You know how it goes--the meteorologists get riled, and then everybody runs out to buy all the milk and white bread their bank account can handle. It can be tempting to write off the warnings as bluster, but there's some real science behind them. Regardless of how you feel about the weather reports, it is never a bad idea to be a few steps ahead of a disaster.
Don't procrastinate on preparedness
I have always been a bit of a preparedness junkie. Maybe I've watched too many disaster movies. Maybe I lived through one too many blizzards in my day. I'm convinced that it started when I learned what an MRE was. (Those are Meals Ready to Eat, for the uninitiated.) Having a few cans lying around and keeping a steady supply of toilet paper have gotten me out of the deep end on more than one occasion. I'll spare you the details.
Earlier this week, I attended a disaster preparedness briefing. Hawaii is prone to wildfires, earthquakes, vog (volcanic ash fog), and hurricanes. The potential for man-made disasters is omnipresent. Unlike any place I've ever lived, we can't just hop in the car and drive away from hazards.
For people in Hawaii, the possibility of fleeing the area is nonexistent, and we depend on cargo ships for most supplies. The ships are offloaded at a rate of about 40 containers per hour. There are 953, 207 people in Honolulu County alone, and we all need food, water, and shelter. When a storm interferes with shipments, our supplies run down rapidly. One figure suggested that in as little as 48 hours before landfall, grocery stores will not have adequate supplies to meet the population's demands. Medical supplies will also become scarce quickly.
Make your emergency kit now
Here's what your kit needs:
- Enough food/ water for 14 days. If that sounds like a lot, it is because we've been asked to secure twice as much as last year. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency updated its recommendations this year. You should plan on having at least one gallon per person per day. Don't forget to store food and water for your pets!
- Sanitation items such as bags for waste, hand-sanitizer, and moist towelettes or baby wipes. Toilet paper is a must.
- A five-gallon bucket. Hello, homemade toilet!
- Plastic and duct tape in case you need to seal an area of your home.
- Disposable plates, cups, and flatware for consuming your gourmet canned food. Don't forget your manual can opener!
- Adequate medical supplies. Include a first-aid kit and your prescriptions.
- Flashlight with extra batteries, candles, and matches.
- A crank-powered radio. You can even get one with a USB port so that you can charge small electronics.
- Important documents such as insurance information and vital records. Don't forget your pets' shot records.
- $250 in small bills. If the power goes out, you won't be able to use your credit card, but you may need to make purchases.
- Hard-sided cages, food/ water bowls, leashes, litter boxes, and litter for the furry friends in your life. Prepackage these items in case you have to get out of dodge in a hurry.
- Clean clothes and towels. A well-stocked bug-out bag will have a few changes of clothes rolled and ready to go.
Having the right stuff is an important step in being disaster-ready, but you also have to plan how you will respond in an emergency.
- You'll need to make a communication plan. Devise a point-person, whom you will contact as soon as you are able. Your contact person should live in another state if possible. Then, tell everyone who isn't in your immediate household to call that person in the event that a disaster strikes. This will lower the volume of calls coming through the cellular network in the area, which will let more emergency calls come through.
- Think through scenarios in which you and your family will be separated. What if you are at work and your child is with the babysitter when things get weird? For a hurricane, you'll probably have enough warning to know to stick close, but for other threats, the timeline will be condensed.
- Check ahead to see if your home is in a flood zone. For those of us on Oahu, if an earthquake on the Big Island triggers a tsunami, we have thirty minutes to figure out where to be. Know in advance if you need to beat feet.
- If your power goes out, use your refrigerated items before tapping into your non-perishables. Keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed to keep cold air inside.
- Some hazards require you to shelter in place. Shelter in place means that you should stay where you are. Designate a spot in your home to house all your emergency supplies. It should preferably be the same spot where you would stay in the event of high winds. A space on the ground floor of your home without windows would be a solid candidate.
- Consider having an emergency kit in your car in case you have to mobilize quickly. Keep your gas tank full.
- People with specialized medical needs such as respirators or refrigerated medications will need to make provisions in the event of a loss of power. Don't wait until the day disaster strikes to figure out what you should do. If you are a military family with a special needs dependent or guest, check with your EFMP coordinator for specific instructions.
- If you are expecting high winds, secure outdoor furniture, kayaks, swing sets, etc. These things become projectiles that could damage property or injure someone. Abandoned kayaks floating in the water initiate Coast Guard rescue efforts, which tax an already-busy group of personnel.
How do I get information?
There's nothing quite like a natural disaster to cause chaos. Resist the urge to go sightseeing to assess your situation if you were told to shelter in place. Avoid gossiping with your neighbors to figure out the official state of things. If you want to know what's going on, you'll have to go through official channels. Technology has made this easier than ever.
There are several apps that you can install on your phone to get updates in real time, and most of the emergency-related ones are free. For people in Honolulu, HNL Info (available for Apple and Android) is the new app with the latest hazards updates. (Nixle is being phased out. If you are using Nixle, switch to HNL Info.) Navy families will need to muster with NFAAS. (Pro-tip: Double check all your information in the system. When I looked at mine, I discovered that I needed to update my address.) Ready.gov has loads of reliable information on the website itself, and they have an app available for download. Figure out what resources your local government offers --especially if you are in a disaster-prone region.
If all else fails, your handy-dandy radio tuned into a local station can be a good source of information.
Do you feel motivated?
Scarcity makes people do outrageous things. Don't be the person who beats the crap out of someone for the last Furby on Christmas Eve. I promise that you don't want to get a rap sheet over a gallon of milk, and we'll all be a lot happier knowing that we've thought ahead.
In all seriousness, no matter how much humans think they can control the environment, we are at its mercy. These storms can be devastating and deadly. If anything bad happens, I want to see all of you on the other side of it. Plan ahead, and stay safe, my friends.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.