Are you sabotaging yourself?

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

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

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

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

Here’s sort of how it goes:

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

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

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

As I see it,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as for the government . . .

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017
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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.

 

 

 

What To Do When You Discover a Gas Line Leak

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

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

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

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

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

Before we start, remember Rule #1.

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

A leak in the home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check your appliances carefully.

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

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

A leak in a larger pipe or larger system

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

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

However, in a big disaster . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open or closed?

Open or closed?

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

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

 

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

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

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

What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

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

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

Questions you need to have answers to BEFORE something happens:

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

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

Getting more answers

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

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

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

_______

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

Part Two: Detecting a gas line leak

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

 

Detecting a Gas Line Leak

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

Are you familiar with your local gas lines?

Could this be leaking? What is it, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should we assume that all these lines leak?

Yes!

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

Stresses include:

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

How can we tell if there’s a leak?

1-Use your nose!

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

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

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

2-Gas sniffer will help in the discovery.

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

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

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

 

General Tools PNG2000A Natural Gas Detector Pen

 

 

 

UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector

 

 

 

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

Physical signs of leaks from larger pipelines

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

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

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

What should we do when we discover a leak?

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

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

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

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

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

Is that all we can do?

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

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

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

 

 

Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017
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(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

 

 

Drones for Emergency Response Teams

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

Quadcopter as emergency tool

How useful in an emergency?

Part One of Two.

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

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

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

A new category of drones has appeared.

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

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

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

Register Your Drone

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

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

Pilot Your Drone Safely

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Your Drone as an Emergency Response Tool

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

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

What about Emergency Response Team usage?

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

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

You can probably come up with many more.

Challenges with these Emergency Team uses?

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

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

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

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

So we are not letting these restrictions stop our analysis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, with all this in mind,

Which drone is best for our Neighborhood Response Team?

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

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

Here’s the whole shopping list so far:

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

Battery Failure Ruins Flashlight

Thursday, November 10th, 2016
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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
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Vial or File of Life – a Great Gift Idea for Family or Employees

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

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

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

The Gift: The Vial of Life

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

Vial of LifeWhat is the Vial of Life?

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

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

What goes into the Vial of Life Baggie?

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

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

Where do I put the Vial of Life Baggie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else I need to know?

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

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

These documents are important.

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

How to Use the Gift with Your Group

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

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

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

Assemble into individual kits:

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

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

Why are you a prepper?

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

Preparedness

“Raise your hand . . .”

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

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

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

Next question:

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

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

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

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

Being prepared seems mostly to be a commitment to oneself.

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

What gets and keeps a neighborhood emergency response group going?

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

Here’s what we know about our members.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So, I guess we just keep keeping on!

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

It’s the best we can do!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

Flood Damage Not Covered by Insurance

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
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The devastating floods being shown on TV are often accompanied by this voiceover:

“And most of these people have no flood insurance.”

flood damageWhen you see the piles of ruined possessions out on the curb, as in the photo, you get a better idea of what “no insurance” really means. And, I hope, you are prompted to take another look at your own insurance coverages.

After all, it seems as though in the last 12 months we have seen multiple floods labeled “thousand year floods,” so even if you have never been flooded before it’s possible you’ll experience one for the very first time. And it could be any time.

This spring we were threatened by unusual rain from El Niño, so I took a closer look at flood insurance. Here’s some of what I found out about it.

Of course, you should check with your own insurance agent to confirm how YOUR home fits into the world of insurance coverage. Questions to ask:

What does my Homeowner’s Insurance cover?

Your standard homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover flood damage at all. It may cover some water damage from rain coming through a hole in the roof punched in by a storm, but if rising waters fill the house, you are out of luck.

Do I have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance?

Well first, do you know if you even live in a flood plain?

Find out by going to FEMA’s map service at https://msc.fema.gov/portal 

If you do live in a flood plain, obviously flood insurance will cost more because the chances are higher that there will be a claim. (If you have been required to obtain flood insurance as part of a mortgage, the map can be a good “second opinion.”)

The fact is, though, that something like 1 in 4 claims is for a home not on a flood plain. So this shouldn’t be your deciding factor.

And, to answer the question, anyone can get flood insurance, flood plain or not.

Where do I get flood insurance?

Start by checking with your current home insurer. Some of them have flood insurance available, as a separate policy. Most will refer you directly to the National Flood Insurance Program, administered by FEMA. NFIP was set up in back in the 60s, and it has been updated regularly so be sure you check for the latest limits and costs.

How does NFIP work?

Like all insurance programs, the NFIP must be financially sound, so its policies are priced based on the likelihood of a claim (“Are you in a flood plain?”) plus the amount of coverage selected by the homeowner – whether for the building, the contents, or both.

Does the NFIP have maximum limits?

Yes. (That’s why I included that question here!)

While limits have increased over the years, and coverage has been refined, there are distinct features to the policy. You will need to watch for:

  • Maximum for the structure – currently $250,000
  • Maximum for possessions – currently $100,000

If you have a more expensive home, you can get “excess flood insurance.” You’ll get it from a private carrier, and it will function rather like “a flood policy with a $250,000 deductible!”

What is covered by NFIP?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties.”

Note that last sentence. An overflowing storm drain just in front of your house might not count!

What isn’t covered?

Read the following exceptions carefully, and confirm whether they apply in your case.

  • First, flood insurance doesn’t cover that build-out to your basement (although it may cover some of the air conditioning or heating systems) or anything you may have stored down there. No basement coverage!
  • Second, it may pay replacement cost for your home, but it will only pay “current value” on possessions. This means the family “heirlooms” may be worth almost nothing as far as insurance coverage is concerned.
  • Third, this insurance doesn’t help cover living expenses during the time your home is being rebuilt.

 

Should I get flood insurance?

I’m not going to recommend one way or another, but I would certainly consider it. The average price is somewhere around $600 a year for maximum coverage. (I looked into it for our house here in Southern California, built in what is essentially a desert landscape. Our quote was $371/year.)

What else should I know?

Here I WILL make some recommendations.

  1. Be sure to maintain your house whether or not you get a flood policy. Some water damage coverage on your current homeowners policy may be denied if you haven’t installed or maintained gutters, kept up with roof repairs, etc.
  2. No matter what kind of insurance you carry on your home and/or possessions, charge up your phone and do a deliberate walk through, video-taping the contents of every room. Having this record will be incredibly valuable in helping you remember what is missing or damaged in any kind of emergency. Put the footage on a flash drive and store it with a family member or at work, somewhere “off site.”
  3. If you are thinking to wait until the “real” rainy season hits before you buy flood insurance, remember that there is a 30 day waiting period after you sign up before the coverage goes into effect.

Finally, as with all insurances, I recommend you get at least two quotes. Flood coverage, just like earthquake coverage, is something the average insurance professional may not be experienced with. You need to become your own expert – after all, it’s your house we’re talking about!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I can hear some of our readers saying, “Heck, I know all this.” If that’s your case, how about forwarding the article to a family member or friend who might NOT know it all!  Thanks!

P.P.S. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to our Advisories below. Just let us know where to send them. You never know when one will come that has some new information perfect for you that week!

 

 

Buy Batteries On Sale

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

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

How batteries work

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

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

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

When to recharge

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

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

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

Getting the most out of batteries

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Power Bank with Flashlight

My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

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

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

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

As you compare them, look for:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

 

Disposable Batteries

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

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

 

Rechargeable batteries

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

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

 

 

 

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

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 


 

 

What threat do you face from a nuclear reactor emergency

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

This news comes from Vermont.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What will the authorities be doing?

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

5. What about the threat of a closed plant?

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

More resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Survival Vocab Quiz

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

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

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

Group One: Your Prepper Relatives

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

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

Group Two: Your Emergency Response Team Volunteers

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

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

Group Three: Co-workers

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

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

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

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

Let us know how you used the list!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Abandoned in a disaster?

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

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

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

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

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

Let me warn you – I have not found much!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some simple and sensible guidelines:

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

Tips for First RespondersTwo resources I found most useful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

 

 

 

 

 

Then The Knot Slipped . . .

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
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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.

 

Assessing Threats to Your Business

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

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

Most people think first about natural disasters.

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

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

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

But let’s take a broader look at threats.

What about threats that are man-made?

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

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

 

STEP ONE. What threats does YOUR business face?

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

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

List of threats

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

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

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

Here’s our sample list with the threats rated.

Probablethreats

 

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

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

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

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

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

Threat probability

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

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

Create the total score by adding probability and impact.

Business threat

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

Caution: Danger of Threat Analysis Paralysis

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

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

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

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

Joe and Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Speaker Sparks New Interest

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
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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.

 

IEDs — Improvised Explosive Devices — In Your Neighborhood

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

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

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

IEDs in the today’s news.

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

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

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

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

How can we protect ourselves?

We need to know more.

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

The questions we asked today . . .

What is an IED?

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

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

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

What does the IED do?

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

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

How can we recognize an IED?

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See something? Say something!”

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Solar Security Lights — Do they work?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
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Worried about someone lurking in the shadows?

Security for backyardWe’re known as the “Survival People” on our block, so it’s not uncommon for people to stop and ask for our opinions about anything connected to survival, which seems to include security.

Last week we got asked TWICE:

“What outdoor lighting do you recommend for security?”

We’ve written about this topic before, but the questions pushed us to do more research and ask our own questions, so before we give any answer, here’s more of what we’ve learned.

Question 1. Do bad guys prefer to operate in the dark?

According to all the stories we’ve read, and we’ve read a lot of them, the simple answer is, “No.”

In fact, there are many reports of cities or neighborhoods in both the U.S. and other countries where street lighting was turned off – to save money, usually – and street crime went DOWN.  Why?  Apparently bad guys don’t like tripping over things in the dark any more than you do.

And when they use a flashlight, it’s immediately noticeable.

Question 2. So does outdoor lighting actually encourage bad guys?

That depends. Lights that are on all the time give bad guys the ability to see what they are doing and get it done more easily.

However, if someone is watching the premises, and sees suspicious activity and acts quickly to stop it, then the lighting is useful. The key is to have that alert human presence.

At your house or business, who is keeping watch at night? Are they watching all night?

Question 3. What about motion activated lights?

Now we are getting somewhere.  A light on all the time is predictable and becomes unremarkable. When a light goes on suddenly, it is startling – and noticeable. Anyone within sight of the light is going to look to see what set it off.

So from a security standpoint, motion activated lights are the obvious choice.

Here’s what we have at home.

Now at our house, we actually DO have a light that burns all night. It’s on the porch and is designed to light the steps for us and for visitors. It’s a hardwired fixture with energy-efficient LED bulb, and we have checked to be sure our neighbors aren’t bothered by it. The bulb has lasted for years.

We have hardwired motion sensor lights where we park the car. They make it easy for us to get to and from the backdoor and into and out of the car.

Finally, behind the house, we have solar powered motion-activated lights. When they come on at night, we are awakened instantly and are able to look out to see what may have set them off. (Usually we can’t tell! Perhaps it’s a bird flying by. Occasionally we suspect an animal like a possum or raccoon. We haven’t seen any people crossing the backyard, yet.)

One of these lights actually has an audible alarm that can be turned on or off, too.

If you’re shopping for lights, here are some recommendations and suggestions about what to look for.

Recommendations for Solar Powered Lights

We started years ago with simple battery-operated lights. While they were easy to install, they seemed always to be dim and dying. So, we quickly turned to hard-wired lights. They work great but you need a ladder, patience and some handy-man smarts to install them.

When solar powered lights came on the scene, we were thrilled.  Particularly since we live in Southern California!

Solar lights are either one self-contained unit (solar panel + storage battery + light itself) or have separate components: solar panel (that must be mounted where it gets sun) connected via a thin wire to the actual battery + lighting fixture.

Whether you select the self-contained unit or the component unit depends on where you’re installing the light and where the sun is.

Over the years we have tried small, inexpensive solar-powered lights and moderately priced ones and have concluded that you pretty much get what you pay for. You can get great deals at Amazon, where, as you know, we are affiliates.

Here are two lights that we really like. Click on the images to get all details.

This Litom Bright 60 LED Solar Powered Security Light seems to be top of the line in its price range (around $40). We have found it to be as bright as we need, and some of the reviewers at Amazon say that it is brighter than any others they have tried! This light is also waterproof, essential for an outdoor fixture.

The best part is how adjustable the light is. You can set it for dim or strong, set it for always-on or motion-activated, and you can adjust the “activation” area as well as the “lighting” area. Really, it ought to work for whatever you need!

Read the reviews at Amazon, and they will give you more ideas about installing and using the light. (If you want a white finish, take a look at the Sunforce 82080 80-LED Solar Motion Light model. It costs within a dollar of the Litom model.)

The second recommendation is for a light made by the same company. The Litom 20 Big LED Solar Sensor Powered Wall Light is smaller, more compact, and even brighter! (And less expensive — around $25.) Many of the Amazon reviewers say that they got several in order to cover different areas of their property. Last time I looked, you could purchase packs of 4 for a discounted price.

As I wrote this, Litom was offering some special deals on Amazon. (Scroll down on the page below the photos.) And different sellers were charging quite different prices!  So take the time to shop!

To get details and current prices, click on the images.

To summarize.

Lighting alone will not deter a determined bad guy. But good lighting can make it safer for you and visitors, and motion-activated lighting can cause an unwanted visitor to change plans.

Let us know your experiences with lighting!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

We have full reviews of several popular emergency items. See all our product reviews and recommendations here.

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Survival

Monday, December 14th, 2015
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Top Ten Items For Your Emergency Plan

Help them SurviveIf you think you are already prepared, use this list as a quick check. If you suspect you’re missing a few things, use the list to fill in the gaps.

Food the Means to Prepare It and Eat It . . .

Water, Food and Medicines – Enough for the entire household including pets, to last for a minimum of 3 days . . . up to one or two weeks if possible. Best to stock up on the canned soups, staples and packaged foods you normally eat, and then rotate to keep supplies fresh. (We have enough sardines and packages of instant latte coffee to survive for a month!) Don’t overlook a 14-day supply of important medications (think customized first aid kit) for you, your children and your pet.

Prescriptions, Medical Devices, etc. – In a serious event, electricity, running water and plumbing facilities may not be available for hours or days. Without power, ATMs, computer systems and electronic cash registers will be inoperative, making the renewal of prescriptions challenging if not impossible. Likewise, life-sustaining devices such as oxygen machines that require power may have to be run on “inverters” (alternative power devices that convert the direct current of a car battery to alternating current). Inverters or small solar panels can also power small appliances, laptop computers, etc. and serve as a recharging source for smart phones, iPods and other electronics. In all these, wattage requirements will determine if the system works for you. Test everything in advance! Note: Power generators are both expensive and unwieldy and are not practical in most residential settings.

Camping Stove, Hand-Held Can Opener & Eating Utensils – Disposable plates & eating utensils may prove satisfactory but keep in mind that if the emergency continues, leaving you without power, water or garbage disposal or pickup, you will need to think outside of the box to survive. We recommend a propane-powered camping stove even if you have an outside barbecue.

Communications Are Your Link to Friends, Family and the Reality of the World Around You.

Emergency Radios that Receive NOAA and Local Government Broadcasts – With TV and internet out, the only sure way you will know what’s happening is via emergency radio transmissions. Have at least one full service radio for the home (two or more for larger, multi-story homes or community residences) and one smaller hand-held model for each family vehicle.

Walkie-Talkies – These hand-held multi-channel, battery-powered communicators will work regardless of a power outage. They are the best way for your CERT Teams to communicate with volunteers and for you to keep in touch with your neighbors following an emergency. We have extra units strategically placed throughout our house and a pair in each car.

Emergency Contact Numbers – When local telephone circuits are down or overloaded, you may be able to use out of state relatives or contacts as a way to relay messages to family members, employees or associates. But this works only if all parties are in on the scheme before a disaster strikes.

You Will Need Light and Heat When There is No Power.

Flashlights and Battery-Powered Lighting – With the widespread availability of LED (light emitting diode) devices, we use far fewer batteries than we used to with incandescent bulbs. Flashlights are cheap; have more than one. Keeping a small 250+ Lumen flashlight in a handy location in each room in the house ensures you can safely navigate in the dark. But you will also want a couple larger, more powerful (500+ Lumens) flashlights and possibly even a headlamp or two that leaves both hands free. And you’ll appreciate some LED table lamps or lanterns for general lighting needs.

Energizer Batteries

Winner in past tests

More on Batteries From Our Experience – We need batteries for everything from radios to flashlights to smart phones and other devices, typically AAA, AA, C & D sizes. Most batteries manufactured under the Duracell and Energizer brands are guaranteed to have a 10-year shelf life. In our experience, this is misleading. Ten years may be possible under ideal conditions . . . whatever those are.

With few exceptions, we have found the batteries to lose some of their power midway through this period, and many start to corrode. The basic “copper top” Duracell batteries seem to deteriorate more rapidly than the standard Energizers – 3 to 1 in our experience – but the new (and more expensive) “red-top” Duracell batteries seem to perform better. We only have a few months experience with them.

The bottom line: Whatever brand batteries you use, don’t leave radios or electronic devices sitting for long periods of non-use with batteries installed. Take the batteries out and look at them carefully before reinstalling. If you have devices with corroded terminals, they can sometimes be rejuvenated by using a cotton swab to apply a water & baking soda paste (which will absorb the corrosion) and removing the resulting dry crust with a wooden toothpick or a single prong of a broken plastic fork. This works about half the time, seemingly depending on how bad the buildup or corrosion was.

Clothing You Can Count On to Keep You Warm – Even in moderate climates nights get cold. Your emergency kit needs to contain at the very least a warm coat and sturdy shoes. It’s easy to add a space blanket and rain slicker. (A large plastic garbage bag is better than nothing.) Blankets in the car will be welcome when you’re stuck trying to get home.

Take Care of Personal Needs. 

Hygiene and Sanitation Items – From brushing your teeth to disposing of trash, garbage and body waste, a world without electricity or running water presents several significant challenges. The bigger the household (including pets), the greater the problem. In addition to trash bags, toilet tissue, cleaning and disinfectant supplies, you’ll want heavy-duty “compactor bags” to insert in toilets for collecting solid human waste. If you’re part of a community that includes elderly or frail residents, you may be faced with managing deceased humans. As distasteful as all this may be, pre-event planning will yield big dividends in comfort.

Who Will Be Turning To You?

Most Important Preparation of All is Your Neighborhood &/or Workplace – Take a moment and think about what a major calamity will mean to your immediate environment. If you are the only one who is prepared, your circumstances will be little better than your neighbors or co-workers. In the Tsunami that caused widespread devastation in Japan, it was neighbors helping each other that saved lives and made community survival possible.

While hard-core, serial “survivalists” devote considerable (often inordinate) resources to building “bug out bags” and even acquiring arsenals of weapons to protect themselves, the reality for most of us is not likely to be something out of Mad Max. Major roadways and potential escape routes will probably be congested, unnavigable or even impassable. Where would you go and how would you carry what you need to survive? For most of us, “survival in place” is the most realistic option. What can you do to help your co-workers and neighbors focus their energies on emergency preparation . . . for their sake and yours as well?

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Virginia Nicols, CERT graduate living in Southern California, has helped lead her local neighborhood emergency team for over a decade. Her website, http://EmergencyPlanGuide.org, reflects much of what that award-winning volunteer group has struggled with and accomplished over the years. This month, El Niño tops the preparedness agenda.

 

Get a weekly reminder about emergency preparedness for family or workplace. Subscribe below to our Advisories. They are free.

 

 

Building a Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Team

Monday, December 7th, 2015
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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

 

Getting Serious about Emergency Radio Operations

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
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ARRL Emergency CommunicationsIt shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is seriously interested in emergency preparation and response that the Amateur Radio Network (made up of Ham Radio Operators) is a valued part of the community.

You’ve read here about how our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team members communicate with each other via walkie-talkies. But that’s limited to within the neighborhood. When it comes to knowing what’s going on in the “outside world” and letting the outside world know what’s going on here, we plan to use our Ham Radio Operators.

Our Neighborhood Ham Radio Operators

We have three licensed Amateur Radio Operators. Each has his own equipment and is capable of communicating directly with city officials. And our neighborhood group recently purchased a more powerful base station with longer reach, giving us the ability to communicate directly with county and other civic operations that will be activated in a major disaster.

(Our team worked closely with the tech group at the city police department to come up with specifications for our mobile radio station. The station can be moved to wherever it will be most effective. It is designed for duo usage: the first option, using amateur ham radio bands, can be controlled by our ham operators, with direct contact with the local Emergency Operations Center. If no ham operators are available, option two allows trained team members to monitor and transmit relevant info on the FCC two-meter commercial band.

The system cost about $1,600. It consists of a transceiver, power supply and back-up battery, mounted on a rolling cart, with separate folding antenna with tripod legs.  If you are interested in the actual specs, let me know and I’ll be happy to forward them.)

Ham Radio Resources for Review

Before you invest in any equipment for yourself or your group, we recommend you study some of the references on the subject and, of course, involve someone in the community who is already licensed. Better yet, become licensed yourself. That process will give you an idea of what equipment you really need.

Here are some of the books that we have in our library . . .

The ARRL Introduction to Emergency Communication Course

ARRL stands for American Radio Relay League, Inc.. ARRL was founded in 2014 and now has 150,000+ members in the USA. Many ARRL members have registered to be part of ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which works with FEMA, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other response organizations.  This book does a good job of distinguishing between all the various “alphabet organizations” associated with ham radio operation.  In over 300 pages, what it does best is prepare you to get a license and take your place as a resource within the emergency communications network.

 

 

The ARRL Emergency Communication Handbook

This handbook takes info from the basic course and puts it in action in a number of scenarios. You’ll find out how ham operators perform in a widespread emergency, how best to set up your system and your people for a given event, etc. Some excellent charts.

 

 

 

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual: All You Need to Become an Amateur Radio Operator

The subtitle of this book is, “Get on the air with confidence.” It contains all kinds of advice for the new user about picking your first radio and antenna, how to set up your station for best results, dealing with weak signals, etc. Many diagrams, photos and screen shots are helpful.

 

 

 

Now You’re Talking: All You Need for Your First Amateur Radio License

Now You’re Talking! Will help you pass the Element 2 test by providing detailed explanations for all questions plus explanation of FCC rules. You’d be surprised at how often you need to know these details!

 
 
 

Emergency Power For Radio Communications

Once you’ve assembled the basics, you’ll want to know how to keep everything up and running. This book has (sometimes exhaustive!) details on options for emergency lighting, emergency power (solar, generators, batteries), instrumentation, and more — with case histories and DIY guidance.

These books look similar because they are published by ARRL, but I found little overlap or duplication.  Use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” function to check on the tables of contents for more detail. (Click on the images above and you’ll go directly to the book itself at Amazon.)

 

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  Keen about listening in to what the police are doing? In “the old days” (which might have been only a couple of years ago) a police scanner provided a fascinating real-time window into law-enforcement activity. But that window may have been closed. Today, many if not most police communications are encrypted

Depending on where you live or where you’re tuning in, your ham radio or even a simple app downloaded to your smart phone may receive fire and emergency medical team transmissions, but perhaps not police. Have you used any of the police scanner phone apps?  What’s been your experience?

P.P.S.  Interested in learning more about walkie-talkies as the first level of emergency communications? Check out these related posts:

Top Survival Resources: Five Popular Stories and Subjects

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
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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!

 

Power Outage — Another Chance to Practice

Friday, August 21st, 2015
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The power went out tonight at 7:16 p.m.

It was still pretty light outside, but the house was instantly, shockingly dark except for the hall, where the emergency lights glowed.

Lantern for power outage

Lantern in the bathroom

Grab flashlight from cupboard. Track down phone number for electric company. Regular phone doesn’t work, so punch through six different choices on cell phone to get recorded message: “Widespread outage. Estimated time to service restoral — one hour.”

Turn on walkie-talkie, request check-in from emergency team members.

“Division One, do you read?”

“Division Three, do you read?”

“Division Five, do you read?”

Finally, some answers trickle in. Somewhere somebody from outside our network is using the same channels, so they annoyingly insert themselves into our conversations.

Getting darker quickly, now. We pull out two of our lanterns. They work great!

A friend comes by in his new golf cart, and he and I make a circle of the neighborhood. People are leaning out on their porches, gathering in little groups on the street. Much laughter. Doug and I check the front gates: they’re open, as they should be. We meet a couple of stray people who are scrounging up and down the street for flashlights or batteries from their neighbors.

Overall, the feeling of a block party!

Full dark. The new golf cart has no lights (!) so we creep along. I have my trusty flashlight, of course, and use it to alert people that we’re approaching. As we pass house after house, Doug and I discuss people who we know have oxygen or CPAP machines, and wonder how they are coping.

We totally miss the people straggling out from the community center. As it turns out, the automatic doors there shut down tight, and the emergency bars were difficult to figure out. Fortunately, a number of the exit doors have push bars.

Back home. Another call to the utility. “Restoral in 10 minutes,” they say. We’re dubious. I pass along the latest via the radio. Streets are now empty, dim lights visible in most of them. Over the fence out on the main street, we see the flashing lights of the utility trucks and hear the workers calling to one another.

“Street lights up on our street,” comes the report from Division Four. Nothing here. Suddenly, rather like a Christmas scene, lights start popping on. Yellow street lights, red and blue TV screens, white porch lights. It’s over! Only ten minutes after they said it would be!

Such a relatively benign “emergency.”

Yet some people found it more than just an inconvenience. One woman described how it brought back shocking memories of war for her. One friend had just had surgery, and she woke suddenly to a blackout. Very frightening.

So, another day passes and we have the chance to “test” our readiness. I’m betting and trusting that everyone will be more prepared next time! How would you have fared?

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We’ve talked a lot about emergency items. Here are a couple of our most popular posts:

 

 

Keeping Up With Breaking News

Thursday, August 13th, 2015
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Does Your City or Local Police Department Have a Mass Alert System?

Last month we talked about the “Lone Wolf” terrorist and the random nature of such attacks. While there is little, if anything, that authorities can do to predict or prevent these attacks, some cities are instituting a Mass Alert Notification System . . . a message distribution system to get the word out immediately when something does happen.

Basic Level

Actually, most cities have a basic telephone notification system; the most popular one is called Reverse 911®. When an emergency happens or threatens, authorities can automatically send out a recorded phone message to all or some of the phone numbers found in the database within that geographic area. If the line is busy, the phone will redial several times in an attempt to leave its message. The important limitation to Reverse 911 is that it only goes to landlines.

If you do not have a landline, or are not home or at a work number when the call goes out,
you will miss the message.

Enhanced System

Opt-in for mass messaging service iAlert

How will they reach you?

Our city has enrolled in an enhanced mass messaging system, called “iAlert.” This is an opt-in program; you go online and sign up for the service and the message comes to you three ways, depending on which options you sign up for.

First, it comes by recorded telephone call to the primary or work telephone number you provide. (This can be a landline, a VOIP line, or a cell phone number.)

You will also receive an email to the email address you give, and finally, the message comes as an SMS text message to your smart  or mobile phone. The only cost is the SMS charge is for the standard data cost imposed by your cell phone carrier when you receive a text message.

IAlert messages can also be sent to hearing-impaired receiving devices.

 

Useful, Targeted Messages

On more than one occasion we have received notifications of missing persons, suspected active shooter situations and alerts to fires in progress. Our CERT team has also received activation alerts.

If your local authorities provide this service, you can likely sign up for it on the city’s website. If not, you may want to inquire at your local Police Department of their interest in providing the service in the future.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team