Back to School Emergency Checklists

Thursday, August 10th, 2017
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Safe at School Ready for the first day of school?

Every year new students wait eagerly for that first day of school. And often in the background, proud yet nervous parents hope their child will flourish in this new environment.

Many parents have already “done their homework” on what will be necessary for their child’s success. Parents and children have shopped for school supplies and probably some new clothes, too. Older students have invested in everything from electronics to sheets and bedspreads.

Everything is ready! Or is it?

What about being ready for an emergency at school? Are the children prepared? Are parents prepared?

If you’re a parent, use these questions to put the finishing touches on back-to-school preparations for your student.

Grade-school Parent Checklist

While there are no national guidelines for emergency preparedness for schools, you can find out your child’s schools procedures. You may need to be persistent to get answers to these basic questions:

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? (fire, natural disasters, active shooter?)
  2. Supplies. What emergency equipment is available for teachers, and have they been trained on it? (fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency lighting, lockdown safety kits?) Are several days’ survival supplies (food, water, blankets) for kids and faculty stored at the school?
  3. Student Practice. What emergency response procedures do students practice? (evacuation, lock down/secure school, shelter in place?) How often?
  4. Communications. What communications can you as parent expect in case of an emergency at school? (a phone call or text? notice on public radio or TV? a written follow-up report?)
  5. Parent Responsibilities. What does the school expect of parents? (list of emergency authorized caregivers/family members, provide emergency supplies for child?)

What if your persistent questions are not answered?

Worse, what if you realize that there are no answers to some of these questions at the school your child attends?

Step up and take a leadership role.

You can help improve the situation. Join the PTA. Get a copy of the 2013 Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans and, with a committee, put together recommendations for necessary changes based on your own location, size of school, etc. Present your recommendations to your school administration along with whatever publicity is appropriate.

The Guide is available for download here:   https://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf and may also be available for purchase at Barnes & Noble. While the Guide was written by a number of government agencies (FEMA, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Federal Emergency Management) it is perfectly readable!

(I add this exclamation point because some similar documents are NOT readable by the average person, even ones as dedicated as I am!)

As you might expect, the Guide introduces the standardized “vocabulary” used by professional emergency planners everywhere, concepts such as Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery.

It also includes a discussion of privacy issues and the need to plan for disabled people.

The list of “emergencies” in the Guide needs to be updated, once again. In 2013 “active shooter” was added to the list of threats. Now, given developments in North Korea, Hawaii is formally adding “How to Respond to a Nuclear Disaster” to its emergency response plans!

College Campus Checklist

Every school will be different in the way it handles emergency preparedness. As a parent of a student or prospective student, you can help make sure the self-reliance you’ve encouraged at home will continue when your student is away at college.

Up until now your student may have counted on you for direction. Now that responsibility has shifted.

In working together to get answers to the following questions you’ll get the process started.

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? If your new school is in a totally different part of the country, the experiences you’ve had with natural disasters, for example, may be irrelevant. What NEW or DIFFERENT threats exist at this campus?

    UC Berkeley’s Office of Energy Management website starts with this eye-opener: “All campuses have their faults. Ours is 74 miles long and runs directly under our campus . . .!”

  2. Procedures. Who are the planners and the actual Responders on campus? It’s usually easy to find details on the campus website. (Check out Berkeley’s for example.) Read about security procedures, emergency operations, etc. Are all emergency plans only for administration and faculty? What role does the campus envision for students – do they get any training?
  3. Student Responsibilities. On nearly every campus students are expected at registration to connect with all emergency communications methods. This usually means providing emergency contact information (text, phone numbers, emails) and signing up for an alert service.
  4. Campus Resources. In addition to the emergency alert system, your campus may use sirens or loudspeakers to issue warnings. It may have a campus emergency website, emergency radio station and/or toll-free emergency information lines. Know when and how to use all these resources! Incidentally, it’s possible that the 911 number you’ve always considered as “your” emergency number may not be the best one on campus. Find out about special campus emergency numbers. Store all this info in your phone.
  5. Parent Responsibilities. As an adult, your student will be expected to make his or her own decisions in an emergency. Encourage your student to learn about evacuation routes, understand the definition of “shelter-in-place,” and to maintain at least a minimal survival kit. Some first aid knowledge helps, too. (Here’s an Advisory with more about survival at college, with particular emphasis on personal safety.) Of course, parents can probably access campus emergency websites or toll-free numbers, too, for up-to-date info when something happens.

As always, it’s the people closest to you — roommates, people on your floor — who will be there when the emergency happens. They are the ones who may need help — or will be able to help YOU. Building a strong team around you is the best thing you can do for your safety! 

Action Item: If your children aren’t quite ready for school, or are long past that stage, please pass this Advisory on to someone whose children are of school age.

Being ready for the school year happens to someone new every year!

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. One of our readers sent us his school’s “Emergency Information” publication delivered to all parents. It was crammed with good information — but unfortunately, “crammed” was the operational term. If you get something like that from your school, attack it one page at a time. There are sure to be good ideas hidden in there. Then share them with us!

P.P.S. This week the National Fire Protection Association came out with these pertinent statistics for college students:

 Firefighters respond to 11 dorm fires a day, and 86% of them are related to cooking!

If your college-aged kid is considering a hot plate or a microwave (legal, of course), at least review some safety measures. And don’t forget a Kitchen-sized Fire Extinguisher! (I own this one and like how it fits in because it’s white.)

 

 

 

 

Are you sabotaging yourself?

Thursday, May 25th, 2017
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Hiuding in the woodsDo you ever roam the internet, checking out different survival forums and blogs?

Well, naturally, I do – to better understand “the communities,” learn about new products and practices, and stay up to date with some of the latest science regarding emergency response.

When I find interesting or exciting new ideas, I try to share them on our Advisories.

One theme I don’t share very often – the paranoia I see out there.

Here’s sort of how it goes:

“When the SHTF, expect bad guys, marauding gangs, vigilantes, even government troops, to start roaming the streets coming for you and for your supplies so you’d better be ready with weapons and lots of ammunition and be able to turn your home into a fortress or better yet, escape to a hidden, hardened survival shelter where you can wait it all out.”

I’m not saying some bad stuff couldn’t happen, or that having an escape plan doesn’t make sense. What I do question, though, are the implicit recommendations in this scenario. I see three of them:

  1. “Treat all others as potential aggressors.”
  2. “Arm yourself with serious weapons.”
  3. “Pull yourself into your shell and close the doors after you.”

As I see it,

The reality of the most likely emergencies is going to be very different.

For example, last week we talked about an emergency that shuts down your work completely, like a fire or flooding. In a situation like this, you may suffer a personal disaster because you don’t have money in the bank to meet your bills while you are out of work. Others you work with may suffer, too. But roving gangs as a threat? Probably not.

We’ve often talked about the most frequent emergency at work – a power outage. Statistics suggest that as many as 70% of businesses can expect to experience an outage during the next year, whether weather-related or from equipment breakdown. Once again, your company, its customers and maybe even shareholders will suffer – but all of you being well armed won’t make a bit of difference.

In fact, in the U.S., disasters have seldom left people on their own and scrambling for supplies, for more than a few days – the exceptions being Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

So, our recommendations at Emergency Plan Guide are built on a different set of assumptions.

Neighbors. I know them, their kids and their dogs. I may not consider them “best friends,” but they’ve never hesitated to lend a helping hand. They’ll be the first to show up in an emergency. Why wouldn’t I look to them for help?

Self-defense. Yes, as I wrote in my bio, I grew up with guns and I’m comfortable with them. But I think the emphasis on guns (handguns, shotguns, automatic weapons) — and also tomahawks, and machetes — encourages people to arm themselves who have no business having weapons. They will make an emergency situation even worse.

(As embarrassing as it is to admit, when Joe went through specialized weapons training with the military, he learned how to shoot all sorts of weapons. Unfortunately he couldn’t qualify as a marksman with any of them! So weapons may be more dangerous for us than for intruders . . .!)

Self-reliance. Yes, be sure you have a sensible stash of food, medicines, etc. But to count on one family to have everything it needs? How much easier to share the cooking, child or elder care, and medical knowledge and skills. How much more effective to share tools and work together on repairs. Share the fear — and share confidence and hope when you can. Self-sufficiency is positive; isolation is lonely and negative.

And as for the government . . .

Again, some survivalist blogs and forums have members who are passionate about hating the government, the police, and, in fact, any “authority.”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we have been fortunate to build good relationships with all kinds of “authorities” in our community. I write often about the fire fighters and police and the CERT team members with whom we work closely.

One of the advantages to these relationships is that we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the authorities in an emergency. In an emergency, we won’t be guessing – or second-guessing – what they are likely to do.

For example:

  • We know how our police department has been trained to respond to active shooters – and how their procedures have changed in the past year or so. (We’ve even been invited to participate in a drill as civilians caught in an active shooter situation.)
  • We know what emergency facilities our local first responders have. Heck, we’ve been inside most of them, and seen the equipment in action!
  • We’re tuned in to local emergency services that deal with homelessness, missing people and drug overdoses. We know who to call and what to say to get an appropriate response.
  • We’ve checked and are clear on how our local police force is handling coordinating with ICE on immigrants in our community.
  • We receive regular bulletins on how local schools plan for emergencies.

This isn’t everything we’d like to know, but it’s a pretty good start!

What does it take to get up to speed about local policies and procedures?

Here’s some of what our local group members do on a regular basis.

  • We follow what our city is doing by going online to the city website.
  • We take tours when there’s an open house at a fire station or the police department.
  • We sign up for official emergency alerts (AMBER alerts, etc.).
  • We track the police department via its Facebook page.
  • We’re on the list to get invitations to CERT follow-up trainings. (The most recent one was on terrorism.)
  • We invite “the authorities” to come to our local emergency response team meetings as guest speakers – and then ply them with questions. (Yes, we have put them on the spot from time to time!)
  • We subscribe to various online industry news feeds.

If you’ve been reading our Advisories, then you know we also share what we learn from these various field trips and events – so our immediate neighbors and several hundred Emergency Plan Guide subscribers from across the country know what we know.

In our estimation, by choosing NOT to know details like those above, and NOT being open to working with a group,  you are sabotaging yourself and your chances of coming through a disaster.

No, I don’t expect the authorities to “save us” in an emergency. In fact, they have made their limitations clear. Frankly, I’m glad to know that they WON’T necessarily show up immediately . . . because it gives me an incentive to do a better job of my own preparedness.

But our philosophy has been, and continues to be, to include family, friends and co-workers in our planning, because . . .

The more we all know, the safer we all will be.

Thanks for reading.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

What To Do When You Discover a Gas Line Leak

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
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(Part Three of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

In the first two segments of this special article we talked about where gas lines run, why they leak and how to recognize a leak.

Now, let’s talk about what to do if you find one!

Your response depends in large part where you find it. Let’s look at some possibilities.

Before we start, remember Rule #1.

If you detect a strong smell of natural gas, leave the area, get a safe distance away, and call 911.

A leak in the home

In your home, what’s most likely is that you will get a weak smell of gas. In that case, remain calm. Think.

You may be able to solve this problem yourself and safely.

Possibility #1. Nearly every home has a couple of pilot lights – usually in the gas furnace or water heater, gas stove or oven. The pilot light is really a “starter” flame. When you turn on the appliance, the pilot light ignites the gas coming out of the main burner.

In older appliances, the pilot light burns 24/7. In newer ones, it is turned on when needed by an electronic igniter. (You may hear a clicking sound as it activates.) Fortunately, when the pilot light goes out, it triggers an automatic shutoff valve to the gas supply. So you won’t usually smell a gas leak from this source.

However, in older systems, your pilot light could go out from something as simple as a draft or spill, and if the system doesn’t have an automatic shut-off valve you would smell leaking gas.

In this case, you can attempt to relight the pilot light yourself by following instructions on the appliance. They are likely to be something like this:

  1. Turn off the appliance and wait at least 5 minutes for any leaked gas to dissipate.
  2. Be sure you know where the pilot flame is located. (It may not be near the on/off knob.)
  3. Turn the knob from OFF to PILOT.
  4. Hold down the reset button (could be the knob itself) and light the pilot light with a long match.
  5. Keep holding the reset button until the flame is burning steadily, maybe a minute.
  6. Turn the knob to ON.

If the light doesn’t stay lit, try again. If it still doesn’t work after a couple of tries, quit and call for professional help.

Tip: You can’t light an electronic pilot system using a match! If the electronic system isn’t working, be sure the appliance is turned off and call for professional help.

Action item: Check all your home appliances — gas furnace, gas water heater, gas oven or gas burners — to see where you have pilot lights.  Are they ever-burning or do they have electronic ignition?

OK, so much for pilot lights. You’ve checked, they are working, and you still smell gas.

Possibility #2. Most often, a gas leak is usually the result of an appliance with poorly designed, faulty or damaged connection.

Check your appliances carefully.

  • Sniff to see if you can detect where the rotten egg smell of leaking gas is coming from.
  • Coat a questionable pipe or connection with soapy water. Bubbles will appear where the leak is located.
  • Look at the color of the flame on the appliance. Is it blue (good) or orange (not so good, could suggest a leak)?
  • Check the outside of the appliance for soot or scorch marks.
  • Do you have excessive condensation on the inside of your windows?

In these cases, if you identify the culprit appliance, get assistance from a qualified expert – probably your gas company. You may be advised to shut off the gas to the appliance, or even to the whole house. In either case that expert will have to re-set the system once the leak is repaired.

A leak in a larger pipe or larger system

If you discover a gas leak in a larger pipeline or facility, move to a safe distance and notify your gas system operator or property owner or 911. (Review signs of a major pipeline leak in Part 2 of this series.)

Do not attempt to find the exact location of the leak, to shut off the pipeline or to fight any gas main fire. Dealing with a large pipeline leak is the business of professionals.

However, in a big disaster . . .

It’s one thing to handle day-to-day leaks. After a storm or earthquake, however, there may be multiple or large leaks. Professionals may be delayed.

You may be called upon to shut down an entire system to protect against fire or the spread of fire.

Gas line shut-off valves may be located at an individual home, at the entrance to a building, at the street, or in other places along the system. Different size systems use different styles of shut-offs. The more you know about where gas lines run and the shut-offs on those lines, the more options you will have.

(As we have already indicated, your gas line operators are not likely to tell or show you exactly where the shut-off valves are located without your being clever and/or persistent. Remember that map that we recommended building in Part One?)

1-Appliance shut-off. Individual appliances may have their own shut-off valves, usually with a handle that turns 90 degrees. Action item: Check your own home appliances to find these valves. (Do not “practice” shutting them off!)

2-Building or home shut-off. In an emergency, shutting off the gas to the building likely means shutting it off at the meter. To do this, you’ll need to know where the meter is and have a wrench and an understanding of the ON vs. the OFF position of the valve. Here’s a sample of what a typical home shut-off valve looks like.

Open or closed?

Open or closed?

You can turn a shut-off valve using a regular crescent wrench. You may prefer to use a non-rusting tool specially designed for the purpose, like the one shown below. (Click the image or the link to go to Amazon, where you can buy this tool — less than $15. Full disclosure: we may get a commission.) In either case, you must store the tool near the valve!

SurvivalKitsOnline 515100 On-Duty Emergency Gas and Water Shutoff 4-in-1 Tool for Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Fires, Floods, Disasters and Emergencies

 

Action item: Find your home and building shut-offs and have a wrench placed at each one. Figure out a way to attach the wrench to keep it from disappearing.

3-Automatic valves. Some valves, such as seismic gas shut-off valves, operate automatically. They aren’t required, and many professionals don’t trust them – but you may have them on your system. Action item: Find out if any automatic valves are installed on gas lines leading to your home or in your place of work.

4-Gas main. When it comes to shutting off gas at a larger line, the shut-off may be a larger version of the wrench turn off, or it may operate with a large wheel and gear. It may be locked in such a way that only the operator can access it. Often, these valves are painted red. Action item for your group: locate the pipes and the shut-offs leading to your building or community. Larger line shut-offs may be marked with a sign like the yellow one at the start of this article. Or they may not be marked!

What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

As we have emphasized, shutting off the gas is a major event to be taken only with due deliberation. It will require professional assistance to get the gas turned back on again. It may take days for all gas service to be restored.

In a widespread disaster, when fire fighters are delayed, representatives of the gas company may also be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. You or your group may have to make decisions about shutting off the gas.

Questions you need to have answers to BEFORE something happens:

  • Who is authorized to shut off the gas?
  • Which valves are they authorized to shut off?
  • What training and tools do these authorized people need? Do they have what they need?
  • How likely is it that authorized and trained people will be on hand in an emergency, when immediate action may be required?

With this info, you will be far more prepared in case of an emergency.

Getting more answers

Over the years we have found that “the authorities” are loathe to share gas line information. However, as we have built up our own skills and knowledge, we have better luck at getting more. Above all, we have a better understanding of just what our role should/could be in an emergency.

One of our most effective guest speakers was a representative from the Fire Department who talked about the various gas lines in our neighborhood. (We have the usual mains and feeder lines PLUS a high-octane aviation fuel line running beside our community.) Action item: Get a speaker on natural gas safety from your own fire department or local utility. Prepare some questions in advance.

Your invitation will cause that fire official to update his or her knowledge about your neighborhood or building, as well as remind your neighbors and/or co-workers to be more alert. (In our case, the fire department speaker was NOT up to speed on gas mains that had recently been installed near us as part of a construction project!)

_______

We started this 3-part series with the question, “Are you sitting on a gas leak right now?” The question still is pertinent. We hope that by now you have a better idea of how to respond!

And one last disclaimer. We are not professionally trained experts on gas main construction, maintenance or procedures. We offer this special series for informational purposes only. Any time you consider messing with your gas supply or gas lines, we recommend that you do it with the assistance or under the supervision of professionals. Gas is inherently dangerous so treat it with all due caution.

But as emergency responders, you can’t ignore it!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Here are the three parts of this special series. Please read all three parts.

Part One: Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Part Two: Detecting a gas line leak

Part Three: What to do when you discover a gas line leak

 

Detecting a Gas Line Leak

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
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(Part Two of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Are you familiar with your local gas lines?

Could this be leaking? What is it, anyway?

If you have tried finding the location of gas lines in your neighborhood or near your workplace you will have discovered that it takes some time and effort!

Still, using online resources and your local utility you can usually identify the route of:

Transmission lines — long-distance lines, typically more than 10” in diameter (can be as big as 42”), that move large amounts of gas under high pressure (200 – 1,200 psi)

Distribution or main lines –- operate at intermediate pressure (up to 200 psi) and are 2″ to 24″ in diameter

The lines that actually connect to your home are not so easy to track once they disappear underground. These are

Feeder or service lines – pipes less than 2” in diameter carrying odorized gas at low pressures, below 6 psi.

As mentioned in Part One of this series, utility companies are concerned about vandalism and sabotage or even terrorism, so they don’t publicize the location of these lines.

If you have a good relationship with your utility and property manager, you may be able to get some detail; we were actually able to get the construction drawings showing location and sizes of the gas lines for our community.

Action item: create a map of your location, showing the different gas lines as you identify them.

Should we assume that all these lines leak?

Yes!

The gas distribution system is made up of thousands of miles of pipelines, and they operate safely nearly all of the time. Still, all of the time, the system is under one or another source of stress. The amount of gas that is “lost and unaccounted for” – and probably is mostly the result of leaks — ranges from less than 1 to over 4%.

Stresses include:

  • Built-in weaknesses from poor connections, bad welds or incorrectly installed equipment
  • Corrosion or wear from aging
  • Weather-related shifts (winter freeze-thaw cycles)
  • Seismic shifts or earthquakes

(If you’ve seen a cracked slab under a home, you know what “seismic shifts” can do. It’s not unusual for shifts to break gas, water and/or cable lines!)

It is the responsibility of the system operators to monitor and maintain the pipelines under their jurisdiction.

In some states legislation has been introduced to require the utilities to report on leaks and on their progress in fixing them. As you can expect, the utilities oppose this legislation, saying that the number of leaks is exaggerated and that fixing more leaks faster would be too expensive. Find out about legislation in your own state!

Can we prevent a gas line leak in any of these pipelines?

No.

But you can do your community a service by finding out what sort of gas line maintenance takes place.

And, you may be able to prevent a disaster by detecting and reporting a leak!

How can we tell if there’s a leak?

1-Use your nose!

The most common indication of a leak is SMELL. An odorizer called Mercaptan is added to feeder lines for the very purpose of making a leak noticeable.

What does Mercaptan smell like? Most people compare it to “rotten eggs.” In any case, it is distinctive and obvious.

You may be able to get “scratch ‘n’ sniff” cards from your local utility that will give you an idea of the smell.

2-Gas sniffer will help in the discovery.

If you don’t have a good nose for smells, or if you sense you might easily get used to a smell, consider investing in a gas sniffer. This is a simple hand-held gadget that can identify a leak — and some can tell you what gas is leaking – using a lighted meter and/or an audio sound (“tic, tic”). As always, the more you pay, the more capabilities you get.

Our local emergency response groups own a couple of different ones. The “pen” model (less than $40) is used by one group to check around their emergency gas generator when they start it up.

The “tube” model (around $150) adjusts from broad to fine sensitivity in order to pinpoint the precise location and type of gas that is leaking. We have used this model with startling success, using it to identify a propane leak from a gas BBQ, among other leaks.

 

General Tools PNG2000A Natural Gas Detector Pen

 

 

 

UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector

 

 

 

Action item: If you suspect or are plagued with frequent leaks, you may want to add a gas sniffer to your collection of safety equipment. They are easy to operate.

Physical signs of leaks from larger pipelines

You’re not likely to find yourself walking along the route of a larger underground pipeline, but a leak can show up anywhere. Here are some ground-level signs you might notice:

  • An unexpected hissing, roaring sound
  • Dirt or dust blowing up from the ground
  • Water bubbling or spraying
  • A spot of dead or brown vegetation when it’s green everywhere else
  • Flames coming from the ground

As a reminder, the gas in these larger pipes may have no odorants added.

What should we do when we discover a leak?

When you do identify a leak, you need to act quickly and decisively. Your goal is to avoid a build-up of gas around a leak or a build-up from gas “migrating” to a nearby area (such as a basement) – creating conditions for an explosion.

Your first response should be to get safely away from the area (hundreds of feet away!) and then CALL 911 or the gas line operator to GET THE GAS SHUT OFF.

As you move away, warn other people about the danger, too, and encourage them to move to safety.

Above all, DO NOT CREATE A SPARK by flipping a light switch, lighting a cigarette, starting an engine, turning on a battery-operated light, etc.

Action item: Discuss with your group the ordinary actions that someone might take that could start a gas fire. (In our community, starting up the car to “get away from the danger” is likely to be the most dangerous action possible. The catalytic converters of cars in a traffic jam can reach 1,600 degrees – plenty hot enough to start a fire!)

Is that all we can do?

Calling 911 from a safe distance is the first and most important step. Not creating a spark is the second.

Every member of your family and of your workforce should know and be able to follow this rule.

However, as an emergency response group, there is more you should know and consider when it comes to getting the gas shut off.

We will address some of these options in our next Advisory.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Go any stories about gas line leaks or explosions? Feel free to share . . .! And don’t miss the first article in this series.

 

 

How to Light a Flare

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
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Accident in Darkness

Winter darkness makes accidents on the road hard to see and even more dangerous.

Having a good accident kit in the car can help protect YOU, and might help protect others if you come across an accident scene.

An accident kit is different from a car survival kit. The survival kit has stuff for YOU – warm clothing, flashlight, food, water, etc.  The accident kit has stuff for the CAR, like jumper cables, emergency reflector triangles, flat tire inflator, and flares.

Does your car accident kit have road flares?

When it’s dark, there’s nothing better than flares to warn oncoming vehicles of an accident, a stranded car or even an injured person. Flares are easy to get, easy and safe to store, and they last a long time. The problem that people have with ‘em is . . .

How to light a standard industrial flare?

Our CERT group had the opportunity to practice one evening with the police department. We hung around in our official vests, enjoying the cool evening and the chance to see each other again. When it came time to light the flares, however, some of us looked pretty dumb.

It’s not as simple as you might think!

Here are some guidelines that I took away from that evening.

1Have more than one flare so you can warn oncoming vehicles and direct them around the accident.

2-Pick where you want each flare to go BEFORE you attempt to light it. Once the flare is burning, you will not want to carry it around to be positioned! It’s BURNING and shooting off white-hot bits!  Some things to keep in mind:

  • If there’s spilled gas, don’t use a flare nearby at all.
  • Keep flares on the road so they don’t roll into a ditch or catch vegetation on fire.
  • Go to where you’ll place the flare, and then light it.

3-Remove the cap on the flare to expose the rough striking surface.

A flare has a plastic cap. Part of the cap contains a rough “striking surface.” Under the cap is the “igniter” end of the flare. You want to hold the striking surface in one hand and the flare in the other.

4-Light the flare by scratching it across the striking surface.

Extend both arms and scratch the flare across the striker in a movement going away from your body.

It’s rather like striking a very large match. Too soft a strike, nothing happens. Too hard, and you can break the “head” off the match.

In our group, most people had trouble getting the right amount of pressure and speed to get the flare to light. One person actually broke the head off the flare because he “scratched” too hard.

5-Place the ignited flare where you had planned to place it.

Put the cap back on the non-burning end of the flare. If you’re carrying it, keep the flame pointed down so you don’t get any drips on your hand.

Don’t drop the flare – you could break or extinguish it. Don’t place the flare in a puddle – it could go out.

If it’s raining, place the flare so any running water goes around the base of the flare and not directly against the flame end. You can prop it up to keep it dry.

6-The flare will burn for 10-30 minutes.

When you’re ready to extinguish it, break off the burning end and let it burn out. You cannot easily smother this flame.

(In our group, we picked up the burning flares and carefully tossed them a little ways down the road. When they landed the burning end broke off.)

After practicing, we all felt more competent.

It’s like so much else. Until you’ve practiced, you really can’t count on being able to make it work! So here’s a suggestion:

Buy a supply of flares and set up a practice. Even if everyone doesn’t attempt to light a flare, everyone in the group will clearly see how it’s done – and what NOT to do! A great CERT group exercise, and a great family exercise, too.

Hi-tech No-Flame Alternative  — LED, Battery-driven Flares

Obviously, First Responders use “real” flares because they work! Everyone recognizes just what they mean, and starts paying attention as soon as they become visible.

But not everyone is ready to handle industrial flares as described above!

If you find this just too challenging, consider a good alternative: plastic strobe light flares that are safe and comfortable to use.

These flashing, reusable flares come in two styles – stand-up flares with a tripod base, and round, disc-style flares that lie on the ground or attach magnetically to a car.

I personally prefer flares that are really bright and can be seen from all sides – so the disc style would not be my first choice.

In fact, here are flares that we own. (We also own reflective triangles made by the same company). I particularly like that they come in their own case; otherwise, the flares (and their bases) can get lost in the trunk of the car.

Click on the link or the image to get full details. (As you know, we’re affiliates at Amazon so this link will take you there.)

Magnatek LED Flashing Roadside Emergency Beacon Flares-Two RED Flares with Solid Storage Case

A couple of hints if you’re considering flares like these.

  • Each flare has 3 different settings, one of which converts it to a flashlight. Handy.
  • The flares use AAA batteries. If you leave the batteries installed in the trunk of your car for weeks and months, ultimately they will corrode. So, store the batteries in a baggie UN-INSTALLED but in the package with the flares. Of course, it makes sense to PRACTICE installing them as soon as you get the flares so you’ll be able to do it in the dark and when you’re nerves are frazzled because of an accident.
  • These flares also have magnetic bases so you could place one on TOP of your stranded vehicle for more visibility.

 

(This image – for one order — shows the front and back of the case. It’s misleading. Each individual case comes with two flares. If you want more than two, then you’ll have to order more cases.)

Another good idea for a stocking stuffer!  (A very large stocking, perhaps!)

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, a reminder to check the status of the batteries in your emergency lights, flashlights, etc. They ultimately do go bad if not recharged or replaced. Now’s a good time to do that.

 

 

Drones for Emergency Response Teams

Friday, November 18th, 2016
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The market has expanded dramatically.

Quadcopter as emergency tool

How useful in an emergency?

Part One of Two.

It was just two years ago when we wrote our first article about drones. At that time, non-military drones were still in their infancy. In fact, drones were mostly high-tech toys that (probably) appealed to the same folks who love electric cars and boats and model airplanes.

So we wrote about them as toys, with some interesting but not yet widespread uses like delivery of packages or emergency equipment.

Today things are different. The market has expanded dramatically. And because we are ALWAYS interested in leveraging our strengths when it comes to preparing for or dealing with an emergency, it makes sense to look a lot more closely at drones as emergency tools.

A new category of drones has appeared.

In addition to military and hobby use, we now have drones designated “for commercial and non-governmental use.” Naturally, anything labeled “commercial” means it carries rules.

So whether you’re looking at purchasing a drone — whether as a toy or a piece of emergency team equipment — you should be aware of the latest rules from the FAA.

New Rules for Small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) as of August 29, 2016

Register Your Drone

Any UAS weighing more than .55 lbs. must be registered. If it weighs less than .55 lbs you can register it online; otherwise, go to the FAA website to get started registering it on paper.  Here’s the link:  https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/UA/

A pilot under 13 years of age will need an adult to complete the registration.

Pilot Your Drone Safely

Caveat – these rules are changing! (You’ll see why when you look at them carefully.) If you are really interested in using a drone, be sure you know the rules for non-recreational use.  You can check in on a regular basis to monitor any changes, at http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/

The current rules as of this date, November, 2016:

  • Drones must remain in visual line of sight of the pilot — no first-person-view cameras. (This means no flying by what the camera shows as opposed to what you actually see from where you are standing.)
  • Maximum speed is 100 mph and maximum altitude is 400 feet.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years old and hold a “remote pilot airman certificate,” issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Operation is only allowed during daylight hours or twilight with appropriate lighting.
  • Pilots must avoid flying over populated areas or over specific people not involved in the operation. ( Based on an “Expectation of privacy”)

To see a summary of the entire set of rules (so-called “Part 107”) go here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf

The rules for recreational use really don’t vary much from the “official” rules listed above! They include the same limitations on line of sight, height and speed, and, in particular, avoiding “no-fly” zones like airports, military bases, athletic events, and the White House. One difference: your teenager doesn’t need a Remote Pilot certificate if he wants a drone for Christmas. But if the drone weighs over .55 lbs., it will have to be registered.

Please note — again! – rules keep changing! In particular, rules for non-recreational use, like for emergency purposes, which we’ll get to, are under continuing review. NASA is leading a multibillion-dollar effort to develop a system to manage manned and unmanned flight, while the FAA is expected to ease restrictions on commercial drones.

Using Your Drone as an Emergency Response Tool

Defense is by far the largest market for drones. But there are so many smart ways a drone can be used by the rest of us! For example,

  • Farmers can check on irrigation lines and crop growth at the far reaches of the acreage.
  • Scientists can track ice melt or water level rise without having to wade in, or visible earthquake faults or landslides.
  • Firefighters can safely track movement of the fire line, position of crews and equipment.
  • Real estate professionals can film a property’s exterior, and then tour the entire home inside, for the benefit of prospective buyers. (Walk-through videos are already popular, but for an aerial view of the whole property, the agent has to rent a helicopter!)

What about Emergency Response Team usage?

While not commercial, and yet not exactly recreational, here are some uses we are considering . . .

  • Use a drone to provide overhead lighting when searching an area at night
  • Inspect upper levels of buildings or structures (in industrial or high-rise residential areas)
  • Film damaged areas or obstructions following a disaster
  • Map area covered by the CERT team to segment into manageable areas
  • Search areas for survivors following an event
  • Reconnaissance of adjacent areas to identify pathways to safer positions
  • Drop markers to designate specific damages or routes to follow
  • Monitor teams during training exercises with filmed records for group critique
  • Transfer supplies, first aid items, batteries, replacement radios, etc.
  • Transport high value items over a distance, reducing the need for multiples of expensive equipment (e.g., gas sniffer)

You can probably come up with many more.

Challenges with these Emergency Team uses?

1-Rules may limit your CERT team’s use.

When you look at even this short list of uses, you will see that a number of these uses would be against current rules! Let’s look again . . .

  • Can’t fly at night.
  • Can’t let drone out of your sight.
  • Can’t fly higher than 400 feet.

From our standpoint as emergency responders, these restrictions make no sense. In a serious situation the safety of our neighbors in the community is more important that the actual altitude of the drone looking for them! Moreover, we have confidence that some of these restrictions will soon be lifted.

So we are not letting these restrictions stop our analysis.

2-Battery life may limit your team’s use.

Most drones have a flying time of only 10-20 minutes. To get a couple minutes more of flight can cost a couple hundred more dollars in purchase price. No matter which model you get, plan on getting at least 3 or 4 extra batteries right along with the machine.

3-Set up in advance to be able to share your images and videos.

Clearly, the emergency planning and response ideas above would generate information you’d want to share with the rest of your team or with First Responders! There are several options available – the obvious one being sending footage to YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the FAA may label your video as “commercial use” if it appears with an ad on it, whether or not you wanted it!  (Again, in an emergency, I’d probably not worry about that. But be aware . . .) Other sharing options include apps provided by Facebook, Dropbox and certain drone manufacturers.

If you goal is to share your work, find out more before purchasing.

OK, with all this in mind,

Which drone is best for our Neighborhood Response Team?

In our community, we already have some guys who race electric cars. And there are a couple who build and fly model airplanes. The skills they bring to the table will be valuable – but not all of them are on our CERT team, of course.

So, as we shop for a drone, we have to add “ease of set-up” and “easy to fly” to our shopping list.

Here’s the whole shopping list so far:

  • Big enough to fly outside, in somewhat inclement weather (Cheap toys won’t work.)
  • Strong enough to carry something to a designated location
  • The best battery life we can get for the price
  • Proven performance (not bleeding edge technology)
  • Reasonable image and video quality, though not necessarily the highest
  • Easy to set up and start flying
  • Compatible with variety of hand-held mobile devices

We’ve done a lot of comparing of different machines to get to this point! I hope the data above will be helpful to you in your own search.

Our next Advisory will review the machines in our “list of top choices.” Watch for it in about a week.

Just one last caveat. Our research showed prices for THE SAME MACHINE varying by as much as $100.00.  So take your time to be sure you’re getting exactly what you thought you were getting!

See our top choices in Part Two of Drones for Emergency Response Teams.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  Found this tidbit you should consider, too: “Report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.”  (!)

 

 

Communication Challenges in an Emergency

Thursday, October 20th, 2016
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Once again, Emergency Plan Guide offers some tips for business or neighborhood CERT teams.  Today’s subject: communicating with people in a disaster situation.

 Last month we talked about the importance of succinct and clear radio communications. Today, succinct and clear are just as important, but this is a situation where you are dealing with a non-professional. It’s a situation that may be uncertain and unfamiliar to you both. Communication is going to be a challenge, no matter what.

Action Item: Use this Advisory to start a discussion in your group on potential problems. You are likely to be able to add more specifics based on your environment.

Person with disabilities

“Not getting through?!” 

In a big emergency, whether you are a concerned citizen, an Emergency Response Team member, or a First Responder dealing with victims or potential victims, you may find your words just not getting through!

You are asking urgent questions or giving urgent commands.

But the people you’re dealing with just aren’t responding!

Before you overreact and start yelling, run through this list in your mind. If you can identify one of these problems, and its solutions, you’ll have a better idea of what to do next for better communications.

Don’t forget to start by introducing yourself!

In any emergency situation, start by introducing yourself and why you are there.

For example: “My name is Joe, I’m a member of CERT, and I am here because there’s been an explosion and we need to move you to a safer location.”

Tell the person where they are going and what they need to take with them. If you know, tell them how long this move is likely to last. Repeat that it’s urgent that they get started . . . and that you are there to help.

If you know the person’s name, use it to start your sentences.

If the person has a care-giving companion, address your remarks to the person, not the companion!

What to do if the person doesn’t respond to your commands.

There are a number of things that could be preventing your audience from understanding your words and/or what they should do. Here are a few problems, with tips for how to address them.

The person doesn’t understand what you are saying.

1- Whether the person doesn’t hear well, doesn’t speak English well, or has mental health issues, here are some ideas for improving communication:

  • Make sure they know you are there to help. Get their attention by calling out and flicking the lights.
  • Get face to face with the person and at their level; don’t yell down at them or across the room.
  • Speak simply, clearly and slowly. Use hand gestures in speaking.
  • Repeat your commands or requests as necessary. If still no understanding, use DIFFERENT words to explain; don’t just repeat the same thing over and over.
  • Write your message on a paper, and let the person write back.

2- You are dealing with an elderly person who is resisting or confused.

  • Tell the person you are there to help.
  • If the person needs to leave the home, reassure them that this will only be temporary.
  • Gather medicines (or at least a list) and any portable medical equipment.
  • Let them know how and when they will be able to contact family.

 

What if the person isn’t able to follow your commands?

1- Person has a service animal and you aren’t sure how to proceed.

  • The animal must be kept with its owner. A service animal is like an extension of the person – it is not a pet.
  • The service animal must be on a leash or in a harness but does not need a muzzle.
  • Don’t try to give the animal instructions or use its harness to direct it. The animal will respond only to its owner.
  • Do not feed or pet the animal.

2- Person has mobility problems (walker or wheelchair in room).

  • Ask to be sure you understand the person’s capabilities. For example:
    • “Can you stand or walk without your walker?”
    • “Can you get down the stairs without my help?”
  • Assume the person knows how you can help. Let her tell you the best way to do it.
  • Assume the person knows how her equipment works. Let her give instructions about how to attach or detach parts, move the chair up or down stairs, etc.

3- Person declares or you think he is visually impaired.

  • Announce your presence.
  • Visually impaired does not mean hard of hearing. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
  • State the nature of the emergency, tell him what needs to happen, and offer assistance.
  • Do not reach out and grab the person to move him. Let him take your arm or rest his hand on your shoulder and then lead him.
  • Warn of stairs, doorways, ramps, etc. before you reach them.
  • To help a person sit down, place his hand on the back of the chair.

 

Communicating in a disaster takes extra thought.

By and large, we understand and are able to automatically put many of these tips into use. In an emergency, though, we may allow our own excitement to make the situation more challenging than it needs to be.

Take a deep breath, think it through.

It will be so much easier dealing with someone who (finally) understands than trying to force them, confused and frightened, into action.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The best resource I’ve found on the topic of communication with people with disabilities is called Tips for First Responders, from the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico. You can get copies of the booklet here: http://cdd.unm.edu/dhpd/tips/tipsenglish.html

P.P.S. Resources for dealing with people with disabilities all echo this point: these are PEOPLE FIRST.  Start with the assumption that they have many abilities. For an interesting perspective about the concept of “People First” – written by a person with disabilities — check out this article from the Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/disability-etiquette_n_3600181.html

 

 

 

 

 

Gift That Will Save a Life

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
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Vial or File of Life – a Great Gift Idea for Family or Employees

We are constantly looking for ways to engage our communities in “preparedness thinking.” It’s not always easy. For some reason, many people prefer to fall back on “It won’t happen to US!” as the reason they don’t do any planning.

However, everyone has seen an ambulance pull up to a home or business, lights blazing. Everyone stops for at least a moment to wonder what is happening inside.

We can use this fact to raise awareness in our neighborhoods or workplaces. Here’s a GIFT that you can arrange for that people will value – and that could make a difference between life and death.

The Gift: The Vial of Life

At a recent meeting with the Fire Department we were reminded that when First Responders are called to an emergency in a home, they automatically look for the victim’s VIAL OF LIFE.

Vial of LifeWhat is the Vial of Life?

The Vial is really simply a container that holds essential medical information for the people in the house – information that First Responders will want to know if they have to give emergency treatment.

Originally, the info was put into an actual vial (like a medicine prescription bottle) but these days, the preferred container is a simple zip lock Baggie. You can see the plastic baggie in the image (blue stripe).

What goes into the Vial of Life Baggie?

The Baggie holds a filled-out Medical Information Form. It’s the form in the picture, with places for info such as:

  • Name of person in trouble
  • Name of Doctor
  • Medical conditions
  • Current medicines/prescriptions
  • Allergies
  • Contact information for family

Where do I put the Vial of Life Baggie?

Identify the Baggie by placing a decal with a red cross on the outside. Fold the Medical Information Form and place it inside.

Then fasten the baggie to the refrigerator door with tape or a magnet.

(Naturally, you’ll want to keep the Medical Information Form updated – that’s why it’s best to use a zip lock style baggie so you can take papers out and replace them.)

How does the Fire Department know I have this information on my refrigerator?

Depending on the layout of your home, place the second decal with a red cross on the front window or door to your house. This will let the Fire Department know you have a Vial of Life Baggie on the refrigerator.

Even without the second sticker, they will likely automatically look there for medical information.

Anything else I need to know?

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to put other information into the Baggie. For example . . .

  • If you have appointed someone else to make medical decisions for you in an emergency (common for senior citizens), you may want to include that info along with directions to where the full document can be found.
  • Your Advance Health Care Directive, which tells what emergency life-sustaining treatment you want, can also be included. (That form is available online and must be witnessed by your doctor.)
  • Finally, if you have specific end of life wishes, such as the desire to donate your body, you may want to include that info, too.

These documents are important.

Without the Vial of Life information, emergency personnel will follow their STANDARD PROCEDURE – which may NOT be what you want or can even survive.

How to Use the Gift with Your Group

If you want people to participate, you have to make it easy for them.

The “easiest” is to create Vial of Life kits, already assembled, and pass them out to all the members of your group. Each member of the family needs one!

You can go to http://www.vialoflife.com to get the masters for everything you need.

Assemble into individual kits:

  • Instruction sheet
  • Baggie
  • 2 Decals (print your own using color printer onto white labels), one for the Baggie and one for the door
  • Medical Information Form

If you prefer, turn this into a group activity. Provide sheets of decals, piles of forms and instructions and the baggies and have group members set up an assembly line to separate and assemble the kits.  Next step is to distribute kits to neighbors, family members, etc. (You could add a pen as an extra incentive to get the form filled out!)

We distributed Vial of Life kits to our community about three years ago. Many of our neighbors, who don’t participate in any of our neighborhood emergency response team activities, still have their Baggies and point proudly to them.

The Vial of Life has been a successful and inexpensive awareness builder for our team. Add it to your own group’s agenda!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you are looking for other emergency response team ideas for group activities, please don’t overlook the book of CERT Meeting Ideas I put together earlier this year. You can get details here.

 

 

Secure Your Space

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
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The Great ShakeOut Hits California

Our community is “celebrating” the annual earthquake drill here in California on October 20. We are joining a crowd of 9.4 million participants (so far).

Secure Your SpacePlus, just two days ago we emerged from a heightened earthquake alert resulting from a swarm of 140+ small quakes near the base of the San Andreas Fault. That’s the seismic fault that’s going to give birth to the long-overdue “Big One.”

So it seems time to take another look around the house to Secure Your Space, as the ShakeOut people say.

We put together a worksheet for our neighbors, and I thought it would be a good tool to share with all our Emergency Plan Guide readers.

(The form I created for our neighborhood group has a space for recommendations to be made by a handyman that we’ve engaged to go to people’s homes. The version shown at the left in this Advisory is a little different. It figures YOU will be making the changes, hence the “to-do list” terminology!)

No and Low Cost Recommendations for Quake Safety

These are all pretty straightforward. It just takes setting a time for a “walk-through” and then making obvious changes to your living space.

As you do your walk-through, look at furniture placement, and not just heavy or decorative items that could fall and break.

When we returned home after the San Francisco quake in 1989, one of the most dramatic things that had happened was we couldn’t get into the bedroom because a bookcase had fallen over, completely blocking the door.

Handyman Help for Quake Safety

You may or may not already be a handyperson, so some of these suggestions may require that you get a few simple tools. Generally, the idea is to stand in the middle of the room and imagine that everything loose starts flying at you.

How do you tether or fasten down the items that could hurt you?

Keep in mind:

• Flexible fasteners may be better than stiff ones, which can break in a large jolt.
• Rubberized pads may stop heavier items from shooting across the room, but of course won’t keep them from falling to the floor.
• A wire barrier or a lip may keep items on a shelf as long as the shelf stays on the wall.

This Secure Your Space list is aimed at simple things you can do to improve your chances. It doesn’t get into major improvements, like blocking and strapping your water heater, or reinforcing your foundation. We’ve covered some of those elsewhere.

Today, let’s just take care of a few items that should not be left unaddressed.

Need a shopping list of earthquake safety items?

Here are some items from Amazon. You could click on the links, order them all, or items like them, get them delivered within just a couple of days, and have everything you need for an earthquake safety family activity!

Picture or Mirror Hanger

The usual hardware or hobby pack of picture hangers is designed for light pictures, but the sawtooth version of a hanger, or any hanger that counts on simple gravity to hold the wire on the hook, will not be adequate in an earthquake. You are looking for something that can carry 50, 70 or maybe even 100 pounds, and keep it on the wall!  Here are some ideas for hanging heavy items.

Hangman 3-Inch 100-Pound Walldog Wire Hanger (WDH-100-2)

And the wire to go with it . . .
Hillman Fasteners 121128 Mirror Hanging Set Heavy Duty

Big Stuff on Shelves

When it comes to electronics on the shelves in our office, we start with rubberized mats under our printers and computers. We also have a mat under the one desktop tower that is still on the desk. (The other tower is on the floor.) I also use rubberized shelf paper in the kitchen under my plates, and actually between some of the serving platters.

I really love this stuff. Get enough of it because you’ll find many uses for it.

VViViD Non-Slip Rubberized Plastic Mesh Shelf and Drawer Liner Non-Adhesive Sheets (12″ x 20ft, White)

Appliances and Furniture

I said above that for our computers, we “start” with rubberized mats. The next step is to fasten all appliances and furniture down with flexible safety straps, so they won’t go anywhere when the world starts shaking.  Of course, what you use to fasten things down depends on their size, their weight, where they are located (how far to a wall stud), etc.

TV monitors are probably the most likely thing to fly in an earthquake. Tie ’em down! Next most important are bookcases, appliances and other furniture. Here are several models of straps and cables to consider.

QuakeHOLD! 4520 Universal Flat Screen Safety Straps

Quakehold! 4163 15-Inch Furniture Strap Kit, Beige

Quakehold! 2830 7-Inch Steel Furniture Cable

And one model of strap (not from Quakehold!) that seems to be all-purpose:

TV and Furniture Anti-Tip Straps | Top Quality Heavy Duty Strap, All Metal Parts | All Flat Screen TV/Furniture Mounting Hardware Included | Lifetime Guarantee (2 Pack, Black)

Objets d’art and Collectibles

Every home has a shelf or cupboard with beloved figurines, plates, vases, whatever. If the shelf falls, or the cupboard opens, these precious items will be destroyed. So, some suggestions:

  • Can you place these objects in a closed cupboard instead of on an open shelf?
  • Run a wire or fishing line barrier along the front of the shelf to keep books from falling.
  • Add a simple lock to be sure the cupboard or cabinet door won’t swing open in an earthquake. (Check under “child-proofing your kitchen.”)

Most important, “glue” treasures down with museum wax from your local hardware or craft store. It holds!

Quakehold! 66111 2-Ounce Museum Wax

Kitchen

I mentioned above what we found in the bedroom when we got home after the 1989 earthquake. In the kitchen was an astonishing mess of broken dishes, broken jars of pickles and peaches, flour and spices, appliances and potted plants.

Again, all kitchens are slightly different. Do a kitchen walk-through. What could fall or move? What will happen if cupboard doors come open? Moving heavy items to lower shelves is the obvious first step. Selectively applying child-proof locks or safety straps may be the next best improvement.

A Weekend’s Worth of Work

Doing the appropriate moving, measuring, drilling and installing will take more than 5 minutes. Depending on your level of skill and interest, it might take all day or even all weekend.

But all it would take is one good shake and EVERYTHING ON THIS LIST  — mirrors, pictures, bookcases, furniture, computers, cupboards, TVs, food, glassware, souvenirs, collections — could end up in a jumble of broken trash in the middle of the room. And you’ll be lucky if you aren’t in it somewhere.

So, join in your own region’s Great ShakeOut and make some safety improvements. You’ll sleep better for your efforts.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

I mentioned some articles on more serious infrastructure improvements for your home. Check these out:

 

 

What Will You Take When You Evacuate?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016
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We watched the movie “Sully” last week. Talk about emergency response!

Sully tells the story of the emergency landing of a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in New York in 2009. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger brought the plane down on the water after engines were lost when the plane hit a flock of geese.

Two great moments from the film.

The day after the movie we used it at our neighborhood meeting to highlight crisp and clear emergency radio communications.

Remember when Sully was asked if he wanted to attempt a landing at Teterboro (NJ), and we all knew that it was just too far given how low they were, how they were losing altitude, how the motors wouldn’t re-start, etc.?

Sully responded to the complicated situation and to the question with just one word: “Unable.”

The movie had another wonderful moment that inspired me to write today. At the last minute, after Sully had checked the entire sinking plane twice to be sure no passengers were left, he made his way back up to the cockpit. He grabbed a clipboard, then turned and jumped out of the plane.

I don’t know what that clipboard had on it.

But it was obviously important. And since everything he and co-pilot Stiles had done so far was “by the book,” grabbing that clipboard was obviously on his list.

And thus today’s Advisory.

If YOU have to evacuate your office or workplace, what would YOU take with you?

Do you have a list? Below is one you can start with. I say “start with,” because obviously every business setting is slightly different.

But every business, no matter how big or small, has certain legal obligations to its employees.

And when the business needs to restart after the evacuation, in the same location or in a different one, it will need certain vital information. Your list needs to have your company’s vital info on it.

What to take in an emergency evacuation

If you would like a full-size copy of the list, click here.

Action Item: Build a customized list.

Again, I recommend that you use this list only as a start. Take the time at your business to build a customized list. Some thoughts:

  • Keep it to one page! Use big print, simple language and the words you use in YOUR business.
  • You may want one list for employees and a different list for management.
  • Be sure employees keep their list handy/visible at all times.
  • You may want to assign certain employees as monitors to be sure certain areas of the office or workplace get evacuated.
  • You may also want to add to certain lists instructions about systems or machinery that need to be SHUT DOWN in the case of an evacuation.

We all use lists for everyday activities. But they work particularly well in the case of an emergency, when people can be rattled and in a hurry. Put some time into building your “What to take” list for your business, and you’ll feel and be safer.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The list, and this Advisory, assume you have a more comprehensive Business Continuity of Business Continuation Plan. If you haven’t really started to build one yet, sign up for our Advisories, because we’ll soon be announcing the 2917 version of our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan.

 

Why are you a prepper?

Thursday, September 15th, 2016
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My neighbors vote on preparedness. The result?

Preparedness

“Raise your hand . . .”

At our recent homeowner’s association meeting, I asked for a show of hands:

“How many of you have set aside food and water for an emergency?”

Response was good. About 80% of the 100 or so people there raised a hand.

Next question:

“How many of you are prepared to provide your neighbor with food and water?”

Hands that had been raised to answer the first question went down immediately.

We all looked around. Not a single hand was visible. The sound of weak laughter was heard, then it died away.

Even after years of effort in building a neighborhood emergency response group, we recognize that . . .

Being prepared seems mostly to be a commitment to oneself.

On the other hand (pun!), a number of our neighbors are willing to encourage and even help others prepare. Based on the “vote” above, you might not expect this commitment. What’s behind it?

What gets and keeps a neighborhood emergency response group going?

Every so often we quiz everyone in our own neighborhood group about why they are a part of it – when we really don’t have many emergencies to respond to!

Here’s what we know about our members.

  • They have a “social conscience.” The most common answer to why they participate is always the same: “I want to give back.”
  • They feel a sense of responsibility for the community, and typically are engaged with other neighbors one way or another.
  • They acknowledge the risks that face the community. In our case, those risks include earthquake, wildfire, and, more frequently, loss of electricity and water. And, in an earthquake, broken gas mains.
  • They like feeling empowered. Our group members are familiar with the infrastructure of our community. They know where First Responders come from and how long it takes them to get here. They understand how our mobile radio station works and who we’ll be calling in an emergency. And they know the limitations that our property managers operate under.
  • They like their gear. Our members use their walkie-talkies every month, and bring battery-operated lanterns, first aid kits and fire extinguishers to meetings when we advertise a “show and tell.” (And they really like winning the door prize – even if it’s a simple $2 LED flashlight.)

 

How to encourage more people in the neighborhood to prepare for themselves?

We have found that people who aren’t willing to take steps on their own to prepare for emergencies will sometimes respond – slowly and maybe begrudgingly – to repeated messages of . . .

  • Guilt (“What will your children say when they are hungry and you didn’t think ahead enough to provide for them?”)
  • Fear (“Imagine being trapped under debris, in the dust and dark, unable to move . . .”)
  • A friendly helping hand (“Here’s a simple list of the top 5 things to do, and a bottle of water to get started.”)

 

How to encourage more people to join in the neighborhood emergency response group?

To be successful, any group has to offer benefits to its members. We try to focus on some of these in our communications and monthly meetings . . .

  • Make it fun! (I mentioned door prizes above. They do work at meetings! And we try to include a joke once in a while in our “educational” pieces.)
  • Give everybody a job that helps make a meeting a success – set up the room, be a greeter, take notes, whatever.
  • Recognize accomplishments – new CERT graduates, someone who used a skill learned in the group in a real life situation. Last month one of our members connected with a relative in another state and got some good preparedness info passed along to a whole new audience!
  • Keep training. Our members like to keep learning new stuff. (They particularly like learning from new instructors – some of whom are now coming from videos on YouTube.)
  • Make it easy to join. Have a welcome and orientation package for new group members. Ease them in; they don’t have to know everything you know on their very first day.

As I write this, I realize I’m writing in part for myself! Having been actively involved in our neighborhood group ever since I took the CERT training in 2002, I’ve observed and tried every one of the suggestions above! Over the years, the size of our group has varied from 15 or so to as many as 85, and then come back down again.

As we have said many times, preparedness is much more a STATE OF MIND than a stash of emergency supplies. And in a real emergency, it’s the people closest to you – that is, your neighbors – who will be the true First Responders. The more THEY know, the more prepared THEY are, the safer YOU will be!

So, I guess we just keep keeping on!

Please add your comments to this post, and your suggestions for inspiring people to take action for themselves and to take action for their neighbors, too.

It’s the best we can do!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are building a neighborhood group, please take a look at the manual I put together a few months ago. It details many of the successful meeting we’ve held over the past few years. If you’re in the midst of planning a neighborhood meeting right now, it will be a big help!

 

 

Coconut Oil for Your Survival Kit

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
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“Good to know about” or “Essential” ?

When I’m writing about items for a survival kit, I often have to distinguish between “good to know about” and “essential to have.” Today, I’m writing about coconut oil. It straddles the line between “good to know about” and “essential to have.”  I’ll let you decide!

Coconut Oil

From my stash . . .

Coconut oil has been popular in health and beauty news for several years, and a couple of years ago coconut water emerged as a very popular drink. (I don’t care for it, myself.)

Coconut Oil for Emergencies

Lately articles about coconut oil as a survival item have jumped out at me. Then, when I got a sample recently — as a unique favor at a wedding party! — I looked into it at more depth.

Here’s what I’ve found out, and tested for myself. See if any of these work for you – then try some of the oil!  It’s inexpensive and available everywhere.

First Aid with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is claimed to have antiviral, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties!  Whew! Makes me wonder how I got along without it so far!.

Some simple ways to use it that certainly sound sensible:

  • Apply to a cut to prevent infection.
  • Dot on bites, stings or rashes to relieve itching.
  • Rub between toes to prevent athlete’s foot (a fungus).
  • Relieve chapped lips with a thin coating.
  • Apply to scalp to kill lice (and get rid of cradle cap).

 

Shelter-in-Place with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has an extended shelf life (up to two years, maybe longer), doesn’t need refrigeration, hardens at temperatures below 76 degrees and is liquid at temperatures higher. The image above shows my two bottles — the one I’ve been using and the one I stuck in the refrigerator.

Some excellent survival or camping ideas:

  • Rub into wood or leather to condition and protect.
  • Use to season pans and in fact, as a substitute for butter or oil for frying.
  • Use as the basis for a candle. Just add a wick to liquid oil, then allow oil to harden.
  • Use coconut oil to clean your hands – of dirt, wax, paint. (It works great as a make-up remover, too, but you won’t be needing that in an emergency!)

 

Eat Coconut Oil

I’m not a trained dietitian or a doctor, so I’m not making any recommendations about taking coconut oil internally. Certainly, there are many, many testimonials on the internet and on TV about its ability to improve your health. I suggest you simply research on your own. (Try looking up “coconut oil + _____” and fill in the blank with your own condition: constipation, diabetes, cancer, acne, etc.)

I did find an article that laid out healthy limits for a daily dosage of coconut oil based on your weight. Find out more about this, too, before you start taking it.

Finally, consider the quality of the coconut oil you buy. While there are no internationally agreed-upon quality terms (like “extra virgin” vs. “virgin” olive oil), it does make sense to read about how the oil is captured and processed. It all comes from the coconut — but can be washed, steamed, pressed, bleached, etc.  For our survival purposes, I would look for virgin oil for the best benefits.

Here are some examples of what look like good buys in three different categories. Click on the image to get full details and current pricing.

Island Fresh – Virgin

I selected this because its labeling specifically calls out some of the survival uses discussed above. Note that some other jars of coconut oil at Amazon refer only to their use for COOKING. In fact, some of them add extra flavors to the coconut! Anyway, this is the one I would start with for my own survival kit.

 

 

 


Majestic Pure – Fractionated

Note that this oil has been treated to remove certain fatty acids, rendering it odorless and greaseless and permanently liquid. So-called “fractionated” oils like this may be more convenient for cooking or general purpose beauty care, but may have lost some of their anti-oxidant properties.

 

 

 

Nativa – Refined, in Gallon size!

If you are planning on cooking with coconut oil (French fries!), you may want to purchase refined oil in much larger quantities. Here’s an example of an oil that has a high smoking point, no coconut smell or taste. The customer reviews are very positive.

 

 

 

 

Note: At Amazon many of the coconut oil product distributors assume you are going to want to sign up for a regular delivery, and they offer a discount for that purchase. My recommendation: try out ONE item first, or even better, try out at least TWO so you can compare, before you sign up for monthly delivery. Don’t accidentally click the wrong box!

I think you’ll end up adding coconut oil to your survival stash, just as I have!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you have discovered great uses for coconut oil, write and let us know in the comments!

 

Stay or Go? Keeping Ahead of California Wildfires

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016
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Take a look at these 2016 maps, from CALFIRE. On the left, the Current Incidents map shows 10 wildfires burning. Now, look at the map on the right. Just one month later, 17 fires are burning!

California Wildfires

And these are just the MAJOR wildfires burning.

Today, as I write this Advisory, there are 31 fires being fought and/or monitored by CALFIRE.

CALFIRE is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Its people respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. This year, as of 27 August 2016, they have already responded to 4,270 fires – above average due to significant drought conditions. (No, El Nino didn’t bring Southern California the much needed rain.)

What causes wildfires?

The simple answer: people. Yes, some are started by lightning or lava, but over 90% of fires are started by hunters, campers, tree trimmers and grass mowers, smokers, people’s cars’ catalytic converters and, of course, arsonists.

What can I do to protect my home?

Before you buy or build

Find out before you make an offer if that site is high-risk for wildfires! (If you have found what you think is a good deal, increased wildfire or flood risk may be the reason why.)

Plan for, or confirm, that the home is built from the ground up to the highest fire-resistant construction standards. Building standards vary, but you can get detailed information from your City’s Municipal Code Department and even more detail from the National Fire Protection Association. http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards

Before a wildfire threatens

You’ve heard before about creating a defensible space around your house. Briefly, that means clearing combustible materials from around your house – trees, bushes, uncut grass, piles of wood, fences, sheds, etc. – to create a 100 foot buffer zone between home and fire. Find out full details of each of the 4 zones of defensible space here: http://www.napafirewise.org/index.html

Protect against flying embers by cleaning and then closing up or blocking off gutters, eaves and vent openings or areas under the deck or porch. Purchase or make custom-fitted vent covers.

Pay particular attention to windows and skylights, because they may be more vulnerable to heat. Consider upgrading them to more-resistant materials, and installing metal shutters for the outside of the house and fire-resistant curtains inside.

Fight a fire threatening your home

It is not always possible to protect your home from a wildfire.

However, you may be able to protect your home from a threat or until the fire department gets there by the use of a personal water supply and pump delivery system.

This does NOT mean a garden hose!

Your water source needs to be independent – a pool, dam or lake. Your pump needs to be gas-operated or otherwise stand-alone, since electricity may be out. The entire system – with hoses — needs to be big enough to cover your whole house and preferably the entire defensible space. At the same time, it needs to be portable.

Here is an example from Amazon of the kind of home system you may wish to consider. This model has two 50 foot hoses and can be expanded with more nozzles and hoses. It also delivers foam and comes with approximately 3 hours’ worth.
Home Firefighting HF-S14FC-100F-BK Pool Fire Pump Cart System with 1-Inch Fire Hose and 30 gpm Solid Cartridge Foam System

Obviously, you need to maintain a system like this and practice with it before you actually need it.

Know when to evacuate

For all the above recommendations about preparing for and fighting fire, be ready to go sooner rather than later.

Here are evacuation recommendations from CALFIRE. You can get their full evacuation checklists at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Pre-Evacuation-Preparation/

Inside the House

• Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
• Remove flammable window shades and curtains.
• Close metal shutters.
• Move flammable furniture to the center of the room.
• Shut off air conditioning.
• Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
• Leave lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.

Outside the House

• Gather up flammable items from the yard (furniture, toys, trash cans) and put them inside or in your pool.
• Turn off propane tanks. Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
• Connect garden hoses to outside spigots for use by firefighters.
• Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running (can affect water pressure).
• Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible.
• Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
• Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.

We have seen the news footage of fire after fire, and, unfortunately, heard about not only property damage but death.

Preparing for the risk of a wildfire needs to be part of your emergency planning, particularly if you live in California.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Any more ideas you’d like to add to this list?  Just drop them into the comments!

 

Summer Water Shortage

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
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What I really meant: Summer Water Shortage Storage

Here in California, we’ve had drought conditions for 4 years. Throughout the state, people have cut back about 25% on water usage – sometimes voluntarily, mostly as a result of cost pressure.

But using less water for the landscape doesn’t mean we should drop storing water for an emergency!

So again, I want to promote . . .

The best water storage solution: the 4-item 55-gallon water barrel kit.

The kit has four components. You need all four!

You can buy them separately or all together, at Amazon, Walmart or at Costco or wherever you find the best price. In doing my research today I found that by shopping carefully I could get the same four items for a low of about $100 to a high of about $150.

The image at the left shows a kit with the four items that need to be on your shopping list — the barrel, the bung wrench, the pump and the water preserver. You can click on the kit image — or any of the images below — and go directly to Amazon. But before you go there, learn more about each of the components so you know what you’re looking for.

1 – The 55 gallon water barrel

What you want is a standard blue polyethylene plastic food grade water storage barrel with a sealed top. (I’d want a new one. Even if it’s brand new, give it a good rinse with a diluted chlorine-bleach solution – one part bleach to 10 parts water. Of course, use non-scented bleach that contains no soap.)

What to watch out for:

When it’s full, your barrel will weigh 440 pounds so you won’t be able to move it by hand!  Pick the spot where you want to store it, lay down some boards or pieces of wood to keep it up off the ground or the floor, and set it in place. (Make sure your floor can hold this weight.)

2 – A “Bung wrench” to open the plugs in the top of the barrel

The stopper in a barrel is called a “bung” and you’ll need a special wrench to remove it. You can get a metal or plastic wrench like the red one in the photo to the right. Often, the wrench will be designed for a second function, like being able to turn off gas at your meter. Bung wrenches seem to go missing on a regular basis. You may want to fasten it to your barrel (tape?).

3 – A Pump to get the water out of the barrel

 These water barrels are designed with openings only at the top, so to get the water out you need to insert a pipe down through one of the bung holes and then pump the water up and out. Since this is for emergency use, you need a pump that operates by hand! Be sure your pump is BPA free since your drinking water will be flowing through it.

What to watch out for:

An inexpensive siphon hose can work but may take a lot of effort to get started. Other hand siphon pumps have a hand-operated sliding action and larger tubes, and are more efficient. The image shows the “vertical manual action” of the pump shown in the kit.

Once you get a siphon pump flowing, it will continue to flow until you stop it, so be sure you know how to start AND stop the flow. (Hint – you unscrew the cap at the top to break the vacuum.)

Here’s a great video from Robert Canning that shows just how to install and use a hand siphon pump.

There are also hand pumps with a lever that pump a certain amount with each press of the lever – best if you want to remove just a small amount of water.

4 – Water preserver liquid

We have written before about using 1/8 cup of plain bleach in your barrel full of water to keep the water clean for long-term (i.e. year-long) storage. You can also use a water preserver concentrate that will keep water clean for up to 5 years. Follow the directions on the bottle to get the right amount into your barrel.

And now, the question we overlooked . . .

How to get the water INTO the barrel? Three options.

If you’re like me, I want the barrel tucked out of the way, so it turns out not to be close to a faucet. So how do I fill the barrel?

Naturally, you’ll think about using the garden hose. But wait. That hose has probably been sitting around for who knows how long, getting dirt on it, spraying pesticides or soap, and gradually disintegrating. I wouldn’t want to use it to fill MY barrel!

So what are other options?

One way is to use new bottles of water or simply carry water from the kitchen in a clean container and pour it into the barrel. Works fine, takes many trips!

The other option is to purchase the right length of food grade, white plastic drinking water hose at an RV supply store and run it from the tap.

And finally, store the barrel properly.

Some hints:

  • Label the barrel with the contents and the date you fill it, so you’ll know when it’s time to empty, refresh and refill.
  • Store in a cool dark place, out of sunlight; keep it clean.
  • Camouflage the barrel to prevent someone from stealing your water. Cover it with a tarp or canvas, turn it into a workbench, whatever.

This water can keep you alive in a crisis, so consider this big purchase as a gift to the family for the summer!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

 

P.S. You will likely want to have smaller containers of water, too, so you can store them more easily, move them, pour out just a glass of water, etc. Here are a two more articles from Emergency Plan Guide you may find useful as you consider how to store the water YOU need:

 

Are Your Employee Communications a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016
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Many companies are being forced to set up or beef up their emergency employee communications plans. Those that don’t may be courting liability.

Being sued for no disaster plan

Being sued . . .

Read on.

In today’s news, we learn from a simple press release that “The Boston Globe is making customized comprehensive safety guidelines available to all employees via a mobile app.” (That’s my emphasis.)

What does this have to do with YOUR company?

Start with these questions:

  • What has your company done about emergency response and emergency communications? Does it have a plan?
  • Is your company keeping up with what others are doing?
  • Is it meeting its legal responsibilities?

 

Managing emergency communications is an ongoing challenge.

 

1 – You face threats today that may never have been threats in the past.

Again, recent news stories tell of oil train explosions, once-in-a-lifetime flooding, live shooter events and cyberattacks that can cripple entire enterprises.

Is your workplace communications system set up to respond to “new” disasters as well as the usual ones? When did you last do a “risk analysis?”

2 – New technology means the world may hear about your emergency before your front office does.

What’s your procedure for making sure employees get instructions and the public – including suppliers and customers – gets factual information that will staunch rumors?

As Paul Barton, a business communications specialist says, “Rumours are created for a specific reason: they fill in the information void. If an organization does not tell staff what is going on, they will make up their own story.”

And today, that “story” will be out via YouTube and Twitter before the smoke has a chance to clear!

In the past, companies usually assigned one person to be the spokesperson in an emergency. Today, every employee can instantly reach a huge audience. You can’t stop that, but you can train employees in how to communicate.

3 – Employee turnover means your “communications plan” must be continually updated and employees must be regularly trained or they won’t be able to use it.

Not only does your workforce change, but the company premises themselves change. You may change your phone system, switch to a different internet provider or IT set-up, add a new website or a new office, invest in mobile devices for the whole staff, etc.

All these give the business and employees new communications options that must be considered in the emergency communications plan.

4 – Don’t overlook the families.

You may expect your employees to be ready to step up to protect the business and pitch in to get it back on its feet in an emergency.

Guess what. You may be wrong.

Over and over again in disasters, employees – even First Responders! – have abandoned their posts because they were desperate to find out if their families were safe.

If you can reassure employees about their families, your business continuity plan has a much better chance of working.

What this means is your emergency communications plan has to put family communications right up at the top. It must ask and help answer questions like:

  • How will the company communicate with employee family members regarding the status of the business and the employee?
  • What plan does the family have to get in touch with each other in an emergency?
  • Does the family have an out-of-state family contact person?
  • Has the family designated a place to go if they get separated and/or they can’t get back to their home?

 

5 – What responsibility does the company really have?

The “Prudent Man Rule” (now probably referred to as the “Prudent Person’s Rule”) has been around in the financial world for nearly 200 years. It says that someone responsible for another’s interests should exercise the same care, skill and judgment that other “prudent men” in that position would exercise.

When articles like the one about The Boston Globe appear in the daily news, you must ask yourself,

“If others are setting up new ways of communicating with employees during emergencies, could we be found deficient or even negligent if we haven’t updated our own plans?”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re not offering legal advice. But we do know that businesses and particularly owners get sued. We believe they can improve their chances of coming through the legal system safely by demonstrating that their decisions with regards to emergency response planning are consistent with good practice.

Two more resources.

Action Item:  If your company’s emergency response plan needs updating, take a look at these for inspiration.

This article reviews the different groups that may sue you after a disaster, and suggests three steps you can take immediately to protect yourself from legal fallout.

If you haven’t thought about physical security, this article will list some “prudent steps” that other companies are taking in this regard.

Once again, this isn’t legal advice, but I hope it falls into the category of “good business” advice.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Don’t miss any of our free Advisories. They’re a quick read and come right into your email box. Sign up below.

 

 

Buy Batteries On Sale

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
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Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?

Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.
Batteries
Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

Batteries use a chemical reaction to do work. Alkaline batteries, the AA, C and D batteries we all know, typically depend on zinc interacting with manganese (through an alkaline electrolyte solution) to produce electricity.

Other batteries use different chemistries to achieve a higher “energy density” so they will last longer and perform better. Some of them: nickelcadmium (NiCd), nickelzinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium-ion (Li-ion),

In a regular alkaline battery, the reaction ultimately consumes the chemicals (leaving behind hydrogen gas as a “waste” product) and the battery dies.

When to recharge

While an alkaline battery can be recharged, the process is inefficient and dangerous because of the hydrogen gas buildup. Recharging non-rechargeable batteries can result in a leak or even an explosion.

Rechargeable batteries are designed differently. First, they use specific chemicals (most popular seems to be Lithium Ion, which is even being used in Tesla batteries) that can undergo a “reverse chemical reaction” easily and efficiently. They contain a catalyst to keep hydrogen gas from forming. They have vents to prevent pressure from building up during recharging.

As you might expect, rechargeable batteries are more expensive because you have to buy that extra “charger.” However, studies suggest that you will save money over time using rechargeables, but they need electricity to work, so IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION you will probably want to have regular disposable batteries on hand, too.

Getting the most out of batteries

No matter where they are stored, all batteries will ultimately die. Eventually, the steel casing will corrode and rust and leak. (Heat like we’ve had over the past several weeks can speed up the deterioration!)

Still, there are things you can do to preserve the life of your device batteries.

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!
  • Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

 

My phone’s my most important survival tool! What’s the best solution for it?

The battery already in your phone or computer may have to be replaced as some point. If so, you’ll probably have to get whatever the manufacturer requires.

But, you’ll be recharging that device many times before you have to get a new battery! In an emergency, of course, electrical power for recharging may be out or you may be nowhere near a wall socket. One back-up option is a device that holds an extra charge, just ready for you to plug in to when you need it.

So let’s look at portable chargers or Power Banks.

Power Bank with Flashlight

My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

If your goal is to extend the life of your electronic devices, consider a Power Bank,  otherwise known as a “mobile power supply,” mobile battery, external battery, spare battery, charging stick, or portable charger. These devices can keep you operating for days at a time!

If your time is worth anything, a power bank will be an inexpensive boost to your productivity and, in an emergency, to your peace of mind.

Power Banks are sized from something similar to a small flashlight to a device that resembles a small external storage drive. They all fit in a palm, pocket or purse, but may be a bit heavy to carry around all day. (Check the weight.)

As you compare them, look for:

  • Capacity (measured in mAh, or milliampere hours). The higher the mAh, the more stored power.

    IS THE POWER BANK BIG ENOUGH TO DO THE JOB?  Some negative reviews come from people who expect a small battery to recharge a much larger device. Doesn’t work!

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”

  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

 

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of options. These models range from $20 – $40 each; click on the name to go directly to more details on Amazon.

NAME
CAPACITY (mAh)
SHAPE
WEIGHT
NOTES
Portable Charger RAVPower 22000mAh 5.8A Output 3-Port Power Bank External Battery Pack (2.4A Input, Triple iSmart 2.0 USB Ports, High-density Li-polymer Battery) For Phones Tablets and More - Black22000 mAhFlat - Wide14.4 oz5.8A Output 3-Port External Battery Pack
Portable Charger RAVPower 13000mAh (Powerful 5V / 4.5A Dual USB Output) Power Bank External Battery Pack - Black13000 mAhFlat - wide10.88 oz4.5A Dual USB Output (iSmart Technology) Black
Portable Charger, RAVPower 10050mAh Outdoor External Battery Pack Waterproof Dustproof and Shockproof Rugged (Premiun Bttery Cell) Built-in Flashlight; iSmart Technology - Black10050 mAhFat - wide7.36 oz2.4A Single Output, 2A Input and iSmart Technology
[Smallest but Powerful Enough] Portable Charger RAVPower 3350mAh 3rd Gen Luster Mini - External Battery Pack and Power Bank & iSmart for iPhone, iPad, Android and Other Smart Devices - Black3350 mAhTubular2.56 ozSingle Output Port


What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

 

Disposable Batteries

Understanding all that basic information listed above, we have tested disposable batteriesEnergizer, Duracell and Kirkland (Costco brand) — multiple times for our emergency radios. These radios are used once a month for our Emergency Response Team drill, and then very lightly, so we don’t go through the batteries quickly at all. We do automatically replace them regularly (usually twice a year at the time change.)

Re results of our testing? There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in manufacturers, although our current favorite is the Duracell Coppertop with Duralock.   You can get what you need at your local hardware or big box store, or add them to an Amazon order. The packaging shown here has both AA and AAA sizes in one.

 

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em.

Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes. Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!

 

 

 

Whew, this is a lot of info, but given the fact that we all seem to invest in batteries on a consistent basis, it’s worth it to get the right battery for the job.
Oh, and buying on sale? A good idea if you know what you’re buying.

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response group, you’ll need a budget for batteries for your walkie-talkies. Here’s an article with some ideas about financing your group’s efforts.

 


 

 

Off to College? What’s in your survival kit?

Thursday, July 21st, 2016
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Pretty exciting, isn’t it? New freedom, new friends, new food (!).

And, new dangers.

Survival kit for collegeWe can’t deal here with all the social issues on campus. But there are some things you can do to make your life away at school a bit safer and more secure. Take the time to check these out.

1-Be Ready For An Active Shooter on Campus

The news has been full of shooter incidents lately, so perhaps you’ve spent time talking about what YOU would do in that situation. But maybe you haven’t.

People most at risk are – OBLIVIOUS!

  • Walking around with their eyes glued to their cell phones.
  • Chatting or goofing off with friends and not paying attention to their surroundings.
  • Half asleep, waiting for somebody else to tell them what to do.

Time to change those habits!

Here’s a video put out by the University of Alberta that is pretty effective at reminding you what to do in case you hear what sounds like gunfire. The best stuff comes after the 2 minute intro.

Action item: Take 8 minutes right now and watch this video.

https://youtu.be/gHNApS-MC18

And then consider these actions for when you get to campus:

2-Secure Your Dorm Room or Apartment

Let’s assume that any room you are sleeping in has normal locks, and that you use them. However, if you want to be more secure – and particularly if you have been notified of danger on campus – you want to be sure you are extra safe inside.

Depending on the construction of the door, here are three things to consider.

= = > Barricade the door.

Somebody dangerous threatening you? The classic chair under the door handle really DOES work, as long as the angles are right. In an office setting, though, you may not find the stiff chair you’re looking for. So, in an emergency, don’t hesitate to pull a HEAVY piece of furniture (table, copy machine) in front of the door. Add a second heavy piece behind it.

= = > Disable the mechanism.

Keep door from openingThe working of a typical commercial door hinge may be defeated by use of a belt. Tighten it down to prevent the door from opening, as shown by Bill Stanton, safety expert.

= = > Get a door wedge.

In your bedroom or dorm room, a simple investment in a rubber door stop may be all you’ll need. (This one looks as though it will work on any surface.) Click on the image for details.

Keep intruders from coming in through a balcony with the help of a sliding glass door bar – you can place it in the track of the door, or, if you’ve bought one for that purpose, lock it across the center of the door. Obviously, a determined intruder can break a glass door if he or she has the tool to break it with.

3-Be Prepared For Evacuation or An Extended Lockdown

It’s far more likely that your college stay could be impacted by something less dramatic than an active shooter. But it might be equally serious – like a storm, flood, electrical outage, or even some sort of disease outbreak.

Be ready to respond to a call to shelter in place or to evacuate by having your own survival kit. Figure you need to take care of yourself for at least 72 hours – and remember, you will have no access to electricity, water or food. Or a toilet.

Stuff your kit (use a backpack) and have it handy so you can grab it at a moment’s notice.

What should be in your kit?

Basic Emergency Supply Checklist

  1. Water – 1 gallon per day. (Tough to fit in a small backpack, admittedly!)
  2. First Aid Kit with fresh supplies.
  3. Food – Canned or dried foods that you like and that don’t require cooking.
  4. Clothing – A set of warm, comfortable clothing. Extra sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses.
  5. Medicine – At least a two weeks supply of any prescription medicines.
  6. Sanitation – Garbage bags, including small, compactor-strength bags for waste. Sanitary supplies. Toilet paper, baby wipes, paper towels.
  7. Flashlights, emergency radio that operates with batteries, solar or by hand crank – NO CANDLES!
  8. Car – Always ready with half tank of gas.
  9. Cash – No electricity = no ATM, no credit card.
  10. Telephone numbers – Write on paper. Your cell phone and computer will run out of battery unless you have a solar charger.

You should be able to collect just about everything on this list right at home, before you leave for school. There’s one possible exception — the emergency radio.

Here’s a link to Amazon that will get you one of the best ones we’ve found. It operates using AA batteries, its own solar panel, or you can crank it for power. You can even charge it from your computer. Click on the image for details. (If you buy through Amazon we may get a small commission. It won’t impact what you pay.)

OK, we know you have put in a lot of effort to get to where you are. Don’t overlook some of these common-sense preparations that will KEEP you at school just the way you have planned.

Best of luck,

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

P.S. Please share this article with friends. It’s possible they won’t have thought of all these things, either!

 

 

What threat do you face from a nuclear reactor emergency

Thursday, July 14th, 2016
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Nuclear Power PlantWe have written before about the shadowy world of nuclear power plants. In last week’s news I found another of the disconcerting developments connected with plants that have been shut down and that are going through the “decommissioning process.”

This news comes from Vermont.

Briefly, the purpose of decommissioning is to remove and dispose of contaminated materials so that the property may be released for other uses. Since decommissioning can be a long and complicated. the plant owner is required during the plant’s lifetime to set money aside for that purpose.

Naturally, once the plant stops producing power, owners want to shut it down as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

One of the steps they take is to petition to have the “emergency zone” around the plant reduced. We have written before about the 50-mile-zone vs. the 10-mile-zone; you can check that Advisory by clicking here.

It turns out that Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, has successfully petitioned the NRC not only to stop supporting planning in the 50-mile zone, but also planning in the 10-mile zone. In fact, it has petitioned to eliminate ALL its responsibility to the 18 towns around the plant.

Apparently the funds set aside for decommissioning have also been “used for other purposes.” Lawsuits are being filed, hearings held. It’s not clear what the outcome will be.

But this brings up the whole issue of emergency planning around nuclear power plants.

Can you answer these questions about living near a nuclear power plant?

Nuclear Reactors U.S.1. How far away is the closest nuclear plant?

There are about 100 operating nuclear plants in the U.S., and most tend to have a low profile. So if you don’t really know where the nearest reactor is located, here’s a link to a map from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC):  http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/  *There’s a lot more info behind each pin on the map at the site.

2. In an emergency, how will you be affected?

The NRC defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: 1) a “plume exposure” zone with a radius of 10 miles, where airborne radioactive material would directly impact people, and 2) a second zone with a radius of 50 miles where contaminated food and water could be ingested by people within the zone.

(As a side note, Japanese authorities set a 20 km “exclusion zone” around the destroyed Fukushima Daishi power plant. That zone continues to be adjusted as radiation levels change as the result of government clean-up efforts and new weather events.)

3. What preparations can you make to protect yourself from a nuclear accident?

If you live near an operating plant, it’s likely that the first you’ll know of an emergency is when you hear a siren. (3-5 minute blast, repeated) Immediately tune to your local FM radio station or TV station, or to one of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) stations.

  • Plan to shelter in place. The major hazard in the plume area is direct exposure to the radiation cloud – through breathing, touching particles on the ground, or eating materials that have been contaminated.
  • Go indoors and stay there. Close doors and windows and shut off furnaces, fireplaces and air conditioners. Keep pets inside. If you’re in your car, close the windows and vents.
  • Keep listening for updates!

4. What will the authorities be doing?

  • An evacuation may be called. Grab your survival kit/evacuation kit and follow instructions. Hopefully your car’s gas tank is at least half full.
  • You may be advised to take potassium iodide (KI). KI is a nonprescription medication that blocks uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland. It is FDA-approved and readily available, coming in 65 and 130 mg tablets and liquid form; children need half or even a quarter of the dose for adults, so follow directions carefully. KI is effective for about 24 hours and you need to have enough to last every member of the family for several days or until you can get out of the affected zone. (See purchase info at the bottom of this article.)
  • You’ll be notified when it’s safe to return. (How can you be sure it’s safe? See “More resources,” below.)

5. What about the threat of a closed plant?

Here in Southern California, the San Onofre plant ceased operations in 2013 after a history of maintenance problems. The owner of the plant is just now putting final touches on its “decommissioning plan.” Spent fuel is being stored in one of the closed reactor containers — just hundreds of yards from the Pacific ocean (risk of tsunami?).  Since the 2010 U.S. census counts over 8 million people living within 50 miles of the plant, ANY emergency here will have a big impact!

Clearly, the chances of a nuclear disaster are far less for a plant that is no longer running, but as long as radioactive fuel is still being stored on site a certain threat remains, whether from a weather event (like what happened and continues to happen in Japan) or a terrorist event.

So it’s back to you and your emergency planning team, whether that’s your family, your local neighborhood emergency response team or your workplace leaders:

  • Are you near a nuclear plant?
  • Is it operating at full or reduced capacity?
  • Is it shut down or scheduled to be shut down?
  • What is the emergency plan for the site?

As an active and concerned citizen, it’s up to you to learn more. I hope this article can be the impetus. We’ll continue to share what we learn . . .

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

More resources:

Buy KI tablets. As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. This particular item often goes on sale at Amazon — note its expiry date!
Potassium Iodide 60 Tablets 65 Mg. Each Expires 2018

Test radiation levels using a personal Radiation Test Sticker. These stickers come in postage-stamp size; paste one on the back of your drivers licence or elsewhere in your wallet and you can always test conditions. This link takes you to Amazon.

Radstickers -Radiation Detection Stickers – Lot of 10 Add to your Nuclear Survival Gear

For real understanding of your circumstances, consider a Geiger Counter. You can learn more about them at this Advisory and take a look at two versions here:

SOEKS 01M Plus Generation 2 Geiger Counter Radiation Detector Dosimeter (NEW Model replaces SOEKS 01M)

GCA-07W Professional Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detection Monitor with Digital Meter and External Wand Probe – NRC Certification Ready- 0.001 mR/hr Resolution — 1000 mR/hr Range

There are less expensive options, including this app that works with your phone. Its  low cost makes it attractive for people living or working in areas of moderate risk, or for people who want a backup unit to carry on the road.. . .

Smart Geiger Nuclear Radiation Gamma X-ray Personal Detector Counter Tester Sensor for Smartphone Apple iPhone 4 4s 5 5s 6 iPad, Android Phone Samsung Galaxy S3 S4 S5 S6 Note 3 Lg G G2 G3 G App

 

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Survival Vocab Quiz

Thursday, July 7th, 2016
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Survival VocabularyOK, so you’re in good shape when it comes to preparedness.

But can you talk to people about preparedness using THEIR words?

Here are three quick quizzes for three different groups. See how you do!

Group One: Your Prepper Relatives

While you may not be a red-hot survivalist, you probably have a few in the family. Maintain your dignity by knowing these prepper acronyms:

  1. EDC – Every day carry – collection of essential, small items that the survivalist has at all times in a pocket or purse.
  2. ATV – All-terrain-vehicle – A three or four-wheeled “buggy” that can carry preppers to safety through the woods or over the hills, when roads are impassible or too dangerous.
  3. BOB – Bug-Out-Bag – What you need to have ready to grab and go and that will keep you alive for at least 72 hours. At a minimum it contains shelter, water, and food.
  4. OTG – Off the grid – Surviving without access to electricity, municipal water, grocery stores, etc. Usually, it means setting up alternative living arrangements in an isolated area where you won’t be bothered by people who haven’t prepared in advance.
  5. SHTF – Shit Hits The Fan – All your preparations are made so that you will survive when the SHTF.

Group Two: Your Emergency Response Team Volunteers

These folks are committed and concerned. You owe it to them to provide good leadership by knowing what you’re taking about.

  1. CERT – Community Emergency Response Team member – Someone who has taken the (free) 24 hour course designed by FEMA (see DHS, below), offered by a city or other local organization. CERT members are volunteers who have received training in basic disaster response skills and who agree to provide emergency care until professionals arrive, and then support those professionals as needed.
  2. DHS – Department of Homeland Security – DHS was established in 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies into one cabinet-level agency that now has 240,000 employees. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is part of DHS.
  3. EMT – Emergency Medical Technicians — EMTs are trained to provide emergency medical care before a person arrives at a hospital. EMTs may be associated with an ambulance company or a fire department; they may have different levels of training depending on their state or employer.
  4. SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – “The way we do things.” If you don’t have an SOP for your team, then you can’t expect any given outcome.
  5. Triage — Triage is the first step in an emergency. It is the process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for medical treatment. Triage, by definition means that as a volunteer you don’t stop to help the first injured person you see.

Group Three: Co-workers

People at work deserve a plan for emergencies. If you’re involved, here are formal and informal terms you should be using:

  1. OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA is part of the Department of Labor. For our purposes, it is important to realize that OSHA’s purpose is to “provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards.” Generally, this does NOT require any sort of emergency preparedness plan.
  2. BC/DR Plan – Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Plan — These terms are often used interchangeably but they both contain an approach to (1) preparing for emergencies, (2) taking action to limit damage before anything happens, (3) understanding how to get through the disaster when it does it, and then, (4) how to get back to BAU (see below).
  3. BIA – Business Impact Analysis – This is the first step to a Disaster Recovery plan. It’s a process that will identify and evaluate the potential effects of a disaster, accident or emergency on your critical business operations. The BIA will help set priorities for your planning.
  4. BAU – Business As Usual — After an emergency, BAU is what you want to get to. However, it’s possible that today in your workplace, if changes aren’t made right away, your current BAU will lead to a worse disaster than was necessary!
  5. SOW – Statement of Work — If your organization decides to hire a consultant to help in developing your BC or DR Plan, you’ll likely ask for, or actually provide yourself as part of the consulting contract, a statement of work that outlines exactly what is to be done.

Ok, had enough?! Here are a couple of suggestions to make this exercise valuable for a bigger audience.

  • Action Item #1: Consider printing out these definitions for your emergency response team members. Go over them out loud at a training meeting so everyone knows how they sound and can say them easily. Some of this will be new to some of your members, I can guarantee it!
  • Action Item #2: At work, share this list with co-workers or with your boss. If emergency preparedness and emergency planning are relatively new subjects, people will get a sense of confidence having been exposed to this vocab.

Let us know how you used the list!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And one last acronym I just can’t resist putting in here: TEOTWAWKI:

If you’ve spent time on survival websites, you’ll know that this stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. TEOTWAWKI usually assumes a BIG disaster – total economic collapse, cosmic event, pandemic, etc. I don’t know how the acronym is pronounced, if it even can be pronounced!

P.P.S. More preparedness vocabulary for people who like this sort of thing:

 

 

 

 

 

Abandoned in a disaster?

Thursday, June 30th, 2016
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Helping people with disabilities.

This is my 5th year of writing weekly Advisories, and my 15th year of participating in my local neighborhood emergency response team. During that time I’ve attempted to address the challenges of helping people with disabilities during a disaster.

Not suitable for wheelchair usersThe first time the subject came up was after Katrina, when we heard the horrific stories of people left behind in their nursing home to drown. Then, after Hurricane Sandy, stories came out about people trapped in their high-rise apartments when the power – and thus the elevators – were out for days and days.

Most recently, I received an email from a reader asking if I had any advice for her newly-formed Emergency Team, particularly on how to plan to help neighbors suffering from dementia.

So for the past couple of months I’ve been reaching out again for resources.

Let me warn you – I have not found much!

But let me share what I have found, and invite you to comment or to incorporate some of this into your own local planning. I’m posing these as questions you can ask in your own community.

1 – Should we maintain a Registry of people with special needs?

Several online articles mentioned efforts to build lists of people who might need special help in an emergency. I found references to what looks to be a robust registry in Santa Clarita, California, and the Calgary Police (Canada) started a new such registry in 2015. However, other registries that I attempted to research have gone out of business!

I even posed a question online in a special LinkedIn group, and over two dozen people were kind enough to respond. The consensus: many people with disabilities do not want to be on any list – mostly because they don’t trust that their information will be kept private.

Check your local community for what’s available and confirm that it is secure.

2 – Does our city have special plans for First Responders when dealing with people with disabilities?

We have a great relationship with our City’s Office of Emergency Management, so we invited the head to speak to our group. One of the questions we posed was this one. His answer, “We do not have special plans because we don’t know exactly what will be needed.”

Since this answer wasn’t exactly satisfactory, I have dug deeper into training that is available for First Responders. In fact, there are resources available online, for free, that would be useful for First Responders and for ALL of us. We will be building them into our regular trainings starting in September.

Some simple and sensible guidelines:

  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s abilities or disabilities in an emergency situation. Ask.
  • Everybody will be disoriented in an emergency, so expect a range of emotional response.
  • Treat people with respect. Somebody who can’t see isn’t necessarily deaf or stupid. Be patient.

Tips for First RespondersTwo resources I found most useful:

Tips for First Responders from the University of New Mexico. You can get a pdf that lists tips for dealing with 12 different situations: seniors, people with service animals, people with autism, etc.  The online link: http://cdd.unm.edu/dhpd/tips/tipsenglish.html

A set of training videos for First Responders comes from the Nisonger Center at Ohio State University. I found them thorough but long. This is the YouTube link:  https://youtu.be/VRa3oU09XIE?list=PLjdWYCi9CWHblC5668uTXiMoTHNEdyUaw

3 – What should people with disabilities do when it comes to emergency planning?

There is really only one good answer. If you have special needs, you are in the best position to plan for your own safety.

It’s up to you to build your own personal support network. Members of your network can be relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers. You need more than just one person; you need people you can trust to check on you and people who know your capabilities and needs.

As part of my research I received many great referrals, but one document that appealed to me particularly comes from FEMA and the American Red Cross. Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs is a brochure with a lot of basic information, but in my estimation, it’s the “Complete a Personal Assessment” section that is most valuable We will be using this assessment list with ALL our members..

Action Item: Get this Assessment; it starts on page 3 of the booklet: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/897

I have no doubt that we will be revisiting this topic many times. If you have a recommendation for EmergencyPlanGuide.org readers, please share it in the comments below.

Here’s to a better chance of survival for your entire community!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

I’ll be publishing excerpts from the materials mentioned in this Advisory. Don’t miss them. Sign up to get all our Advisories below.

 

 

 

 

 

Assessing Threats to Your Business

Thursday, June 16th, 2016
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“What could possibly go wrong?”

Storm with lighteningWhen asked that question about their business . . .

Most people think first about natural disasters.

Here in California, everyone is concerned about earthquakes or (some years) El Niño. Along the coasts, popular threats are hurricanes and, occasionally, tsunamis. That leaves tornados and storms for the rest of the country.

Would you believe that initially, most people overlook the most common natural disaster?!

According to the experts, the most common natural disaster – accounting for about 30% of all disasters in the U.S. — is flood!

But let’s take a broader look at threats.

What about threats that are man-made?

This list will be a lot longer. Here are some more threats to business (or to any community), in no particular order:

  • Unplanned IT and communications outages
  • Cyber attack
  • Data breach or loss (accidental or deliberate from disgruntled employee; loss of mobile device)
  • Power outage
  • Water main break
  • Fire
  • Security breach (including theft)
  • Health emergency (chemical leak or spill)
  • Safety problem (accident, train wreck, explosion)
  • Terrorist act
  • Regulatory change
  • Lawsuit: personal injury, employment practice
  • Loss of key personnel
  • Civil unrest (might depend on your neighbors and/or neighborhood)
  • Supply chain interruption
  • and the list goes on!

 

STEP ONE. What threats does YOUR business face?

One of the first steps in preparing for emergencies in your business or community is to take a look at the threats you are facing. The easiest way is to gather together key people and simply brainstorm, writing down everything you can think of.

For example, your list could start by looking like this:

List of threats

STEP TWO. What’s the likelihood of the threat actually happening?

The next step in your analysis is to rate all the threats you’ve come up with as to their probability of taking place. An easy way to do that is simply give each threat a score from 1-5.

  1. = rare
  2. = unlikely
  3. = possible
  4. = probable
  5. = almost certain

Here’s our sample list with the threats rated.

Probablethreats

 

STEP THREE. What would be the impact of the threat?

There’s a second side to every threat, too. That’s the impact that it would have on your business. For example, some common threats (for example, a break in a water line) might be serious but would probably not threaten the health of the whole organization.

Other threats, like a direct hit from a tornado, might completely destroy the business.

So your threat analysis needs to consider impact.  Again, one way to help direct your preparedness efforts is to add a second score to your list of threats.

The impact score could also be 1 – 5, from lowest to highest impact. For example . . .

Threat probability

STEP FOUR. So which threats do we need to look at first?

By completing the list, you can get an idea of the priorities for your preparedness efforts. Here’s our sample, completed:

Create the total score by adding probability and impact.

Business threat

The higher the total score, the more attention you probably want to place on preparing for that event.

Caution: Danger of Threat Analysis Paralysis

Analyzing your threats can become complicated. In fact, in the wrong hands it can get WAY too complicated!

You don’t have to do it the way this report suggests.

But it IS important to get past that first quick assumption about natural disasters, and take a look at the other threats facing your business. The risks associated with the threats might be reduced by better procedures, better insurance coverage, or simply more awareness.

Completing even a simplified risk analysis will give you a more realistic picture of what could happen and how to protect and prepare for it.

Joe and Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are serious about analyzing the risks to your business, consider purchasing this book. It has a significant security focus, but defines all types of threats and lays out a process to help you make decisions regarding mitigation.  Threat Assessment and Risk Analysis: An Applied Approach. The book is available in hardcover or soft at Amazon, where we’re affiliates, as you know.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay Safe in Hotels

Thursday, June 9th, 2016
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Summer may find you traveling to new places, and staying in new hotels.

Hotels have their own risks

. . . worth noting and being aware of.

Smoke in hotelFire:

High-rise hotels (or any high-rise building, for that matter) are vulnerable to fire. The causes? malfunctions in electrical equipment, carelessness, smoking (in bedrooms), temporary decorations for festivities, use of combustible cleaning materials, and, of course, arson and sabotage.

In a hotel, fire danger is increased because guests, people attending conferences, patrons at restaurants and bars, etc. probably don’t know the layout of the property and have no idea about security or emergency policies.

Terrorism:

Particularly in developing countries, hotels have become the popular target for terrorists. There are a number of reasons why.

  • Over the past couple of decades, embassies and military buildings have been “hardened” against attack.
  • Hotels remain areas where many people come and go, where entrance to the building is seldom restricted, and where politicians and other high-profile individuals are likely to be found.
  • Even when security is improved, by definition a hotel is a “soft target.”

If you are traveling and can make a choice about which hotel to stay in and where in the hotel to sleep or conduct your business, you may wish to consider these recommendations, culled from a variety of sources including the Stratfor Weekly, National Fire Protection Association, and Siemens Switzerland Ltd.

What to do to reduce the risks

Before you arrive

  1. Find out about hotel security. Is parking secured? Is the desk manned 24 hrs. a day?
  2. Ask about smoke/fire alarms and sprinkler systems. There is no guarantee that they will work, but if they are absent altogether, you may wish to look for another hotel.
  3. Choose a room between the 3rd and 5th floor, where terrorists can’t easily reach you from the street and fire department ladders can reach if you need to evacuate.
  4. Choose a room away from the street to avoid an explosion or violence at the entrance, which is where most terrorist activity occurs.
  5. On your floor, confirm the location of fire extinguishers. Have they been certified?
  6. Check on emergency stairs, exits and signage. Confirm that there are no items stored in stairwells.
  7. Keep emergency items next to your bed: shoes, a flashlight, and a smoke hood if you carry one. See below for more details.

If there is a fire in the hotel

  1. Grab your smoke hood and be ready to put it on if you smell smoke.
  2. Escape from your room if you can safely.
  3. Stay low and use walls as a guide.
  4. Use stairs; do NOT use elevators.
  5. Do not enter a staircase or hallway if it is filled with smoke. Try to find another path.
  6. If you must, stay in your room. Protect against smoke by sealing the door with duct tape and/or wet towels; stay low to the floor.

If you suspect terrorist activity

  1. Escape from the hotel if you can.
  2. If you are trapped in your room, protect yourself. Lock the door. Use a door wedge. If you can do it quietly, move furniture in front of the door for further protection. Turn off the lights. Turn off the TV and silence your cell phone. Close the drapes to protect from explosions that might create broken glass, and stay away from the windows. YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE THE ROOM APPEAR EMPTY so terrorists will go on to an easier target.
  3. If terrorists are evident, and you cannot escape and cannot hide, you must fight. Improvise weapons with whatever is at hand – a lamp, a piece of furniture, a hot iron, a full water bottle, a battery charger at the end of a cord or in a sock, etc. In this case, your SURVIVAL MINDSET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEAPONS. Fight, and don’t stop.

Emergency items for travelers

In this article we’ve mentioned just a few items that are recommended for travel safety. We haven’t used all of them ourselves, but it they make sense to you, check them out.

Door wedge

You may have a couple of these in the house already! Simple, small, easy to pack. Very effective at keeping any door closed — and you can get a couple of them for less than $10. Here’s an example from Amazon:

Shepherd Hardware 9132 Rubber Door Wedges, Brown, 2-Pack

If you’re traveling by car, you can also consider carrying a sliding glass door security bar. We always have one for peace of mind when we stay in hotels with balconies. Cost is right around $20. Here’s a link to a good one (no photo – I figured you know what a bar looks like!):

Master Lock 265DCCSEN Dual-Function Security Bar

 

Smoke hood

Rather like a gas mask, a smoke hood goes over your head and seals tightly to protect you from inhaling smoke. A filter allows you to breathe. Smoke hoods cost anywhere from $25 to $150 or even twice that, so you’ll want to shop carefully.

The filters in smoke hoods screen out particulate matter, fumes and gases. Unfortunately, the most deadly gas, carbon monoxide, can’t be filtered out. But carbon monoxide can be converted to carbon dioxide. Look for this feature in the smoke hoods you’re considering.

Other features to consider: How big is the hood — will it go over eyeglasses? Will it fit a small child? How good is visibility? Can others see you in the smoke? How long will protection last?

Here are three different models from Amazon, for comparison. Look at the photos (provided by the sellers) to answer some of the questions above. Click on the links to go directly to the detailed product page.

1 – FIREMASK

FIREMASK Emergency Escape Hood Oxygen Mask Smoke Mask Gas Mask Respirator for Industrial and Urban Survival – Protects for 60 Min Against Fire, Gas, & Smoke Inhalation . Great for Home, Office, Truck, High Rise Buildings. Get Peace of Mind 

Firemask

Firemask claims 60 minutes effectiveness. Of course, it is one-time use, replaced if you need to use it. Its Polycarbonate visor looks to provide good visibility.

Easy to put on, fits children as young as 3. Amazon low cost (as of today), $28.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 – SAFESCAPE

Safescape ASE60A Fire Escape Smoke Hood Respirator Hard Case with Glow in the Dark Side Straps and Labels

safescape

From the photos and reviews, it looks as though the hood on the Safescape is bigger and perhaps more heat resistant than other hoods. The hard case can be mounted in a strategic place, and the glow in the dark strips would make it easy to find.  Any hard case might make packing a smoke hood more difficult.

60 Minutes of breathable filtered air. Easy to put on without special instruction.

Five year shelf life – Free Replacement if used in documented emergency.

Amazon price today: $69.95. Note that there is also a less expensive Safescape 30-minute hood.

 

3 – iEVAC

iEvac® the only American Certified Smoke/Fire Hood

ievac

This is most expensive and heaviest of the three hoods here. Notice the reflective tape top and sides, which will stand out in smoke and darkness.

This hood is the only “certified” hood. It gets top reviews and carries some strong endorsements:

  • Designated as an Anti-terrorism technology by the US Department of Homeland Security Safety Act
  • Tested by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center
  • Currently being used by numerous Federal, State and local Government Agencies including every branch of the Military

The iEvac costs $149.95 at Amazon (and more in other places).

 

 

Of course, you can’t avoid every potential danger when you’re traveling. But some simple, common sense preparations may make your trip a lot more comfortable and safer.

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you actually live full-time in a highrise building, you may want to take a much closer look at what would happen if a fire broke out. Here’s an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory with more ideas.

 

Lies Your Employer Is Telling You

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016
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Just a month ago we exposed some “lies” about FEMA coming to the rescue in an emergency.

Today it’s the turn of employers, and the lies they tell you and themselves.

The biggest lie?

“In an emergency, we’ll just work from home.”

Work From Home(Ha, ha! When you hear that, do you laugh along with me?)

It’s not that working from home is impossible. Many of us do it, some on a regular basis.

The ridiculous part is thinking that in a disaster you can save the business by working at home without having designed an emergency plan to do it.

Granted, every company is unique. But when it comes to operating by working at home, your company needs to have thought through and come up with answers to some essential questions.

Here are 7 of the issues you’ll want to consider beforehand.

1 – Who makes the decision? Who will decide that there is a disaster and that employees should stay home?

Not every disaster is as dramatic as a hurricane or earthquake. Something as simple as a construction bridge collapse or partial power outage might not make the emergency airwaves, but still could mean your business is shut down. Who makes the call? (And how does the word get out to every employee?)

2 – Who assigns roles? How will employees be notified about the disaster, who should be working from home that day, and who should be planning to take the day off?

And will it be with or without pay?

Not every employee may need or be able to work from home. But to counter concerns about what’s fair, employees need to know in advance what emergency policies are, how they will be activated – and how that will impact their particular job.

3 – What functions need to continue? A company that’s prepared may be able to limp along for some time before it experiences serious damage. Which functions are vital for that interim period?

You’ll only know the answer to this question if you plan ahead. That planning will identify jobs that can be performed by employees working at home and will determine what resources they need to perform them.

Your planning will also identify which jobs need to be able to be performed by more than just one person – i.e., where cross-training is called for.

4 – What resources do we need? Doing research, drafting a report or even responding to business emails or calls may be easy for an employee on the road or working at home.

Other jobs, however – such as customer service, accounting, project management, etc.— may be difficult if not impossible for an employee who doesn’t have full access to company files, the right software and hardware, appropriate communications lines and phones, and a stable internet connection with plenty of bandwidth.

Which employees would need these resources to be able to keep YOUR company afloat? Who will pay to have these resources in place, or put in place?

5 – What security will be required?

It’s relatively easy to control security within your organization. This can include restricting entrance to certain areas of the plant, restricting access to different areas within the company network, restricting what people can download and/or take home with them.

In an emergency, information may need to be accessed or manipulated at many different locations, all of them away from the office. Electronic files may need to be shared; paper files may end up being transported in private vehicles; laptops and tablets may be put to use in coffee shops or who knows where.

What level of security do you need to consider to safeguard your operations (and, perhaps, to meet legal requirements)?

6 – Will employees be accountable? During the regular workday, it’s pretty clear who is working and who is goofing off.

Employees working at home may need to track their own hours and progress, actively check in, and make the decision when to call for assistance or approvals. Understanding employees’ level of self-reliance will determine, in part, whether or not they belong on the “work-at-home emergency response team.”

7 – What about Plan C? While working from home may seem to be a reasonable Plan B, back-up to an anticipated power outage or short-lived storm, by definition a disaster causes “great damage or loss of life.” The “work from home” Plan B may not be adequate!

What if a number of your key employees have had to evacuate their entire families and are not at home at all? What if employees are at home, but power is out there just as it is at the downtown office? What if employees are safe at home but your entire office, and all the files the employees need to connect to, are still standing in 12 inches of floodwater?

Plan C can take different forms.

  • Your Plan C might start, for example, with your committing some key operations and/or data to “the cloud,” which would make them accessible from anywhere by those displaced key employees. I found this overview of how small businesses might use the cloud for disaster recovery, from Network World.
  • It might include a contractual arrangement with a disaster continuity company to replace or restore your flood-damaged equipment within 24 hours. Agility Recovery Solutions, a company we’ve followed and written about for several years, specializes in recovering four areas for small business: office space, power, communications, and computers. (Check out their videos.)
  • Or Plan C might even require a service that is prepared to set up – or continually maintain – an off-site back-up office that mirrors your daily operation (a so-called “hot site”), where key employees could simply walk in and sit right down to work. You can get a good description of hot, warm and cold sites here.

As you may have gathered by now, Plan C could become costly! But . . .

If your Plan C keeps the business going, when otherwise it would collapse . . .

— well, then, you really must consider it.

 

This article is not meant to be a complete program for business continuity planning.

It’s goal is simple — to dispel the “myth” that working from home is an adequate back-up plan.

For most businesses, working from home will be a partial solution at best. Even then, it will require some serious pre-planning.

So don’t let your employer – and if that’s you, don’t let yourself! – be fooled by thinking, “We’ll just work from home.”

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

As they say on TV, “Watch this space.”  We’ll be back with another “lie” very soon! (It you don’t want to miss it, sign up below to get all our Advisories!)

 

 

IEDs — Improvised Explosive Devices — In Your Neighborhood

Thursday, May 19th, 2016
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IED soda cansAs I pulled out into the street today, I noticed a cardboard box on the curb, with trash spilling out of it. It hadn’t been there yesterday.

Suddenly a thought flashed into my head – could this be a bomb?

I drove off and forgot about it until later, when two news reports practically jumped off my computer screen at me.

IEDs in the today’s news.

  • Fox News reported that two brothers in Pennsylvania were arrested for building and detonating multiple IEDs in their own community over winter break from college. (Nobody was injured.)
  • A completely different article mentioned that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School attack in 1999, had built and placed 99 IEDs as part of their plan. (15 students were killed and more than 20 injured.)

Of course, we’re familiar with IEDs in wartime settings. For a few years that seemed to be the biggest part of the news coming from Afghanistan.

But that was elsewhere. This article is about IEDs here in the U.S. and about the importance of “situational awareness.”

If IEDs are so easy to build that kids can do it, we can only assume that more explosions will take place, just like the ones reported on today.

How can we protect ourselves?

We need to know more.

This advisory is meant only as the briefest introduction. We are not explosives experts and, unlike most of the equipment we write about here, we have not personally tested any of the items we may talk about.

The questions we asked today . . .

What is an IED?

The name says it all. An improvised explosive device is not a traditional military weapon. It can be made out of a combination of “found” and conventional materials. An IED has five components: a switch to set it off, an initiator (fuse or blasting cap), the charge or explosive, some sort of power source, typically a battery, and a container to hold it all.

The image at the top of this article includes a couple of regular coke cans and two IEDs – the soda can upper left whose bottom has been punctured and “resealed,”  and the yellow Fanta can with the battery power source and fuse stranding beside it, ready to be inserted (yellow can image thanks to Renful Premier Technologies).

The bomb can be set to go off using a timer, or when it is jostled, driven over or stepped on, remotely by radio frequency, or by a suicide bomber him or herself.

What does the IED do?

It explodes. Depending on the size of the bomb, its blast (with smoke, shrapnel and heat) can spread for 100’s of yards. A bomb aimed at bringing down people can be filled with nails, pellets, rocks, etc. to create more injuries.

Of course, an IED could as easily be filled with “dirty” radioactive material.

How can we recognize an IED?

Not easily. Of course, bomb detection technologies continue to be developed. They include machines – and dogs – that can detect traces of explosives in the air.

But everything I read, including several reports from Homeland Security, says that even security personnel can only look for:

  1. People exhibiting unusual or suspicious behavior (the guys in the airport each wearing just one glove!)
  2. Items where they don’t belong (an abandoned backpack – or that box of trash on the street by my house)

“Soft targets” of course will likely be the most attractive to bombers. These include landmarks, special events (like the Boston Marathon, or sporting events), infrastructure including transportation systems, and malls and parks.

All these are easy to get into, and often people are unfamiliar with the venue and thus will not notice things or people that are out of place.

What can we do?

In 2013 President Obama signed a special report: Countering Improvised Explosive Devices. The only paragraph in it that appeared useful to me was:

“[We must] Improve public awareness of IED threats and corresponding reporting of suspicious activity to local authorities through enhanced information sharing resources;”

So, the number one thing we can do is be alert to our surroundings, and report anything suspicious.

  • If we see something that feels or looks doubtful, has a weird smell, is leaking or dripping — report it immediately to authorities.
  • If we notice someone buying large quantities of what could be bomb-making supplies — chemicals, fertilizers, fuses, tape, peroxide — take note and report. (The Pennsylvania brothers purchased multiple cans of lighter fluid.)

Obviously, if you’re familiar with a given environment, you will be the best person to sense that something is out of the ordinary.

It’s the simple rule that our local police repeat often:

“See something? Say something!”

So, start paying more attention to your environment. Train your kids to get their noses out of their cell phones. This is a case where YOU have the biggest role to play for the safety of all.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I feel there is a lot more to this topic. If you are interested in more details, check out this recent article from Jan Glarum, counter-terrorism consultant and instructor:

http://www.abetteremergency.com/blog/2016/04/ieds-training-impact/

And the report from the Department of Homeland Security, quoted from above:

https://tripwire.dhs.gov/IED/resources/docs/Countering%20Improvised%20Explosive%20Devices.pdf

 

 

 

Emergency Radio Update

Thursday, May 12th, 2016
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Panasonic Emergency Radio

How old do you think this radio is?

Radios — The Most Popular Piece of Emergency Gear

More of our readers “invest” in emergency radios than in any other one piece of emergency equipment. (Makes sense, of course. Without a reliable emergency radio, when disaster hits you could be completely cut off. Without a good emergency radio, you may not even know that a disaster is COMING!)

Because of this interest, we continually comment on what to look for when you’re shopping for a radio. And we regularly update our Best Emergency Radios review page to be sure the radios listed there are still available.

So it’s time for yet another radio update.

Status of our long-time favorite emergency radio

The Ambient Weather Adventurer, original cost around $30, has been our favorite for a while. We own more than one, and many of our readers have them, too. It’s a great radio to tuck into your pack or simply have on the kitchen counter.

Bad news! This model seems to have been discontinued. Here and there online you can find one for sale, but their prices make no sense! I saw one yesterday at $281!

So we aren’t recommending this model anymore. (Maybe you want to try to sell yours for a profit???)

New favorite, the Eton FRX5

Eton makes several different radios, and the brand carries a number of labels including one from the American Red Cross.

The FRX3 costs about $10 more than the original Ambient Weather, and has most of the very same features.

The one we’re recommending today, though, is the Model FRX5.  It costs nearly twice as much, but for that you get double the power, more lighting options, the ability to charge a smart phone, capture localized emergency alerts, etc.

Here’s a link to the radio: Eton FRX5 Hand Crank Emergency Weather Radio with SAME Alerts

And here’s what it looks like:

This is a very compact radio, just over 7 inches tall and a couple of inches wide. It operates on battery, AC, solar and crank. In fact, this radio earned the best score in a recent test measuring how much listen time was created by 2 minutes of cranking. (In this case, something like 10-12 minutes.)

What I like is the SAME Alert feature — stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. You enter in your county and the radio will automatically send alerts for that area.  (Seems to me this would be essential in Tornado Alley of the U.S.!)

When you click the link above, you’ll go directly to Amazon. Scroll down to the bottom of the Amazon page for a full description of this radio, with several more photos.

First time radio purchaser? Get answers to 7 important questions.

If you haven’t yet added a radio to your survival supplies, check out the Eton model above. Just click on the blue link to get started.

If you have NEVER shopped for an emergency radio before, go first to our Best Emergency Radio Reviews page because you’ll find there the 7 questions you need to consider before adding a radio to your pack, or to the survival kit of any of your family members. And you’ll see a number of other radios that we have reviewed and recommend.

The radio we would upgrade to if we were flush

I’ve mentioned before that we have an old Panasonic shortwave radio. (Joe’s had it ever since we’ve been together, and that’s over 33 years now, so its age is something older than that!) That’s the radio in the picture at the top of this page. Joe was changing the batteries, which explains the red ribbons at the bottom.

We have hauled this radio from coast to coast and back again, and Joe loves it.

Yesterday Joe handed me a spec sheet for the radio he would LIKE to have. It’s also available at Amazon, and also made by Eton. As far as I am concerned, it certainly looks a lot like the old Panasonic (!), but . . .Joe assures me that it’s “the ultimate” in radio receivers. It gets AM, FM, Aircraft, Longwave and Shortwave bands, has a rotating antenna plus you can tune-in stations by keying them in or searching for them. You can actually store 1000 stations!

If you’re really serious about emergency radios, check this one out.

Alert – Prices for the SAME RADIO vary considerably. Shop carefully to get the best deal!

Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Ultimate AM/FM Stereo also Receives Shortwave, Longwave and Aircraft Bands – Black (NGSAT750B)

And doesn’t it look a LOT like the Panasonic collector item above?


You need at least one emergency radio, and probably several. The good thing about radios is you can select the features you need (for each use or each person) and not have to buy features you don’t want, and you’ll save by choosing carefully.

Do you already have an emergency radio? Would you recommend it?  Let us know in the comments!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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