Cash Is King in an Emergency

Thursday, July 13th, 2017
Share
Gold coins

Best emergency currency?

Surviving after a serious, wide-spread disaster

We’re not talking “emergency cash fund” here, the 6 months’ worth of savings we’re all supposed to have to carry us through losing our job.

Here, we’re talking about getting up after the storm has hit, shaking ourselves off, and taking stock of how we’re going to get through the next few days or weeks.

In most emergency situations like this, you’ll be at home – or you’ll get there after some effort.

Will I need cash if I’m sheltering in place at home?

If your stock of emergency supplies is complete, you won’t need much cash!

  • You’ll have food and water, even if there’s no easy way to heat it.
  • You’ll have lights, and blankets, and activities to keep you busy if not exactly entertained.
  • Your battery-operated radio will keep you up with the news.

On the other hand, if you’re like half the population, your food and water supplies will be GONE within just a day or so. You’ll join the hordes of people who realize they have already run low or run completely out of . . .

  • Batteries
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Pet food
  • Toilet paper
  • Tampons
  • Diapers
  • Baby Formula
  • ! ! !

Even more upsetting will be running out of prescription pills – the kind with the label: “Don’t stop taking this medicine.”

If you find yourself in this situation, you’re going to try to find a store to replenish your supplies. And to do that, you’ll need cash.

Think about it.  When the electricity is out your credit cards are going to be pretty much useless.  Stores – including your pharmacy or doctor’s office — may not even be open if they don’t have lights, air conditioning, etc. If they are open, they’ll only be able to deal in cash. (Maybe if you’re a particularly good customer they’ll accept your IOU.)

Moreover, to GET to a store that does have supplies, you’ll need gas. In an emergency gas pumps won’t work, so stations will be shut down until they can bring in a generator. Even then, their credit card systems won’t be operating.

Once again, cash will be the likely medium of exchange . . . and you may encounter inflated prices as business owners assess the realities of the situation.

If you’re stuck at home for a while, you may also want to pay people to help you repair damages, clear roads, etc. For sure, these neighbors or contractors won’t be accepting credit cards.

(In a big emergency, people may resort to bartering for supplies and services. The best items for bartering seem to be alcohol, commodities such as flour, rice, coffee, etc., and ammunition.)

What if I have to evacuate?

Escaping impending disaster or a disaster that’s already hit means . . . getting on the road in your car.

This puts us back to the need for gasoline.

If you’re aware of what’s happening, and you’re prepared for immediate action, you may get out ahead of the other people hitting the road.  That might put you first in line at a gas station that still has power and gasoline, and where your credit card will still work.

In the crush, however, you may find yourself competing for gas, for a motel room, even for a place to camp or park – for a week or longer! Again, you’re back to paying for these necessities, and maybe with potential bribes to get you a preferred place in line.

So how much cash do I need?

Obviously, the better prepared you are at home, the less money you need if you’re staying home. And the types of emergencies you might expect (power outage, ice storm, earthquake) will have an impact on the preparations you will have made.

On the other hand, you may live in an area where the likelihood of evacuation is high. (For example, if you live along the coasts where hurricanes threaten, where a tsunami might hit, or where flooding is common.) If so, your evacuation preparations need to be more extensive.

And, of course, ANY of us could be asked to evacuate due to a fire, explosion or other unexpected emergency.

So, the better prepared you are to evacuate QUICKLY (with supplies, maps to help you find alternative routes, etc.), the less money you need, too.

In every case, it seems as though enough to keep you fed and sheltered for a week or so would be a good idea. This could mean at least $500 and probably twice that.

What denominations should I have, and how should I carry them?

When things get frantic, people accepting money are not likely to want to make change. So, having smaller denomination bills is probably best — $5, $10, $20.

You can also assume some people will be ready to take advantage of the situation by demanding your money – or taking it. So, don’t keep it all in one place. Put some in a wallet, some in a pocket, some in the dirty clothes bag. If someone tries to rob you, they may be satisfied when they see that your wallet/pocket is empty and it looks as though you have given them all you have.

If you’re sheltering in place, follow the same suggestions. Stash your money in a variety of places in the house. Avoid the bedroom, night stands or jewelry boxes – places where thieves look first. Take some time to create effective hiding places – just don’t forget where they are!

Hiding money or valuables in plain sight

The best way to hide money in your home is in ordinary places that a casual observer wouldn’t even notice but that aren’t hard for you to get into. Some examples:

If you’re a handy-person,

  • Convert a section of your wall (between the studs) into a storage cabinet. If you have paneling, a removable section won’t show.
  • Set a fake vent into the floor or the wall. Use the space behind for storage. (The space below cabinets is particularly useful.)

If you’re not handy, or are in a hurry,

  • Put a hollowed out book right there on your shelf with the rest of the books. Some “secret storage books” are really a simple metal safe, with keys (probably not fireproof). If you intend to put a weapon in the book, be sure to get a book that is big enough. The image shows an example that would fit nicely in our library. It costs around $12. Click the image for details from Amazon:

  • Buy a camouflaged container, like a fake Clorox bottle or a can of vegetables whose bottom comes off. Here’s a picture of a fake WD-40 can! (around $17). I have several cans of WD-40 around the house so this would be totally unremarkable!)  Again, click the image for more details.

 

Children and money

Obviously, giving children money to carry can be dangerous. Be sure they understand how much they have and how to protect it. Small children who normally manage their own allowance may become vulnerable targets in a widespread emergency.

What about precious metals?

We’ve all heard the investment world talk about the value of precious metals in times of uncertainly.

As an investment, gold and silver can make sense as part of a portfolio. However, as emergency currency, they may not be so effective. Consider:

Who would accept an ounce of gold in return for supplies? Would they be able to make change? How would they (or you!) even establish its value? (Quick quiz. What’s an ounce of gold worth today?  See below for the answer!)

What about a gold coin with the stated value of $1, like in the image at the top of this article? Here, the answer is probably a lot more positive. In fact, some people might prefer the metal to paper. (These coins might also be able to be used in a dispensing machine . . . if you come across one!)

Again, your preparations depend on your own circumstances. But, as always, you want to put the thought into the preparations well before the disaster hits!

Until next time,

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The value of an ounce of gold today, July 14, 2017, is $2,012.  Care to make change for that?

 

 

Tags:

 

Hurricane Headscratchers – A Quiz for Preppers

Friday, June 16th, 2017
Share

Hurricane forming

Over the years, we preppers gather a lot of info about the various threats we face. We prepare our car, pets, and pantry for “the first 72 hours,” for long-term shelter-in-place, and for bugging out.

We assemble and test survival gear, food and first aid items – including snake bite kits, liquid skin and anti-radiation pills.

We do a lot of preparing!

And then along comes a hurricane, and we realize we DON’T know everything, after all!

Hurricane season starts this month. Here are a dozen questions about hurricanes pulled from a variety of “reliable sources.” Test yourself and see how well YOU do!

Let’s start our quiz with the easiest questions.

1-The circular, clear space at the center of the hurricane is called the ___? (Just beginning to form in the image above, from NASA.)

2-At the center of a hurricane, does air rise or fall to create the eye?

3-The cloudy outer edge of the eye is called the ______.

4-T or F —  Winds are highest at the eyewall.

5-Precipitation from a hurricane is greatest

  • At the eyewall
  • At the outer edges of the hurricane
  • When the eyewall hits land

6-T or F Once the eyewall starts to weaken, the storm is dying.

7-Match the storm name with the likely location:

  • Hurricane
  • Typhoon
  • Cyclone
  • ——————
  • NE Pacific Ocean
  • South Pacific and Indian Ocean
  • NW Pacific Ocean

8-All these storms are considered “tropical cyclones.” Tropical because they are formed ______ and cyclones because they _________,

9-In the northern hemisphere, the winds of a cyclone blow in which direction?

10-In the southern hemisphere, in which direction do they blow?

11-For us preppers, the greatest threat from a hurricane comes from:

  • Wind
  • Tornado
  • Storm surge
  • Flash flooding

12-The word “hurricane” comes originally from the _____ language.

How well did you do?  Sure you got everything right? Read on if you aren’t sure about some of your answers!

And the answer is . . .

1-The eye of a hurricane (that we’ve all flown through in movies) can be anywhere from 2 miles in diameter to over 200 miles! It is typically clear and calm – although the water below may be violent.

2-In a mature tropical cyclone, sinking air is what creates the eye.

3-The outer edge of the eye is called, not surprisingly, the eyewall. It’s not exactly a vertical wall. Rather, it expands outward with height – called the “stadium effect.”

4 and 5- The eyewall is where everything is happening – the greatest wind speeds, heaviest rain, and air rising most rapidly. (In 2015, winds from Hurricane Patricia reached 215 mph! A category 5 hurricane has winds of 157 mph or greater.)

6-In a large storm, there are a series of rain band rings that move slowly inward. The eyewall can weaken, but then can be replaced by the next band, giving the storm a new eyewall and new strength.

7-Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic and northeastern Pacific. A Typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific. And a Cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.

8-Tropical storms are “born” in “the tropics,” over warm bodies of water. Their “cyclonic” or rotating winds are a function of the earth’s rotation.

9-Cyclonic winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

10-They blow clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

11-The greatest threat to life comes from the storm surge – water that is pushed ashore by the storm’s winds. Storm surges can reach 25 feet and be hundreds of miles wide. In November 1970 the storm surge from the “Bhola Cyclone” in Bangladesh was estimated to be 20-30 feet high. Between 300,000-500,000 people in the low-lying regions were killed.

13-The Mayan god of wind “Hurakan” became our word Hurricane. One of the first record of hurricanes is found in Mayan hieroglyphics.

Are you a teacher or leader of any sort, and do you . . .

Want more on hurricanes?

The best short, all-purpose article I found is here:  https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/articles/how-do-hurricanes-form  It has several excellent diagrams showing the parts of the hurricane (eye, eyewall, the rain bands, etc.), how the air sinks and rises, etc. It also lists the different storm categories (rated by wind speed).

If you want the full explanation of the storm categories – the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — check here: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

Enough here for cocktail party or dinner table conversation, eh?

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Hurricane season reaches its height in September. By the time September comes around, if you are in hurricane/cyclone territory, you need to know more than just these tidbits. . .! In particular, be sure you and your group distinguish between hurricane warnings and watches.

 

 

May 31 is Dam Safety Awareness Day

Monday, May 29th, 2017
Share

Who ever heard of this holiday?

Dam Safety Awareness DayMaybe the people who live near the 90,000 or so dams in the United States! (BTW, Texas has more dams than any other state, followed by Kansas . . .)

Most likely to have heard about Dam Safety Awareness Day, however,  are the people who live near the 17% of all dams that are considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as having high-hazard potential!

Apparently the Oroville Dam in northern California, that came so close to collapsing this spring, was not even on that list . . .!

(Personal note. My dad, who among other things was a road-grader operator – “Best damn blade-man west of the Mississippi” – worked on the construction of the Oroville Dam in the 60s.)

The Oroville Dam didn’t collapse, thanks to quick action by its operators. But in the aftermath, it was discovered that its Emergency Action Plan had never been tested in the 50-year-life of the dam. And during that time, population in the area below the dam had doubled and evacuation options had changed. Officials admitted that had the dam actually broken, citizens would not have received a warning quickly enough to be able to get to safety.

What makes a high-hazard dam?

The ASCE defines it this way: “A dam in which failure or mis-operation is expected to result in loss of life and may also cause significant economic losses, including damages to downstream property or critical infrastructure, environmental damage, or disruption of lifeline facilities.”

And, the ASCE gives a grade of D to our dam infrastructure.

What risks do dams face?

Most dams become at risk simply because of age and lack of maintenance. This image from FEMA shows the kinds of weaknesses that appear as an embankment dam ages:

Embankment dam weaknesses

At the Oroville site, the problem wasn’t in the main embankment, but rather a break in the emergency spillway. When water was released to relieve pressure on the main dam, the spillway began to give way, which could have led to the whole thing collapsing.

Too much water behind the Oroville Dam was caused by unexpectedly heavy rain storms. But dam failures are not always caused by storm. Most are caused by settlement and damage from earthquakes, mechanical failures (like gates not working) and poor design (allowing for overtopping and blocking by debris).

So who is keeping track of whether dams are safe?

States regulate the vast majority of dams in the U.S. (about 80%). The Federal government regulates the remaining number.

Regulation is one thing. Actually doing the required maintenance is another. Most states’ safety programs are woefully underfunded and do not have any authority to require maintenance.

Keeping the dams safe is up to dam owners.  And nearly 70% of dams are privately owned.

For example, a homeowners’ association that wants its homes built around a lake will own and operate a dam. A utility may own a lake used for water storage or for electricity production. And, of course, large commercial entities (agricultural, mining, etc.) may build waste holding ponds behind dams.

As more dams are built, as downstream development continues, and as ALL dams age, the number of high-risk dams increases.

Where are these dangerous dams?

I tried to find a map showing dams and danger areas – called Dam Break Inundation Areas. It wasn’t easy!

What I finally discovered is the National Inventory of Dams, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. As a “non-government user” I could get into the database but even after I filtered for my own state, the data wasn’t easy to read. And I never found a map!

I encourage you to check it out yourself: https://nid.usace.army.mil If you have the name of a specific dam, you’ll get info faster.

Another course would be to inquire of your own insurance agent. You may have to shop for a specialist in flood insurance to get specifics for your own location.

Obviously, even if you personally are not in the path of water from a breech, you could be impacted in other ways by the failure of a dam.

Homes and businesses of people you know might be flooded; those people might be displaced. Your personal water supply might be shut off. Water for irrigation, fighting fires, etc. – all might be reduced.  Utilities that depend on hydro power could be affected. Transportation systems could be disrupted.

If we are near a dam, what should we be doing in the way of emergency planning?

1- People: Somebody manages that dam! Find out who, and ask these questions:

  • Who owns the dam? Has it been inspected?
  • Is there an Emergency Action Plan for the dam?
  • When was it last updated?
  • What kinds of warning systems are in place to warn us of danger or potential danger? (Sirens, reverse 911 calls, door-to-door notification?)
  • Are evacuation routes laid out?
  • What about people with disabilities?

2-Political: If you encounter barriers or obfuscation (love that word when it comes to things political!), consider these actions:

  • Urge your state to require a disclosure of whether property for sale is in an inundation zone.
  • Likewise, urge policymakers to require disclosure of dam-related issues to potential owners of dams and property around them.
  • Urge legislators to fund dam safety programs and to provide funding for those programs.

3-Personal: And everyone can add to their own personal emergency plan:

  • An evacuation route to higher ground.
  • How to evacuate family members who need assistance.
  • Practice evacuation route and point out a family meeting place.

Having an evacuation kit packed and ready to go is a given.

Want more info for your family or your group?

FEMA has produced a useful fact sheet (8 pages), available here:

https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1486735320675-8b0597aca8b23c7e2df293310e248bee/NDSPFlashFactSheet2015.pdf

Hope this has added to your knowledge about the (often invisible) world around us!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And the story behind the Dam Safety Awareness Day being on the 31st . . .

One of the worst disasters in U.S. History was the Johnstown flood of 1889, which happened on May 31.

At that time, Johnstown was a thriving community in western Pennsylvania. Nearby, a group of wealthy citizens had restored an old dam and created a private lake for fishing, sailing and ice boating.

In May the area experienced several days of extraordinary rain, and it was feared the dam would collapse. Nothing could be done, however, in part because debris had built up in the spillway, making it impossible to lower the level in the dam. Warnings were issued, but false alarms had been given before, so residents ignored them.

At 4 p.m. on the 31st, the dam was overtopped, and collapsed, sweeping a 20-ft. high wall of trees, railcars and entire houses down the valley toward Johnstown. There, the mass was stopped by a bridge, which became a second barrier, causing the water to back up and cover the whole town. Then, everything burned.

More than 2,200 people died in the Johnstown flood. The entire town was destroyed, and surrounding communities dealt with typhus, smoke, contaminated water supplies and outbreaks of violence.

The private club members and dam owners were able to claim the dam break was “an act of God” and escaped being held liable.

 

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017
Share

Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call

EMERGENCY ALERT!

Just before Christmas we had a fire here in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors heard a “ZAP” as he turned on the overhead light, and noticed smoke curling from the fixture. He ran outside to grab a garden hose, but as he scrabbled around to find it and then opened a sliding porch door to get back into the house, the fire exploded and knocked him right back down the stairs.

Ultimately, the home burned  down. Our neighbor was pulled safely away from the steps by an on-the-ball visitor. And fire engines arrived to protect the houses on either side.

What was our Neighborhood Emergency Response team doing during all this?

One member of our team was the first to call 911. Other members arrived on foot and helped keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. (When the police arrived, the police took over, of course.)

Somewhere along the way, a few phone calls alerted other members of our team, including our group “Commander” (me), whose home is far enough away that this all went on without my even realizing it!

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

Our group has been set up to help people prepare for “widespread emergencies when First Responders are overwhelmed and unable to respond.” Usually, that means preparing for “the big one (earthquake).” In that case, it will likely be hours if not days before our community gets assistance. We’ll need to deal with possible structural damages, roadway blockages, injuries, need for food, etc.

Our group educates and trains for big emergencies. It does not activate for localized, small emergencies, such as a fire or some sort of medical emergency. Those belong to the professionals.

We confirmed that this fire did not officially fall within our charter.

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

At the same time, when any of us hear a loud crash, or hear sirens and see an emergency vehicle pull up down the street, we’re curious and want to help if we can.

Individual members of our group have helped out in situations like this in the past:

  • At an accident in town, one member, first on the scene, parked her car across a lane to keep the victim from being run over.
  • One member alerted a hotel employee to grab his fire extinguisher when she saw flames coming from underneath a bus unloading passengers at the entrance.
  • One member used his “gas sniffer” to reassure a neighbor about a strange smell – and discovered a leak in his own BBQ! (That same gas sniffer operator has identified the smell of marijuana, too. Those are stories for another times . . .!)

The point is, many team members are ready and willing to step up without waiting for a formal group activation command.

When you recognize and safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations, you fit the definition of active bystander. (There is also the “passive bystander,” someone who recognizes a bad situation but takes no action to stop or solve it. That’s not likely to fit anyone reading this Advisory.) In those cases, you’re acting as an individual and not as a CERT or neighborhood group member.

Communicate better for better results.

Part of CERT training is being ready to take charge. In the incidents described above, our individual CERT members made decisions and got other people to follow orders. We’ve often discussed the importance of projecting authority with the help of:

  • Loud, simple verbal commands (“Come to me.”)
  • Appropriate hand signals (“Stop.”)
  • A uniform (vest and/or helmet)

And when appropriate, you’ll want to activate your team.

Verbal commands and an authoritative posture work here, too. And for the group to function best, you need appropriate tools and protocols. After the recent fire, we reviewed our own communication protocols.

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

  1. Use a phone to CALL 911. (Don’t text to 911.)
  2. Use cell phone, landline, email and/or text messaging to alert other members of the team. (Have their numbers programmed into your phone’s memory.)
  3. Switch to hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for efficient, immediate group-wide communications – or if regular phone service is out.
  4. Set up command center to manage a larger network. (Our command center is an officially-recognized HAM radio station with direct contact to the city’s emergency communications system.)

As we’ve described, our local group practices using our hand-held radios with a regularly-schedule monthly drill. Our HAM radio station operators belong to a city-wide group; they practice weekly.

Essential tools and equipment.

This Advisory points to the equipment that every group member needs to have and be familiar with. In particular:

Simple team uniform – a vest.

CERT graduates have their own vests; all our group members who aren’t CERT grads are issued inexpensive vests like this one. (They’re not likely to be worn often, so they don’t need to be top quality.) We encourage our members to carry their vests in the car, assuming their car will be where they are in an emergency.

Ergodyne GloWear 8020HL Non-Certified Reflective High Visibility Vest, One Size, Lime

Personal cell phone.

Everyone has his own phone, with his own provider. However, for emergency team members that phone needs to be able to store numbers. The owner should sign up for local automated alert programs (iAlert).

And the owner needs to know how to send a text! (Some of your members not too sure? Check out this Advisory.)

Hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for team members.

We have reviewed walkie-talkies several times. As with all electronic devices, you can expect changes in what’s available. In any case, you should be able to get a short-range pair of hand-held radios appropriate for your local group for $30-40. Read our review page – it has questions to help you decide just what capabilities you need, and shows several popular models. We particularly like this Uniden model because the buttons clearly show how to change channels and raise and lower volume. Some of the smallest walkie-talkies combine functions on just one button, making it harder to figure out.

Uniden GMR1635-2 22-Channel 16-Mile Range FRS/GMRS Battery Operated Two-Way Radios – Set of 2 – Black

If you’re a candidate for a ham radio (and the licensing that goes along with them), here’s an article about these radios, too, with some info about how they differ from simple hand-held walkie-talkies. Prices vary from $50 to $450, so know what you need before you buy!


BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery

Emergencies happen frequently. Some we can help with, others are handled by First Responders and we have no role. Still, when a real emergency DOES happen, and you are there as witness, being ready to take positive action is something to feel confident about, and proud of.

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The examples in this Advisory are all drawn from our own neighborhood group. They could just as well apply to a workplace group. If you are responsible for emergency preparedness at work, go back and see if your leaders and team members have the essential tools and equipment they need.

 

 

 

Survey Tool for Your Group or Community

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
Share

Preparedness SurveyThis week I came across a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) survey through one of my Google Alerts. (Alerts are a great resource; find out about them here.) The survey is currently being put out to residents in several counties in Washington State.

It turns out that DHS has been conducting similar surveys in different communities since 2001, trying to track trends in preparedness.

And yes, some trends have emerged. For example, the surveys have found that full time employees have the highest level of personal readiness compared with other types of employees. People with children in school also report higher preparedness levels. And, as you might expect, different parts of the country have different levels of preparedness.

Overall, though, American preparedness has not improved markedly since 2001!

We here at Emergency Plan Guide are trying to change that trend!

Can we take advantage of this survey to improve the preparedness in our local groups?

I’m not suggesting that we use it like DHS does. I see some other uses appropriate for your local CERT meeting.

A look at the original survey.

Before I add my comments, here’s (nearly) the whole survey. (I edited it slightly.) Take a look to see what YOU think about it. (It is LONG. Scroll through quickly to get an idea of the scope and format.)

Citizen Expectation Survey (from Homeland Security)

 1. My home is located in the following area

  • ________________

2. My household includes: (Check all that apply)

  • Child (Birth – 5 years)
  • Senior Citizen(s) (65 and over)
  • Disabled Family Member(s)
  • Non-English Speaking Member(s)
  • Household Pet(s)
  • Tribal Member(s) (and Affiliation)

3. What’s your main source of local, state, and national news and information?

  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Newspaper/Magazine
  • Internet
  • Social Media

4. How do you primarily receive your local weather forecast information?

  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Newspaper/Magazine
  • Internet
  • Social Media

5. What is the best way of delivering severe weather or disaster news and updates to you?

  • All Hazards Weather Radio
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Television
  • E-mail
  • Phone Call
  • Text message
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Other Social Media

6. Does your family have a Family Emergency Plan?

  • Yes
  • No

7. Does your Family Emergency Plan include: (Check all that apply)

  • I do not have a Family Emergency Plan
  • My plan includes how to contact each other in the event we were separated during a disaster (phone, text, e-mail addresses)
  • My plan includes an out-of-state family contact person for when all local communications are down
  • My plan includes a specific meeting place in the event my family is separated
  • My plan includes how and where to evacuate to in the event we must abandon our home during a disaster
  • Other

8. Does your or your child’s school have an Emergency Plan for disaster?

  • I have no children
  • I have no children who attend school
  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

9. Does your workplace have an Emergency Plan for disaster?

  • I am not currently employed
  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

10. Do you and all other members of your family, including your pets have a GO KIT, Get Away Bag or similar item? (Check all that apply)

  • Myself
  • Each family member
  • My pet
  • We have none
  • I do not know what a GO KIT or Get Away Bag is

11. I am aware of the risk and hazard to all local disasters, such as, earthquake, tsunami, severe weather, flooding, tornado and wildfire.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure
  • I have no risk or hazard to any of these disaster events

12. I expect an Earthquake to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

13. I expect a Tsunami to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

14. I expect Flooding to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

15. If a disaster is threatening, my expectation is, I will receive warning and instructions from the following: (Check all that apply)

  • Local City Government
  • Local County Government
  • Tribal Government
  • State Government
  • Federal Government
  • ALL Hazard Alert Weather Radio
  • National Weather Service
  • Local Emergency Management
  • Local Law Enforcement
  • Local Fire Department
  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • All Hazard Alert Broadcast Siren (AHAB Warning Siren)
  • FEMA

16. If a disaster situation was imminent, would you evacuate your home if warned to do so by official authorities?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

17. If you had a 10 hour advance warning of the need to evacuate your home, how long would you expect it to take, to prepare and leave your home, once you receive the initial evacuation warning?

  • I would not evacuate
  • Under an hour
  • 1-2 hours
  • 2-4 hours
  • 4-6 hours
  • Longer

18. If you were to evacuate following a warning given by local authorities, would you bring your pet(s) with you?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure
  • I have no pets – I would evacuate
  • I have no pets – I would not evacuate

19. If you were to evacuate following an order given by local authorities, where would you most likely go?

  • I would not leave my home
  • I would stay with family/friends in my County
  • I would stay with family/friends in an area other than my County
  • I would stay in a hotel/motel in my County
  • I would stay in a hotel/motel in an area other than my County
  • If none of the above, explain where you would go.

20. What modes of transportation are available to you in the event you have to evacuate from your home? (Check all that apply)

  • I have no available transportation
  • Private automobile
  • Public transportation
  • Bicycle
  • I would rely on friends or family
  • Other (please specify)

21. I expect emergency response agencies to assist me if I must evacuate my home.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

22. If my County were impacted by a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, I expect Federal and State Response Agencies, including FEMA and the Red Cross, to respond within:

  • 12 hours
  • 24 hours
  • 2 days
  • 3 days
  • 4 days
  • Longer than 4 days

23. If my County were impacted by a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, I expect Local, City and County Response Agencies to respond within:

  • 12 hours
  • 24 hours
  • 2 days
  • 3 days
  • 4 days
  • Longer than 4 days

24. In a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, who would you seek out to obtain food or shelter assistance?

  • School
  • City Hall
  • Local Fire Department
  • Local Police Department
  • Church
  • Hospital
  • Unsure
  • Other
  • If other, please specify here

25. Have you signed up for the Emergency Alert and Notification System in your county?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I do not know if we have an Alert and Notification System in my county.

26. Do you have a NOAA All Hazards “Alert” Weather Radio?

  • Yes
  • No

27. Which news headline would likely interest you enough to read the associated article?

  • A Huge Winter Storm is Approaching With Winds Exceeding 150 mph and a Large Storm Surge.
  • We’re Awaiting One of the Most Extraordinary, Mind Boggling, Meteorologic Marvels, Never Before Witnessed by any Earthbound Creature.
  • Neither Headline Would Interest Me Enough to Continue Reading the Article.

28. Please indicate if you would like more information on any of the following:

  • Evacuation
  • Disabled/Functional Needs Disaster Preparedness
  • Livestock Preparedness/Evacuation
  • Pet Preparedness/Evacuation
  • Family Preparedness
  • Business Preparedness
  • School Disaster Preparedness
  • My Local County Emergency Management
  • Disaster Mitigation
  • Disaster Response
  • Disaster Recovery
  • FEMA/Flood Programs
  • Evacuation Routes/Shelters
  • Communications
  • Earthquake
  • Tsunami
  • Severe Weather
  • Disaster Volunteer Organizations
  • My Local County Emergency Notification System

29. Do you have suggestions, comments, questions or constructive criticism? Please write your comments or concerns here. (If you desire a reply, please leave your name, email, and phone number).

How to use the survey as training material. 

I’m usually an enthusiastic survey taker (or interview giver), but this survey is so long that even I felt like abandoning it halfway through.

Therefore, my first idea would be to divide the survey up into several sections or themes and use each one as part of, or the main focus of, a group meeting. For example:

  • Ask group members to complete a section of the survey themselves, and then use that section for discussion.
  • Assign sections of the survey to sub-groups and have them prepare background material or collect samples to share with the others.
  • Create still another version of the survey for neighbors who aren’t yet part of the group. You wouldn’t collect the surveys, but would design them as “eye-openers” for your neighbors!

Family Needs – Questions 1 – 5

Every family is different. Poll the group to detect commonalities. Share resources, such as the best TV channels for weather news, etc. What particular challenges would you have associated with children, older people, people not speaking English, etc.? What actions can your group take to help meet some of these challenges?

Individual Family Plans – Questions 6 – 9

If your group is not likely to have plans, whether family or work related, perhaps you can focus on providing step-by-step instructions on what should be included. At Emergency Plan Guide, we devote about half our Advisories to one facet or another of planning! Here’s a recent article on building a Family Plan and a one-pager for increasing workplace preparedness.

Building a Go Bag – Question 10

Provide people with a list; call a meeting that focuses on “show and tell” using one of the leaders’ bags. At work, make copies of “What to take with you” and distribute them. Check out our new custom survival kit workbook for families, too — it works for all families and can be an excellent benefit for employees.

Likely Threats – Questions 11 – 14.

We’ve had good luck getting experts to train us on different natural and man-made threats. YouTube has great resources, too. Stick with the threats that are most likely; no need to overwhelm everyone with EVERY possible threat! People will have their own amazing stories to share!

Warnings and Evacuation – Questions 15 – 26

Traditionally, about half the people, when asked, say they will NOT evacuate! Be sure people understand how and when to evacuate, and the fact that once they’re out, they can’t come back. Don’t forget to discuss how people with disabilities will be assisted to evacuate, and how to handle pets and large animals. In particular, note how long it might take for “authorities” to show up with help. (Check with your local Red Cross.) “Evacuation Realities” would be a popular topic to attract all kinds of visitors to a group meeting.

As for the “warnings,” you can help people know what to expect locally, show them how to sign up for local alert apps, and see if you can arrange for the purchase of NOAA Weather Radios.

Not sure I’d include – Questions 27 – 29

Caution: You may find some of these questions ask for information that you consider “too personal” to share openly. Feel free to remove or adjust those questions. In any case, be sure to discuss with your group the importance of privacy and how to maintain it.

Training is an ongoing challenge. (That’s why I pulled together my book on CERT Meeting Ideas.)

Finding already-developed materials like this survey is a boon to CERT group leaders. While this particular survey wasn’t designed for groups, it can certainly work as a refresher, as a discussion starter, or even as an agenda for several separate meetings.

Let us know if and how you find it useful!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

How many terrorists are there, anyway?

Friday, February 17th, 2017
Share

Earlier this week we attended a special

CERT update presentation on Terrorism.

Terrorist with pistolThe meeting was sponsored by our police department and given by an expert with military and law enforcement experience.

As always, it was good to see some of our CERT colleagues and to renew that feeling of being a part of a committed and capable group. (We have over 2,000 grads in our community!)

As it turned out, much of what was presented is information we have already reported on here at Emergency Plan Guide. Check out the list of Advisories at the end of this article — remembering that some of them were written as early as 2013 and thus are dated.

Anyway, after our training at the City, and prompted by news headlines about terrorists that we’ve seen on pretty much a weekly basis, I decided to dig a deeper into the issue.

My first question was,

How many terrorist attacks have we experienced here in the U.S.?

After several hours of research, my answer is:

There’s no good answer to that question!

Statistics on terrorism were difficult to find and even harder to interpret. Let me go through the challenges that I faced in trying to answer what I though was a pretty simple question.

Challenge #1. “What’s your definition of terrorist?”

As you might expect (!), different people define terrorist differently.

Dictionary definitions of terrorism seem to include three elements: “using force, particularly against civilians, to achieve a political goal.” (Typically, “state-sponsored terrorism” is not included in the basic definition.)

OK, but other terrorist terms popped up, too.

For example, in the U.S., the FBI has the job of combating terrorism. On their website I found that they track or otherwise deal with two different categories of terrorists. “Known terrorists” have been convicted or are known to belong to a terrorist organization. “Suspected terrorists” are people likely to engage in terrorist activities.

(“Terrorist organizations” is yet another aspect of this study. The list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is maintained, interestingly enough, not by the FBI but by the Department of State. https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm.

And I could find NO formal list of Domestic Terrorist Organizations, but Wikipedia has a good start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_terrorism_in_the_United_States)

And we have all heard of the FBI’s “watchlist” that they use to track terrorists.

But I did NOT know that people cannot be put on that list solely because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation or because they are exercising First Amendment-protected rights – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc. There has to be a link to actual or potential terrorist activity – that is, back to the concept of “violence or force.”

You can find out more about the FBI and its watchlist here: https://www.fbi.gov/about/leadership-and-structure/national-security-branch/tsc.

Whew. More work than I really expected to have to do. But while we’re on words, I have to include “extremist” and “radical,” too. Both these words show up, right along with “terrorist.”

Further research suggests that extremists and radicals share and support ideas that are “far from what most people think is correct or reasonable.” It’s only when we add the concept of violent and forceful action that these believers shift over to becoming terrorists.

So what’s the point of all this word play?

Terrorist, extremist, radical, domestic, foreign . . .

It’s this: Having extreme beliefs doesn’t make you a terrorist or a criminal. Forcefully and violently ACTING on those beliefs can.

So, before I could even attempt to answer my initial question, I found I had to first define my terms!

Challenge # 2. What are the parameters of the source you are using?

There are more than a dozen lists online of recent and not-so-recent terrorist activity. Every single one is different. Why? It has to do with the parameters of the study.

And nowhere did I find those parameter clearly stated!

For example, I had to look for . . .

  • Period covered. Online lists of terrorist activity cover very different periods of time – leading to different conclusions. For example, one oft-quoted and very long-term study (starting in the 1970s and ending in 2008) shows a preponderance of terrorist activity perpetrated by Jewish Underground organizations – groups which by today have become essentially inactive. Recent studies, covering the U.S. only since 2000, omit important acts like the Oklahoma City Bombing and Columbine. Timing matters.
  • Current activities. Most studies online are not up to date. The most up-to-date list I found is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lists_of_terrorist_incidents_by_year
    As of February 15, 2017, the Wiki list shows 63 attacks for this month alone – none in the U.S.
  • Obvious bias. Again, as you can imagine, different authors are attempting to make a particular point. To pick up bias, first it helps to check the author of the study (Individual? Organization, Agency?) What about the use of particular jargon or “code” that reveals a particular point of view? (Religious bias seems to come through pretty strongly.)

With all this in mind, then ask yourself:

Challenge #3. What are YOU trying to prove?

If your goal, for example, is to focus on terrorist activities perpetrated by refugees (a popular topic these days), then be sure you set out your own clear parameters.

For example, if you were looking for statistics about terrorist activities perpetrated by refugees, you might look for refugees who . . .

  • Came from a particular part of the world
  • Arrived during a certain time period
  • Adhere to a particular religion
  • Attacked a certain target
  • Used a particular weapon
  • Etc.

As it turns out, for the purposes of this Advisory I found NO statistics on “refugee terrorists!”

I plan to continue with this topic, because at our meeting we learned some more about how police respond to terrorist activities, and what YOU can do to evade or avoid getting caught. But, that’s for another day.

Meanwhile, if I find myself hearing “statistics” about ANY of these subjects — terrorists, radicals, extremists, refugees — I know I’ll be a whole lot more cautious in trusting them.

Oh, and my research also came up with some terrific quotes about statistics, and I leave you with this one from William T. Watt (Professor of English, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania)

“Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Some earlier Advisories with good background info:

Again, some of these were written as early as 2013, so keep that in mind as you read the stats!

 

What To Do When You Discover a Gas Line Leak

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
Share

(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
Share

(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.

 

 

Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Share

(Part One of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

An often-overlooked threat

Pipeline brochures

Toss as junk mail???

The word “disaster” usually makes people think about natural disasters like tornado, flood, or earthquake.  You’ve probably already talked in your group about how to prepare for these specific events.

Unless we’re reminded by notices from our local utility — Image at left shows a couple of brochures I’ve received recently — we may never even think about the gas lines that run under or near our homes or places of business.

But . . .

A gas line break can be deadly.

When a leak erupts in an explosion or fire, it’s dramatic and dangerous. Surely you remember these three big ones:

  • In 2010 an explosion in an underground gas main followed by a massive fire destroyed over 50 homes and killed 8 people in a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. Alleged Cause: stressed system with inadequate maintenance.
  • In March 2015, two people were killed and four injured when a gas explosion in a Brooklyn, New York restaurant reduced the building to rubble and damaged neighboring businesses. Cause: leak from illegal pipe siphoning gas from restaurant to apartments above.
  • In October of 2015, the Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered north of Los Angeles. The leak was from a well within an underground storage facility – the second-largest gas storage facility of its kind in the United States. Over 97,000 tons of methane escaped in the 5 months before the well was capped; no one was killed but hundreds of people were displaced complaining of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds. Lawsuits continue. Cause: failure of equipment at 60-year-old facility.

Have you or your group asked:

Where are the lines around you?

Finding out where the gas lines run in your neighborhood will take some effort.

In the years that we’ve been studying our own community we have run up against resistance from a number of sources. As can be expected, cities and gas line operators are concerned about sabotage and/or terrorist activities so they protect the details of their systems.

However, a good emergency response group wants to understand its community’s risks, and so perseveres . . .!

Three places to start your research.

1-The National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) is an online map provided by the Department of Transportation. As a member of the public you can search by your State and COUNTY to get an idea of where gas transmission and hazardous gas pipelines are located.

I say “get an idea” because the public viewer is good only to +/- 500 ft.  (If you are actually going to dig, then you need to contact your local pipeline operator – or call 811 – to find out exactly where the pipes are.)

Here’s the link to the map (“Public Map Viewer”):  https://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/Default.aspx

2-Your local gas company

Here in California we have two of the largest public utilities in the country, and our local utility provides a map showing transmission and distribution lines. Once again, the authors of the map stress that the maps are accurate only to +/- 500 ft. Still, we can easily identify the “hazardous liquid” line running along the railroad tracks very near our home.

My research on other utility companies shows that there is no consistency. Many of the websites simply refer readers to the National Pipeline Mapping System.

3-Your local pipeline operator

The pipeline operator is not necessarily the same as the utility.

Keep your eye open for pipeline signs. They are not required, nor are they necessarily placed in the same way every time. What they seem to have in common is the gold color.

The round warning sign will tell you who the pipeline operator is. (You’ll see a round sign on the brochure in the image above, too.) Write down the name and emergency phone number. You may be able to get further information about that particular pipeline and what it carries from the operator.

Kinder/Morgan is the largest pipeline operator in the country, transporting nearly 40% of all piped natural gas, refined petroleum products, crude oil, carbon dioxide (CO2) and more. I found this map at their website. It shows their biggest pipes.

Kinder/Morgan PipelinesThe point of all this is that with some digging (bad joke!) you can discover a lot about where pipelines are located in your community.

How we got information about our own community.

This Advisory is meant to give you an idea of where to start. Different members of our neighborhood emergency response group took on different tasks in researching our gas pipelines.

  • I tracked down online maps like the ones shown in this Advisory.
  • One member hiked along the railroad tracks and photographed a construction project showing the size and exact location of gas lines.
  • One member went to city hall to get the original construction drawings for our community. These drawings showed not only the location but also the size of the various pipes in the network, plus shut-off valves.
  • As a group we queried the management of our community regarding make-up and maintenance of our local system.
  • Our group invited the fire department, the police department and our local utility to special meetings on gas safety. (You will not be surprised to learn that they don’t always agree on where the lines are, what information to share or how to respond in an emergency!)

OK, so we know where the pipelines are and what they are carrying.

Now, how to prevent an explosion or fire?

Gas is leaking from all these systems all the time! Most of the time the gas that escapes isn’t even noticed (except by the atmosphere, of course, since methane – the main component of natural gas – is 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than CO2.)

But any time there’s a leak, there’s a potential for explosion or fire.

In our next Advisory we’ll share what we have learned about recognizing a leak when you see, hear or smell one, and what to do when you find one.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

How to Light a Flare

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
Share

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
Share

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.”  (!)

 

 

Battery Failure Ruins Flashlight

Thursday, November 10th, 2016
Share

We Test More Batteries

If you’ve been following our blog entries you know that over two years ago we ran some tests on our Emergency Response Team’s battery purchases and the batteries’ life expectancy.

Battery failure

Recent failure of one battery ruined the entire flashlight

What we found was that performance between Duracell and EverReady batteries was pretty much equal, and both outperformed their private label versions sold through the big box stores (Costco & Sam’s Club).

The one dramatic difference was a higher failure rate (i.e. leakage and corrosive damage to our radios, flashlights and other tools that we relied on) for the Duracell batteries than for the EverReady batteries.

It’s important to note here that our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team typically has close to sixty active volunteers. We issue each team member a radio (FRS/GMRS) and a flashlight. We run active monthly drills with the radios and recommend that members check their batteries regularly and change them twice annually. The result is that we spend almost $1,400.00 annually on AA, AAA, C & D batteries and replacement radios, flashlights and other devices.

Batteries Die and Fail

While most batteries simply die and are unable to produce sufficient voltage or current to power the devices, we experience a 15% (+) failure due leakage and corrosion. We are able to “repair” about half of the radios using baking soda & water paste applied with Q-tips to dissolve the corrosion confined to the battery compartments. Flashlights are usually a total loss.

You can easily see an example of corrosion on the black flashlight in the photo. It takes a sharper eye to spot the point of failure of the Premium AAA Duracell battery. The arrow points to the cavity where the casing failed at the bottom (negative pole), under the silver strip.

We Switch to Premium Batteries

Lately we have been using only the premium Duracells (red/gold, 10-yr guaranteed shelf life) since the EverReady batteries are no longer available through Sam’s Club (where we used to find the best price). Our hope was that by purchasing the higher-priced premium Duracells, we would experience a longer life and a reduced failure rate. So far we have no evidence that this will indeed be the case and, to date, the failure rate seems to be about the same as the regular Duracells.

As of this week we are stocking up on additional EverReady, Amazon, Ikea and Orchard Supply Hardware batteries to measure longevity. We will share our methodology and results in a future post.

And, while the comparison on battery failure rate will take longer to measure, the results will be more anecdotal since the sample size of our tests will be smaller and subject to individual team members’ actual usage and care patterns. We will share our experience in this regard as well with the caveat that it’s not possible to completely separate individual user habits from the failure rate experience.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you’re asking yourself why we don’t use rechargeable batteries, that’s a good question. But we think the answer makes sense. It’s this: We’ll only be using these radios and flashlights in a real emergency – most likely, after a major earthquake. We expect all power to be out for an extended period, days if not weeks. As soon as our rechargeables are dead (and they don’t last as long as disposables, anyway), we’ll be stuck. We don’t want that to happen! (Yes, we DO have some solar chargers. That’s a topic for another Advisory!)

P.P.S. If you are interested in the results of our planned test, be sure to sign up below to get our weekly Advisories.

Gift That Will Save a Life

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
Share

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.

 

 

Why are you a prepper?

Thursday, September 15th, 2016
Share

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!

 

 

Buy Batteries On Sale

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Share

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.

 


 

 

Survival Vocab Quiz

Thursday, July 7th, 2016
Share

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:

 

 

 

 

 

Then The Knot Slipped . . .

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
Share

As simple as it seems, being able to use and tie the right knot can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

This week we hear from an EmergencyPlanGuide.org reader about a recent CERT training class he led.

A SKILL WORTH KNOWING — by Sparky Wilson

CERT members practice knot tying

CERT members practice knot tying

Many skills learned by Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers can come together to make a huge difference in the success of a disaster response. The Lee County, North Carolina CERT actively studies and practices those things we learned in the CERT Basic Course:  individual preparedness, basic first aid, light search and rescue, light fire suppression, disaster psychology, CERT organization, effective radio communications, etc.  Those are all very important; but, there’s one important skill we have neglected until now – knot tying.

WHY KNOT?

Well, learning how to tie knots can save lives.  We all know that anyone can tie a knot; but, that is not the solution.  Knowing how to tie the right knot for the specific need is the solution.  There are dozens of different knots with hundreds of uses and all knots are not good for all purposes.

We began our knot tying efforts by studying different knots to determine those our team members would find most useful in an emergency.  As an added benefit we are finding that these same knots can make life a little easier around the house.

CERT VOLUNTEERS TIE KNOTS?

It is critical that we stay within the CERT scope of work.  We will never be first responders trained in the use of ropes and knots and that’s okay.  Staying within the CERT scope of work we feel that there are emergency situations where with the use of a few simple knots CERT volunteers can help their neighbors in trouble until the professionals arrive.

None of us want to think about a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flooding, or any other major disaster hitting our neighborhood.  Unfortunately, hope is not a method and not preparing for likely disasters just won’t work.

Assume for a minute that a disaster hits your neighborhood – homes are damaged, residents are hurt, communications are down and you can’t reach the professional responders for help. So what can do you do?  You can activate your CERT team and start your response efforts.

Your search and rescue team deploys and discovers victims – some trapped under heavy objects.  You start extricating trapped victims and look for loose items overhead and around the scene that can possibly fall on to your team and/or the victim.

  • Can you secure these items with rope and knots to keep them from falling while you extricate the victim?
  • Can you fashion the right knot on the end of a rope and toss it to the victim allowing rescuers to stay safe and accomplish the mission?
  • What is the best knot to use?
  • Do you know how to tie a Bowline or a Figure Eight Loop?
Two knots for CERT training

Good for rescue loops at the end of a rope – the Bowline and Figure 8 Loop

You’ve extricated the victims and you set out to move them to the Medical Treatment Area.  You quickly discover that the roads are blocked with fallen trees and debris.

  • What knot should you use to move fallen limbs and logs?
  • Do you know how to tie a Timber Hitch knot? (The far right-hand photo at the top of this page.)

LEARNING TO TIE KNOTS ADDS TO OUR PREPAREDNESS SKILL SET

We built Knot Tying Stations and held our first training class on the use of knots in June.  Our team members were oriented on how and when to tie ten useful knots that can save lives.  Our “hands-on” training included tying and learning the best uses for the following knots:  Overhand, Figure Eight knot and Loop, Square, Sheet Bend and Double Sheet Bend, Round Turn with Half Hitches, Clove Hitch, Timber Hitch, and the King of all Knots, the Bowline.  As a memory jogger, every team member was issued a two page instruction sheet that pictures and describes how to tie each of these knots and when to use the most important knots.  These instruction sheets are to be carried in our CERT backpacks.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Sailors, rock climbers, firemen, and boy scouts will tell you that tying a knot is one thing, but tying it properly is another. Our team members are no longer strangers to a few good knots.  We will master these knots by incorporating additional knot tying sessions into future training plans.  After all, practice makes perfect.

Sparky Wilson, CERT leader

 

Sincere thanks to our guest author, Sparky Wilson! He is a retired Army Colonel living in Carolina Trace, NC. In 2006 Sparky started a local CERT group and over two hundred volunteers have completed the CERT Basic Course since then. 

 

 

 

Do you have a volunteer group story to share? I’d love to feature you in one of our Advisories — just drop me a line and let me know! In the meanwhile, don’t let summer lull you into complacency. Preparedness is a year-round exercise!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are intrigued by rope tying, or have experienced first hand just how effective a few good knots can be and want to learn more, take the time to study both how to tie the knots and understand their weaknesses. Some knots slip if not under constant pressure. Some can tangle if they are under too much pressure. Select the right rope and the right knot for the job and this is a skill you’ll appreciate on a regular basis, not just when there’s an emergency.

 

Guest Speaker Sparks New Interest

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
Share

Our neighborhood Emergency Response Group meets pretty much monthly, but when we go for weeks and months without a fire, or an earthquake, or even a downpour, sometimes it’s hard to keep up members’ enthusiasm.

Last month’s meeting “hit the spot” with a guest speaker.

Training sessionWe invited the new head of our city’s Office of Energy Management. And since he is new to the job, we provided him with . . .

Some questions to start the discussion.

Here are his answers, with a few comments from me. You might be able to use these same questions for your own group, or for your own guest speaker representing an official position. In any case, even if it takes some research, your neighborhood group members should know the answers.

Q: What kinds of emergencies does the City prepare for?

A: Our City’s Emergency Plan lists 9 threats — natural, man-made and what we call “technological incidents.” It’s not just earthquakes; we could be hit by an airplane crash, a chemical spill, a wildfire . . . you name it.

Q: Who’s in charge?

A: When the City activates its EOC (Emergency Operations Center), which is part of the Police Department, all directions come from there. The EOC coordinates local, city, county, and even state and federal resources when necessary.

Q: How often is the EOC activated?

A: It wasn’t activated at all in 2015, which was unusual. In prior years it’s been activated for a major power outage and also for a big manhunt.  Training takes place regularly, though. We train using table-top exercises, functional exercises (testing one particular function, like evacuation or communication) and full-scale exercises.

Q: In an emergency, how will we residents know what to do?

A: If all communications are out, expect a delay before you hear from us. But you have a better chance of getting the news if you have a landline (for reverse 911 calls), an emergency radio (channel 1640), and have access to social media via the internet.  Both the City and the County have smart phone apps, too, that send out automated alerts and news.

Q: Should we turn off our gas if there’s an earthquake?

A: Use your nose as a sniffer! If you smell gas, contact the property manager or 911. In the case of multiple leaks, trained residents can turn off the gas to the whole neighborhood – but then you will ALL be without gas for days. In an earthquake, if there are multiple gas leaks, the real danger is fire, so do NOT start your car or otherwise cause a spark!

Q: What about evacuating?

A: Don’t go anywhere unless you’re told to by authorities.  Our City has a number of evacuation centers and depending on the emergency we will choose which ones to use. We also have vans filled with supplies stationed throughout the City. The Red Cross has a goal of having an emergency shelter set up within 2 hours, but in a large-scale emergency that goal is not likely to be met.

It will take a while to organize everything – so be sure you have what you need to take care of yourself at home. (Note from Virginia: In our neighborhood, the plan is Shelter-in-Place for as long as it takes. We will be better off in our own beds and with our own things if at all possible.)

Q: How long a wait should we plan for?

A: We ask that you have supplies for AT LEAST 3 DAYS. Enough for 7 days would be better. That means water, food, medicines, flashlights, warm clothing, etc., for you and your pet.  We recommend a gallon of water a day per person. (Virginia: We recommend 10 days to 2 weeks’ worth of supplies as being more realistic.)

Q: What about people with special needs?

A: Our city makes no particular plans for special members of the community because we can’t anticipate what will happen. If you are on oxygen, register with your oxygen company so you will be on their list. In a big emergency, it’s your neighbors who will be most able to help right away. Make friends! (Virginia: This answer wasn’t satisfactory. Watch for more in an upcoming Advisory.)

Q: What role does the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team play?

A: The City has free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, and a number of people here have had that training. CERT graduates will have an idea  — and the SAME idea —of how to respond in an emergency: how to check on neighbors, assess damage, and manage communications. If you have taken the training, you will be safer yourself, and be able to step up to help.

(Virginia adds: Because our neighborhood team has its own ham radio station, it can listen in to emergency communications and actually report in on conditions here. Most neighborhoods won’t be able to do that.)

Q: How will we know what to report?

A: It all depends on having Block Captains who know their neighbors and know how to use their walkie-talkies to report in. You will always need more members of the team because you don’t know who will be here when an emergency hits.

Q: How do we find out more about CERT?

A: Contact the City.

Q: How do we find out more about our local group?

A: Contact your group leader to find out more.

At this point, we took over the meeting.

We passed out maps of our neighborhood, showing the Divisions, with the names and phone numbers of the Division Leaders. We introduced the Division Leaders. Our guest from the Police Department handed out some lists of emergency supplies and some brochures with general safety tips.

Then we adjourned to cookies and punch.

As follow up to the meeting we will publish notes similar to this Advisory, and contact some people who seemed interested in CERT training. (Unfortunately, our City’s classes are full for the next few months.)

A new face, even with the same message, helps a lot to keep up the momentum of your preparedness efforts. Who can you get to speak to YOUR group?

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

CERT Meeting IdeasP.S. If you have taken on the responsibility of planning meetings for your local group, you may want to take a look at the collection of CERT Meeting Ideas we put together last year. It has over 20 proven ideas with agendas, timing, materials needed, etc.

And stay tuned to Emergency Plan Guide, because we share our experiences — great and not-so-great — on a regular basis right here.

 

Building a Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Team

Monday, December 7th, 2015
Share

Yes, it’s fun to pull together survival kits for yourself and family members. For some of us, getting more and better survival gear turns out to be a sort of addiction! (A healthy addiction, we believe.) And creating family plans is satisfying, even though they require constant updating.

But once your immediate household is organized, what then?

Neighbors needing helpWhen the emergency hits, are your neighbors going to be knocking on your door, looking for help?

They may. And you may not want or be able to help them.

The only way to solve this problem is to encourage neighbors and co-workers to be as prepared as you are!

We have devoted a lot of our time over the past 12 years to helping our neighbors get prepared, trained and organized.  If you’ve been reading our Advisories, you know about some of what we’ve done.

Now we’re adding one more piece to the puzzle.

So, a new section is appearing on Emergency Plan Guide.

On our website, we’re starting a whole new section on building a neighborhood group. You’re getting in on the start of it!

  1. Step One is to pull together all our original material on team-building that we’ve created for Emergency Plan Guide readers. That list starts at the bottom of this post.
  2. Step Two will be to reach out to other organizations around the U.S. for their best ideas. In fact, many of our blog posts already link to others’ stories and skills.
  3. Step Three is to solicit specific input for Emergency Plan Guide readers. You can help here by referring us to people or sources you know, or by suggesting a topic you’d like to know more about. We’ll track down and share the best info we can find!

Let’s start with resources for those people who have already made the commitment to starting or building a neighborhood group.

We assume that as the leader, you will have found a way to get formal CERT training for yourself.  Not all members of your team may get training, but you need the framework and vocabulary of CERT so that your group can work effectively together and with local first responder teams.

So to start with Step One . . .

. . .here is a list of some original material from the Emergency Plan Guide collection. Most of this is ready for download as is, with the first couple of handbooks available for purchase.  We hope you’ll find what you need for YOUR group!

Comprehensive training manuals

  • Survival Series — The whole process of starting and maintaining a neighborhood group, from soup to nuts! Customized for the kind of neighborhood you live in, whether urban, suburban, or a closed community. $15 for immediate download. Click the link for full details.
  • CERT Meeting Ideas — A collection of meeting ideas, with a list of what you’ll need, how best to schedule the activities, what to watch out for, etc. $10 for immediate download. Get more details by clicking the link.

Stand-alone subjects for training or discussion

  • NEW! How to Recruit Volunteers — We just pulled this together.  Download your copy now!
  • How to Hold a Great Meeting — Event-planning basics that you’re probably familiar with, but that can help others on your team get up to speed.
  • Finding Leaders — Every member of your team needs to be able to step up to lead. After all, when the emergency hits, you can’t be sure who will be on hand.
  • Active Shooter Event — Worth a discussion, particularly given recent developments here and abroad.
  • For more, just click on NEIGHBORHOOD in the category listing in the sidebar to the right.

Possible group investments

More to come!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Top Survival Resources: Five Popular Stories and Subjects

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
Share

Top Survival TrendsAfter 15 years of training and writing about disaster preparedness, and with well over 250 articles under my belt, I discover that some topics keep coming up again and again – in the news media, in questions people ask, and on the various internet sites and in specialty magazines that report on “survival trends.”

Thanks to Google Analytics, we can track which articles are most often viewed on our site, too – and they reflect these same topics.

Here are . . .

Five of the most popular topics on EmergencyPlanGuide.org

with links that will take you immediately to more information on our site, and in many cases to outside resources including government and special industry sites.

Are you in the mainstream? Are these among YOUR favorite subjects? Check them out!

 

1. Emergency Radios and Radio Communications

If there is one topic that stands out, this is it.  In fact, radios and radio communications are twice as popular as anything else we report on!

A radio for your personal survival kit.

Are you ready to buy an emergency radio for yourself or a family member?  Check out our Updated Reviews of Emergency Radios with comments about solar, hand-crank, etc. Most of the radios we discuss are found on Amazon, where prices are as good as they get, and buyer comments are very helpful in selecting the best fit for your needs.

Two-way radio communications for groups.

Interested in how to use radios effectively for your group, whether it’s your family or a neighborhood response team? Then you need a way to not only listen, but also to speak.

We have used many different models, and review walkie-talkies here.  EmergencyPlanGuide.org also has a number of Advisories on walkie-talkie use:

If you are serious about building a neighborhood group, each of the books in our Survival Series has a complete discussion and a diagram showing one way to use radio communications, how to assign channels for your different divisions and specialty teams, etc.

2. Emergency/Survival Kits

We know that some people simply don’t have time to actually build their own kit, so we start with a review of Popular Ready-Made Kits to be found on Amazon.  The purpose of the review is not to recommend any one kit in particular, but to highlight different things to look for as you shop. (Again, please be aware that if you buy something from Amazon through one of our links, we may receive a commission from Amazon. The commission does not influence the price you pay.)

Because every person and family is unique, we recommend strongly that you Build Your Own Basic Kit, and we have written a booklet to guide you through the various decisions that need to be made.  Once you have the basic kit, add items that fit your climate, your skill and your interest level.

We have also discovered that most people continue to improve their kit by adding specialty items. Some of the most interesting additions:

 

3. Special Preparations for City Dwellers

Much of the “prepper” literature deals with developing skills that allow you to survive by living off the land. For urban or suburban dwellers, particularly people living in apartments or condos, these survival skills need to be adjusted to the realities of the city.

Some of our popular articles on these special situations:

 

4. Emergency Water Supplies

We probably spend more of our time on water than on anything else (even though, as reported above, website visitors seem to prefer reading about radios!). How to store water for an emergency, where to find more water when the emergency hits, and how to protect yourself from contaminated water – these are ongoing challenges that need to be overcome if we are to survive.

A few of the most comprehensive articles focused on water:

 

 

And finally, one topic unique to EmergencyPlanGuide.org  . . .

5. Counting on Neighbors  for Survival

We know that the first people to be there to help in an emergency are the people already there – the neighbor at home next door, or the co-worker at the next desk or in the next room.

With that being the case, we think that the more we all know, the better chance we’ll all have to survive, at least until professional help arrives.

We also know that professional help – police and fire – will be overwhelmed in the aftermath of a widespread disaster, so it may be hours or even days before they do arrive. A strong neighborhood team, ready to take action, just seems to make great sense.

Our 15-year commitment to neighborhood emergency preparedness has been focused primarily on building a neighborhood response team. It has been a labor of love – and yes, a LOT of labor!

The website has many stories about what it’s taken to build the group. You can find many of these stories by heading to the site and simply typing “CERT” into the search box!

We have even compiled much of this information into two in-depth resources:

 

I hope you’ll find this list helpful, and a reminder of areas in your own planning that may not be as secure as you’d like. Also, if you would like to see more on any aspect of emergency preparedness or disaster recovery, please just let me know!

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

We mean it! Let us know in the comments what topics YOU like to read more about!

 

What drives you to join CERT?

Monday, July 27th, 2015
Share

A Thank You Is Due!

I think I know why people become survivalists: paranoia, healthy skepticism, sturdy pioneering genes. But what makes people JOIN IN WITH NEIGHBORS to prepare for emergencies?

After all, willingness to prepare to help others is really quite different from preparing to protect yourself.

So a couple of weeks ago I started a campaign to find out. I sent out a broadcast message to all the people on my Emergency Plan Guide list, and posted an inquiry on one of my groups at LinkedIn:

“What drives you to join CERT?”

I want to thank all the people who responded! And for those who saw the message but didn’t respond, I thought it would be worthwhile to share

CERTSome of the answers I got.

Here are the themes that came through. Perhaps you’ll discover some that describe why YOU are interested and active.

1. Driven/shocked into action by news coverage

One person wrote that when he saw what happened after Hurricane Katrina hit, he could no longer stand by and watch another disaster go down. Joining CERT seemed the best way he could offer up his assistance. I’ve heard the same thoughts expressed by people who watched Hurricane Sandy come  . . .and stay and stay.

2. Living the volunteer lifestyle

I heard from California, New Jersey and Virginia about people taking CERT training and continuing their support for CERT as part of a lifelong commitment to volunteerism. Every one of these people volunteers in other areas of their lives, too. And as one reader put it, “Those who give back are almost always the Good people in town.”

3. Looking for camaraderie

The teamwork that characterizes many CERT activities is missing in a lot of lives these days. Ex-military, ex-boy scout, retired sales manager — once you’ve experienced the satisfaction of leading and being part of a team, it holds a powerful attraction. CERT fits the leadership/teamwork bill.

4. Fear of not knowing what to do

Outsiders tend to link CERT only with natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. What we discover is that CERT training tends to make people aware of how to respond to a whole range of emergencies:  flooded streets, active shooter events, household fires, natural gas leaks, after-disaster psychological trauma, you name it. And if you have a particular concern, you can bring it up and get unofficial advice, for sure.

5. CERT as a requirement

I heard from one person that CERT was required for a particular Boy Scouts of America certification, and from another person that his employer told him to get certified. Works for me!  (Once you have the training, you aren’t going to forget it!)

6. Attracted by the gear

CERT trainees come out of the course with some basic stuff: a bag, helmet, flashlight, vest, goggles, dust mask. Most graduates immediately begin to add to their kit: better flashlight, a multi-tool, a helmet lamp. The ultimate, of course, is having a radio. While official CERT teams are assigned radios for events, even neighborhood groups (like ours) set up entire radio networks with FRS/GMRS radios (walkie-talkies). Some people love becoming experts with the technology!

7. Make the community a better/safer place

Only some people realize that the REAL first responders are your neighbors. These people want to spread more knowledge, more awareness and more “empowerment” as a way to improve the community. (I didn’t get a scientific response, but what I did get on this topic came from young people and older people, not from “people in the middle.” Does this mean anything?)

Did you find your reason in this list?

Or are you committed to preparing for another reason altogether? Let me know!

My goal is to use this valuable information to reach more people in my own community – and perhaps you can use it to reach out to your neighbors, too. The more we can share good ideas, the safer we all will be.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

When Seconds Count — Emergency Preparedness Videos

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
Share

Do you know what to do in each of these situations?

Last Wednesday was the regular meeting for our local Neighborhood Emergency Response Team volunteers. Lately members have asked for “more training” on a variety of threats – threats we don’t normally spend much time on here in Southern California.

So we decided to devote this meeting to some dangers that most people in the room had heard of but probably never faced.

In fact, before the program, we took a poll of the people in the room. Not one person had ever encountered killer bees. No one had landed in a canal or river in their car, although two of them had temporarily lost control of a car in flooding water on city streets. And only three people had ever actually used a fire extinguisher to put out a fire.

Emergency Preparedness VideosKeeping CERT Training Interesting With a “Movie Night”

The meeting went well! We had searched carefully on YouTube for short (4-5 minute) videos. Before showing each one, we prompted people to watch for a particular scene or to note the answer to a pertinent question.

Here are three of the videos we used for the program, along with the questions for each.

“Where is the nearest fire extinguisher to the room we are in right now?” “ Where’s the next nearest one?” “ Do you know if they have been recently checked?”  (We were in a large meeting room that had an extinguisher on the back wall. Only one person had already noted its location! No one knew where any other extinguisher was located.)

This particular video is aimed at employees in a work setting but applies just as well to residents of a home.

“Where are killer bees in the U.S.?” “Are there any where we live?” (I was prepared for this question and had downloaded an interactive graph that shows how bees have spread in the U.S. since 1990. Here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Killerbees_ani.gif )

“Are we located in an area likely to flood?” (Consider the Red River’s recent flooding in Louisiana!) “What about electric car windows?” “How do you break a window?” (One of our volunteers had a spring-loaded window breaker on his key chain, just like the one demonstrated in the video. You can see one here and get it in time for your own upcoming meeting: resqme The Original Keychain Car Escape Tool, Made in USA (Black) (Use it as a door prize — always popular! Or get several and share the fun.)

CERT As Entertainment?

One of the LinkedIn groups that I follow has been debating the necessity of sticking to CERT training as laid out by FEMA. Obviously, a meeting such as the one described here is not covered in the official training materials.

However, in my experience, there’s a difference between training for dedicated CERT graduates and awareness training for ordinary citizens.

Of course, those of us who are CERT graduates attend the follow-up trainings put on by our city. (Next week it’s a Light Search and Rescue refresher.)

But as a Neighborhood Emergency Response leader I am committed to my entire community. So we do what we can to attract all people and engage them in emergency preparedness activities.

Our Movie Night was one of those efforts.

Would something like this work for YOUR group? Try it, and let me know!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you haven’t yet heard, I pulled together over two dozen different meeting planning ideas for use by community leaders. You can get more info and order a copy at http://emergencyplanguide.org/CERT-meeting-ideas/

 

 

Good Radio Communications Key to Successful CERT Operations

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
Share

Walkie-Talkie Update!

If you’ve been following us here on the Emergency Plan Guide you know that we place communications at the top of the priority list. Without a well-designed Communications Plan and reliable, easy to operate hand-held radios (walkie-talkies), you simply don’t have a fully-functional team. Over the past three years we have reviewed and recommended several models, depending on your geography and the models available.

Sample Communications Plan

Sample Communications Plan showing Channels

In our case we have six Divisions, each with 60 homes each. Each Division operates on a channel that corresponds to the number of their Division (1 through 6) and Division Leaders communicate with Incident Command on Channel Seven. Special Teams each have dedicated channels (9-22). The image at left shows how we’ve laid out our plan for each Division.

We No Longer Recommend the Compact Motorola FV150 Radios.

One of our favorites, the low-cost (under $10 ea. In packs of two) Motorola FV150 is no longer readily available, and the cost has gone up. We bought dozens of these at nearby Target stores and ordered them from Amazon with free shipping. We favored this compact model because it was both low cost and low power . . . which meant that it was ideal for apartment, condominium and manufactured home campuses where residents were close together and line-of-sight was the dominant terrain.

High power wasn’t necessary for our Block Captains and, in fact, was a detriment in that interference from nearby users could interrupt emergency broadcasts.

However, these units did have one major flaw that became apparent with use. They presented something of a challenge for senior citizens who weren’t raised on Mario Brothers or other digital distractions. Operation of these units was simply too complex for many people.

We Also No Longer Recommend the Cobra CXT425C.

We favored this model specifically because it was higher power, albeit more costly ($16 ea.) than the Motorola. We issued these to our Division Leaders because they communicate across the campus with the Incident Command Center and Special Teams, such as Search & Rescue, Logistics and Damage Control, etc. (These units come with rechargeable batteries that will likely be a useless convenience in case of an extended power outage. We use regular AAA batteries and supply extras to all of our 70+ Team Members.)

These Cobra units are ideal for communicating between Divisions and Incident Command and, especially during busy multi-tasking, the Cobras incorporate a privacy convenience. While this extends their versatility, it’s a feature we rarely use.

The problem for us? These models are only sporadically available through Amazon at this price and, when they are, it recently has required a bulk purchase of several in order to get them. While they are available elsewhere, the price is higher and the added shipping makes the purchase unnecessarily expensive. Fortunately, we have found an alternative that serves both purposes.

The Uniden 16-Mile 22 Channel Rechargable FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio Pair – Black (GMR1636-2C) is Both Compact and Easy to Operate and Has The Same Long Range as the Cobra.

We are, in fact, in the process of replacing all of our Block Captain’s Motorolas with these and issuing them instead of the Cobras for our Division Leaders and Special Teams Members. At less than $30 for a set of two, they are well within our budget and we recommend them for your team as well. These are actually an upgrade from the earlier version, but the only difference of any real consequence is that they come with rechargeable batteries and a dual plug charger.

Our first round of purchases were limited (by Amazon) to a maximum of 18 units. Our most recent purchase was not restricted in any way, so it may just have been a supply/demand situation.

As mentioned previously, we operate all of our radios with regular AAA batteries. Unfortunately, one of our local sources has discontinued sale of their Energizer line in favor of the new red-topped Duracells. While we have just begun testing these new Duracells, our experience with the Coppertops was not as good as the Energizers. While they both go bad if left in the units for extended periods, the Duracells seemed to corrode more often and at a higher rate than the Energizers. The corrosion usually destroys the units.

Hopefully, you find this information valuable. As we have said repeatedly, these radios are the most important purchase you’re likely to make in setting up an operational CERT program.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Interested in learning more about our experiences with walkie-talkies? Take a look at these pages on our site:

 

 

 

Recognition and Positive Reinforcement for Your CERT Group

Sunday, March 1st, 2015
Share

Yay for us!

Our public relations coup.

Over the past two weeks, our neighborhood Emergency Response Team has been recognized three times for – well, for being active and being prepared!

CERT group article

Front Page Article!

First, the local police department attended our homeowners’ association meeting and presented us with the “First Annual Community Preparedness Award!” Picture of 30+ team members in their vests appeared on the PD’s Facebook page.

Then, a week later, the local newspaper came out with a front page photo and article, “They’re Ready to Respond.” The sidebar included a comprehensive list of “how to prepare.”

The same photo and slightly different article appeared in the regional issue of the paper four days later.

So, in our local community, we are now famous. And besides the positive public relations, we’ve helped spread the message about preparedness. Feels good, and our group is energized!

After all, everybody wants to be appreciated.

Of course, we don’t always have the chance to get our local press out for photos. Still, there are a lot of easy and inexpensive ways to keep up morale. Here are some we’ve used in the past and will be using again. Can you add a few of these to your own list?

Some ideas for ongoing recognition

  1. Include thanks at every meeting. I have a line on my written meeting agenda to fill in with the name of at least one person who helped behind the scenes to put that meeting together: refreshments, name tags, audio-visual, whatever.
  2. Feature a member in a newsletter article or in a meeting invitation. A Smartphone makes it so easy to get a picture of one of your members. Then, add a short paragraph whenever you’re publishing something. Just call it, “Get to know your Emergency Response Team neighbor” and add a few details. People love seeing their picture!
  3. Give all members official nametags. Invest a few dollars in clip-on badges so regular group members will have that bit of added “status.” (Visitors get plain stick-on paper name tags.)
  4. Hand-written thank-you cards. Taking the time to thank someone in “the old-fashioned way” still really works. You can write a note for a specific action that a member took, or offer thanks for steadfast support of the group.
  5. Ask for opinions and help. People like to be valued! It may seem easier just to do it yourself, particularly if you are extremely busy, but involving a sub-group or team may actually take some of the burden off you – and give your team members a dose of personal satisfaction.
  6. Present a small gift to one of your members who has shown particular initiative. The gift should reflect your emergency mission – something like a whistle, or a small flashlight, or even a package of “emergency rations” might be appropriate.
  7. Create a “traveling award” to be presented to the sub-group that excels at a particular task. For example, it could be the Division that signs up the most new members, or that has the best participation in the monthly radio drill. The next month, the award is passed along to new recipients – or kept, if deserved!

Oh, and back to that newspaper article. The reporter knew nothing about emergency preparedness, but thanks to careful reporting and good writing, her article was really well received.

Have you considered pitching the story of your group to a local reporter? The result may surprise you!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I’d like to double the list of “ways to recognize team members.” What can you add?

 

 

Neighborhood CERT Supports Fire Department Training

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
Share

At Christmas, some of my neighbors bake cookies and deliver them to the local fire station. They are duly thanked. But last month, our fire department showed their appreciation in a whole different way.

They used our streets and houses for training!

Getting familiar with our community

Non-standard fire hydrant

Non-standard hydrant

First Responders always have to get used to our community. It has narrow streets and smaller-than-regulation fire hydrants, not to mention an impossible house numbering system.

So last month, when they had a recruit who needed training, they gave us a call.

Could our neighborhood CERT group host a training exercise?

Well, of course we could!

With only two days’ notice, we pulled together a team, sent out a flyer to everyone warning them to stay out of the way, and when the engines pulled in on a Friday morning, we were ready.

  • Our CERT member posted at the gate saw them enter and notified the entire team via hand-held radio.
  • Block by block, turn by turn, we tracked them and reported in.
  • When they arrived at the “subject house,” our team members set up a traffic management system, meant to keep residents’ cars – and residents on foot — from getting tangled up in the hoses.
Traffic hazard

Traffic hazard

Things went well! The recruit passed his test (locating the hydrant, attaching the hoses, pulling hoses around the corner and across the street, etc.). Our traffic management proceeded without incident, and radio communications worked perfectly. (One of our members acted as Net Control, accompanying the Incident Commander in a golf cart.)

At the end of an 90 minutes, the fire department had rolled everything up and were gone.

Then, later that same day, they called to ask if they could come back the following week and do it again!

Benefits of working together

Working with our local fire station crew this way has so many benefits.

First, they learn more about the neighborhood and will obviously be able to respond more quickly and confidently to the next emergency.

Second, they got to see our CERT team in action – and they voiced their admiration for the way we were organized and for the help we gave them.

Finally, we got to know those crew members personally, and they got to know us. Nothing can substitute for this personal connection.

Plans for future training exercises

Now that we have had this experience, we will be inviting other stations to take advantage of our “training facility” when they can.

It’s a way to position our CERT group positively in the eyes of the First Responder community, and it gives us a way to reinforce our preparedness message to our neighbors, too. Not to mention the all-important radio practice!

Have you ever hosted a training in YOUR community?  Who initiated contact? How did it go? Let us readers know!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Don’t miss any of our “adventures!”  Sign up below to get all our Advisories.