In case of emergency: Prepping for disaster or not, everyone should be prepared

The Kansas City StarJanuary 1, 2013 

  • Three things everyone should have on hand

    Be prepared to get by on your own for at least three days. (The American Red Cross suggests having enough food and water for two weeks in case you're stranded at home.) So make sure you have:

    Water: At least 1 gallon per person per day, to be used for drinking and for hygiene and food preparation. You can buy bottled water, but storing tap water in clean 2-liter soda bottles works, too.

    Food: You need a three-day supply of nonperishable foods that don't require cooking. Examples: peanut butter, jerky, nuts, protein bars; canned meat, vegetables, fruits, soup. Comfort food is a good idea, too, such as cookies, candy bars, instant coffee, tea bags. If you have kids, pick foods familiar to them. If you have a baby, make sure you have formula, diapers, etc.

    Life-sustaining medicines: Have an extra seven-day supply on hand.

    And don't forget: Your pets. Have food and water for them. Also: leashes, collars, carriers, toys.

    Other items that might come in handy

    ■ A complete change of weather-appropriate clothing and footwear per person

    ■ A first aid kit

    ■ Battery-operated or hand-crank radio, plus extra batteries. Upgrade: a NOAA weather radio that broadcasts storm warnings.

    ■ Flashlights and extra batteries. AA lithium batteries are said to have a 10-year shelf life.

    ■ Cash (there's no guarantee ATMs or credit card machines will work in an emergency) and an extra credit card

    ■ Cellphone and charger. Even old cellphones can be used to call 911; just keep them charged.

    ■ Whistle

    ■ Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, baby wipes, etc.

    ■ Spare eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.

    ■ Rain gear

    ■ Blankets or sleeping bag

    ■ Manual can opener

    ■ Cooking utensils, paper plates, plastic forks, etc.

    ■ Multipurpose tool with pliers, knife, etc.

    ■ Duct tape

    ■ Heavy-duty trash bags

    ■ Games and activities for the kids

    ■ Maps of the area. You might have to find a nearby shelter.

    Consider these if you're extra cautious

    ■ Dust or surgical masks

    ■ Compass

    ■ Matches in a waterproof container

    ■ Unscented household chlorine bleach (a drop or two can purify a jug of water)

    ■ Shut-off wrench for turning off household water and gas

    ■ Important documents (insurance policies, birth certificates, credit card numbers, proof of address, etc.) kept in a waterproof container. Or scan such documents and store them on a USB thumb drive.

    ■ Plastic bucket with a tight lid (or buy a toilet-lid bucket top online). Also garbage bags and ties.

    ■ A generator to keep at least the furnace and refrigerator running, or to provide power for someone with medical needs. Gas- or diesel-powered generators should be used only outdoors where there's adequate ventilation.

I was surprised to learn that a perfectly sensible neighbor owns a blow-up raft and oars, not because she's planning a whitewater adventure but because the raft might come in handy in a flood.

I was less surprised when a friend who has never planted a thing besides grass mentioned stockpiling seeds ... for subsistence farming. Crazy, yes, but then again, he has mentioned fear of a zombie apocalypse.

I was not even a little surprised to hear of the reality TV show Doomsday Preppers, which offers extreme examples of people getting ready for whichever awful way they think the world is going to end one of these days. Their goal, of course, is survival.

Most of the time, those of us not on reality TV don't give much thought to trying to manage without electricity or heat or cellphone or Internet. But superstorm Sandy in the Northeast has people talking about whole-house generators and the advantages of buried power lines, says Mike Baughman, operations coordinator in the Emergency Management Department of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.

The good news for most Americans is that we probably won't get a hurricane. And probably no apocalypses, zombie or otherwise. But for many people, there are the deadly threats of ice storms and tornadoes. Other possibilities include a hazardous-materials leak or a flu pandemic.

Any or all of which is why you ought to consider putting together a kit of emergency supplies. Some authorities say you should have three or more kits: for home, for the car(s) and for work.

Estimates vary on how many of us are prepared for a disaster. One survey, from 2007, found that 31 percent of families had a complete emergency supply kit. (The next step: having an emergency communication plan.)

Even with several days of warning, some folks along the East Coast were obviously caught off guard by the storm.

Granted, you probably have most of the stuff you'd need around your house. But putting it all in one spot means (a) you'll know where it is when the lights go out and (b) if your kit is in a bag or backpack, you can easily take it with you if you're forced to leave your home.

Motivated by my friend who's into zombies, I decided I'd look for a weather radio, something we hear about every spring at the start of tornado season.

After browsing online, I ended up buying one at a Dick's Sporting Goods for about $60. Two features sold me on it: Besides running on batteries, it also has a hand crank (and a solar panel). But best of all, it will charge a cellphone (I'm not sure how well that works, however).

The Red Cross's online store sells a one-person, three-day basic kit in a backpack for $50. In addition to the stuff you'd expect, it contains food packets and water pouches with five-year shelf lives.

In the same aisle as the weather radio at Dick's was an "emergency water filter," $39.99. The product claimed to make "virtually any water drinkable."

A whistle was on my list — emergency authorities recommend one — but try to find just a whistle. A "5-in-1 survival tool" at Dick's combined a whistle with a compass, a flint for starting fires, a waterproof matchbox and a nylon lanyard to hang around your neck.

In the emergency-preparedness world, there's the rule of three, which can vary according to the source. Here are three for your consideration:

■ You can live three hours without shelter in extreme conditions, such as a blizzard. Could you always keep yourself warm and/or dry? That's why, for example, you should keep a coat or blanket in your car.

■ You can live three days without water. Or thereabouts. A healthy adult might survive for a week with no or limited water, but do you really want to test it? Have at least three days' worth of water on hand.

■ You can live three weeks without food. Doesn't sound like the kind of diet I'd want to try. Lay in some extra food for peace of mind if nothing else.

Once you stock your disaster supply kit, go through it a couple of times a year to switch out water and make sure non-perishables haven't expired.

Some people become disaster experts by joining a Community Emergency Response Team, a Citizen Corps program that trains ordinary citizens to respond to crises. (Find out more at Citizencorps.gov/cert.)

Sources for lists included Preparemetrokc.org; Redcross.org; Mike Baughman, Wyandotte County Emergency Management; Gene Shepherd and Jennifer Fales, Kansas City Emergency Management.

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