Today, we have the ability to predict with more accuracy than ever dangerous tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, and floods. We know the areas that are prone to earthquakes and areas that are susceptible to wildfires, and we can tell hours in advance whether a tsunami will hit our shores.
However, in spite of all the capabilities for advance warnings, Americans are still quite poor at preparing for these disasters. Many of us really believe that it can’t happen to us.
In a 2006 poll conducted by TIME Magazine, 56% of respondents said they had gone through a major disaster. However, only 16% percent believed they were “well prepared” for the next one. Denial, it seems, is an American way of life.
Local and Global Disasters
Thanks to our global economy, it’s not just local disasters we need to consider. Disasters in other parts of the world now have a direct effect on our economy; diseases in other countries can quickly find their way to the States. Food shortages elsewhere can cause food riots, which then lead to speculative price swings over here, that can quickly raise the cost of food. A cyber-attack from international hackers could threaten our financial industry or even our electrical grid.
Now, the likelihood of some of these things happening are rather slim, and it’s doubtful that anyone needs to stock a year’s supply of food and supplies. This would be expensive and unrealistic.
However, most people are not prepared, at all, for any kind of disaster. Most communities only have a three-day supply of food in their stores to feed the local population. What would happen if food deliveries couldn’t arrive for a week or two?
How to Prepare for Disasters
Some simple, quick preparations could make the difference between life and death for your family. Here are several steps you can take to be ready for a disaster.
1. Stock Up on Used Helmets
A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR as I was cooking dinner, and I heard a moving story about a young boy, Noah Stewart, who lived through a tornado that hit his Alabama home.
Noah was sucked up into the tornado and then dropped. He landed head first, a fall of such force that, under normal circumstances, would have killed him. However, he survived because his mother made a split-second decision to put a baseball helmet on his head right before the tornado hit. Noah was unhurt after the storm. But the helmet cracked down the middle.
The CDC states that they can’t say whether helmets save lives during a tornado impact. However, it still seems wise for anyone in a tornado-prone state to keep several helmets at the ready. Any added protection is going to increase your chance of survival, and as Noah’s story clearly shows, helmets can save lives.
You don’t have to buy new helmets – picking up used bicycle, football, or baseball helmets at thrift stores and garage sales can save money and keep your family protected.
However, it’s essential that you keep these helmets in an easily accessible place; they should not be used for any other purpose, as they may be misplaced. Remember, when a tornado hits, you might only have minutes – or even mere seconds – to find shelter. You don’t want to be running around the house searching for those helmets.
2. Create a Plan With Your Family
There might be some disasters that require you to flee your home, such as floods, wildfires, tsunamis, hurricanes, or a terrorist threat. Creating an emergency preparedness plan can feel overwhelming, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a clear step-by-step guide to help you do this.
One of the most important plans you should create with your family is an escape plan. For example, experts predict that New York City is long overdue for a direct hit by a major hurricane, which would swamp lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. This is a city with more than eight million people. What’s the fastest route to escape? If you had to get out, and you had no car, where would you go? These are considerations that need to be thought out ahead of time.
It’s also smart to figure out how you’re going to communicate with your family in the event of an emergency. You can’t always count on your cell phone to work, especially if towers are down or the network is jammed by many people trying to call loved ones. You can use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter or text messages to stay in touch with your family, since the 3G network might still work, even if the cell service doesn’t.
Make sure everyone in your family has these social networking apps on their phone, and that they know to use them if their calls don’t go through. If you have an iPhone, you might also want to download the Emergency Radio app, which lets you listen to fire and police scanners, as well as NOAA weather updates, Coast Guard communications, and more.
3. Buy Emergency Medical Books
Imagine that a tornado has just destroyed half your town, including your own neighborhood. Someone in your family has been severely injured. Do you know how to stop severe bleeding? Would you know how to treat them if help was hours away?
There are a million medical emergencies that can happen during disasters, and you can’t always rely on immediate medical help. It’s just smart to know how to handle some common emergency situations yourself.
I’m fascinated with field medicine, as it’s called. This is the type of emergency medical care that takes place “on the field,” often without a lot of supplies or a qualified medical professional on-hand for guidance. In a disaster, this type of emergency medical first aid is what can save lives.
I have two books that cover field medicine. One is “Where There Is No Doctor,” by David Werner. This book is used by the World Health Organization, and it teaches you how to treat serious illnesses, how to help a woman through childbirth, and much more – all without a doctor.
The other book I have is “Ditch Medicine,” by Hugh Coffee. This book focuses more on serious wounds and traumatic injuries. It shows you how to stitch muscles together, how to treat anaphylactic shock, how to treat infected wounds, and much more.
“Ditch Medicine” is fascinating, and includes many pictures and diagrams to teach you how to treat these emergencies safely. Both of these books can be bought for less than $20 each.
4. Have a Well-Stocked Food Supply
FEMA recommends that every family have enough nonperishable food items and water on hand to survive for at least three days. They recommend the following foods on their website, Ready.gov:
- Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener
- Protein or fruit bars
- Dry cereal or granola
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Canned juices
- Nonperishable pasteurized milk
- High-energy foods like nuts, trail mix, and canned tuna
- Food for infants
- Comfort/stress foods like chocolate, cookies, or other high-calorie sweets
Having a long-term home food storage on-hand doesn’t take a big investment. You could save money buying some of these items on sale or by using coupons.
It’s also smart to know where your nearest source of fresh water is, and have several different methods to disinfect this water, just in case water is unavailable for a period of time.
For instance, I know my closest fresh water supply is a lake half a mile from my home. I have a steam distiller, which I can use to sterilize the water if I have electricity. I also have several handheld water purifiers, as well as bleach, that I can use if I don’t have electricity.
It’s human nature to avoid thinking about these worst-case scenarios. After all, none of us want to imagine a pandemic sweeping the country, or a tornado barreling through our own neighborhood. But these things do happen, and the best thing we can do is to prepare for these events. Even a little bit of preparedness can make a big difference.