Disaster Preparation – A Good Plan

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Better get out the shovels and the plow.


What with one thing and another (fires, floods and blizzards), disaster preparation has been on my mind lately. There’s nothing like being snowbound with no power, phone or DSL to help heighten your awareness of disaster preparation. When you live “out” you are much more likely to experience this sort of thing. Once the disaster actually occurs – especially if it’s weather-related and travel is a problem – you and your neighbors may only have each other. In the summer, wildfires are the big risk around here. By the first week in May this year, we had already had 10 small wildfires in the county. No matter what the disaster, the basics never change. Over the course of years, we have developed some daily habits that make disaster preparation and survival much easier.

This is about as much of a flood as we’re likely to deal with: one reason I live on high ground. Down in the valley, it’s another story.


Stocking Up
I’ve commented (probably ad nauseum in some readers’ minds) about keeping the pantry full. While we try to limit our trips to town, I do check before I go down to make sure I’m not out of something important. In addition to food, this includes such disaster mainstays as batteries, matches and toilet paper. And don’t say, “But I live in town.” Municipal water systems run on electricity; within 24 hours of our latest storm, every store in the big town had empty shelves where batteries and bottled water used to be. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only excuse for bottled water – it’s useful for disaster preparation. A lot of those stores were also low on foodstuffs, assuming they were even open. The power outage took most of them out and the roof of one caved in after the last storm.
Fueling Up
The only source of gas in our town is the local store; it’s a 250-gallon tank and it has electric pumps. There is no source of diesel, which we need to run the backhoe and, in a pinch, fuel the pickup. We keep at least one 50-gallon barrel of each around. When the budget allows, we add a second barrel, especially of gas. Gas left to sit for extended periods deteriorates and is only good for starting fires (which is why I find those apocalypse novels about salvaging gas a couple of years later to run vehicles so amusing). Hubby makes it a point to add a preservative to the gas barrel and to keep some on the shelf so he doesn’t forget when we refill it. When we do go to town, we always fuel up. Oldest granddaughter learned with this storm why Nana always preaches at her to keep the gas tank full. She got stuck in a snowbank and had to spend the night in her car. But gas is also vital if you have to evacuate, as many people in the Oroville dam Paradise fire evacuations found out the hard way.
Maintenance
As with fuel, regular maintenance assures that tools, equipment and vehicles are ready when you need them. You don’t want to be applying the grease gun in the middle of a howling blizzard (and in the dark) so you can go plow a foot-and-a-half of snow off the roads. Hubby is a bit of a fanatic on the subject of keeping good tires on the vehicles. If you have adequate tread and know how to drive in snow, you can get plenty of places without four-wheel drive.
Daily Habits
Keep an eye on those important things in your life. For example, we call when we need propane, as the fancy electronic sensing equipment the company tried to use wouldn’t work up here in the hills. So I check the tank at least once a week and call when it gets close to 40 percent. We get our drinking water from a spring – when we get down to one gallon, it’s time to make a water run. While I’m not a fan of excess clothes, we both have enough undies that I could go at least two weeks without doing laundry. Since I do laundry once a week come you-know-what or high water, we’re good. I also check the big flashlight periodically to make sure it’s in working order (it hangs right by the door so it’s handy) and we have flashlights in the vehicles and on key-chains.
Weather-Watching
Most of our disaster preparation centers around our knowledge that weather is the most likely cause of a disaster in our area. Our earthquake risk is relatively low and we’ve never had a tornado, but fires, floods and blizzards are on the high end of the scale. It’s a standing joke at the clinic where I work that if anyone wants to know the weather for the next few days they should ask me. We have also learned the hard way that the “experts” typically underestimate the amount of rain or snow we are likely to get. Not entirely their fault, as it’s hard to predict for individual areas in a region, but they underestimated the amount of snow this last time by a factor of 16 to one. I check the weather radar at least twice a day and when we’re outside, we watch the sky.
Make A Plan
There’s an old saying that planning enhances performance; that’s certainly true of disaster preparation. However, there’s a corollary – you can’t plan for everything. At my clinic, we planned for a closure if the snow was heavy enough, but those plans were based on having telephones and/or email to communicate. Snow took out power, DSL and phone lanes, so communication was impossible. When the disaster actually occurs, you have to be ready to modify your plans or jettison them entirely if they hamper your chances for survival. My sister had to evacuate during the Oroville dam crisis. Since she had kept her vehicle fully fueled, packed with essentials and ready to go, she could avoid main roads and didn’t need to worry about gassing up. Even so, it took her three hours to go 30 miles. She wound up staying at a different site than her target refuge; traffic was too heavy. Plan, yes, but stay alert and be flexible.

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