Monthly Archives: April 2015

What To Do In An Earthquake – Part II

Hurricane Sandy destructionIn yesterday’s post, I wrote about what to do in an earthquake.  Today, we’ll be talking about what to do right afterwards.

When you first re-enter your home after an earthquake, or you dig your way out from under your desk, your first concern should be to check for fire or fire hazards, broken gas pipes, downed power lines and spilled chemicals.  If you smell gas or hear hissing, close the main gas valve, leave the house immediately and notify the utility.  If you find shredded electric wires, turn off the electricity at its source.  Don’t try to move a downed power line.  Stay away from it and let the utility know.  Remember that water conducts electricity, so stay clear of any standing water near a downed line.

Be in touch with your family members so that you all know where and how you all are.  Check in with the out-of-town friend or relative that you included in your evacuation plan.  Check in with your neighbors and any elderly or disabled friends that may need your help.  Then stay off the phone and free up the channels for use by emergency responders.

Take pictures of the damage to your home before you do much to clean up.  File your insurance claim immediately.

If your power is off, but you haven’t been out of the house for more than a few hours, make meal plans that allow you to finish up what is in your refrigerator and freezer before you start in on your canned goods.  Be careful with your food, though.  You don’t want to add a case of food poisoning to the challenges you already face from the earthquake.

Throughout all of this, listen to your portable radio so that you can keep up with important news bulletins.


After an earthquake, it’s common to experience aftershocks.  An aftershock is a second earthquake that occurs in the same area as the initial earthquake.  They can be quite serious and can continue for weeks after the initial earthquake.  You should react to an aftershock the same way that you react to the first earthquake — drop to your hands and knees, take cover under a desk or table, and hold onto it until the shaking stops.

Buildings that were damaged in the first earthquake may suffer additional damage, or even collapse, during an aftershock.  You should continue to examine your home, including the foundation, the chimneys and gas pipes and electrical wires, after every aftershock.


A tsunami is a seismic sea wave caused by the displacement of water which can occur because of an earthquake.  The tremendous force of water of a tsunami can be very destructive.   If you live in a coastal area, you may be at risk and you may need to evacuate.  Monitor your emergency radio and be prepared to hit the road if a tsunami is likely.

Earthquakes can do enormous damage and can trigger other events, such as fire, gas leaks, downed power lines, and tsunamis, which can themselves threaten life and property.  Because it isn’t possible to forecast an earthquake, you need to be vigilant in your general preparedness plan so that you can respond at a moment’s notice.

I hope that the ground always stays steady under your feet.  But if it starts to quake, I hope it finds you prepared.  Have a look at What to Do In An Earthquake – Part I for more important information.

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What To Do In An Earthquake – Part I

Hurricane Sandy destructionA magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in Nepal on April 25, 2015.  Although the final death toll is not yet known, the current count stands at over 3,200.  Another 6,500 people have been injured.  As a result of the quake, an avalanche occurred on Mount Everest, causing additional deaths and injuries.

What would you do if you were in an earthquake?  Your survival depends on the choices you make.

Your survival plan should start months before an earthquake ever takes place.  You should prepare now for a disaster by taking care of three items:  your bug-out bag, your evacuation plan and your long-term survival plan.

Your bug-out bag should include food, water, clothes and necessities for three days.  Everyone in your family should have one.  In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for everyone in your family to have three — one for home, one for work or school and one for the car.

Your evacuation plan should include a designated spot for your family to meet up in the event of any disaster.  It should also include a couple of alternative routes to a couple of alternative destinations.  You want the alternatives so that you can maneuvre around the disaster that you are evacuating from.

Lastly, your long-term survival plan should permit your family to survive without additional supplies on a long-term basis.  It should also include an audit of your living arrangements to assess and eliminate safety risks.  In anticipation of an earthquake, be sure that heavy objects are stored on the floor or on low shelves.  Secure large objects to the wall or floor.  For example, strap your hot water heater to the wall.

These three plans need to be in place in advance of any disaster, because you won’t have time to start them once the danger is imminent.

In the event of an earthquake, first get down on your hands and knees.  If you are already on your hands and feet, you can’t fall down when the earth shakes.

If you are indoors, try to shelter yourself under a desk or table.  If you can’t fit your whole body under the table, at least get your head and neck under it.  Hold onto your shelter.  If the earthquake moves the shelter around, go with it.  This technique is known as “drop, cover and hold on.”

If you are indoors but there is no desk or table to use a shelter, lie on the floor against an interior wall, as far away from windows, breakable items and heavy objects as you can get.  Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.  Better yet, if you can grab a pillow, some sort of large tray or any other unbreakable object that will cover your head and neck, use that.

You may have heard that you should seek shelter from an earthquake in a doorway.  This if not a good idea at all.  For one thing, doorways are not any safer than regular construction in the event of an earthquake.  Secondly, doorways pose their own risks.  You may be hit by a swinging door or even by a door that is torn off its hinges by the earthquake.  And if you are in a public place, you  could be trampled by people trying to get through the door.

If you are in a wheelchair or are unable to get down on the floor for some other reason, move away from windows, exterior walls and heavy or breakable objects if at all possible.  Bend over and cover your neck and head.  If you can grab something to use, use it; otherwise simply use your arms and hands.

If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with your pillow. Don’t risk getting cut by broken objects or hit by flying objects by leaving the bed.

If you are outdoors when the earthquake hits, drop to your hands and feet.  Move as far away as possible from buildings, power lines, and other objects.  Again, the reasoning is that you don’t want objects to fall on you.  And again, cover your neck and head, using your arms and hands if you can’t find anything else.

Finally, if you are in a car when the earth starts to shake, pull over to the side of the road.  Avoid stopping on or under a bridge or overpass and move away from overhead power lines, road signs, billboards and other objects that may fly onto your car or into your windshield.  Do not leave the car.  Cover your neck and head with your arms and hands or with something else that may be in the car.

Now, it may be that I’ve left out a possible alternative location from the scenarios that I’ve outlined above.  Here are the basic principles for how to ride out an earthquake, now matter where you find yourself.  Get down on all floors or lie down.  Stay as far away as you can from breakable objects, especially windows, or from items that can fall down or fly around.  Cover your head and neck, preferably with a sturdy object.  If no object can be found, use your arms and hands.

One thing that you don’t want to do is leave a building to run out into the street.  Windows and architectural details that are attached to building facades can become detached and fall.  As a result, moving from a building into the street puts you at highest danger.

For more, see What to Do In An Earthquake – Part II, where I discuss what to do immediately after an earthquake occurs.

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What To Do When There’s A Hurricane

Hurricane Sandy destructionHurricanes are very powerful storms and involve a whole team of threats than can cause enormous damage.  The high winds themselves can cause damage; so can the driving rain, especially if it results in flooding; lightening strikes can cause fires; a storm surge often accompanies a hurricane and adds to the danger; the tornadoes that a hurricane can spawn are yet another threat.  Cars, yard furniture, tree branches and other large, heavy objects can be sent airborne and cause damage when they slam against other objects — or against animals — or against people.

Although it is almost always possible to know when a hurricane is coming, you should never wait until the storm is on its way before you start to prepare.  By the time the storm is imminent, supplies will be gone from the stores, gas stations will run out of gas and highways leading away from your area will be clogged with folks fleeing the area.  So get prepared now to be sure you and your family are safe when a hurricane hits your town this summer, or in two summers or ten years — or even never.

Before a hurricane ever heads your way, you should have three plans in place to ensure your family’s safety in any emergency.  First of all, each of your family members and each of your pets should have a bug-out bag, or a backpack outfitted with supplies necessary for survival for 72 hours.  It should always be packed, ready for you to pick it up and go without any further preparation.  It should contain food, water, a change of clothing, sturdy boots or shoes, important documents, extra cash, a first aid kit, emergency blankets and a tent, personal care items, a whistle, and other items necessary to keep you safe for three days.

Second, you should have an evacuation plan ready.  A good evacuation plan will provide a few different destinations and a few different routes for each destination.  This flexibility is necessary to be sure that you have a plan no matter what the emergency is.  If a chemical plant explosion occurs in one direction, you’ll want to leave town in another direction.  If a hurricane is headed toward you, you’ll need to head in the direction of higher ground.  You see how it works.  If you have pets, you’ll need to make sure that each leg of your evacuation is in a position to welcome them.  You should also get in the habit of always keeping your gas tank at least half full at all times, so that you can get out of town in an emergency without stopping to get gas.

And, third, you should have supplies ready for you and your family to be safe on a long-term basis.  You will need food, water, clothing, personal care items and other things necessary to permit you to shelter in place for a long time.  As you gather your supplies, be mindful of expiration dates.  You’ll want to go through your supplies a few times a year to use up items approaching the expiration date and to refresh them with newer items.

Get those three items — your bug-out bag, your evacuation plan, and your long-term survival plan — in place now.  Then know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.

A hurricane watch is a situation in which hurricane conditions are expected in a particular area within 48 hours. Hurricane conditions include winds of at least 74 mph (although they can be much higher), usually accompanied by rain, thunder and lightning.  If a hurricane watch is identified for your area, bring in all outdoor furniture, bicycles and any other item that a high wind can turn into a missile.  Make sure you know where your pets are.  Be watchful for additional news about the impending storm.

A hurricane warning is a situation in which hurricane conditions are expected in a particular area within 36 hours.  Close your windows and cover them with plywood.   Finalize your evacuation plan, choosing a destination and a route.  Call ahead to alert your family and friends that you are heading their way, or make reservations in a hotel en route.  In either case, be sure that everyone knows that your pets are with you, if they are.  As you travel, avoid flooded roads.

When you evacuate, pick up your bug-out bag and go.  Since you have it prepared in advance, you don’t need to stop and pack it.  See why you need it?

Once you have evacuated, don’t be hasty about returning.  A storm can lose hurricane status and still be a very bad storm, with high winds, rain, thunder and lightning.  Storm surges can continue and flooding can occur.  Return to your home only when you have been notified by authorities that it is safe.

When you have returned home, stay away from standing water.  Downed power lines can create an electric current in the water.  If you see any downed lines, stay away from them and report them to the appropriate utility company.  Avoid driving unless it’s necessary.  Don’t tie up phone lines either.

Tap water can become contaminated during a storm, so only drink it if you are certain it is clean.  Likewise with food.  If you have lost power, don’t eat the food in the refrigerator.  And don’t eat food that has been in flood water, even if it is in an unopened container.  Don’t risk food-borne illness.

When you set about cleaning up the house, wear protective clothing.  Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves and rain boots.

Living through a hurricane can be a frightening and traumatic experience. It can in fact be dangerous.  But by planning in advance and using prudence during and after the storm, you can keep your family safe and minimize the risk.



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Don’t Forget Fido – Keeping Your Pets Safe

dog, cat and mouseHow could you survive an emergency without Bowser by your side?

You wouldn’t want to even think about it.   So be sure to take special precautions to keep Princess safe in a disaster.

Preparedness generally falls into three categories:  preparing a bug-out bag, making an evacuation plan, and setting up a long-term survival plan.  Think of Rover’s needs in each of these three stages.

Tiger’s Supplies in Your Bug-Out Bag

Tiger’s bug-out bag should include food, water, bowls, kitty litter and a cat pan.  Include any medications that she is on.   Your kit should include sturdy leashes, collars, harnesses and carriers, as appropriate for her.  Both cats and dogs should always wear a collar with tags with identifying information.

You should keep a plastic envelope with important documents in your own bug-out bag.  Your important documents should include Buster’s vaccination records and other medical records, notes with feeding schedules and any medical or behavioral problems, the name and number of his veterinarian, and a photo of yourself with him.  This last item will be helpful if you are ever separated from him.  The photo of Buster will make it easier to try to find him; you in the photo will help establish your ownership of him.  (Not that your Buster could ever be owned, of course.)

Spot’s bug-out bag should also include toys, beds, chew toys and other comfy items for him if you have space for them.

Evacuating Lassie

Your evacuation plan will need to be thoroughly researched to keep your Lassie safe.  Any evacuation plan needs to account for the fact that a disaster may block one or more ways out of town, so it will include alternative routes to a few different destinations.  Plan out hotels and motels along each route and contact them to be sure that they allow pets.  If they don’t, find another hotel. If your evacuation routes include stopping points or destinations with friends or relatives, check with them to see if they will allow you to bring Lassie with you.

Note that Red Cross and other shelters that may be available in a disaster usually don’t take pets.

You should practice your evacuation plan with your family a few times a year to be sure that everyone knows the plan and to work out errors or omissions that you may have made preparing it.  Bring Scruffy along in these practice sessions.  Put him in a carrier if you have them for him.  Take him to the family meeting spot so that he gets familiar with it.  And monitor his well-being as you do this, to correct and perfect the plan as much as you can.

The announcement of anticipated emergency situations sometimes happen with enough time to act.  During that time, decide on a particular route to a particular destination.  Call ahead to make reservations, let people know you are coming, and double check that Fifi will be welcome.  If she is an outdoor cat or dog, keep her in the house once you hear that an emergency is coming so that you won’t have to delay your departure as you look for her.

Patch’s Long-Term Survival

After the disaster, as you settle in to a long-term survival situation, you will need to be able to continue to care for Patch.  The disaster may alter her disposition, making her defensive or aggressive even if she never was before.  Prepare for her change of mood as well as you can.  Keep her favorite toys with her if you have the space.  If she is an outdoor pet, do your best to get her out as much as seems beneficial to her.

Even if Boots is ordinarily an outdoor pet, keep him with you.  He may become disoriented after some types of disaster.  There may be hazards on or near the ground, such as sharp objects, chemicals and debris.  Don’t let him wander.

And, of course, long before any disaster, when you are gathering your long-term supplies, stock up on the things you’ll need for Socks.  Food, water and bowls are necessary.  Don’t forget flea and tick treatments, heartworm medicine, ear cleaner, and any other products you use for Socks’ well-being.

I know you love your Cinnamon Doggie and want to take care of him.  Not just for his benefit but for the benefit of your whole family.  During a traumatic time, you will want your ever-loving pet with you.  So use some foresight in your preparedness plan to be sure Cinnamon Dog stays well.

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Tornadoes Can Be Deadly. Prepare Now.

TornadoSeveral tornadoes touched down in Illinois this evening.  One struck Fairfield, Illinois, killing one person and leaving an enormous amount of physical damage.  Let’s use the occasion to think about how to prepare for a tornado.

First, pay attention to the difference between a watch and a warning.

A tornado watch means that weather conditions are such that tornadoes are possible in the area.  If you hear that there is a tornado watch, act fast to prepare.  Bring in or tie down outdoor furniture, trash cans or other heavy objects. Watch the sky for threatening clouds, and continue to listen to the radio for weather updates.

Many communities have a tornado siren to alert you when a tornado has been sighted.  Find out in advance whether your community has a siren or any other tornado alert system and listen for it.

Find your whistle.  If the tornado does hit your location and you are buried under rubble, your whistle can save your life.  The sound of a whistle can carry farther than your voice can and you will be able to blow a whistle longer than you will be able to call out.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted.  If you hear the tornado siren or hear on the radio that there is a tornado warning, there is no more time to prepare.   Go immediately to your safe room or other secure structure.  If you don’t have a safe room, choose a basement or other underground space, or an interior closet, bathroom or hallway located on a low floor.  This room shouldn’t have windows.

Do not stay in a mobile home.  A tornado can pick up a mobile home and carry it away, taking you with it.  Leave it and go find a secure structure.

If you are walking or driving when a tornado touches down, go quickly to a secure structure.  If you cannot reach a secure structure before you are overtaken by a tornado, try to find a ditch or other area lower than the road and lie face down in it.  This, of course, is a last resort.  A secure structure is a far safer alternative.

When the danger is over, be cautious as you inspect your property.  Look for damage to your home, examining your foundation, porches and your indoor and outdoor stairs.  Take pictures before you start to clean up or repair anything; you’ll need them for your insurance claims.  If you need to clean up debris or rubble, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy, closed shoes and gloves.

Downed power lines and broken gas lines are big dangers that can result from a tornado.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open all the windows, leave the house and call the fire department.  If you need light, use a flashlight, not candles.

Lastly, if your home is damaged and you need to repair or rebuild it, consult a professional for advice about reinforcements or other improvements that should be made.  Masonry walls and tall or wide chimneys may need to be strengthened.  Take the precautions that the professionals advise to be sure your home stays safe in the event of another tornado.

Have you ever lived through a tornado?  Or do you have more advice about preparing for one? Let us know your story in the comments below.

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Be Prepared for the Most Common Natural Disaster — Floods

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States.  Are you prepared?

Flooding is the overflowing of water over land that is otherwise dry.  Although they are likely to happen near a body of water, such as a lake or river, floods can happen just about anywhere.  They can even happen in a desert when a rainstorm abruptly arises on dry land.

In some parts of the country, they can be most likely to happen during the spring, when snow melts and swells rivers and streams.  As the river continues its flow downstream, more and more melted snow flows into it, creating rising water and potentially even a flood.

Never underestimate the seriousness of a flood.  They can put both your life and your property at risk.  The flood water itself can carry people and things away.  The water can get contaminated and cause disease when you come in contact with it or when you drink tap water or bottled water or eat food that has been contaminated with it.  The moving flood water can damage the foundation of your home, leaving it structurally unsafe.  It can contain animals, especially snakes, that can harm you.  It can cause gas lines to break, allowing gas to escape.  And it can cause power lines to fall or break, with the result that live power lines can be hidden under water, a substance that conducts electricity.  Coming in contact with an electric line can cause death by electrocution.

The appropriate preparation for a potential flood is to evacuate to higher land as soon as a flood warning is issued for your area.  This is when it’s crucial to have an emergency weather radio, so that you can always monitor the situation.

When you need to evacuate, you will be glad to have completed the first two steps of your preparedness plan — have a bug-out bag ready to grab and go, and have an evacuation in place that gives you alternate routes to alternate destinations away from your town.  To read more about creating your evacuation plan, see What’s Your Evacuation Plan?  And to read more about bug-out bags, please see my series:

Anyway, back to floods . . .

As you evacuate, you should be aware that you can lose control of your car in about two feet of water.  Be especially careful after dark, when it can be harder to see water cover until you are actually in it.  If you come upon high water, turn the car around and find another route.

Be equally cautious when you return to your home after the flood has receded.  First of all, don’t return until the authorities have announced that it’s safe to do so.  When you get back to the house, inspect it before you enter it, looking for structural damage, downed wires and broken gas pipes.

When you enter your home, be alert to wild animals that may have been displaced and found refuge in your house.  Watch out for snakes that may be poisonous.

Pay attention to your sense of smell.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, leave immediately and call the fire department.

Don’t trust that the packaging of any product that has been through a flood.  Cleaning products, paint, pesticides and other hazardous products may have escaped their packaging and contaminated the water.   Consult with the fire department for assistance in cleaning and disposing of contaminated objects.

On the other hand, flood waters may have contaminated even unopened containers of food.  If so, don’t eat the food.  Simply throw it away.  Watch out, too, for dishes, pots and pans, baby bottles and nipples.  Metal or china objects can be washed thoroughly, preferably in a dishwasher.  Plastic objects should be discarded.

And you certainly don’t want to drink flood water.  Check with your local authorities to learn whether your drinking water supply has been contaminated.  Follow their directions when it comes to any need to boil water or otherwise treat it before you use it.

Finally, you should know that regular home owner’s or renter’s insurance doesn’t cover damage caused by flood.  So you should educate yourself about your insurance coverage and your insurance risk and choose rationally what coverage you need.  That decision should be done well in advance of any threatened high water situation.

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Does Everyone In Your Family Have A Whistle?

paracord-braceletThere is a child’s toy that can save your life.  Does everyone in your family have one?

Does everyone have a whistle?

Whistles are cheap, easy to carry and easy to find. You can carry one on your keychain, around your neck, or on a paracord bracelet. You should have one in your bug-out bag, your car and the prep area of your home.  But that’s not really enough.  Really, you should carry one on you all the time.

The sound of a whistle can carry further than your voice and with much less wind power and effort.  Especially if you are ever injured, the energy required to blow a whistle for a long period of time is much less than the effort required to scream.  Your wind will last longer than your voice.

A humble, little whistle can save your life . . .

  • if you are buried in rubble after a tornado or earthquake
  • if you are being followed at night by a bad guy or
  • if lost in an isolated place.

Whistles don’t need batteries, so they will work when your cell phone won’t.  Whistles don’t take a lot of skill to operate, so even a small child can use one.  They are so lightweight and easy to carry that you will never be tempted to leave it behind.

And they don’t just alert good guys that you are in trouble and need their help.  They also alert bad guys to the fact that you are ready to fight back and call for help.  Someone is about to grab you or your purse?  Blow a whistle and they’ll flee.

If you don’t have a whistle, you should get one now.  And there’s an easy way to get one in a three-in-one preparedness tool.  This gizmo has a whistle, a fire starter and 80′ of paracord.  It’s called a FireKable and you can get one free — you just pay for postage.  But it’s only available free for a short time, so if you want one, you should get it now.

Click on FireKable to get yours free.

Does everyone in your family have a whistle?  What other safety tools do you carry every day?  Let us know below in the comments. (Or just let us know what else you are thinking.)


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