Battery Failure Ruins Flashlight

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

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.

Secure Your Space

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

The Great ShakeOut Hits California

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

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

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

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

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

No and Low Cost Recommendations for Quake Safety

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

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

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

Handyman Help for Quake Safety

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

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

Keep in mind:

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

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

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

Need a shopping list of earthquake safety items?

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

Picture or Mirror Hanger

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

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

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

Big Stuff on Shelves

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

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

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

Appliances and Furniture

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

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

QuakeHOLD! 4520 Universal Flat Screen Safety Straps

Quakehold! 4163 15-Inch Furniture Strap Kit, Beige

Quakehold! 2830 7-Inch Steel Furniture Cable

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

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

Objets d’art and Collectibles

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

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

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

Quakehold! 66111 2-Ounce Museum Wax


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

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

A Weekend’s Worth of Work

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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



Guest Speaker Sparks New Interest

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

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

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

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

Some questions to start the discussion.

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

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

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

Q: Who’s in charge?

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

Q: How often is the EOC activated?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What about evacuating?

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

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

Q: How long a wait should we plan for?

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

Q: What about people with special needs?

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

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

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

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

Q: How will we know what to report?

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

Q: How do we find out more about CERT?

A: Contact the City.

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

A: Contact your group leader to find out more.

At this point, we took over the meeting.

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

Then we adjourned to cookies and punch.

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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


Emergency Radio Update

Thursday, May 12th, 2016
Panasonic Emergency Radio

How old do you think this radio is?

Radios — The Most Popular Piece of Emergency Gear

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

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

So it’s time for yet another radio update.

Status of our long-time favorite emergency radio

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

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

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

New favorite, the Eton FRX5

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

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

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

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

And here’s what it looks like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The radio we would upgrade to if we were flush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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Here’s a Gift for You or a Friend

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

On a daily basis we’re caught up in the excitement of whatever storm or heat wave is going on, or in the latest political maneuverings. Or maybe news from the sports world.

Here in California, though, there’s a background noise like the far-off rumble of a train. It is  . . .

The steady threat of an earthquake.

It’s tough to get people to think about and prepare for something they may never have experienced, no matter how dramatic you try to make it. Our neighborhood emergency planning group comes back to the subject of “the big one,” and earthquakes in general, again and again!

Here’s one of our best neighborhood emergency response group flyers.

How to protect yourself during an earthquake and afterwards

Share this flyer!

How to use the flyer.

  • Make copies and go over it at a neighborhood meeting. You will be surprised at the number of questions that will come up and the number of comments people will make about the supplies they have stored. Discuss the status of gas lines in your neighborhood and how to tell if there is a leak. Take a look around the room you are in and ask people what furniture they would get under if the earthquake happened right this minute! If your meeting takes place at night, find out how many people in the audience even have a flashlight with them! (Action item: Come prepared with a flashlight to give away as a door prize.)
  • Make a few changes to the text and and use the flyer at work.
  • Send to family members and out-of-town friends, too.

Emphasize the warning about NOT STARTING YOUR CAR if you suspect a gas leak. Cars backed up in traffic jams have started devastating fires in earlier quakes.

So you can make any changes, and fill in the box at the bottom of the flyer,

Click here to download the Microsoft Word document.

Let us know how your meeting goes. What questions came up that you weren’t expecting?

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


If you need more background for likely questions, here are some earlier Advisories that may be useful:

Urban Survival Tools

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Wilderness survival is a hot topic these days.

. . . not just for people concerned about preparing for disaster.

The New York hunt for escaped convicts made us all think about the challenges of staying alive and hidden in a heavily forested area, not to mention how to find food.

On T.V., a new season of “Survivor” programs is being advertised, following the pattern of past years — put a person or a team into the wilderness (Panama, Alaska) with few if any tools – sometimes even naked — to see how they stay alive. Make sure they also attract viewers.

Many of us watch these survival activities sitting in front of a TV in our living room. Step outside, and there’s no real wilderness to be found within a hundred miles!

Aftermath of disaster

How to start?

In the aftermath of a disaster, we need urban survival skills.

For us, urban survival skills that allow us to shelter in place are what will make the difference.

Take another look at shelter.

Assume your home or building has been damaged, by storm, earthquake or even looting. What might you need in order to make sure it’s habitable, since you have no place else to go?

  • Basic hand tools and supplies

Power tools are out. You are likely to have the following tools at home now, or can get them locally. Consider quality. Poor tools are dangerous and ineffective.

With a good hammer, saw and/or hacksaw, and pry bar you can remove debris. Add a tarp or plastic sheeting and tape to your supplies and you can turn a damaged room or wall into a place that is structurally safe and at least somewhat protected from the elements.  Don’t forget heavy work gloves. You can’t do this sort of work bare handed.

  • Dealing with metal

Of course, not everything can be disassembled by force. In an urban setting you may need to open metal cabinets, remove fallen ceiling ductwork, get into utility closets, etc.. To do this, you’ll need to unscrew, unlock or cut wire or metal. (A pair of safety goggles is a good idea, here.)

Recommended specialty tools for dealing with the aftermath of an urban disaster.

A very good multi-tool can be easily stored and can serve a number of these construction purposes. (Avoid a multi-tool with hammer. It won’t be heavy enough to do the debris management we’re talking about here.)

Some of the very best Swiss army type tools have the usual blades and saws, including metal saws, and also include different size screw drivers plus a ratchet with multiple bits.  There are different models, and prices vary from around $120 to over $200, so it’s a good idea to shop. Start your shopping by looking at the Victorinox Spirit Plus model.

As a comparison, the Leatherman Multi-tool is one we recommend for carrying in your 3-day survival kit. It has basic blades and screwdriver, and costs $35 – $40. Both the Leatherman and the Victorinox weigh about the same amount – 5-7 oz. – so that’s not a deciding factor.

As always, pick tools appropriate for the person using them.

Good tools leverage the strength of the user, but only when they are properly used. Be sure children know how to use any tools before including them in a child’s survival kit.

OK, that’s it for now. In our next Advisory we’ll be talking about staying warm in an urban setting. Stay tuned. . . and in the meanwhile, get those multi-tools!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Questions to Ask About Gas Line Safety

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

An Ongoing Threat

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

The March 26, 2015 massive explosion and fire in  New York’s  East Village caused the collapse of three buildings and fire damage to a fourth — a reminder that natural gas continues to be a threat, particularly where the gas lines are aging – as they all are!

At one of your Emergency Response Team meetings, I’m sure you’ve discussed the threat posed by natural gas. If you haven’t, or if it’s time for a review, here are some questions to start the conversation.

1. Where are gas lines located in our neighborhood and building?

Large-diameter transmission lines may run near or even through your neighborhood, with smaller-diameter distribution lines connecting to individual residences or buildings. You should be able to get from your gas company a map showing the transmission lines. Getting maps showing smaller distribution lines may be more difficult. (In our case, we were able to get original construction drawings from the city. They show the exact location and size of our gas distribution lines.)

2. Where are shut-off valves located?

The gas utility, gas system operator and/or property owner may not want to reveal exactly where shut-off valves are located, mostly because they don’t want to invite mischief or sabotage.

However, from a SAFETY standpoint it is imperative for First Responders to know how to shut the system down in an emergency. A strong neighborhood CERT group can get this information.

Shut-off valves may be located at the individual home, at the building, at the street, and in other places along the system.

We recently had a visit from the crew of our nearest fire station. It was a shock for us to learn that they did NOT know exactly where our gas main shut-offs are located!

3. How do our shut-off valves work?

As a neighborhood group, you may be limited to what you can really do in your community. However, to the extent that you do know where lines and valves are located, you should find out what it takes to shut the gas off.

Review the different types of shut-off valves in your vicinity.

  • Automatic? Some valves, like seismic gas shut-off valves, operate automatically. However, such valves are not required and you probably don’t have any on your system.
  • Appliance? Within the home, individual appliances may have their own shut-off valves.
  • Entire home? In an emergency, shutting off the gas to the home likely means shutting it off at the meter. To do this, you’ll need a wrench and an understanding of the ON vs. the OFF position of the valve. (See earlier post.) Your turn-off may look like the one in the picture, or it may resemble a regular garden hose faucet handle.
  • 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.

Are any of the valves locked?

Naturally, if a gas valve is locked, no one except the operator may be able to access it. In a widespread emergency (earthquake) this could be an added problem.

In the Northridge Quake of 1994, managers of an affected mobile home park saw that gas escaping through the streets was being ignited by cars of residents evacuating the park. Unfortunately, management was unable to break the lock to turn off the gas at the main so it continued to fuel these fires.

4. What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

In an emergency,

  • Who is authorized to shut off the gas?
  • Which valves are they authorized to shut off? Remember, the gas utility probably “owns” the system up to the meter; you, as property owner, own everything on the house side of the meter.
  • What training do these authorized people receive?
  • How likely is it that authorized and trained people will be on hand in an emergency, when immediate action may be required? In a widespread disaster, Fire fighters may not reach you immediately; representatives of the gas company may also be delayed, perhaps indefinitely.

In the deadly 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, it took the gas company over 60 minutes to get the gas shut off!

5. What exactly are the dangers associated with natural gas?

The gas distribution system has thousands of miles of pipeline that operate safely nearly all the time. However, when there is a failure, it can result in a dramatic explosion and fire. Failures result from the following:

  • Pressure. The first concern of the system operator is to maintain the appropriate pressure in the system based on the size of the pipes and the number of connections to it. (The more connections, the more pressure needed to deliver the gas.) As communities grow, and more connections are added to the system, the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) may need to be adjusted.
  • Pipeline failure Leaks and breaks occur when old pipes fail due to corrosion, improper welds or joins, improperly installed equipment, too much pressure – or as the result of natural events such as an earthquake.
  • Leaks Just because your system is old doesn’t necessarily mean it is in danger of failing. And just because a gas leak is detected doesn’t mean you are in imminent danger. However, when a leak is identified, you need to act quickly and decisively. What you need to be concerned about is a build-up of gas around a leak or as the result of gas “migrating” to an area where it gets trapped, such as in a basement, under a house, etc.

CERT Action item #1: Learn the signs of a gas leak and know how to respond. Start by reviewing this Emergency Plan Guide Advisory, and then research and distribute gas line safety bulletins that you can get from your own local gas utility.

CERT Action item #2: Find out how often and what kind of system testing (pressure, cracks, etc.) takes place in your area.

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.) See if you can set up a speaker from your own fire department or local utility.

Your invitation will cause that Fire Official to update his or her knowledge about your neighborhood, as well as remind your neighbors to be more alert. Every bit of knowledge helps!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Looking for more information on gas lines? Check out these Emergency Plan Guide Advisories:

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Customize Your First Aid Kit

Friday, March 6th, 2015

First Aid Kits for home, car, survival kitYou have three first-aid kits, don’t you? One in the house, one in the car, and one in your emergency backpack?

You can buy a reasonable pre-built kit for around $20. But, as always with pre-built collections,

Are your first-aid kits well-stocked?

  • First, your kits should have high-quality items. I’ve read so many reviews that mention scissors that won’t cut or tweezers that don’t tweeze!
  • Second, contents should match your own level of medical knowledge. For example, some pre-made kits contain actual surgical equipment – probably useless and even dangerous for the untrained.
  • Third, your kit should have room for any specialty items that fit your family members, your climate and potential natural emergencies. For example, you may need to add sunscreen, water purification tablets or insect repellent, given where you live.

Extras that may make the difference.

Spend some time reading the list of items contained in several of the ready-made kits, and you may get some good ideas for extras. Here are a few to consider.

Liquid bandage

As the name suggests, this liquid can be applied to small cuts or wounds. It quickly dries, holding the cut together or covering the wound with a tough “skin” that protects the wound from dirt, is flexible and waterproof, and antiseptic to boot. (Won’t stick if applied to wet or bloody skin.) This pack has four bottles.

New-Skin Liquid Bandage, First Aid Liquid Antiseptic, 1-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 4)

Tampons and pads

If you have a cut that needs more than a band aid, a pad gives you something solid to apply pressure against. As for tampons, obviously they could be used to plug a puncture – and the string can serve as the wick for a long-lasting emergency light if you have oil as a fuel. Head to your local drugstore to pick up the sizes and style you want. If they aren’t packaged individually, you can always put a few into a plastic bag and then into your kit.  Be sure to use the unscented versions. 

Hand sanitizer wipes

We’ve all used “wipes” after eating messy food – and discovered that some are a lot better than others, and smell better, too! Still, in an emergency, probably any reasonable sanitizing wipe would be better than nothing. Individually packed wipes can be tucked right into your first aid kit. A small plastic bottle of hand sanitizer could work, too. I’ve used Purell and liked it.

Individually wrapped: PURELL Sanitizing Hand Wipes Individually Wrapped 100-ct. Box
Small, 2 oz. bottles: Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, 2 Ounce (Pack of 12)

Ace bandage or “self-stick” bandage

In rough terrain, an ace bandage can keep your turned ankle functioning. A standard ace bandage needs safety pins or special clips to keep it secured; the “self-stick” version looks the same but sticks to itself just like cling wrap.

Standard bandage with clips: ACE Elastic Bandage with Hook Closure, 3 Inches (Pack of 2)
Self-stick version: ACE Self-Adhering Elastic Bandage, 2 Inches (Pack of 3)

Adhesive Tape

Taping gauze over a wound takes precision. If you mess up, drop a piece, etc., you can go through the provided supply very quickly. My recommendation – add another generous roll of 1 in. tape to your kit so you won’t run out.
Durapore Medical Tape, Silk Tape – 1 in. x 10 yards – Each Roll


Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. While you’re thinking about First Aid kits, you may want to review this Advisory about the dangers of out-of-date medicines.



Emergency Radios – Updated Reviews

Thursday, September 11th, 2014
Emergency Radio review

Where’s the radio?

The recent earthquake in Napa, California happened at 3:20 a.m. The electricity immediately went out, so no TV, no radio, no news! And for most people, no light. If you have seen any pictures of the insides of their homes, with furniture tipped over and everything strewn around, you can imagine how terrifying and how dangerous the situation was.

So it’s back to the basics. Having a good battery-operated or crank emergency radio HANDY will provide news and light to help you navigate the disaster. You can get a very serviceable radio for under $50, and more elaborate ones for less than $100. You probably want more than one radio.

I went back to our radio reviews to be sure that our recommendations still hold.

The best emergency radio of the bunch: Ambient Weather

The least expensive of the radios we tested is still the best, overall.  It’s the Ambient Weather Adventurer.  Sturdy, compact, lightweight. Charge it by cranking or with solar, and when fully charged it can power your phone. Use it to get NOAA weather alerts and local news.

As you know we use Amazon to deliver our recommendations, so I went further into the Ambient Weather site as well as the Amazon site to see what else I could find.

There are a couple of newer, more powerful models.

Add a siren: The original model 111 that we own has been upgraded to the model 112 with the addition of an emergency siren, a flashing red light (there’s already a really good   regular LED flashlight), and some internal improvements for charging. You have the option of getting a whole “connections” package to hook up to your various electronic devices.

Add AAA batteries:  The 333 models add AAA batteries to the mix, giving you a sixth way to charge the radio. (It already comes with a Lithium-ion battery, has solar, connects to AC — the wall — and DC — car battery — can charge from your computer, and, of course, cranks.) In direct sunlight the 333 will charge itself and play continuously, which means it’s pretty strong. (No solar charging at 3:20 a.m., of course.)

Add Shortwave:  All these radios have Digital AM/FM and NOAA Weather Alert channels; the 335 models add shortwave. According to the description, the 335 can charge your cell phone, MP3, MP4, Kindle, iPod, iPad, and iPhone. And your computer. The package comes with various adapter cords including, of course, an AC adapter.

From our experience with shortwave radios, if this is important to you, you may want to spend time looking at some of the other radios on our list that specialize in shortwave.  Professional shortwave (with fine tuning ability, for example) adds cost and you really want to be sure you have top-rated equipment if this is what you need.

We’ve added more to the reviews of the other radios in our list, too.

We have added new remarks to all our Radio Reviews, and upgraded to newer models.  Before you buy, take a look at all the comments here.

But do buy. Having an emergency radio that works is essential. And knowing you can get to it in the dark at 3:20 a.m. makes sense, too.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team


P.S. Don’t let your good intentions fade.  Sign up below to get regular reminders and tips.


Toilet News: The Three P’s of What to Flush

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Toilet Paper in EmergencyToday is September 1. Today, in Japan, hundreds of thousands of people are taking place in a disaster drill on the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. And this year, they are being encouraged to stockpile toilet paper.

Japan’s disaster planning may have started in earnest in 1923, when 140,000 people were killed in Tokyo alone. And planning has intensified as a result of the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and resulting atomic power plant catastrophe.

But why a campaign to . . .

Stockpile toilet paper?

It turns out that some 40% of all toilet paper in Japan comes from one region – a region that is earthquake prone. According to government reports, within a month after the 2011 earthquake, toilet paper shortages began.

“Along with food and water, toilet paper was among the first items to disappear from store shelves,” said Toshiyuki Hashimoto, an industry ministry official in charge of paper products.

As part of this year’s campaign, paper manufacturers have come up with a special, 500 ft. roll of tightly compacted toilet paper. Price? Around $5 for a six-pack, that should last a family of four for a month.

No toilet paper in your house?

And in the U.S.? What do you do when you run out of toilet paper?

Most people reach for a tissue.

The problem? Kleenex, or tissue paper, is designed to hold together when wet – so it can block your toilet (if you are lucky enough in an emergency to have workable plumbing).

What about baby-wipes?

These are great for your baby, and for your emergency kit – soft, strong. But again, unless they are specifically labeled as “flushable,” they too will clog the system . . . and really mess up a septic tank.

And even the flushable variety is creating problems in many systems, because they take too long to disintegrate.

Anything else at hand?

We’ve heard of people using other items as toilet paper in an emergency: paper towels, newspaper, the Yellow Pages (Who has a phone directory anymore?), Sears and Roebuck catalog (stopped being published in 1993) and even corn husks.  (Corn husks?)

The point is, consider how much toilet paper (or wipes) your family would need in an emergency. Flatten rolls so they will take up less room. This is something you really don’t want to run out of.

If you’re interested in buying something specifically for your emergency supplies, try Amazon for “compact” toilet paper.

Oh, and to get back to the . . .

Three P’s of what to flush?

Whether it’s every day, or in an emergency, the answer is the same: pee, poop and (toilet) paper.  Period.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team — Virginia Nicols



Survival Kit Missing Item

Friday, August 15th, 2014
Prescription medicines

Do you recognize this warning?

Do you have basic survival gear packed and ready? The dozen or so basics plus personal items? Water for at least three days?

What about supplies for the longer term?

Enough for 10-14 days

We work on a 10-14 day plan, since that’s how long it could take in a widespread emergency for rescue workers and government agencies or the Red Cross to reach us. And when we look at that time frame, we see an immediate problem. It’s medicines.

Many prescriptions can’t be renewed in advance.

Most medical and pharmaceutical offices have a policy of not renewing prescriptions until the last possible minute – that is, not until the current supply is exhausted, or, at the most, 2-3 days before the last pill or dose is due.

On its surface this seems like a rational policy, and, of course, is probably the best way to manage inventory.

But, on closer examination, the logic breaks down completely. If the disaster hits when you’re down to your last 3 or 4 pills, you could be facing a compound emergency.

“Do not skip doses or discontinue.”

You may survive the disaster only to have created a medical emergency for yourself! How often have you seen a message like the one in the image:  “Do not skip doses or discontinue unless directed by your doctor.”

Power outages will make purchasing medicines impossible.

Following a major disaster, entire regions may be without electricity. This means ATMs, credit cards, and gas stations won’t be working. Mail won’t be delivered.

This also means medical offices and pharmacies, along with all other businesses in the region, may be closed entirely. It could be days or weeks before life returns to normal – and thus days or weeks before you can get your prescription refilled in the normal way.

Discuss this with your physician and pharmacist.

Could your first prescription be renewable after two weeks instead of only after 30 days? Or could the initial prescription contain enough for 45 days, and not just the usual 30? You’d then at least have a chance of having enough pills so you could continue your prescribed treatment even if your normal source of medicines is unavailable.

We suggest that you have this discussion with your physician and/or your pharmacist. Surely they will see the logic of your request — unless they simply don’t see the benefit of preparing for emergencies. You might want to put your request in writing to get “on the record” and give them something to work with.

Consider this fall-back strategy.

In the face of this problem, we order refills as soon as we can: in 25 or 26-day increments. This gives us the chance to build up an extra 14-day supply, 3 or 4 pills at a time.

We keep the extras in our survival kit, rotating them regularly to be sure they are fresh. Naturally, this means the kit has to be opened up and closed up again pretty often.

It seems a shame to have to “outwit the system” this way, but when health (or even survival) is at stake, it’s simply necessary.

Don’t overlook this survival kit item.

If you know friends or family dependent on medications, send this post to them and suggest they print off a copy for their doctor and their pharmacist. And encourage them to consider how they will get that extra 10-14 days’ supply of prescription medicines to keep them going in an emergency.

Emergency Plan Guide
Joe Krueger and Virginia Nicols



Bam! Power Outage in Southern California

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Emergency LightAt about 4:30 p.m. last Saturday, with temperatures hovering around 92 degrees, I was working at my desk when WHAM!, the power went off.

Before I could even get up from the chair a few things happened:

• My computer battery back-up started beeping.
• Our home alarm system started beeping.
• All our emergency wall lights went on.  (See the photo!)

I went into Emergency Response mode.

Step One: Size up the situation

1. My home assessment: nothing damaged, no danger.
2. I checked on the neighborhood: outage in all directions for several blocks; community gates automatically locked in open position; some traffic lights blinking red, others out altogether. Sounds of sirens in the distance.
3. I tested: cell phones were working, but not all home phones. (If people answered the phone, we could talk, but if there was no answer I was unable to leave a message.)

Step Two: Shift to full Community Emergency Response Team mode

1. As Division Leader I got on the radio and maintained walkie-talkie contact with our other local CERT divisions, shifting to Central Command frequency to make reports.
2. I reported the outage to the power company on their automated phone system; later, we got an automated report on that same number.
3. Joe monitored official city emergency response on his HAM radio. (Four of us have HAM radio licenses and radios.)
4. We kept neighborhood CERT members up-dated.
5. We contacted neighbors with news and recommendations, by phone and by face-to-face visit.

As it turned out, a fire in an electrical substation took out power for some 27,000 residents. (The fire engines we heard were responding to the fire itself.) Power was restored in phases; we got ours back about 7:30 p.m., others got theirs as late as midnight.

So here’s what we learned from the outage.

Something as simple as a power outage creates excitement.

At first, people were annoyed because they missed their air conditioning.

Then, they realized that they shouldn’t be opening their refrigerator if power was going to be off for several hours.

Then, some figured the thing to do was to go out for dinner – not realizing that traffic was jammed in nearly every direction.

Finally, as evening fell, people realized they had better come up with a flashlight or lantern because after dark they’d have no way to get around! Some of these people then decided to get into the car and drive somewhere to find batteries . . .

So once again, an “incident” serves as a reminder that emergencies WILL happen. This one didn’t develop into any kind of a disaster, but. . .

If it had continued for 24 hours

. . . imagine what would have taken place!

  • People would have spent a night in the dark.
  • Food in refrigerators would have started to spoil; after 24 hours some food would have spoiled completely.
  • Frozen food would likely have thawed and had to be thrown out.
  • Most cell phones would have run out of battery.
  • Most computers would have run out of battery. Internet would have been unavailable anyway, since home networks were all down.
  • Motorized wheelchairs might have run out of battery power.
  • Back-up plans would have to be implemented for people using breathing apparatus, sleeping machines or dialysis equipment.
  • The water supply may have become compromised. (See last week’s blog post on Boil Water Alert.)

Our U.S. grid is aging (like everything else) and while attempts go on to get the right balance between public and private ownership, the grid is increasingly outdated and increasingly vulnerable. Ever-growing demand and climate change add even more stress to the system.

So power outages are not rare, and their frequency is growing. They can last for a few minutes or for days, depending on the cause. A serious solar flare episode could cause whole sections of the grid to fail and be down for 60 to 90 days!

Quick poll:

1. Have YOU experienced a power outage in the past 12 months?
2. How long did it last?
3. What was the cause?
4. What did you take away from the experience?

Let us know. We’re all in this together, so the more we know, the better off we’ll all be!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Commuter’s Go Bag — Will the road home get you there?

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

My daughter’s long commute by car.

Commuter's Go Bag MapOne of my daughters is an executive and works in Beverly Hills, California. With no real public transit available she is forced to drive over 100 miles to and from work, spending a total of almost four hours on the road every day. Every morning she sets out in her executive clothing and footwear and with a list of business phone calls to make along the way.

With two children in separate schools and on different schedules, her chances of a speedy reunion with family following a major earthquake are slim. Roads and freeways could be restricted for use by emergency vehicles responding to calls . . . or even possibly blocked by collapsed bridges and overpasses. At the very least, if the earthquake happens during the workday, roads will be massively congested with people trying to reach home.

If she had to walk to get home . . .

. . . she could. But 50 miles could conceivably take days.

Fortunately, she is conscientious and, of course, has me to help keep her on track!

What’s in her personal Commuter’s Go Bag?

In the trunk of her car she carries a Commuter’s Go Bag that we put together just for her. It has the usual Survival Kit items that you’d expect: walking clothes including comfortable shoes, a jacket, some energy bars and water, a portable radio, and a flashlight with extra batteries. There’s a notebook and pen. And because this is California, she has a space blanket AND an extra pair of sunglasses.

In addition, she carries extra prescriptions for a medical condition, and some cash (coins and small bills).

And because she is competent to deal with it, she has pepper spray.

Perhaps most important, she has paperwork: a list of contact numbers including some for family out of state, and maps that show her route and alternate ways to get home. (GPS may well be out.) She has teamed up with other employees who live in the same general area so they could travel in groups, and they have made note of “safe house” locations along the way where she — and any companions – can stop and rest.

She is good about keeping her car’s gas tank at least ¾ full at all times. If there is a general power outage that could last for days, neither ATMS, Credit Card Processors nor gas station pumps are likely to be operating, of course. I have suggested to her that a small, plastic, fuel canister and siphon hose that could siphon gas out of other stranded commuters’ cars may come in handy along the way! (She gets the concept, but hasn’t been ready to practice siphoning yet . . .!)

Finally, my grandchildren also have emergency supplies at home and know where to go and whom to call following a major emergency because neither mother nor dad is likely to get home any time soon.

Doesn’t it make sense for the commuters you know to have such a kit?

Putting together all the items mentioned above would cost about the same as a tank of gas. Naturally, you’ll have to complete your kit with more personal stuff.

Let us know how it goes!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We added an emergency kit to our granddaughter’s car too. Here’s the story!

Temporary Shelter – Who Needs It?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

If you’ve followed any of the news reports after disasters like the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the Earthquake in Haiti and in any number of Refugee Camps around the world, you may have noticed the tents with the blue Rotary International logo on them.

The ”Rotary Shelter Box” maintains a supply of tents, blankets and cooking utilities in kits ready for shipment to areas of the world where people are suddenly in need of shelter and survival necessities. Rotary has been known to get emergency supplies to areas before government agencies even arrive.

ShelterBox tent

ShelterBox tent delivered in Box, along with blankets, cooking utensils, etc.

The kits are shipped from Great Brittan and the Southeast of the U.S. Funding for the effort is provided by donations (at approximately $1,000 per kit) through Rotary Clubs around the world.

ShelterBox Rotary International

Contents of the Box vary depending on where delivered

This has been a very successful emergency relief program and is a concept we recommend you consider for your Emergency Planning.

“For my emergency planning?”

Yes. Consider this. Leaving your damaged home in the midst of a catastrophe could be tantamount to turning it over to looters.

Who is at greatest risk for losing the shelter of their home?

This is hard to predict in a world of changing weather patterns, earthquakes, explosions and fires due to a deteriorating infrastructure and, yes, even potential terrorist threats.

Since we live in earthquake country, this is our greatest potential threat. If our house ever becomes unsafe to inhabit, we’re prepared to take up temporary residence in a tent on the property until we feel safe to move away.

Think “Dual-Purpose.”

As we approach the summer months everyone’s thoughts turn to outside activities, from barbecues to camping and all manner of utensils, battery-powered lanterns, patio furniture and more.

Are we suggesting that you buy a bunch of camping equipment on the chance that you’ll suffer major damage in an as-yet-unknown emergency? No . . . but, if you are in the market for any of these or other recreational items, we suggest that you might want to consider the utility of these items for non-recreational, emergency  use. As you compare products, you may find that on might be more flexible or suitable than another.

There’s no way we can seriously recommend the larger, specific items. Too much depends on your individual circumstances. What’s right for one family may be overkill for another household. What we will do, from time-to-time, is suggest emergency uses for some of the more popular recreational items.

Do you have dual-purpose investments you’ve made? Let us know about them!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Update: We have just published a REVIEW of FAMILY CAMPING TENTS.

If your home were damaged, would you want to stay close to protect it? Having an appropriate tent could allow for long-term camping.  Check out this new review.


Walkie-Talkies for Emergency Neighborhood Communications

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

“I read you loud and clear.”

Every month, on the second Wednesday at 6 p.m., our neighborhood CERT group clicks on their two-way radios and gets ready to participate in the radio drill.

Radios or Walkie=talkies

Compare sizes of these walkie-talkies to the smart phone in the center of the collection; read about them on our REVIEW page.

The first check-in takes place at the Division level, when the Division Leader checks with 10 or so Block Captains. It’s a quick call: “Division 5 Leader calling Block Captain 5 Alpha. Do you read?” and a quick answer, “Five Alpha reads loud and clear.” Takes less than 7 minutes.

After the Block Captains check in, the Division Leaders and Special Teams (Search and Rescue, First Aid, etc.) switch to the Community Channel and participate in their own roll-call. Another 7 minutes.

What we accomplish with these radio drills is three-fold:

  1. Radios are checked to be sure they are functioning. (If someone forgets to turn the radio off, then when the next month rolls around that radio’s batteries are dead!)
  2. Everyone gets practice using the radios, the channel assignments, and the lingo. (It seems easy to say “Five Leader” or “Five Delta” but non-native English speakers, in particular, need to practice.)
  3. We get reassurance that our community is intact and participating!

Just about a month ago Southern California experienced a 5.3 quake at about 8 p.m. On that evening, CERT group participants grabbed their radios and ran outside to check how neighbors had fared. I stood there in the dark, and soon came the voice of one of my team members, “This is Cheryl, Five Charlie. Is anyone there?” (Protocol slips a bit when there’s a real emergency.)

Cheryl and I were able to discuss our block and ascertain that all was well. I then switched to the Community Channel to check in, and sure enough, other Division Leaders were doing the same thing.

The point is, this simple communications plan worked, worked well, and worked fast. No dialing, no waiting, no ringing, no busy signals, no leaving of messages. Just push to talk.

“I read you loud and clear.”

Take a look at our new review of Walkie-Talkies, just published yesterday. I think you’ll find it interesting and valuable. And let me know if YOU have Walkie-Talkie stories to share. Til then, “Over and Out.”

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Show and Tell

At our recent neighborhood meeting, our CERT leader asked me to do a “show and tell” on the LifeStraw® that I have in my emergency supplies. The photo shows what I shared with the group.


My LifeStraw: mouthpiece open at left

The LifeStraw is a tube you suck through (the “straw”) to filter water when you’re out camping or in an emergency.  I discovered it about three years ago after my son became very ill from swallowing water on a hiking trip. (He spent 5 days in hospital; his organs started shutting down due to dehydration.)

LifeStraw features

There are other products that look the same, but the LifeStraw appears to be “the original.” It won awards when it came out in 2005, and was chosen by the U.N. to provide clean drinking water in developing countries. Later was it made available in the U.S. by manufacturer Vestergaard Frandsen. It costs about $20.

The LifeStraw is handy and simple:

  • It is small and lightweight, so fits into anyone’s survival kit.
  • It requires no batteries or replacement parts.
  • It filters up to 1,000 liters – about 265 gallons.

You can stick the straw into a puddle or stream and drink directly, or scoop up water into a bottle and then stick the straw into the bottle. It filters out 99.99% of bacteria (for ex., e coli and salmonella) and protozoa cysts (Giardia), which is what made my son so sick. It does NOT filter out viruses, which are too small to be caught. And it does not make salt-water drinkable.

How to use it

Since there are no chemicals in the straw, the water coming through has no chemical taste. You remove the caps at both ends and sip through the mouthpiece. It takes a good 4-5 pulls to get the water started. To keep the filter clean, you blow back through the straw to unclog it.

You can use the Straw over and over again.  Just keep it clean and let it dry out before you recap the ends.

Here where we live in Southern California, we are not likely to have puddles to drink from in an emergency since we get so little rain! However, in an emergency, we might be forced to look for other sources of water: water heater, toilet tank, or big water barrel. Getting water out of these tanks would likely involve some dirt, grains of rust, sediment, etc. Filtering the water through the LifeStraw would be a reassurance of its quality.

If you or family members live stormy areas or hike or camp a lot, this is a no-brainer addition to your emergency kit. Get more information at Amazon:
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

Next time: Water from Swimming Pools

I’m on a roll now about water. Next blog will be about how to use SWIMMING POOL WATER in an emergency.  Can you?  Should you? How to treat it first?

Stay tuned.  (If you don’t want to miss that next Advisory, sign up right now on the form below.)

And do check out that LifeStraw. It just feels right.  It makes a great gift!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide team




Camp Stoves in a Disaster

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Cooking in an Emergency

I wrote last week about having an earthquake expert as a guest speaker at our recent neighborhood meeting. Part of his presentation was a map showing the major earthquake faults in Southern California. Naturally, we traced the famous San Andreas Fault – and saw how our water supply lines cross it 32 times coming from Northern California!

When the “big one” hits, we are going to be without water and likely without power (Both electric and gas lines also crisscross the fault.) for weeks.

No power? That makes cooking tough.

I pulled out our emergency stoves. We have two of them, collected over the years.

Three burner camp stoveThe first is the trusty Coleman stove. We have a three-burner which makes it really convenient. The photo shows how my small pot fits on the stove; with those three burners, we can use a large frying pan or even a griddle. Sometimes adjusting the flame takes some careful effort.

One, two or three burners?

One burner camp stoveOur second stove is a one-burner model that we purchased across the street at an Asian market. It is smaller than the three-burner (Note the pot and the gallon of water that appear in each photo for comparison.) and it weighs half as much, making it easier to pack and carry.

Still, with just one burner, I’m juggling pots and having to be creative with one-dish meals. The gas canister doesn’t last as long, either.

With either stove, we can accomplish the essentials: boil water for coffee, cook ramen noodles with dried vegetables (from the same Asian market), and have enough water left over for some washing up.

Which model stove is best?

When you really start cooking outdoors, of course, you have to consider more than size or number of burners. Consider these features:

  1. How stable is the stove? Will it slip, tilt, bend?
  2. How much fuel do I need to store? (Test to measure how fast you go through the canister.) Does the stove have an automatic ignition, or do I need matches?
  3. What kinds/size pots can I use? Do I need special utensils? What about a hot pad?
  4. Do I have bowls and silverware? (Remember the spork – combo spoon and fork, extremely convenient.)
  5. How about cooking oil? Are non-stick pans really non-stick?

Check out our Emergency Plan Guide store to see some typical stoves and learn more about comparing cooking equipment.

The most important part is the reminder to TEST YOUR STOVE before the emergency hits! Of course, remember that camping stoves need to be used outdoors and not inside.

Don’t wait until the next earthquake, or the next big electrical outage to get your cooking arranged, because by then stores may be closed or empty. How about buying a camp stove as an early Father’s Day or Mother’s Day present?

Let me know your experience with your OWN stove/s and we’ll share it here.

your Emergency Plan Guide team


Emergency Training – How To Attract An Expert

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Need some ideas for planning neighborhood meetings?

Below is a list of 15 emergency training topics.

And they’re not just mine.

Expert emergency training

Get expert training for your team.

As you know, I’ve had a Google Alert set up for a while. Actually, two of them, one for “Emergency Preparedness” and one for “Disaster Recovery.” I get about 10 alerts a day about what’s happening around the country.

Most of the alerts are press releases mentioning a person who’s been hired for a new position.

But others announce trainings. Take a look at the following list that I collected in just the last two weeks!

  • Dump catches fire
  • Airport Emergency Plan
  • Snow Emergency Plan
  • Snow Emergency Route Plan
  • Test of Emergency Sirens
  • Training on Emergency Apps
  • Hospital Ground Zero for Shooter Drill
  • Committee moves toward oil disaster preparedness
  • National Hurricane Conference Announces Amateur Radio Sessions for 2014:
  • Indiana University says glitch found during test of emergency alert system has been fixed
  • Catawba Nuclear Power Plant tests terrorism
  • Local, state officials advise: Prepare for flooding
  • State, feds to create tsunami strategy guides for Calif. harbors
  • Attleboro, state emergency agencies plan to offer booklets in Braille
  • Chemical safety becomes focus of neighborhood watch

Which of these might be helpful for your community?

Track down a “guest expert” for your neighborhood group.

Prepare with a few “talking points.”

  1. Jot down a few bullet points about what you’re looking for: topic, length of presentation, where, dates available.
  2. Be ready to describe your audience: how many of them, ages and circumstances.
  3. Then get on the phone:
  • Call the Police Department or Fire Department to find out whom they would recommend.
  • Call the local Red Cross office, same question.
  • Is there a college or university in town? A strategic all to their administrative offices might lead you to your speaker.

This isn’t a complete list, by any means. But if others are getting this specialized training, why shouldn’t you?! All it takes is persistence.

Last month our group had a guest speaker on earthquakes.

Timely, too. In just the past 24 hours we’ve had three of them here in Southern California!

Preparedness is awareness. Let a good guest speaker raise the level of awareness in YOUR neighborhood.

What would be first on YOUR list if you could get an expert?  Let us know your thoughts!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

And if you are having any difficulty finding that speaker, contact me and we can brainstorm together. I’ve been “programs chair” for lots of different organizations!


Nothing Like a Good Cup of Latte Following an Earthquake

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

If you read our posts regularly, you know we’re all about stocking up on food, water and medicines to tide us over in the case of a major disaster or emergency event until over-taxed emergency services can arrive.

 A Small Generator and a Camping Stove

Can Be a World of Luxury in an Emergency!

If you have a small generator (say, 3,000 watts ) that you can run for an hour or so a day, you can probably continue to utilize your refrigerator and freezer. (This is particularly good since I don’t like being without my sour cream herring!) And, since we enjoy our coffee and are big latté drinkers in our house, we began experimenting with packets of instant latté. Most were pretty dismal . . . but, one turned out to be exquisite . . . exceeding our hopes.

The surprise was that the brand, Vinacafé®, is actually a Vietnamese brand.

And then I remembered that The Vietnam of today used to be “French Indo-China.” (Yes some of us are old enough to remember ancient history.) And, if anyone knows how to make a good cup of latté (or should I say Café au Lait) it’s the French (no slight to the Italians intended).

It’s now all we drink. We’ve packed up the latté machine and forsaken Starbucks except when we are on the road.

Not All of Us “Up-Scale Survivalists” are Ready to Grab the

Knife Between Our Teeth and Stalk Wild Animals for Dinner!

If there are any cool-headed, luxury-inclined “survivalists” within earshot, (wordshot?), I warmly recommend you try Vinacafé®. It only costs about 20-30 cents a packet, depending on where you buy it. (Compare that to $3.00+ a cup) So far, the only places that carry it are some Vietnamese grocery stores and

If you don’t have an outside barbecue, you’ll probably want to pick up a one or two-burner camping stove (we chose a Coleman out of loyalty ) that runs on butane. In addition to boiling water for your coffee, you can also cook some of that food you have stored up.

The point to this dissertation is simply that there are some things in life you don’t have to give up, even in difficult times! 🙂

What are your favorite “luxury” items that you’ve stashed in your survival kit or among your emergency supplies?


Joe Krueger

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

The Meaning of Green: Wisdom From The Parking Lot

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

I mentioned in my last post that we had staffed a table at a local neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Faire. (See “Lessons Learned.”)

Well, over the weekend we did some more outreach – this time at our local Chinese grocery store.

Set up in the Parking Lot

Set up in the Parking Lot

This activity was planned by the City’s paid Community Emergency Response Team leaders, who set up tables in front of six different retail locations. We took on the 99 Ranch Market because it’s literally across the street from where we live.

(You’ve heard our mantra before: “The more prepared the people around us, the safer we’ll be in an emergency!”)

The Setting:

This event was completely different from last week’s event. Instead of many tents and tables and a full complement of police cars and fire trucks, we had a lone table in the middle of the busy grocery store parking lot. Instead of music and balloons and professional demonstrations, we had eight volunteers, three of whom knew each other. Instead of neighbors out for a comfortable Sunday stroll, we were faced with busy citizens getting their shopping done early in the weekend.

The Advance Guard:

We stationed our most capable people at the two doors of the grocery store, ready to hand out booklets about earthquake preparedness. They greeted shoppers on their way INTO the store, reminding them to visit the main table ON THEIR WAY OUT.  (This, to give them time to think about it.)

Key words that caught people’s attention: “Free. City-sponsored. Sign up for the class.”

The Main Table:

At the main table, people approached guardedly. Generally, they pretended to speak no English. I heard our Chinese -speaking colleagues address people this way: “Hi! Ni hao!”

AFTER they realized we had nothing to sell, suddenly we could switch to English, no problem!

Dried rice emergency rations

Dried rice emergency rations

We showed CERT training schedules, emergency equipment, and people began to sign up for the next classes. Some people were young, others clearly older. One woman told a long an impassioned story about her experience in the 1999 Taiwan earthquake – which had happened exactly 14 years ago to the day. That earthquake killed 2,400 people.

On Saturday, in about 3 hours, we handed out over 300 earthquake pamphlets and signed up 20 people to take the next CERT training class. We ate Chinese “donuts” (fried batter, no sugar). We laughed at the story about a green hat signifying that a man’s wife is having an affair. (The CERT color is, of course, green!) We all shook our heads at the guy who walked quickly by, and when we called out, “Are you prepared for an earthquake?” he answered, “I don’t live here.”

It was another great outreach event. I was proud to be a part of the team!

(Oh, and we learned that the CERT color isn’t really green.  It’s “emerald.”)

Did you take part in  any special activities during National Preparedness Month?  Leave a comment!


Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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Mothers, Are You Leaving Your Children Unprepared?

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Children Deserve Survival Training

When there’s an emergency, whether storm, earthquake, flooding, or power outage – children go though it just like you do. How prepared are your children to survive? How about your grandchildren?

Children prepared for an emergency

How prepared are these kids to respond in an emergency?

Little ones may not understand the potential danger of a storm or other emergency, and perhaps they don’t need to. But they CAN be prepared to take action when they recognize certain warning signs.

Emergency Preparedness at School

These days all schools have access to emergency preparedness training through FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Education. (Just search for “Emergency Preparedness for Schools” on their websites.) Most schools have and practice emergency procedures.

In fact, our grandchildren (aged 10 and 13) seem to know more about how to respond in an earthquake than their parents do!

However, take these children out of the school setting, and they have no experience in taking care of themselves. These are children who have grown up in the suburbs. They’ve never spent time in the wilderness, never used tools, never hiked more than a couple of blocks! (Don’t get me wrong. They’re smart, and getting a great education. But it doesn’t include any survival skills!)

Action Step: Find out what Emergency Preparedness training your children’s teachers go through, and what drills they and the children participate in. It may reassure you!

What about survival training for younger children?

If your children are home with you all the time, then naturally you will be making decisions for them in the case of an emergency.

Still, you may not be with them all the time! What if the storm hits when your child is:

  • At a day-care center
  • On a play date at a friend’s house
  • At a birthday party or an athletic event where other adults are in charge
  • At the movies, at Sunday school, playing in the backyard – the list is endless!

You simply can’t be with your children 24 hours a day. So, what survival skills are you giving them?

A simple emergency preparedness tool for starters!

In 1993, FEMA and the American Red Cross put together a Coloring Book for Children. (Yes, it was created in 1993, so the illustrations are pretty dated . . . but I feel that overall, the coloring book has value.)

Here are five highlights from the coloring book, as I see them:

  1. Work together.  The book is designed to be worked on by an adult and child team. Do you have older children who would find the coloring book silly? Let them be the “adult” in the conversation with the younger child.
  2. Call 911. Use the coloring book as a tool to teach your child when and how to call 911.
  3. Family emergency plan. If you haven’t done it yet, use the book as a motivation to identify your “outside meeting place” and your “out-of-area” emergency contact person.
  4. Survival kits. Discuss – and build! – emergency supply kits for each family member.
  5. Repeat.  The quiz on the last page is a good review.

Action Item: Here’s the link to the book. Click on it and print out the book. It’s 26 pages long, so you probably won’t be going through it all in one sitting.

Click to download Coloring Book

(Here’s the entire link again, in case you need it:

I think this coloring book could be improved by being brought up to date. In fact, I’m ready to do a new version myself, because it seems as though young children still like to color. What suggestions do you have for improving it? Please let me know by using the comment box below.

Thank you!

Virginia – Your Emergency Response Guide Team


Collapsible Water Bottles: Indispensable to Survive a Disaster

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

You know by now: you can live without food, but not without water.

collapsible water bag

2 gallons, carryable, collapsible

The recommended amount of water to sustain a person during an emergency is a gallon a day.

Basic 3-day emergency preparedness thus takes 3 gallons per person.

How big is your family? Storing enough water for all family members for at least three days means having space for a lot of bottles!

Emergency water storage options

Realizing that water storage is the biggest challenge, we’ve recommended a number of options.

If you can, buy a 55 gallon drum. Fill, store at home. Full, the drum weighs around 460 lbs. so you need to consider where to keep it and how to get the water out. (Typically, you get a hand pump that fits the hole of the drum.)

The next best option for you may be to store individual bottles that can be spread around the house and rotated regularly. This is usually the choice of apartment dwellers, given their limited storage space and their need to haul supplies up and down stairs.

A third option is to store as much water as you can, but supplement with a water filtering device and collapsible containers that you fill as the storm approaches!

Don’t overlook a LifeStraw water filter.

As we were putting together our recommendations for our custom survival kit, water was clearly the toughest item to store. We looked for a way to improve on the water supply stored in the kit. The first choice was to add a LifeStraw – the one-person water filter that can make found outdoor sources of water drinkable. It costs around $20, and you’ll want one for each member of the family.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness


Add collapsible water bags or bottles to supplement your supply.

The second choice is to supplement your stored water with collapsible water bottles that you fill immediately with whatever clean sources of water are still available. Our research led us to consider:

* Carrying handle. Frankly, carrying water is very difficult. You know this if you’ve ever filled a five-gallon pail and tried to carry it any distance at all! So, we looked for some sort of closed container that is easy to fill and that has a carrying handle.

* Weight of the container when full. A full five-gallon plastic jug weighs nearly 50 lbs. Too much for me! (and most people) to carry for any distance, or up and down stairs. So, we looked for a smaller container, holding 2 or 2 1/2 gallons.

* Sturdiness of the container. Of course, reusable rigid plastic jugs are very sturdy, almost unbreakable. However, our goal was to find a collapsible bag that would be filled only when needed. Remember, the very thing that makes the collapsible bag convenient means it’s not as sturdy as you might want.  We reviewed a number of manufacturers and selected the one with the best reports for durability.  Don’t expect perfection — so buy more than one bag.

The best collapsible water bag? StanSport’s 2-gallon Water Bag.

Our search led us to the 2 gallon Water Bag manufactured by StanSport. The photo above shows Joe with a full bag.  A collapsed bag is in his other hand.

Stansport 2-Gallon Water Storage Bag

We have several of the bags. We tuck a couple into the Survival Kit, and have another in the glove compartment of the car.

If you click on the link or image, you’ll be taken to Amazon, where you can order. If you combine your order with another item – for example, the LifeStraw – you’ll get free shipping from Amazon. (You can also buy the water bag from other sites, including StanSport’s site – cheaper at first, but when you add shipping costs, they all come out about the same – without the convenience and speedy delivery.)

Do you have a favorite water storage container? Or a water storage story? We’d like to hear it! We are constantly on the lookout for better water storage options for surviving a disaster.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Response Team
Other resources you may want to take a look at:

Emergency food and water supply

Power Outage





CERT in Action!

Monday, June 24th, 2013

CERT activates for a Missing Child

CERT volunteers

CERT Volunteers get their assignment. Photo thanks to OC Register and Lt. Bill Whalen of Irvine PD

Two weeks ago, at 9:30 at night, our phone began to ring. At the same time, my cell phone buzzed and a message came up on my computer screen: “This is not a test.”

Irvine police were calling on their volunteer support teams, including CERT, to respond to an emergency – a missing child. He had left home around 7 p.m., and disappeared into the night. The police department had already been searching on foot, with dogs and a helicopter, to no avail.

The police decided to activate their volunteers. According to the newspaper account, the Lieutenant in charge expected about 10 people to show up. They did, within 10 minutes. Within the next two hours, 130 people showed up!

The volunteers included members of both CERT, which is over 600 strong in Irvine, and IDEC, the Irvine Disaster Emergency Communications (amateur radio volunteers). Groups combed the area until 2:15 a.m. Police also used footage from local buses to try to capture information about the boy.

Ultimately, he emerged from a movie theatre in an adjoining town, and prevailed on a helpful citizen to take him home.

Take-aways from the event, according to the police:

  • The iAlert system for this community works. (I can attest to that! Read more about the iAlert program here: Severe Weather Alerts)
  • Regular trainings for CERT volunteers have kept the group engaged and willing to participate. (Irvine CERT holds regular, nearly monthly, trainings and community service activities.)
  • Organizers were hard-pressed to manage the number of volunteers that showed up. It was unprecedented.

A CERT simulation for this exact scenario had been scheduled for later this month, but it was cancelled. The real thing was better than any simulation would have been.

As an aside, here in our local neighborhood, another six people have signed up to take the no-cost city-sponsored CERT training that starts in July. It consists of 8 evening sessions, in which people review basic first aid, search and rescue and disaster psychology. Graduates get the chance to handle tools, practice with a fire extinguisher, and come out with a kit bag full of emergency equipment including flashlight, hard hat, dust mask and gloves.

Action item: Interested in CERT training in YOUR community? Head to the FEMA website’s State Directory at: .




CERT Challenge: Overcoming Apathy and Procrastination

Sunday, June 16th, 2013
Couple will depend on others for help in emergency.

“No emergency supplies.” Who will take care of them?

We sat at the 2nd Wednesday monthly meeting of our CERT Division Leaders and Special Team Leaders and stared gloomily as one of our members gave yet another status report about some of “her” residents in the community. “Not one extra can of food. Not one extra bottle of water.”

In some cases, elderly residents were handicapped by lack of funds. In others, the reason is plain apathy, procrastination or worse: “It’s the government’s job to provide for us in an emergency.”

Are “governments” responsible to care for us in a disaster? How capable are they?

We saw an answer to the second question in interviews by the media following Hurricane Sandy’s damage in New Jersey. Local and state governments were overwhelmed and unable to respond. Likewise, relief agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army were also overtaxed by the enormity of the event. Some people went weeks without services.

Here in California, following a major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, all local government and disaster relief agencies are also likely to be overwhelmed. Further, they will be drawn to critically damaged areas to the north and east of us, leaving communities in our area to fend for themselves for up to a week or more.

Are you prepared to share with people who ignored warnings?

The question then becomes one of caring for irresponsible neighbors as well as ourselves in a disaster scenario. And that presents our responsible residents with untenable choices. We are admittedly better prepared than most. By all indications, over 50% of our residents indicate that they have some food and water set aside for just such an emergency, largely as a result of ongoing education programs that span a decade.

But 50% isn’t 100%. More needs to be done.

Maybe if we make a party out of preparing for emergencies . . .

One thing we might do is hold neighborhood survival kit stocking events. First, make a list of critical items (reliable flashlights, radios, can openers, etc.), together with optional food items and their recommended quantity. Research the best sources and prices. Come up with three or four versions of a survival kit.

Get as many neighbors as possible to pick a kit, and pay their money. Buy items in bulk for discounts or discounted shipping.

Then, when the supplies arrive, hold a party to “pick and pack your survival kit.” It’s at least worth a try. We’ll report on our results here.


Fire Extinguisher Anyone?

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Consider these three types of fires:

  1. Structure fires
  2. Vehicle fires
  3. Outside fires

Quiz: What’s the most frequent type of fire? Which type is increasing the fastest? Which kills the most civilians?

Answer: From a report cited on the National Fire Protection Association, outside and wildfires are increasing five times faster than other fires! But the most people die in structure fires – some 2,640 in 2011. One structure fire is reported every 65 seconds.

You probably have fire extinguishers at work.  What about at home?

Unobtrusive but handy

Unobtrusive and handy

Fire in the kitchen!

Last year, at our daughter’s house, we had the occasion to use an extinguisher just like the white one shown here. (This one is in our kitchen; our daughter’s extinguisher was in her pantry.) For some unknown reason, food in the toaster oven caught fire and started smoking. In the excitement, she opened the door – and flames burst out and up, licking against the bottom of the cupboards.

Joe shoved her aside, grabbed the fire extinguisher, pulled the safety pin (had to try twice), and doused everything. What a cloud of white! But while the toaster oven ended up a pathetic shriveled piece of blackened metal, the counter, cupboards and the rest of us were fine with just a little dusting.

The right extinguisher?

Did we check in advance to be sure we were using the right extinguisher? No! But she had the designer model, and it turns out that the typical kitchen model is a BC extinguisher. That is, it is designed to put out fires that may be caused by

  • Burning liquids, oil or grease
  • Electrical equipment, wiring, appliances

On the other hand, the all-purpose model for the garage is an ABC extinguisher. It is designed to handle:

  • Ordinary combustibles like paper, wood and plastics
  • Burning liquids, oil or grease
  • Electrical equipment, wiring, appliances
In the green zone

In the green zone

Properly charged?

Check the pressure gauge on a regular basis! The arrow needs to be pointing to the green area. In our experience, some extinguishers hold their charge for years, and others lose it more rapidly. It’s like batteries . . .

Conveniently mounted?

It only takes a moment for a fire to catch hold. It’s that moment when you have the chance to act. Mount your extinguisher where it is visible and so you’ll know it is there when you need it. Tucking a loose extinguisher behind the door or in a cupboard will delay your response in an emergency.

The right size?

Small extinguishers may be appropriate for an automobile, but we recommend the larger 3 lb. size for household use. The cost for a good extinguisher starts at about $30 and can go up from there.

Tell us YOUR story about how you have used an extinguisher! The more stories we get and share about how extinguishers have saved property and lives, the more people get out there and get one! Just leave a comment in the reply box!