I’m writing this article on my battery-powered laptop, as my family and I wait for electric power to be restored to our home. It’s nearly 3 pm, and the power has been out since mid-afternoon yesterday. It’s been 24 hours so far. The power company estimates we’ll be back up before dinner time.
The cause of the outage? Severe thunderstorms up and down the east coast. Nothing out of the ordinary for summertime in Connecticut. It is probably the third power outage of the year in our neck of the woods. The last outage was due to a windstorm that uprooted trees and downed power lines. That one left some neighbors without power for as much as 5 days. We were lucky last time. Not so lucky this time.
Disasters, it seems, are an increasingly common feature of modern life. Whether that’s because we are wreaking havoc on our environment, or whether it just looks that way with 24-hour information overload, it seems not a month goes by without some kind of emergency striking somewhere in the U.S. or around the world.
When trouble strikes, it doesn’t have to be a Katrina or a Haiti to add up to a major disaster for you and your family. Every year, many thousands of families are impacted by the disruption and dislocation caused by a variety of natural causes, from violent storms to devastasting floods.
Here in the northeast, it seems every storm brings an interruption to the electric power supply. For homeowners like myself, with our own well, the loss of power also means the loss of our water supply, powered by an electric pump.
Every time we have a power outage, I promise myself that next time, I will put together a good emergency preparedness kit. With that in mind, I visited the FEMA website, which has tons of information on how to get ready for any kind of disaster. Some of the scenarios are pretty scary, and FEMA offers excellent tips on how to get ready for everything from a tsunami to a nuclear meltdown. For most of us, however, I think even a basic emergency supplies kit would be a step in the right direction.
Here is a suggested emergency kit which should help get you through an emergency such as a power outage that lasts a few days. If you want tips on how to deal with more complicated scenarios, I strongly recommend the FEMA website as a starting resource.
As you review this list, remembet that it can be tailored to your own specific situation. FEMA advises keeping a kit of some kind in up to three locations: home, work, and the car. Your needs may vary, and can be adjusted for your situation.
Basic Emergency Preparedness Kit:
– Water for up to three days. Store 1 gallon per person per day. Children and nursing mothers may need more. Very hot temperatures will increase water requirements. The best way to store the water is in store-bought gallon jugs. Extra jugs of water for washing face and hands should be included. Do not open until needed.
– Food for three days. The first thing to remember is to avoid foods that make you thirsty, such as salty foods. Store canned foods with a high liquid content. Keep a manual can opener with the food. Salt-free crackers and whole grain cereals are good choices.
Obviously, perishable foods of any kind are not suitable. Store foods to accommodate any special dietary needs, including the needs of small children.
– Basic kitchen and eating utensils, including recycled paper plates and bowls. Water for washing dishes may be scarce, so paper plates, while not the most ecological of products, can be really useful in an emergency situation.
– First aid kit. Be familiar with the contents, and how to use them. If someone in your family knows basic CPR, this is a big bonus. If not, think about taking the course yourself!
– Items for infants and small children. Make sure to include such things as canned formula, bottles, diapers, pacifiers, and so on. Also, if you have small children,
include items in your kit to keep children occupied during long periods of enforced boredom. Books, board games, and small toys are perfect for this.
– Battery-powered radio and plenty of extra batteries. A charging unit such as the Black and Decker “Storm Station,” which includes a flashlight, a radio, and a power source for recharging your cell phone, is well worth considering, especially for the recharging feature.
– Flashlights and battery-operated lamps, and even more batteries.
– Hygiene and sanitation items, including toilet paper and other essentials.
– Extreme weather gear. A bad winter storm that leaves you without power can also leave you without adequate heat. Suitable clothing for bad weather, including rain ponchos, heavy jackets, boots, scarves, gloves, and hats should be readily available. If you live in an area that has cold winters, heavy blankets or sleeping bags should also be considered essential items in your emergency kit.
– Some extra cash. You never know when you might need it in an emergency. A widespread powergrid failure could compromise credit card processing, and cash may be your best monetary resource until systems are restored.
– Any other items specific to your family needs.
– You should maintain your emergency preparedness kit annually. Replace food items that are past their sale date. Write the date of purchase on items that don’t have a “sell by” date, such as bottled water. Update your emergency kit as needs change — don’t find yourself trying to feed three-year-olds with jars of food meant for infants!
– Finally, make sure all your family members know where you keep your emergency supplies, and can access them readily. A little planning now can help your family stay safe and well when disaster strikes.