Sunday, May 15, 2011

Old Style Disaster Prep: Thinking Ahead as a Way of Life

 So many terrible situations around the South right now: fires, floods, storms and destruction. We pray for those in harm's way, or who are affected. And we wonder what we would do, ourselves, in those situations. It is wisdom to think it through, and learn now what we might need to know later.

I'm not so much a "prepper" (good site BTW), as maybe a good Boy Scout: part of my way of living since I was a little kid is to try to "Be Prepared". I've always kept a full pantry and freezer, a $20 bill in my wallet, a spare tire, always packed twice as much as we need for trips. When I smoked, I not only bought by the carton but kept an emergency carton in the freezer and when traveling stowed cigarettes AND nicotine lozenges AND matches in every piece of luggage and on my person. Whether you need an aspirin or a packet of sugar, a needle and thread or a tape measure, an apple peeler or double AA battery, I probably have one in my purse.

One of the tales Ethan tells of his first tour in Iraq is about his unit being given two hours to prepare for a 3 day mission that ended up lasting a couple of weeks. Some took 3 pairs of socks. He packed 18 pairs. On day seven-ish, after all the tobacco was gone, and with only 3 MREs among them, Ethan opened his pack, and pulled out.... homemade venison jerky from Texas.

After the hubbub from that died down, he opened his pack again, and pulled out...a handful of cigars sent weeks earlier by a radio station in San Antonio. He said his CO kissed him on top of his head!

He made his momma proud! :-)

After sheltering in place while Hurricane Claudette went right over our house (and during the aftermath), we spent the next two summers obeying mandatory evacuation orders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. we were living near Port Lavaca/Port OConnor at the time, near the center of the Texas coast.

Here are some things we learned to apply to our own preparedness as a result.

(1) Plan to both shelter in place AND to evacuate. Good neighbors & the company of our local community make a world of difference when we can stay put, but it is not always going to be possible. Good, educated, decisions on the fly are the best tools regardless of the situation.

(2) Keep the gas tank full. Local supplies will begin to be depleted as more people fill up and deliveries aren't arriving. As more stations have to put up "out of gas" signs, the lines at other stations will get longer. Especially if you live in a city, it will be harder to get fuel when the news of the emergency has gone out. In our case, we were in a small town and the congestion was still surprisingly high. Having been through it, I now top off my tank once it gets down to half-empty out of habit.

(3) Plan your route to avoid the places everyone else is going (while still following safe practices and all official recommendations). Remember when  Houston tried to evacuate? The crush of population movement affects not only cities, but rural areas as well. The bottlenecks are in the routes we sheep tend to take when we go places. So stay on paved, safe, well-travelled State or County roads, but aim for locations that are a little less likely to be major destination points.

The first time we evacuated, for Hurricane Rita, we tried to go up to Austin, where our sons lived. Surprise! That's where everyone was going. We finally got as far as Gonzales  - three hours to make a one hour drive - and Paul said this is crazy, so we cut off down a Farm to Market Road and went west instead.

A week later, we went over to East Texas for the drive home, and saw the devistation wreaked when the hurricane - and the coastal population - had come inland, and all aimed northeast toward Texarkana. There were almost no hotel rooms to be had from Paris to Brenham, vast areas were without electricity, and schools were still closed while the gyms housed evacuees. Restaurants and cafes told us they had closed for lack of food to cook after the 2nd or third day - thousands of people stopping to eat, grocery store shelves emptying, and no delivery trucks running.

So the next time we "bugged out", we went South and West first, cutting across the traffic patterns to get beyond the coastline evacuation roads before turning north towards the sparsely populated areas of the Permian Basin. It worked like a charm. We made good time, and had no traffic. We did find that supplies of gasoline were still spotty, since deliveries were sporatic even out here, but by filling the tank at every opportunity, we did fine.

(4) Avoid reliance on gadgetry. Keep a good road atlas in the car trunk - one of the large Rand McNally ones that shows all the little roads is very good and will still be accurate years from now. Put a magnifying glass in with it in case your eyes age a little bit before you need to actually read it.

Keep an old fashioned non-electric plug-in telephone with attached-by-a-cord handset in a drawer somewhere. Our land lines still worked after the hurricane even though electric power was out. And cell phones did not work after Hurricane Katrina, so there is the possibility they might not again. Put a written list of family/friendly phone numbers in your wallet. If your cell phone can't access a tower, it may not pull up your address book.

A final note: now that cell phones and smart phones do our remembering for us, parents of very young children should still teach a main phone number for safety's sake. Among the first pieces of data we were required to memorize as soon as we could talk were my grandparents' phone numbers: "Capital 3, 8504" and
"CR 6, 3241". We learned these by heart long before we could even understand how to dial a phone or knew what numbers were. In today's world where we expect our cell phones to keep up with these numbers, it's still a good idea to teach children the actual numbers.

(5) Keep some cash and a supply of paper checks on hand. When the power was out and deliveries disrupted, most businesses were unable to process credit or debit card purchases. ATM machines that ran out of cash were not replenished. So keep a small supply - enough to purchase a few tanks of gasoline - somewhere handy, just in case. And keep it in $10s or $20s. No one is going to give you change for a $100.

A case of bottled water is another good thing to keep in the trunk. This is another commodity affected by deliveries. By carrying your own, you won't squander your small supply of cash in a tight. You can then refill the small bottles as needed from any potable source.

(6) Trust yourself & your own companions, and think for yourself. Don't expect any government body or outside agency other than God to be able to take care of you. We found that no matter how well prepared everyone is, it will still take at least 48 to 72 hours before any outside help can get to a location.

The Salvation Army does better than most at mobilizing its food carts (they were in tiny Magnolia Beach by Wednesday morning after the Monday hurricane, serving hot cooked meals 3 times a day to all comers and would not take a single dime even of donations from any of us), but we must plan to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.

That is what adults do.

At the end of it all, no one can make the best decisions or choices for us. It is our own accumulated knowledge and experience that we must rely on, whether in everyday life or in some unexpected emergency situation. Those skills we use every day are the ones that we will continue to use when our survival depends on it.

PS: The Salvation Army is the only national organization I trust with my money. We've moved all our other giving to direct-spending local congregations, agencies or individual benefits, but we still give actively to the Salvation Army. If you wish to donate to help "The Sally" serve people affected by any disaster, there's a red kettle here on my blog (over on the left side) that will take you to the Salvation Army's own site for a donation (you can designate which geographic area you want the money to go to ), or go directly to their site yourself to learn more:

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