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.
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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.)