P220R. His first choice for a concealable handgun is the somewhat expensive and exotic 9mm H&K P7M8, but reluctantly concedes that the SIGarms P239 and GLOCK 26/27 are more practical and affordable choices.

CONCLUSION

I hope that this series of articles has been useful to you, rather than overwhelming. I urge you to ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time’, that is, to break down the process of moving into a state of preparedness into manageable steps. Don’t be self-conscious if you start off taking only modest steps towards preparedness; even that is a huge improvement over failure to prepare.

Remember, preparedness as a state of mind is at least as important as having a pile of store-bought stuff in any kind of disaster. Always have a plan, and a backup plan in case your first plan doesn’t work out. (And, if nothing else, have a good communication plan to fall back on!)

I will be posting a couple of follow-up diaries in coming days and weeks to stimulate further discussion regarding preparedness in our homes, our communities, and our workplaces. Please be sure to share any insights or adventures you encounter as you work developing and implementing your preparedness plans.

Thank you to all the folks who have read and recommended the Diaries in this series.


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