Survival Kit Worksheet

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
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“OK, I’m clear I need a survival kit.”

Backpack for survivalWe’re all familiar with the concept of a survival kit.

We usually picture a backpack that we can grab at a moment’s notice and that will carry us through a 3-day emergency until things get back to normal or we are taken under the wing of some helpful rescue organization.

But have you thought through . . .

  • What should really be IN the backpack?
  • How should MY backpack differ from YOURS?
  • How many kits do I actually need?

Wait . . .

“You mean I need more than just one?”

Of course you do!  What are the chances of the whole family being together, at home, when the disaster hits?!

Here’s a worksheet we’ve put together to get started on answering these basic questions. (You may have seen the worksheet before. We think it’s an essential tool!)

Go over the worksheet with your family, and share it with your neighborhood group before anyone starts actually putting a kit together or buying a pre-built kit. The instructions are simple, right there at the top.

Survival Kit Worksheet

Because we think survival kits are so essential, we’ve addressed the topic many times and from a number of different perspectives.

Here are some articles I think will be helpful. (There are more on the site. Use the search box in the upper right-hand corner to look up particular topics.)

You may want to check pertinent articles out BEFORE you start shopping for emergency kits and supplies!

We’ll be adding more on this topic. But this is a solid starter.

What we want to avoid is a situation like we saw repeated over an over again when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas — people struggling onto rescue boats carrying belongings in a ratty plastic bag, a pillow case, or climbing in empty handed. Disaster!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

Don’t drink that water!

Friday, November 10th, 2017
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Drop of water from faucet

Stop! Don’t drink that water!

No matter where you live, you could experience a WATER EMERGENCY any day of the week. Why, in just the last couple of weeks, for example . . .

Boil water alerts have happened in Richmond, KY, in Detroit, MI and in Cocoa, FL. Where I live in Southern California, water main breaks took place in Reseda, Gardena and right on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

These are not your extraordinary natural disasters.

We have all been sensitized to the need for clean water in a wide-spread emergency. We watched as the people of Beaumont, TX struggled without their water system for 10 days after it was flooded. And we are still watching the people in Puerto Rico for whom water of any quality is nearly impossible to get.

We understand what happened in these places, devastated by historic floods and storms.

Today we are taking a look at local problems.

Rather than a huge catastrophe, it’s more likely that we’ll need to be ready for a localized water problem.

Most of these local problems stem from two things:

  1. A water main break, a repair, or regular maintenance that shuts the system down
  2. An electrical power outage to a water plant or facility

Whenever the water pressure in the system drops, no matter from whatever cause, the water can be contaminated – mostly with dirt and/or bacteria.

What are the signs of danger?

You don’t need to wait for an official news announcement. Sometimes, accidents happen and you will know before the authorities do.

= Your water pressure drops suddenly.

If you notice an unannounced and dramatic drop in water pressure, we recommend you instantly turn off your water to protect the water already in your home’s system. You can always turn it on again later.

= Your water turns murky.

You may see unusual foreign matter in your water. That murkiness is called “turbidity.”  Don’t drink this water – and start thinking about a way to filter it to remove the junk. (More below . . .)

= Your water contains bacteria, parasites, etc.

Unfortunately, your water could contain all kinds of dangerous microorganisms and still look clear and clean. (My son came down with giardia when he got water in his mouth from a high mountain stream. He wasn’t even drinking it – but the resulting diarrhea put him into the hospital for 6 days!)

When water comes through a properly-operating system, these contaminants are removed. If the system fails, so does any guarantee of cleanliness.

That’s when you could get a Boil Water Alert.

If there’s a possibility that your water system has failed or your supply is contaminated, you could get a Boil Water Alert. Officially announced or not, you have several options.

Option One. Switch immediately to bottled/stored water that you know is clean. Use it for drinking, cooking, and washing. This is an emergency; that’s why you have emergency supplies! (If you haven’t put together supplies in advance, and you have to head to the store to buy them, you may be shocked to discover high prices, or worse, empty shelves.)

Option Two. Boil your drinking water until you know your water is safe. Bring water to a rolling boil, boil for one minute, then let cool down. Use this boiled water for drinking, brushing your teeth, preparing food, etc. Do NOT use your dishwasher, ice that was recently made, etc.

Option Three. Disinfect your water if you can’t boil it. One alternative is to add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water. Mix and let stand for 30 minutes before you use it. If you need to, strain cloudy water through a cloth or filter paper before you disinfect it.

You can also disinfect water with water purification tablets. Easy to carry and manage, they are designed to be used in bottles and canteens; just make sure they dissolve completely! (Keep reading for more on water purification.)

How long will you need to boil, disinfect, etc.?

The methods listed above will work well for a day-long water outage, or a week-end camping trip. However, depending on them for days or even weeks at a time will be trying, at best.

If you receive a Boil Water Alert, you can assume it will last for at least 3 days. It takes 48 hours for water quality test results to come back!

If the emergency is much bigger or more serious, you need to have plans for the long term. As you know, it’s recommended that you plan for a gallon of water a day for each person in your family. A family of four, for 3 days, needs 12 gallons. If the emergency lasts 10 days (which is what I think you should plan for), you’ll need 40 gallons. That is a lot!

Now, first off, I would assess my water supplies. Some of your water supplies may be of better quality than others. I’d plan to use “pure” water for drinking and cooking, but would consider using a lesser quality water – like from the rain barrel — for washing my feet. (Obviously, water that you know is contaminated with toxins or dangerous chemicals should not be used at all.)

Maybe your family of 4 doesn’t really need 40 gallons of pure drinkable water. But it still needs that much total water.

How to manage your need for gallons and gallons of water?

Here are a number of suggestions for sources of emergency water. I hope these are all familiar to you! But the question is, have you taken action to be sure they are available for your family right now????

Purchase and store bottled water.

You will be tempted to rinse plastic bottles that you’ve emptied of juice, milk, or whatever, and use them to store water.

Don’t.

You will find it nearly impossible to get these containers clean – and thus, the water you store in them will be suspect. Other options may cost more, but you won’t have to worry about ADDING to the emergency with tainted water!

Case of tottled waterOne-time use plastic bottles of water are cheap, readily available, and easy to move, stash around the house, etc. You can keep regular cheap bottles for 6 months; after that, replace with new ones. (Reusing a plastic water bottle isn’t recommended. The cap collects bacteria from your mouth . . .) Square plastic bottles may be a bit sturdier, and are a lot easier to pack/stack.

A 24-bottle case of bottled water is about 3.2 gallons and weighs about 30 pounds. In my neighborhood I can find them on sale for less than $5. A dozen cases would just about meet your 4-person family needs.

Don’t stack these plastic-wrapped cases too high, because they will collapse and break.

Note: Half gallons of water a lot more convenient and efficient, if you can get them.

P.S. If you click on THIS image, you’ll go nowhere. I think you’ll do better to shop locally and bring home cases of water yourself!

Stack water using interlocking water bricks.

 

Having had thin plastic bottles break in my storage shed, I strongly recommend water bricks! (That’s why I’ve included a BIG picture here!) Yes, they are an investment, but are so much more reliable and far more efficient for storage!  They are of heavy plastic and designed to interlock and stack like Legos. (The manufacturer suggests stacking them no more than 4 ft. high.) Each regular brick holds 3.5 gallons, and weighs just over 30 pounds when filled. You can fill with clean water from the tap, seal, and store for several years. Or, add water preserver for more peace of mind.

You can even add a spigot to your order of bricks to make them easier to use.

A dozen or so bricks would work for our example 4-person family for 10 days. Click on the image to get price and details from Amazon.

Store water in a 55 gallon barrel

I’m referring here to barrels that are made specifically for this purpose. (Our neighborhood emergency team was able to make a great group purchase one year. Haven’t found anything like it since!)

You’ll need a spigot and a pump to get the water out of the barrel. And naturally, you won’t be able to move this water supply, since a full barrel weighs over 400 lbs. Find a good spot, place the barrel on a wood platform — a couple of level boards will do — so it doesn’t touch the cement floor, fill it carefully so as not to introduce any dirt, seal closed, and put a cover over it to keep it clean. Refresh your water once a year for best results.

One barrel could serve the needs of a 4-person family for 10 days.

The barrel shown here comes as a kit, complete with a bung wrench (to turn the plugs), a hand-pump, and water preservative. Click on the image to get more info.

Fill the bathtub if you have time!

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that you DRINK the water you’ve run into your bathtub. After all, just how clean would it be if an emergency were called suddenly? Still, consider buying a bathtub liner designed for this purpose. Open it into the tub, fill from the faucet. Some models have a top to keep the water as clean as possible..

Your bathtub could easily turn out to hold 40 gallons, and maybe even twice that much.

The WaterBob kit shown is designed to hold 100 gallons, and includes a cover and simple pump for conveniently getting just some water out. Click on the image to get all the details of the kit.

Scoop out of the swimming pool? Maybe not.

The water in your pool MIGHT be drinkable if you put some in a glass jar for several hours and let the sun evaporate the chlorine. Still, the chemicals in the water, not to mention ordinary dirt from leaves and dust AND whatever your humans leave behind . . . make this a bad choice for drinking and cooking.

If the electricity is out, then the cleanliness of the pool will deteriorate even more quickly because the pool pump and filters will stop working. Again, filter and clean it as best you can, and then use for purposes other than cooking and drinking.

Turn to collected rainwater, streams and other open sources of water.

Now we’re back to the problem of contamination. The only way you can safely drink even from a clear mountain stream is using a filter. The single-person LifeStraw is the standard – it will filter 1,000 gallons of water before needing to be replaced. You can get the LifeStraw many places for around $20. Naturally, get one for each person.

Not every family member will want to or even be able to use the LifeStraw, and it  won’t put water into a pot for cooking.
In this case, you’ll need a gravity-fed filtration system like the Katadyn or the LifeStraw family-size version. These hanging bags can filter several gallons of water in an hour. The image shows the LIfeStraw model, which filters 9-12 liters/hour. Click on the image to find out more.

With a filter system like this you’ll easily reclaim the 4 gallons a day you need to keep your family going for an extended period.

Purification tablets are a convenient back-up.

Water-borne diseases are the dangerous aftermath of many natural disasters, when people bathe, drink or eat food that has been exposed to infected water. Children are particularly susceptible to the bacteria and protozoa in unclean and unsafe water.

Fortunately, it is easy to add water purification tablets or liquid to your emergency supplies list. Potable Aqua, shown, is a well-respected brand.

At home after the boil-water notice has been lifted?

It will take some flushing to be sure your home systems are clean and ready to go back to work. Some recommendations:

• Flush hot water faucets for 15 minutes, and cold water for 5.
• Change your refrigerator water filter and any other water filters.
• Empty ice cubes, run through a cycle and discard those cubes, too.
• Run your dishwasher empty for a cycle. Then rewash everything that came into contact with water just before the boil-water notice.
• Discard and clean containers, then refill any water used in humidifiers, CPAP machines, electric toothbrushes, etc.

Be ready for a short-term or a long-term outage, and you’ll sail through. If you’re NOT prepared, or your neighbors aren’t prepared, something simple could turn into a real emergency, or even a disaster.

Take action today to store emergency water. It’s easy when everything is operating as it should. When the system is broken, it may be too late.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I didn’t account for the water that pets may need.  Be sure to build that into your plan!

 

 

Emergency Communications Revisited

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
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Cell phone no signal

Hard to imagine: “Puerto Rico residents still without communications, now into third week . . .”

But it was hard to imagine that the U.S. would be hit by back-to-back-to-back hurricanes and flooding, too.

Emergencies happen. Overnight they can turn into disastersAnd if you’re caught in the middle, you want to know what’s happening and be able to reach out to let others know what’s happening.

It’s time to take another look at personal emergency communications.

What you’ll grab first – your cell phone!

Since most people have their phone within reach 24/7, it’s likely to be your first choice in an emergency. Phones can connect with family, receive electronic alerts, and come up with what to do in case of disease, traffic jams, etc.

Cell phone tip: Pre-program your cellphone with important emergency numbers (police, fire, utilities) and create a “group” with family members so you can reach them all quickly.

Your cell phone is an important tool, as long as it’s working.

Three reasons why your cell phone may not work in an emergency:

  1. Cell phone towers are pretty sturdy, but can be damaged and even knocked down by big winds or a big earthquake. Result: no service at all.
  2. Service can be overwhelmed by too many people trying to use it at once – ex., the Boston Marathon. Result: busy signal.
  3. Your phone may, and eventually will, run out of battery unless you have made provisions to keep it charged.

Three ways to have a better chance of getting through. 

  1. Text or tweet instead of calling. These messages need far less bandwidth and can be “stored” in the system until they’re deliverable.
  2. Send your message or call your out-of-town family contact instead of local friends or family members. Naturally, this arrangement has to be set up in advance.
  3. Carry a battery back-up for your phone – one of the power banks or a solar charger – to give yourself a better chance of eventually getting through. Some emergency radios can charge a phone, too. (Want more on batteries, power banks or solar chargers? Here’s an Advisory covering these devices.)

 No cell phone? Don’t forget to try a land-line.

When a power outage has crippled communications, a simple phone attached to a landline may still have a dial tone. Of course, you have to know whatever number it is you want to call!  (That’s why you have memorized a few numbers, right?)

And as we’ve said many times, the operator answering your cell phone 911 call only knows approximately where you are, particularly if you are in a high-rise building. A landline pinpoints your location.

Facing a longer term outage?

Puerto Rico has been cut off for weeks. But not EVERYONE there is cut off!

Three kinds of emergency communications are being used there by people who were prepared in advance of the storm.

  1. Short-reach walkie-talkies. Depending on the quality of the instrument, the weather and the terrain, battery-operated walkie-talkies can connect people across the street or across town.We recommend that all families and neighborhood emergency response groups consider getting their members walkie-talkies (with extra batteries). Even small children can master their use easily. See a couple of examples below, and take another look at our updated Walkie-Talkies Reviews to see if you are considering adding walkie-talkies to your emergency supplies: http://emergencyplanguide.org/reviews/Best Walkie-Talkies/ 
  2. Wider-reach HAM radios. This is the one option mentioned more than any other by the professionals in my LinkedIn group. Over 3,000 ham radio operators have been active in Puerto Rico since the hurricane hit. They have been assisting the American Red Cross to gather records about survivors, transmit personal messages to families, and help dispatch power authority crews. (Article: Amateur Radio Volunteers Aiding Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands)You can get started with a HAM radio for less than $100, but realistically you’ll probably want a better device and additional equipment (power supply, antenna, etc.) so budget for more. Joe is a licensed HAM operator and wrote more about the radios and training, here: http://emergencyplanguide.org/getting-serious-about-emergency-radio-operations/
  3. Satellite phones for world-wide connection. As the name suggests, these phones use satellites to carry their calls. When cell towers are down or you are so far from civilization that there are no towers (mid-ocean? Antarctica?), this might be your best bet for staying in communication.As you might imagine, it costs a lot more to own and use these phones. Prices for most devices themselves (some rather like a clunky cell phone, others more complex, like a computer with handset) range from $500 to $1500 or more. Prices for actually using the phones start at around $40/month at the low end, or you can buy by the minute. More details here. http://emergencyplanguide.org/ultimate-emergency-communications-device/

Examples of hand-held emergency radios

Most emergency radios are compact, though they are heavier than a regular cell phone. And, they will require practice before you can tune them successfully. Don’t think they are terribly expensive.  Most of them cost less than the latest Apple iPhone.  Some examples are below. Click on the image to go directly to Amazon for full details and current pricing. (We are Amazon affiliates. I’m happy to refer you there because items are almost always available and prices are often better than anywhere else.)

Baofeng -- Basic 2-way dual band HAM radio; VHF and UHF; costs around $70-80. Yaesu -- Mid-range quad band HAM radio. Submersible. Yaesu makes several; this one costs around $500. Irridium Satellite Radio. Click on image and go to Amazon where you should read the reviews, particularly the one about Alaska. Cost around $1,000.

And here are a couple of examples of walkie-talkies. We own and have used both models; the Uniden is what the members of our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team use and practice with every month. Click on the image to get details at Amazon.



Good basic walkie-talkies. Great for local group, family or workplace. Easiest-to-manage buttons. Cost around $40 a pair.I like these because they're yellow and not so hard to locate in an emergency! Alkaline or rechargeable batteries; NOAA weather channels. Cost around $70 a pair.

If a radio and/or battery charging device sounds as though it makes sense to you, get started on your purchase now. It’d be hard to find someone selling one during a disaster.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. An upcoming Advisory will be on serious solar panels designed to drive all these communications devices.  If you haven’t signed up to get ALL the Advisories, do so now! (Fill out the form below!)

More Lessons from Harvey

Monday, September 25th, 2017
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Hurricane, downed power lines

 

And now from Irma and Maria . . .

[Note: Please consider using this Advisory as the agenda for a meeting of your neighborhood emergency response team, and include this information in a neighborhood or church newsletter. Share it online. This is information we ALL need to consider!]

The last couple of weeks have been so full of stories about and from hurricane victims that I hesitate to add to the outpouring. But I feel I can’t just sit back and wait for things to settle down. So, here is a continuation of my earlier Advisory on Lessons from Harvey – The First Week.

This Advisory adds observations from Irma and Maria, too.

1. Still the most likely emergency: no power

Texas update: A week after Harvey, I checked the Entergy Texas website. The recurring language (my italics!):

“Power has been restored to all customers in the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey except for customers served by flood damaged equipment, areas that are still flooded, and areas impacted by [specific] substation outages.”

Even as late as last week – nearly 4 weeks after the storm struck —  4,000 were still without power.

Florida update: The outages in Florida from Hurricane Irma were even more widespread. At its height, the power outages affected “62% of the state’s 10.5 million households.”  News reports from five days ago (9-17-2017) say that about 20,000 homes are still dark.

Puerto Rico update: “Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm and the island is facing months without power.”

You have got to be asking yourself,  “How would we fare without power?”

First, it’s important to realize that as an ordinary resident, even after the rain is gone YOU CAN’T FIX YOUR OWN POWER PROBLEMS. That’s why utility teams came to Florida from as far as California to help! These teams have to . . .

  • De-energize dangerous fallen power lines, remove trees from lines, put up new poles, etc. The image above is typical of the mess to be cleared up.
  • Inspect and repair or replace meters that have been flooded.
  • Wait for YOU to get repairs made to your house – repairs that pass inspections — before they can turn the power back on.

All this takes days and days, if not weeks.

Last week, we looked at how to choose battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. If you haven’t got your emergency lighting in place yet, head there now. Shelves will be empty if you wait until something happens.

Turning to a generator for longer-term power needs is a completely different decision. We’ve studied this option a number of times, and our neighborhood emergency team purchased a generator some years ago. Questions we had to answer:

  • What would be the limited PURPOSE of the generator? It can’t run everything in a home or office.
  • What size is best? Where would a generator be kept? (Remember in Texas that the back-up generators for the chemical plant were themselves destroyed by the flood.)
  • How much fuel would it need, and where would fuel be stored?

Get professional assistance before making this decision. Here’s an Advisory from earlier this year, with more background information. http://emergencyplanguide.org/portable-generator-safety-update/

And another Advisory focusing on preparing for a power outage in a business setting. http://emergencyplanguide.org/power-outage-at-work/

2. Hidden water problems?

Whenever a disaster involves water, there are additional concerns besides simply having enough water for survivors to drink.

Health care professionals are watching in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma for longer-term health issues including . . .

  • Pollution from sewage. Every image we see of people wading through flood water should make you cringe! These people may be coming directly into contact with sewage. Even the entire water system may have been contaminated. Diseases from sewage pollution can result in death.
  • Chemical pollution. In Texas we all got a powerful lesson about the dangers associated with oil and chemical pollution of water supplies. These dangers are usually not immediate, but could emerge as cancer years after the incident.
  • Mold. Again, when flood water finally withdraws, mold can grow. It’s the danger of mold that prompts people to throw out not just furniture but entire floors and walls, or to abandon their home altogether.
  • Mosquitoes. Standing water after the flood is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and thus increases the chance of viruses like Zika and West Nile and fevers like dengue and chikungunya. Patrol your property and neighborhood and get rid of standing water.

Emergency preparations thus include not just supplies of clean water but also knowledge to help you identify a potential health problem related to polluted water.

3. What about rebuilding after the power comes back on?

Do you have enough money to rebuild your home if it is destroyed by floods? Probably not. That’s where insurance comes in.

Check out this lengthy Advisory about flood insurance. http://emergencyplanguide.org/flood-damage-not-covered-by-insurance/

If there is any chance that you could be hit by heavy rains, flooding or storm surge, you should be asking:

  • What does my Homeowner’s Insurance cover?
  • Do I have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance?
  • Where do I get flood insurance?
  • Does the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have maximum limits? (Hint: YES)
  • What is covered by NFIP?
  • What isn’t covered?

Whether or not your flood insurance is adequate, given what we’ve seen lately, or whether you should even get insurance, depends on YOUR answers to the questions above.

Note: There’s a lot in the news lately about the flood insurance program being CUT BACK. I’ll try to keep you up to date.

If you have questions about flood insurance for your home, start with the Advisory mentioned above and then talk to your insurance agent.

4. How will businesses fare?

Even if you’re not a business owner, the impact of a huge storm on the local economy will impact you, too.

According to Scott Teel, Senior Director of Communications for Agility Recover Solutions, in most cases it takes a business about 14 days to recover from a natural disaster. FEMA ads some more, and very sobering, statistics: about 40 percent of small businesses will never reopen after a disaster.

It’s not hard to imagine why. Fourteen days is a long time . . .

First, there’s the flood or the rain that causes the business to shut down, sometimes even a couple of days before the storm actually hits. Then the storm hits; over the three-five days of these recent hurricanes we’ve seen restaurants flooded, fishing boats tossed and destroyed, hotels torn apart.

Even if the building itself isn’t damaged, any business that requires electricity to operate or accepts payment via credit card – like that restaurant, a bank, a gas station, you name it! – will lose revenue during a power outage.

During the shut-down, the business will likely lose employees unless it has funds to pay them for this down time. It will likely lose customers, who are forced to look elsewhere for suppliers to keep their own enterprises going.

What can a business do to protect itself?

  1. Some businesses have a disaster plan that gives owners and employees an understanding of what it will take to carry on essential functions. Naturally, these folks have a better chance of making it through.
  2. Other companies’ plans go so far as to maintain arrangements for the company to move to an alternate location to carry on these essential functions. (As you can imagine, these plans can become pricey.)
  3. Some businesses carry special Business Continuation Insurance that will help, although too great a delay in getting payments can still mean the demise of the business.

If your company doesn’t yet have a disaster plan, you can get started building one using our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan. Request your free copy here. http://emergencyplanguide.org/no-business-continuation-plan-is-a-threat-in-itself/

OK, that’s enough for now.

Our first look at recent disasters talked about immediate issues – having enough water, supplies, and an evacuation kit. This second look brings up some of the longer-term issues that may arise: power outages, health concerns, insurances.

It all goes to reinforce what we have learned at Emergency Plan Guide – when the emergency hits, it’s too late to do any planning or preparing!

Do what you can now to prepare. Whatever you do will serve you better than having done nothing.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, thanks for sharing.

 

 

Emergency Transportation Options

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017
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Emergency Transportation

 

How to Get Around After The Disaster

Recent flooding in Texas and Louisiana, and earthquakes back to back in Mexico, have again brought our attention to what really happens in a widespread emergency when it comes to getting out or getting around. Here are some of the issues we’ve talked about, and are talking about again, in our community as a result of news coverage.

Will roads be passable?

Here in Southern California, we’re not likely to experience wide-spread flooding, or anything like the frozen image above! Most of our likely natural disasters will be from rainstorm, fire or earthquake, and even then we assume that MOST of our streets will be passable.  At least, there is likely to be an alternate way around a blockage or breakage (as long as your GPS is still working).

However, a regular passenger car may not be able to negotiate a flooded or broken streets. And, if streets have fissures that are leaking natural gas (yes, pipes do break in storms and earthquakes), any combustion-engine vehicle could become dangerous in itself.

Also, given the long distances people regularly travel to and from school and the store, not to mention commuting to work, cars are likely to run out of gas if the emergency is prolonged. (Remember the images of cars lined up waiting for gas in Texas? When only 2 pumps were still operating?)

Alternatives to regular passenger cars

4-wheel-drive vehicles

Hardy survival types will naturally point to the value of having a 4-wheel-drive vehicle that can go off-road if necessary.  There’s no question that such a vehicle might be useful in an emergency, although it’s tough to justify maintaining one here “just in case,” since it’s not made for freeway travel.  And given the gas mileage of most of these vehicles, having supplies of gasoline would be a challenge. Still, as we saw with Harvey, high-profile pick-up trucks and SUVs played an important  role in rescuing people trapped by flooding. Here in California, being able to climb over broken curbs and streets might be a big advantage to such a vehicle.

Golf carts

In a big emergency, unless you’ve been evacuated, you’re likely to be staying as close to home as possible. And for getting around a disrupted neighborhood, a golf cart may be a good alternative to a car. Golf carts can travel on regular streets, on sidewalks and walking paths, and, of course, over open ground. They can be configured to carry two or four people. Some can pull a trailer to move heavier supplies, transport trash and even remove dead bodies (in body bags) to remote areas. (Sorry about the gruesome reference, but it’s a reality we have to face.)

Carts come in a variety of models and horsepower. You can expect to pay anywhere from under $1,000 to several thousand dollars, depending on the model, equipment, battery-power, etc. These carts mostly use an array of 6,8 or 12-volt batteries, just like in your car, and that means you will have a replacement cycle every 4-5 years plus the requirement to keep them charged.

Some golf carts are now being manufactured with solar panels built onto or serving directly as the canopy. These panels can keep the cart’s batteries charged indefinitely. Carts also come with (or accept) plastic or water-proof enclosure kits that make it easier to operate in inclement weather. (I don’t know if any snow tires are available for them.)

Golf Cart Update as of 9-19-2017. This morning I spoke to Julie at PowerFilm regarding their aftermarket solar canopy kit for golf carts.  Here’s what I found out.

The kit’s main part is a cover made of thin-film panels for the roof of your cart. If you’re not used to thin film, it comes in a flexible sheet — has been used by the U.S. military for years to lay out on the ground to generate power wherever they find themselves. In the case of the golf cart, the panel arrives rolled up. You unroll it and fasten it to the roof with what are essentially big snaps. There’s a charge controller (typically goes under the seat) and a 15 ft. cable to connect everything.

For our purposes, we’re interested in the fact that AS LONG AS THERE IS SUNLIGHT, the solar canopy will charge your batteries completely, and even if you’re driving, will keep the batteries from discharging as quickly as they would otherwise. The image shows the black solar panel, sized 36in x 48in.  Here’s the link to Amazon. Slide your mouse over the image when you get to Amazon and you’ll see the panels and the snaps in much better detail. PowerFilm Solar 48V Golf Cart Charging Kit (TXT model) The complete kit costs around $1,100.

In our community, it is likely that after a big earthquake it will be some days before First Responders can get around to helping us. So, our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team will be faced with transporting our First Aid team, or, conversely, elderly or injured residents to First Aid/Triage and/or hospitality sites. Battery-powered golf carts may be what we depend on. We have a number of them, owned by individuals and they have volunteered to make them available to our neighborhood ERT in an emergency. And this summer, our HOA purchased a golf cart exclusively for Association use! 

(Note: Think you’d like to drive your cart to the grocery store or the drugstore? Golf carts are street legal only in a few cities — mostly retirement communities. Such street-legal carts require seat belts, mirrors, turn indicators, etc. Check with your city before you decide to take your cart on the roads. )

Adult 3-wheeled tricycles

We also have a number of tricycles in our senior neighborhood. People ride them regularly for short trips or for longer ones, as exercise. The tricycles are satisfactory for carrying light-duty items (first aid supplies, blankets, etc.) in their rear-mounted baskets.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $500 per bike . . . and over $1,300 for an electric powered unit. (You’d also want a battery-recharge capability for the electric one.) (P.S. I had an electric bike a couple of years ago, and loved it! That extra assist when going up hills allowed me to arrive at work unflustered!)

If you’re shopping, check for SIZE (the image shows a 26-inch model: Schwinn Meridian Adult 26-Inch 3-Wheel Bike (Blue); Schwinn also makes a 24-in.), number of gears, and portability. Some bikes can be folded. Click on the image for details from Amazon about this particular model, and to see others. )

Obviously, if your area is rural and spread out or with lots of hills, the tricycles might prove problematic for your team members. In our case, they work satisfactorily for emergency tranportation as our inclines are not steep and all homes are accessible by streets.

If roads aren’t passable, you’ll be on foot.

Moving yourself or emergency equipment may be far more difficult if it all has to be done by hand — or foot.

Carrying something in your arms, or on your back, works for shorter distances and limited size and/or weight. What’s far more efficient?

A standard dolly or hand truck

Hand-truck

We actually own three different versions of dollies here at our house, and we’ve gone though a number of them over the years! Here are some things to consider.

Lightweight dollies are suitable for carrying boxes of papers or books, a cooler, an emergency pack, luggage.  Most fold nearly flat for easy storage in the closet or trunk of the car. Check carefully about the weight the dolly can carry – and be sure it’s tall enough for you.

Expect to pay around $35 – $45 for a good, small dolly.  Click the links below for details.

Magna Cart Ideal 150 lb Capacity Steel Folding Hand Truck

Industrial-strength dollies convert from wagon/flat cart to dolly. Get the biggest tires you can find; they make it easier to go up or down stairs, or over rough ground. These dollies can carry items weighing hundreds of pounds. Here’s an example, at Amazon, with cost around $65. (Others can be far fancier, with prices considerably higher.)

Harper Trucks Lightweight 400 lb Capacity Nylon Convertible Hand Truck and Dolly

A wagon

Nothing is more serviceable than a traditional red wagon, just like this one! Radio Flyer Classic Red Wagon Click on the image of the wagon or on the link for more details, and then cruise though Amazon to see other versions. Some  have wooden sides, some are made of canvas instead of metal, etc.

A wagon is something you could probably use frequently — for gardening, hauling groceries from the car, etc.  — and then just commandeer in the case of an emergency. The best thing? Everyone knows how to manage a wagon, without any special training.

Of course, any item with wheels could be useful for transporting items in an emergency: a rolling cart, a wheelbarrow, a wheelchair, a skateboard. From a safety standpoint, just be sure to get something that is sturdy enough for your needs.

Oh, and don’t forget to have a few bungee cords handy for holding things down! We definitely prefer the cords with the wire ends, not the plastic ends. Here’s an assortment costing less than $15 :Highland (9008400) Bungee Cord Assortment Jar – 24 Piece

This isn’t all there is to the topic of transportation.

Action item: Use recent news events as a prompt for a conversation around your own dinner table, or at your local emergency response group. If you live where flooding is a possibility, you’ll want to add floating items to your transport list. Whatever, you may come up with some new and better ideas for your location and your family.

In every case, though, you’ll need these items BEFORE the emergency hits.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Harvey – The First Week

Thursday, August 31st, 2017
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Flood Hurricane Harvey

 

How well would you have done?

“I’ve heard it a hundred times: Be prepared for emergencies!”

I’m sure you have. And I’m sure the people in Texas had heard it, too. But what we witnessed this week suggests that a whole lot of them were caught unprepared.

Let’s take a look at some of what we saw just this week. It might be useful for all our neighbors and friends, not to mention ourselves.

We have learned a lot about Houston, Texas.

So many people who had been through past storms just weren’t ready for this one. Why not?

This is turning out to be an historical event. That is, NEVER BEFORE SEEN!  Not a hundred year rain, or a 500 year rain, or a 1,000 year rain. Amounts of rain outside the insurance guidelines; amounts that required weather forecasters to tear down their charts and build new ones, live on the air!

One simple fact stands out to help explain the event. Sea surface waters near Texas rose as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average, creating some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. This heat is what caused the storm to develop so rapidly into a Category 4 storm. (Read more at The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/did-climate-change-intensify-hurricane-harvey/538158/

One neighborhood after another fell victim to flooding. Why is flooding so widespread in Houston?

Again, one fact seems to stand out: “over-development.

Houston has been called “The Wild West” of development. It’s the largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws. As millions of new residents have moved in, development has been allowed in flood-prone areas. Water management seems to be built on a patchwork drainage system of bayous, city streets and a couple of 80-year-old dams. (Looking for more background? Check out this article from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/harvey-urban-planning/?utm_term=.f2848cb00326)

The city just isn’t able to handle a big storm like Harvey.

(With more and increasingly violent storms on the horizon, you should be asking yourself about your own city’s plan and preparedness.)

Then we learned a lot from individual families.

From TV footage you could see and hear the differences between people who had prepared and those who hadn’t. Here are some of the images that stick with me, and questions we could all be asking ourselves.

1-We didn’t hear from people who actually evacuated safely before the rains hit. We did hear about some people who refused to evacuate. (One man was quoted as saying, “I got food and I got my gun. That’s all I need.”) Ask yourself: “Am I prepared to evacuate if word comes down – or would I resist, delay or flat-out not go?”

2-Many people were not prepared because they weren’t expecting a disaster. (“Lived here 20 years, assumed we’d be fine.”) Even if their homes weren’t flooded, when their neighborhood was surrounded by water, these folks hadn’t set aside enough supplies to shelter in place for more than a few days. Ask yourself: “How many days’ worth of supplies do I REALLY have?” (Follow-on question: What about supplies, including flashlights and batteries, for if the power is out?)

3-We heard so many stories from people who said they’d gone to sleep and then somehow, in the night, had wakened to find water in the house. If course, you don’t leave your TV on all night for weather reports. In an emergency, though, getting important communications in a timely fashion could mean the difference between considered action and panic. Ask yourself: “How do I plan to get emergency news?” (We’ve written before about emergency and weather alert radios that could be left on all night if need be! And here’s an Advisory with alert app info. And does your community have a Reverse 911 system, that is, an automated message delivery system that could notify you via telephone about impending flooding or other emergency?)

4-We saw image after image of people climbing out of boats with just the clothes they were wearing, perhaps gripping a small plastic bag with “valuables.” And did you see how many of them were barefoot?! Ask yourself: “Do I have an evacuation bag or backpack compact enough to carry or wear onto a boat or bus or even into a helicopter rescue basket?” (And does it have shoes in it?)

5-Pets were visible in nearly every shot. I saw a boat going by that carried probably a dozen animal carriers – just pets, no people! By the same token, I’m sure we all saw the image of the dog swimming at the end of his leash. If you have a pet, ask yourself: “Does my pet have a carrier? Can I get my pet INTO the carrier? Can I handle the carrier myself while helping my other family members?”

6-People were using landlines to call 911, and cell phones to share emergency messages via Twitter and/or Facebook. Ask yourself: “Do I know how to use social media in an emergency? Who would I send a message to? What’s their number/address?”

7-In the midst of everything, I heard newscasters mentioning that people were being urged to apply for disaster relief – like, immediately! (FEMA anticipates some 450,000 people will apply.) Ask yourself: “If I had to apply for relief from an evacuation shelter, would I be able to supply the necessary information?

Here’s a brief list, taken from the DisasterAssistance.gov website, of what you need for the application:

  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of citizenship (non-citizen national or qualified alien)
  • Insurance coverage you have (type, amounts)
  • Damage you’ve sustained (photos?)
  • Household income at time of disaster
  • Contact information

You might be able to provide direct deposit details, too, if you have them.

Don’t let Harvey get by without doing something about your own preparedness.

So do you know people who STILL haven’t done any preparing for an emergency because they “can’t imagine it happening?”

If you do, and if you care about them, please forward this article while Houston is fresh in everyone’s minds.

If you know people who need even more of a push to build a simple evacuation bag, send them to EmergencyPlanGuide.org with the recommendation that they buy our guide to building a custom survival kit. (Actually spending a few dollars may be the impetus they need to take this seriously.)
Build Your Custom Survival Kit
If you need to refresh your own kit, or build MORE kits so you have one for each family member, the workplace and your cars, our workbook will help sort it all out. (It has pictures, lists, charts, product reviews and recommendations – everything you need to approach this systematically and get it done!)

⇒    Here’s the link to the Guide: http://EmergencyPlanGuide.org/custom-survival-kit/.

Let’s all of us use Houston’s story to add to our own knowledge and resolve. And let’s contribute to helping residents of Houston however we can. They are going to need help for a long time.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. One other thing we learned about Texas is that people pitched in to help their neighbors. It was inspiring. Let’s hope that our neighbors would help us and we’d help them in the same way.

A New Source of Fear

Thursday, August 24th, 2017
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Malcolm Nance Gooks

Recommended Resources

A Dose of Reality on ISIS and the Terrorism Risks

Virginia writes: “Terrorism is not a favorite topic of ours. A couple of months ago I wrote to provide some updated statistics. I figured that would hold us for a while. Today, though, recent news has compelled us to write again on this topic, from a different perspective. You may recall that Joe has background in military intelligence, so he has authored this Advisory.”

The 17th of May, 2015 was one of the most important days in the battle to defeat ISIS.

It marked the successful conclusion of one of the most important missions undertaken by US Special Forces – a raid on the operational center for the entire ISIS organization.

The center housed comprehensive files on the ISIS government and fighting forces in Iraq and Syria, from the leadership right down to the rank and file of their organization. And it was all on computer.

The Obama Administration authorized the undertaking. The target, located in Eastern Syria near Deir ez-Zor directly in the heart of ISIS occupied territory, was heavily fortified. Despite the defense of the target, it was completely overrun.

Our Special Forces returned with the electronic keys to the kingdom in the form of as much as seven terabytes of data that included virtually all of the financial transactions, resources (including payroll and biometric records) on their officials, their army and captives as well as addresses, cellphone numbers and the IP addresses of their remote locations.

This coup yielded the battlefield intelligence our forces needed to begin a systematic program to eliminate (or “vaporize”) — in the place and time of our choosing – ISIS leaders and key personnel.

This 2015 mission marked a turning point in the fight against the ISIS terrorist organization.

As the operation continued, it has had particular importance to us on the home fronts in the US, Europe and the Middle East. It means that there will be fewer skilled terrorists re-entering the country, and because we have more complete data on many of those who manage to escape the lethal battlefield, they are easier to apprehend.

Thus, as might be expected, we can expect more terrorist strikes by “amateurs.”

They will choose targets of opportunity, selected at random – which makes such attacks harder to anticipate and defend against. And, while any one person’s odds of being a victim of terrorism are small, each attack that appears on the news meets a goal of the organization, to frighten the populace and inspire the gullible.

On the news today we heard an interview with Malcolm Nance, expert on intelligence and terrorism, speaking about the latest ISIS recruiting effort using a 10-year old “American Boy.” Details are still sketchy, but Nance’s comments followed the theme developed above. Now that ISIS fighters are systematically being removed, ISIS propaganda is aimed at widows and children, hoping to turn them into suicide bombers!

I have confidence in Nance’s assessments, and have gone so far as to purchase and study three of the many books he has written over the past 10 years or so. (The image at the top of this Advisory shows me with two of his most recent books.) If you want to understand more, I recommend these three highly:

Hacking Isis focuses on the “cyber” aspect of ISIS’s recruiting and communications, and what we are doing to track and defeat them in cyberspace.

The Plot to Hack America details how Putin and WikiLeaks “tried to steal the 2016 election.” Obviously we learn more about this story every single day . . .

The Terrorist Recognition Handbook, first written in 2003 and updated in 2014, is a heavy-duty 394 page textbook on terrorist activities, with a particularly compelling chapter about suicide terrorism.

What can we do to protect ourselves, here at home and abroad?

For you and us, the best defense is the advice we have given repeatedly . . . “Situational Awareness!”

Train yourself to constantly take stock of where you are and what is going on around you. Always be cognizant of vulnerable crowd situations, how and where to exit dangerous situations and, above all, exercise caution and intelligence about how, when and where to bury your nose in your tablet or smart phone.

As for self-protection in random attacks, it is highly unlikely that any weapon or self-defense training will prove more useful than fleeing the scene or finding some place to hide and letting the professionals handle the attacker.

You may have a chance against a single attacker whose motive is intimidation, harassment or burglary, depending of course on your age, physical condition and self-defense skills. We have written before about simple weapons that you can use competently and conveniently. One of the simplest and most effective is a sturdy mechanical pen or pencil. Better yet is a “tactical pen” that is an actual ball point pen made of sturdy steel. Proper use of this “weapon” can effectively wound an attacker, seriously enough to make escape possible . . . or, even mortally wound the assailant.

But the story is different when faced with an active shooter or a knife-wielding assailant whose sole motivation is to kill you – and who isn’t worried about his own life. Even a citizen carrying a knife or gun may find it ineffective or worse, may lose control of the weapon and find it turned on them.

The bottom line — the more aware you are, the less likely you will be caught up in a dangerous situation, and the less likely you will need a weapon.  Practice awareness!

Joseph Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

Hurricane Headscratchers – A Quiz for Preppers

Friday, June 16th, 2017
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Hurricane forming

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

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

We do a lot of preparing!

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

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

Let’s start our quiz with the easiest questions.

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

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

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

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

5-Precipitation from a hurricane is greatest

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

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

7-Match the storm name with the likely location:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Wind
  • Tornado
  • Storm surge
  • Flash flooding

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

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

And the answer is . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9-Cyclonic winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

10-They blow clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

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

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

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

Want more on hurricanes?

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

May 31 is Dam Safety Awareness Day

Monday, May 29th, 2017
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Who ever heard of this holiday?

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a high-hazard dam?

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

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

What risks do dams face?

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

Embankment dam weaknesses

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

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

So who is keeping track of whether dams are safe?

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

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

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

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

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

Where are these dangerous dams?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want more info for your family or your group?

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Last year 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.

And while I hesitate to say it, you may find that the way your insurer defines “not covered” is likely to be confusing and/or downright misleading. You need to become your own expert.

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!

Oh, and that story about storing batteries in the refrigerator? 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 features and options. These models range from $20 – $40 each; click on the name to go directly to more details on Amazon. And they all look pretty much the same, either flat (like a fat cell phone) or tubular (like mine, in the photo above).

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. Some packages have 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!

 

 

Solar chargers

Finally, don’t overlook the small solar devices designed to recharge your phone and/or other devices. Some emergency radios have small solar panels, and can recharge a phone.

There are also small, handy solar panels you can attach to your backpack and recharge while you go! They cost around $40. Here’s an example – click on the picture to get full details.

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.