Author: Volunteer

Lost – and Found, thanks to what3words

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Sole hiker lost in rough terrain
Which way now? Keep going? Turn back?

How often in your life have you been really lost? (I mean physically, not emotionally. Your emotional history could be TMI — too much information!) These days, thanks to satellite technology, a navigation app called what3words can find you!

One of my most vivid “being lost” memories is riding on the back of my big brother’s bike as we three kids cruised city streets in Seattle. Not only were we WAY far from home (thus already in trouble), but we found ourselves going round in the maze-like streets of a cemetery!

Many years later I was lost for a while hiking in the mountains high above Palm Springs. Just as in the picture above, the path was narrow and crumbly. No landmarks visible. No sounds of people or vehicles – and it was getting dark!

Do you have similar memories of being lost? Feeling helpless and scared?

Happily, today we have new ways to summon help if we’re lost!

Say you’re the guy in the photo. What would you do if you had a cell phone and a signal? Of course! You’d start by calling 911! The conversation might go like this –  

  • Dispatch: “911. What is your emergency?”
  • You: “I’m lost.”
  • Dispatch: “Where are you?”
  • You: “I don’t know. Somewhere high in the mountains above Palm Springs.”

Now, Dispatch would ask more questions, of course. But remember, in this imaginary situation you really do NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!

So what do you do next???

Introducing navigation app “what3words.” (It’s free.)

what3words logo

I’m sort of embarrassed that I haven’t heard more about what3words before. Apparently, it’s been out and in the market in the U.S. for at least a half-dozen years. (It started in the UK and spread as the company received more and more funding.)

The concept is simple. Instead of using latitude and longitude numbers to identify a location, this tool divides the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares. (57 trillion squares each about the size of a small bedroom!) Each square is assigned a unique address made up of three words.

For example, the spot in the wilderness where you are currently lost might be identified as something like: Memorial.Riches.Carnival. Take a few steps more along the trail and you might find yourself in the square identified by: Earphone.Rotate.Otters.

If your local 911 service uses the program, and you have the app on your phone, then the conversation with 911 would continue.

  • Dispatch: “Open the app on your phone and read me your three words.”
  • You: “Earphone.Rotate.Otters”
  • Dispatch: “Stay right there. Help is on the way.”

If you don’t have the app, Dispatch would send you a link to what3words. You’d click and, as above, read out the three words that appear. You can jump to YouTube for a demo!

Image of computer screen showing emergency conversation identifying location of lost people using what3words

Click here to see and hear a recording of this actual 911 call!

(Just hit the “back” arrow when the recording finishes, and you’ll come back here to finish reading.)

There’s a lot more to the program than finding lost hikers. It can deliver supplies and people, too. The website offers a number of commercial examples for logistics, business, property management, emergency response and more.

Are there any drawbacks to what3words?

My research on what3words suggests that a few extremely remote areas on the planet (Antarctica?) haven’t been mapped. And occasionally some words that sound alike can be confused. However, the system asks you to pick from 35 languages (to avoid pronunciation challenges). And similar-sounding words (cents, sense) are purposefully assigned to places far from one another.

I’ve loaded the free what3words app onto my own iPhone.

(I picked American English as my language!)

And I’m making sure my daughter has it on her phone too. She’s starting on a road trip next week. Her group is visiting a number of wilderness parks in storm-prone areas. I wouldn’t want their trip to be ruined because someone gets lost!

When it comes to preparedness, late is OK, and certainly better than never. I recommend you download the what3words app before the next time you get lost!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I’m recommending my daughter have a whistle, too. (Remember my 2021 story of our local Emergency Response Group delivering a whistle to every single household in our neighborhood?) The sound of a 100+ decibel whistle carries a lot further than a shout; standard SOS signal is 3 short blasts, 3 long, 3 short.

Image of hand holding orange Bivy Bag with attached emergency whistle

For my daughter I got a whistle attached to a small orange bag holding a mylar emergency sleeping bag. Click this link to the bag and whistle if you want to check it out on Amazon. Price is less than $10. Handy for hikers!


“All I could think was, stop the bleeding!”

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Injured boy with young man attempting to stop the bleeding.

Imagine you are the young man in the image above. Can you stop the bleeding and save that boy?

I have known these statistics for a while. And I knew that if I were the person kneeling by the boy in the image, I would not be ready to save him.

So last week, Joe and I signed up for a Stop the Bleed training put on by our local fire and police departments as part of the CERT program.

What I remembered from “tourniquet training” in the old days.

If you’re over 70, you may recall how early first aid classes dealt with severe bleeding. (My older brothers were both Eagle Scouts, so I got the training when they did, sometime in the 50s.) That training was simple. First, try to stop the bleeding by pressing down hard on the wound with a towel. If that didn’t work, tie your belt or even a bandana around the bleeding limb, above the wound, and twist it tight.

Really, that is pretty much all I remember about using a tourniquet. But it came with a vague warning about “not leaving the tourniquet on for too long.”

Concerns about leaving a tourniquet on “for too long” were legitimate, of course. We all understood that limbs denied blood could ultimately be lost. And in those days, when response times for medical help were probably in hours, not the minutes we expect today, this warning was enough to turn us off to this first aid option.

Today we have new data, new tourniquets, and new training.

It was the military experience – and data capture – in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that re-established the value of the tourniquet as a life-saver in situations of severe trauma. Today, not only do all soldiers carry tourniquets – and know how to use them – but so do police officers and other emergency responders. (I checked with my local traffic officer, and sure enough, he had one on his belt!) And in 2015, ordinary citizens were invited to participate through the Stop the Bleed program.

Step One – Analyze the situation.

  • As noted, in a bleeding emergency, time is of the essence. You, as bystander, are going to be there before First Responders arrive. YOU ARE the first responder in this emergency!
  • Before you do anything else, check that you are safe and that nothing else is threatening you or others.
  • Faced with a wound that is seriously bleeding – pumping out, pooling on the ground — Call 911 or tell someone else to do it.

Step Two — Decide how to stop the bleeding.

Consider these three actions designed to squeeze the artery that’s emptying the blood out your victim’s body. All three of these take PRESSURE!

  • Apply direct pressure on the wound using your hand/s. You can use a big bandage, a shirt, whatever. PRESS HARD on the wound and don’t quit. Tell the victim it will hurt, because it will.
  • If the wound is a deep cut or deep hole, a surface bandage or pressure won’t work. PACK THE WOUND with gauze, a towel, a t-shirt, whatever . . . until the wound is fully and tightly packed and has stopped bleeding. Again, this will hurt the victim – it’s the cost of staying alive!
  • If neither of these efforts works, and the blood is still pumping from an extremity (arm or leg), APPLY A TOURNIQUET. This is where practice is essential. Your face-to-face course, the online course, or YouTube videos will demonstrate where to apply a tourniquet (loop the strap above the wound on the arm or leg), how to tighten it (using the buckle and then the windlass), and to fasten it securely. Once again, the purpose of the tourniquet is to stop blood from flowing out of a wound in an arm or leg. Once it’s on, don’t loosen it or take it off – that’s the job of an emergency medical professional.

You won’t be able to apply a tourniquet unless you have one. So let’s look at adding a tourniquet to your first aid kit.

We tested two different types of tourniquets in our class, and I have since then done a fair amount of research to see what’s available online. Here’s some of what I found.

  1. First thing you’ll notice is that tourniquets seem to come in two types: American-made at around $30 each, and foreign-made costing as little as $6 each. Cheap tourniquets look very similar to “real” ones – but they can actually not fit right, wrinkle, or even break. My recommendation: budget $30 – $40. If you need a tourniquet, you want it to work!
  2. American tourniquets come in two colors, black and orange. Color doesn’t seem to make a difference in quality. I like orange because it’s a lot more visible in a dark pack.
  3. The two most popular tourniquets do have slight differences in how the strap goes around the arm or leg and fits into the buckle, and how the windlass (the bar that you turn to create the pressure) is fastened. Both have a place to write the TIME the tourniquet was placed.

Some examples to look for:

American-made CAT tourniquet, black.

The CAT, or Combat Application Tourniquet, is a true one-handed application (meaning you could put it on your own arm or leg) to stop the bleeding from a serious wound. To get to Amazon’s sales page, with more details for this classic tourniquet, click here. As you know, if you purchase through this link, we may get a small commission – which helps me do all the research for these Advisories!


Here’s a second, American-made tourniquet, the SOFTT-Wide, Gen 4. This tourniquet comes in several models; I like the bright color and, in particular, the extra fastener that keeps the windlass secure once the tourniquet is applied. (Hands slippery with blood, etc . . .) Again, head to Amazon for details and prices.

American-made SOFTT tourniquet, red.

At our class we practiced with both models. It took me about 4 minutes to get the tourniquet on the dummy arm and properly tightened. Too long, of course. But that was my very first try. I am confident that now I’ve done it once, I could do it again, twice as fast.

In closing . . .

A tourniquet isn’t for every first aid kit. You will have to be determined and confident to use one in the midst of a frightening, perhaps shocking, emergency involving massive bleeding. But if you are prepared, you may be able to stop the bleeding and save a life that will otherwise surely be lost.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you are investing in a tourniquet, consider adding gauze strips to your purchase. Better than a t-shirt for packing . . .

How safe are your emergency flares?

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Rainy car accident scene with one emergency flare

Wha’ ?????!!!

So what brought me to THIS topic?  Let me tell you!

Over the past few days we’ve had HEAVY rains here in SoCal, thanks in part to another “Atmospheric River” roaring in off the Pacific. We get a couple dozen of these “rivers” every year. In just hours they can create monster surf and dump massive amounts of rain, resulting in flash flooding and land slides. Visibility is reduced. Driving conditions deteriorate quickly. Accidents happen – maybe like the one shown in the image above. So this article about emergency flares is first for my west coast neighbors, and then for anyone who ends up driving in the rain – which should probably be everyone!

Imagine suddenly coming across this situation in the pouring rain or fog. Can you tell what’s happening? What’s that pole or wire over the car? Are those emergency workers off to the right? With just a single flare on the ground close behind the car, is it clear what you should do? Stop entirely? Go left or right to get out of the way of someone coming up behind you?

I am convinced that having good emergency flares, the right number of them and knowing how to set them out could make a huge and life-saving difference. In the past I’ve written about flares and reflective triangles. This is an update because climate – and technological solutions – have changed!

My first update question has to do with technology. What makes a good emergency flare today?

Our CERT training story . . .

About 15 years ago our local CERT program offered an update training for graduates: “How to use road flares.”  Of course, we signed up! On the designated date we joined about 20 other grads at 8 pm in a parking lot behind the local police station. Weather was sparkly clear but very cold. Most of us had never touched a flare in our lives.

A half dozen flares were handed out. They were the traditional waxed (strike) flare with a plastic cap, over a foot long and surprisingly heavy. (Probably 20- or 30-minute burn time but I didn’t know the difference.)

An officer demonstrated how to light the flare.

Not one of the CERT grads could get their flare to light.

Multiple tries later, some did. A few just gave up entirely and handed the flares over to the next person.

We got some valuable experience, and some good advice.

After all these years, I recall these safety pointers:

  • When you light the flare, it may spit sparks! Hold the flare pointed down and away from your body.
  • Plan where to put the flare so other drivers will see it. That may be 100 to 200 feet behind your car, depending on the speed of the traffic.
  • Don’t toss the flare! Place the flare where it won’t roll and catch something else on fire – like grass beside the road or gas spilled on the road.
  • When the situation is cleared up, extinguish the flare by grinding it out on the ground. You can also just let it burn itself out.

By the end of the session, it was clear: If you intend to use wax flares, you’d better burn up a few in practice before you have to light one up for real!!

Me being me, I also came up with this conclusion: A wax flare is a HOT CHEMICAL FIRE just waiting to jump out and get me!

In an emergency, when I’m scared and nervous, I’d want something easier and safer to handle! So what’s an alternative to the wax flare?

Today’s simpler and safer alternative is the LED flare!

By 2019, LED lighting had become the lighting standard. Today, LED flares compete successfully with wax flares. With cool lights driven by batteries (some rechargeable), the LED flares can run for hours if need be. Some are even water-resistant. When the event is over, these flares can be packed up for use another day! (May take fresh battery power, of course.)

The most popular LED emergency flares today are nicknamed “hockey pucks.”

Orange "hockey puck," a reusable emergency flare with LED lights

It’s easy to understand the name. The flare is a disk about 4 in. across and a little more than an inch thick. According to ads that show them being driven over by big truck tires, they are practically crush proof! (Of course, if trucks or cars are actually running over your flares, that probably means they aren’t seeing them!)

Hockey pucks come in packs. some with carrying cases and other safety tools. Most pucks have an orange shell of aluminum or plastic, perhaps with a magnet or handle. As for the lights inside, on some models of pucks, pressing a switch may change flash patterns (solid, blinking, rotating) and colors (white/red).

With all these options, prices range widely – starting as low as $20 and going up to over $100 for multi-pack kits. Interested in checking out some actual products? Click here to go directly to a popular flare kit at Amazon where, as you know, we are Affiliates and receive a small commission if you buy through one of our links.

I really like the idea of these simple, easy on, easy off reusable tools!

But wait!

As we view image after image of rain damage and flooding here in California, it’s clear to me the hockey puck’s light would disappear completely under heavy rain, on a flooded street, or in falling snow – just when you need it most! So . . .!

Is there a third option? Let’s take a look at another, more robust version of an LED flare.

I first noticed this flare in a photo on LinkedIn. Here’s a version of that photo, slightly edited.

Rainy scene with disabled car being protected by properly laid-out emergency flares

When I compare this accident setting to the one at the top of this page . . .

  • First, I see multiple flares, not just one or two.
  • The first flares are far enough away from the disabled car that if I were approaching it, I’d have time to slow down.
  • Flares are set to direct vehicles around the disabled car. (This photo is actually from a video, which shows the lights blinking in a rotating flash pattern.)
  • The green and orange colors pop!

As a driver coming across this scene, I would know just what to do — namely, slow down and ease left around the disabled car!

The image struck me so powerfully that I clicked through to the manufacturer’s website.

I discovered that this stand-up LED flare is called the BEACON-4-LIFE from Life Safety Lighting. After looking at photos and videos and reading all the FAQ at the site, I was even more intrigued. So, I picked up the phone to talk to the owner and inventor, Danny Vartan.

After 17 years’ service as a firefighter, Danny knows the dangers associated with combustible flares. And he’s watched as people have abandoned wax flares for plastic hockey puck flares. He isn’t entirely satisfied with either option – and generously responded to all my questions about why not. Some of my questions are below . . .

  • Are wax flares truly dangerous?” Do people get burned? Have wildfires been started by flares? Have people been killed at accident sites because flares weren’t visible? Danny’s answer to all these questions is, ”Yes.” And while flare-related “accidents” don’t seem to be tracked . . . this is clearly a concern.
  • Does a wax road flare expire?” (I’m thinking of all the people I know who carry stuff in their cars for years!) Interestingly enough, there’s no expiry date for auto flares, unlike military and coast guard flares. In any case, if your flare is cracked or punctured, has gotten wet, or been stored at high temperatures for an extended period – you could be dealing with a much more vigorously burning flare when you try to light it. Replace old flares!
  • How many flares does it take to safely protect a disabled car and its occupants – or, for that matter, First Responders on the scene?” Three is the minimum (one on top, one in front, one behind). According to Danny, the optimal number is five. (That’s also what his police customers buy most frequently.) You may need even more if cars are approaching from around a corner.
  • How does the BEACON-4-LIFE differ from other LED flares?” First, it stands tall – about 12 inches high. It’s heavy enough to be very stable, thanks to its batteries and a rubber base (or optional magnetic base). A smaller version of the light, called EMERGI-SAFE, is about half as high. Both versions have 20 high intensity LEDs that provide a full 360° of visibility and can be converted for use as a flashlight. For professional use, the BEACON-4-LIFE and EMERGI-SAFE have a clip that allows the flare to attach to a standard cone, doubling their height. These flares can actually be tucked INSIDE a rubber cone at night, turning the whole cone into a glowing orange light.
  • “How are the lights powered?” Alkaline batteries power the lights, NOT rechargeable batteries. I was pleased to hear that, because here at Emergency Plan Guide we caution against counting on being able to recharge your devices in an emergency.
  • “What’s the story with the colors?” The flares display either one or two colors (combinations of red, blue, amber, green, and white). The two-color modules can be set to flash in six different modes – like triple strobe, fast flash, etc. According to Danny, the amber and green light combination shown in the image has become particularly popular because it stands out so clearly from brake lights or turn signal lights.

As you would expect, at around $60 each these flares are more costly than wax flares or hockey pucks. Since they have a long, reusable life, however, their only ongoing cost is for replaceable batteries. One of these flares can replace hundreds of combustible flares.

You can see that I am enthusiastic about enhanced LED emergency lights. If you too are concerned with road safety, I encourage you to spend some time at Danny Vartan’s website, Life Safety Lighting. And if you have questions that aren’t answered there, call him up just like I did. (His phone number is on the “Contact” page of the site.)

Stay safe out there,

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disclaimer: At Emergency Plan Guide we are not professional First Responders, or, for that matter, people who regularly work in dangerous outdoor settings. Firefighters or police will want to know a lot more about flares than what is in this Advisory.

P.S. For everyone: When you consider the value of the vehicle you are driving (in the 10s of thousands of dollars?), and the risk of injury or even death in an accident – going for the cheapest item on the shelf doesn’t make sense.

In the late 90s, a nephew of ours found himself on a rural road at 2 a.m. with a broken-down car and no lights of any kind. He never made it home; he was hit and killed by a passing car. Even one emergency flare might have saved his life.

The 2024 Preparedness Pie

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A pie chart with three slices representing percentages of preparedness

(I considered New Year’s Resolutions for this Advisory. But Google says 23% of people quit their resolutions by the end of the first week of January, and 43% quit by the end of the month. So I decided to go with an end-of-the-year assessment. I’m using a couple of questions from the very first book in our mini-series. I’ve also added some findings from FEMA’s 2023 Annual National Household Survey on Disaster Preparedness, just out. It may be a mish-mash, but here goes . . .!)

Christmas is fading fast. New Year’s is galloping right at us. So little time left to consider just how well we did on being prepared in 2023, and see what plans we want to make for 2024!

“Do I fit into the orange slice of the preparedness pie, or the blue? Or maybe the gray? Which slice is which, anyway?!” By the end of this Advisory, you will know!

Question #1: Do you feel that you are prepared for an emergency?

Question #2: What threats should you be preparing for in YOUR community?

Personal example: Joe and I have lived in both northern and southern California, so “the big one” has been on our list of threats forever. (I am getting older so “forever” has taken on a new definition . . .!) We feel pretty confident about our earthquake preparedness, but every year we add just one more piece of equipment — this year, two more emergency lanterns — and we learn more about earthquake response, too. This year’s focus was on after-the-quake inspection and clean-up.

As prepared as we think we are, this year I have had to add a brand new threat to my list. When I filled in our address on California’s Office of Energy Services Hazards map, I discovered that we live right on the edge of a liquefaction zone! Who knew? (Watch for more on this in 2024 as I get up to speed.)

OK, so you have a list just like we do. But probably all our lists need updating!

2023 was an historical year when it comes to emergencies and crises. Check out these potential additions to your list.

  • Weather events are the easiest to identify. Anything new for your part of the country? In 2023 we got our very first hurricane in California. Just yesterday I watched a video of 25 foot monster waves that put 8 unsuspecting beach goers into the hospital! Jot down the 3 or 4 weather events most likely for your neighborhood, and include any new threats.
  • Any engineering or infrastructure threats, such as out-of-date bridges or dangerous train tracks, maybe frequent power outages? (Did you read how Texas courts have said that Texas power plants have no responsibility to provide electricity in emergencies?) In our senior community, an extended power outage turns so quickly into an emergency!
  • How about economic threats – from crop failure to interest rate fluctuations to labor strikes? And don’t forget to add cyber threats to your list if it’s not there already. We’re not just talking threats to big business. Even home-based networks are being hacked.

Any of our “Smart devices” could be hacked: smart security camera, a printer, smart TVs, our home heater – just about anything that is managed by a smart phone. Find out here what the hackers are looking for. And everyone with an email account has surely noticed the rise in scams! AI tools such as ChatGPT are generating a mammoth increase in malicious phishing emails, almost impossible to distinguish.

  • Political unrest – Maybe this hasn’t been on your list before, but it’s certainly possible – indeed, likely – as we head into 2024. How to prepare? Start by paying attention to what’s going on around you. Get off your phone in public! Take sensible security precautions – like locking your home and car. Follow the news. Don’t inadvertently find yourself in locations popular with trouble-makers.

A phone story. While it wasn’t related to politics, it does have to do with paying attention! This year was the first time I have actually yelled at a parent. School had just let out, a crowd of kids was growing across the busy street waiting for my signal to start crossing. Suddenly a parent, intent on her phone call, walked through the kids and directly onto the crosswalk without a pause. Of course, the kids started following her just like the Pied Piper! Furious, I ran toward her, into the traffic, yelling “Get off the phone!’ (I managed to suppress the adjective you might have expected in there.) She looked up, still intent on the call, smiled tentatively . . . and KEPT RIGHT ON WALKING toward me with the kids dutifully following! Thank goodness for the drivers who were paying attention to what was going on!

  • Climate-related disasters have overwhelmed the news – and the insurance industry – in 2023. Wildfires, fire and heat-related air quality, sea level rise– these have exploded into the news because of their massive financial impacts. Let’s hope you aren’t likely to be in the path of any of them. But even if you dodge them, your business could change. Your insurance rates may change. Plan to confirm coverages.

Whew, that’s already a lot. But wait. We can’t stop yet, because here’s the next important question about YOU!

Question #3: Have family circumstances changed that could result in an unplanned-for-emergency in 2024?

For example, have you added a new baby since you last made your list? Or maybe a pet? Perhaps a family member has been injured or is suffering from sickness or the results of an accident. Your emergency plans for 2024 may have to include extra care or new preparation for . . .

  • Special foods or diet requirements
  • A supply of new or different prescription medicines
  • Special furniture or medical devices (and their power source)
  • Plans for help or extra care if you have to evacuate

Over the past year we have updated a number of our Advisories covering planning for these personal needs. The good news: prescription drugs seem to be easier to collect these days, or to find in emergencies. Utilities are offering back-up power supplies to some customers with medical devices (mostly low-income). But when it comes to evacuation, neighbors continue to be the best source of help. How can you build stronger friendships among YOUR neighbors in 2024? Keep reading!

Remember that the orange slice of the chart represents you – and the people who say they are prepared? Now let’s move on to the blue slicethe 38% of people who “intend to prepare for emergencies.”

Question #4: Blue or orange, what action steps can you take to kick-start or fine-tune your preparations?

I really like this chart of preparedness actions from the 2023 FEMA survey. How many have you already taken? Which actions are on your to-do list in 2024?

Chart of 12 Preparedness Actions coming from the 2024 FEMA Survey, showing changes from 2022 to 2023

Notice, in particular, how many more people assembled supplies (upper left). Yes! But note the “community oriented actions” at the lower right. They are woefully missing for so many, orange or blue!

Need ideas for getting involved with neighbors? At Emergency Plan Guide we “specialize” in community involvement. On our website, click on “Neighborhood groups” in the Advisory Categories section of the sidebar. You can connect with over 200 mostly real-life stories on that topic!

OK, to wrap everything up. Did you get some ideas? Have more questions?

As we have discovered, and as you may have discovered by now, “emergency preparedness” is a lifestyle, and not a “thing.” Once you’re into it, it gets easier to make the slight adjustments required to keep prepared. I trust that you were reminded today of one or two “adjustments” for 2024 that make sense for you.

And if you’ve read this far, you should have at least one more question: “What’s the gray 3rd slice of the pie represent?”

Glad you asked! That’s the 14% of people who “have not prepared and have no intention of preparing.” I don’t expect any of them to be reading this, but of course — you could share!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let us know in the comments of any “new” threats you’re putting on your list for 2024. Or threats you aren’t sure whether or not to add. Other readers will be interested!

P.P.S.  I mentioned that a couple of these questions originally came from our mini-book, Pre-Disaster Plan. Its 39 pages introduce 14 basic preparedness questions, along with answers based on our experience and common sense. If you’re a fan of question/answer style reading, grab a copy for yourself for a more complete assessment of where you stand. Click here for more details.

Kitchen fire! Quick, put it out!

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Suddenly, Thanksgiving is just a week away! I’m remembering some of our own family Thanksgivings, including two bad ones that featured cooking fires. One fire was in a deep-fryer (fortunately outside). One was in a toaster oven right in the kitchen. Both after much drama and flailing about, fires were safely extinguished. The memory was a reminder: Thanksgiving is the peak day for cooking fires! (What’s the second most dangerous day for cooking fires, you ask? Take a guess. Answer is below!)

In past years we have done lots of research here at Emergency Plan Guide on fire extinguishers. Of course, we’ve tested real fire extinguishers at CERT trainings. At our neighborhood meetings, we’ve enjoyed trying out different types of extinguishers — even a digital fire extinguisher designed to train professionals. One of our best meetings was built around BYOE – Bring your own extinguisher, with guest speakers from the fire department. (It was embarrassing to find out how old some of the extinguishers were!) Some photos from those meetings . . .

Today I want to introduce two NEW FIRE EXTINGUISHERS that we’ve never written about before!

First: Fire Extinguisher Spray in a Can

Since half of all house fires start in the kitchen, having a way to IMMEDIATELY PUT OUT A KITCHEN FIRE is imperative!

Yes, Joe and I have an extinguisher in our kitchen. (And we put one in his daughter’s house after that ill-fated toaster-oven fire.) But a regular extinguisher is relatively heavy. Gotta reach up to pull it out of the mounting, get a good grip to break the plastic tie, then pull the pin, aim, squeeze – you know the drill.

Consider this alternative. A simple spray can sitting right there on the shelf. Small, easy to grab, easy to activate. Fire in a pan? Grab the can extinguisher, spray until the can is empty – and the fire is out. Fire in the toaster? Grab, spray until the can is empty – and the fire is out.

Because they have limited capacity, I wouldn’t consider spray extinguishers as a replacement for “real” 2 or 5 lb., ABC portable fire extinguishers. And as with any fire that expands to be larger than a foot high, you need to call the fire department. But if you can catch a fire right away, a spray extinguisher could save your kitchen — and your turkey!

These spray extinguishers are suddenly being promoted everywhere – with plenty of test reports, customer reviews, etc. Right now, this is the model I’d consider. The image shows just how small the can/canister really is. Amazon offers a 5-pack, which is also what I’d recommend. One in the kitchen, one in the garage, one in each car, maybe one near the fireplace. Prices are amazingly good this week thanks to Black Friday promotions! Here’s the direct link.

Second: Fire Blanket

This second extinguisher has also burst onto the market in large part because of battery fires. While most blankets are designed for one person to handle, probably in the kitchen, I’ve seen some amazing videos where two fire fighters, armed with a giant and very heavy blanket, pull it over a whole electric car in order to put out a battery fire!  (It takes hours for a car fire like that to be extinguished, even with the blanket.)

For our holiday planning, we don’t need a giant heavy thing. Popular blankets are about a yard square, easily handled by any adult and most children. The blankets come folded inside a package meant to be hung on the wall. The blanket itself is made of thin fiberglass material; you shake it out just like you’d shake out a tablecloth.

Fire on the stove? Pull your fire blanket from its package, shake it out, lay it over the fire so the flames are completely covered. Done.

The purpose of the blanket is to suffocate the fire.

As with the spray extinguisher, you need to put the blanket to work immediately, while the fire is still small. If you delay until the fire is too big, the blanket won’t be able to suffocate it.

I am recommending the Prepared Hero blanket below for a couple of reasons. First, the company makes more than just one size so you have choices. Most useful, however, are the company-supplied videos on Amazon’s sales page. Watch those videos! (These still sales photos don’t do the blanket justice!)

Once again, if this makes sense for you, get several blankets. One for the kitchen, the BBQ area, the garage, the car. Click here to get to the sales page, the videos, and to check options and prices.

Now, if you are hesitating as to whether you need more extinguishers, it would be worth it to check the ones you have. If they are over 10 years old – they need to be replaced! Do you see dents, scrapes, or rust? Your extinguishers need to be replaced! If their pressure readings are low – they need to be replaced!

This is a good time to review your whole fire preparedness plan.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. And did you guess correctly about the second most dangerous day for kitchen fires? Sure enough – it’s CHRISTMAS DAY! So be prepared for that day, too!


Holiday Gift Cards – Scams Waiting to Happen!

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Oh, dear! Black Friday hits tomorrow – and Cyber Monday is coming in just two weeks! Since half of your neighbors started on their holiday shopping as early as October, you may already be behind the curve. But take a deep breath, and read through this Advisory. It’s all about being prepared for some shopping solutions, plus emergencies you want to avoid – all related to holiday gift cards.

Full disclosure: I am NOT an expert on scams. In researching this article I found myself going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Still, I’m confident that what’s here will get you properly alerted. You may want to dig deeper!

Let’s start with a look at the popularity of Gift Cards

According to the Conference Board, U.S. consumers plan to spend slightly more on gifts this year than they did in 2022: $654 this year, up from $613 last year. More to the point for this Advisory, 67% of holiday gift spending will be on gift cards!

They’re just so convenient! So easy to wrap! Even getting two of the same card isn’t a tragedy!

But as you might imagine, the more money involved, the more scammers and hackers are attracted. Be prepared!

Here are some popular gift card scams to watch for:  

  • Urgent threat!”

    You get a phone call (or emails from an unknown “official” (IRS, gas company, sheriff’s dept. etc.) saying your payment is overdue. Or the contact is from someone you know, asking for your help. To solve the problem, you are told to run to the store, buy a gift card and then give them the numbers off the back of the card. They typically ask for a specific card, like from Target, Google Play, Apple, or Walmart. If you get that call or that email, JUST HANG UP. (If it truly sounded like a family member, check to be sure it was fake!)
  • “Empty card!”

    As a crossing guard, I get a handful of gift cards every Christmas from “my” kids. I’ve been lucky – every card from the kids has been good! But not so every card we’ve collected from other sources. A couple of times, when we’ve activated new cards, we discover that after our first purchase the rest of the money seems to have disappeared. Or, the card reads “ZERO balance” the very first time we try to use it! 

    What has happened? Scammers have copied down or used a magstripe reader to capture the bar codes of gift cards on the display case. They track these numbers by calling customer service. When a balance has been loaded onto the card, scammers use the card number to make purchases online. Much of this is done automatically via BOTS – and it can happen so fast you don’t even have time to put your newly activated card to use!

  • Shifty Cashier.”

    This happens most frequently in busy stores, when lines are long and people are in a hurry. You are ready to pay for your purchase with a new or a partially-used gift card. You hand the card to the cashier, who turns to process the transaction – and then hands back a card that looks the same but has already been emptied!
  • “Fake Card Activation Site.”

    I’ll bet that by now you have come across fake emails leading to fake websites purporting to be from online companies you do business with. This is just another variation on that theme. You get a gift card. It tells you to head to a website to activate the card. The scammers create websites that look like the real thing but have just a slightly different web address. (Maybe a hyphen in there? Or an extra letter?)

    You arrive at the site, enter the card number to be activated . . . and the scammer turns around and immediately uses the numbers to activate the card at the official site. Your money has disappeared.
  • For sure, it’s not from the local big box store or gas station or drugstore, where row upon row of different cards are displayed. As we have described above, these displays are child’s play for scammers. If you do want to buy physical cards, consider getting them directly from your favorite retailer’s own shop. (Check several of the cards. Make sure they all have different bar codes. Is the packaging intact, with no tampering? Is the PIN completely hidden?)
  • It may be safer yet to purchase gift cards through Amazon. (Amazon sells its own cards, also cards for Starbucks, Kohls, etc.) Whatever, you should avoid websites that sell just cards or that sell “discounted cards.” (Keep reading to find out why.)
  • Take the time to read the fine print. Some cards charge an activation fee.  (Most notably, VISA) That is, you buy a $30 card but when you pay for it, the bill comes to a few dollars more than $30. You buy a “discounted card” worth $25 — but only get $15 worth after a purchase fee. Planning to give cards to elderly grandparents? If they don’t use the card right away (say, within the first 12 months), they may discover that a monthly fee starts eating away on the balance for “inactivity!” Different cards may apply different policies. Know your cards!
  • Document your cards.

    Have you just bought a card? Keep a copy of the card and the store receipt – take a picture with your phone!  The numbers and receipt will help you track orders or if you want to file a loss or a fraud report.
  • Buying online?

    Use the websites of companies you know, and verify that you’re on the “real” site and not on a “fake” site!  (Look for https:// in the URL. Check for contact information, return policies, etc.)
  • Watch your account balances.

    Check bank and credit card activity frequently for any unknown or unauthorized transactions. Report to your bank immediately.

Here’s the kicker. If you’ve been scammed or your card has been stolen, the chances of you getting any money back are . . . slim to none. I think you’ll see, prominently displayed wherever cards are for sale, a policy that reads something like this (probably much more nicely worded, of course):

“No refunds on any gift cards for any reason.”

Now, if you buy for a reputable company, AND you have proof of the purchase, you MAY be able to get a refund for lost money. Report to the merchant immediately with all details. If a scam is involved, you can also notify the local police. And finally, you may also want to notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks scams and frauds.

Oh, I discovered one small positive. ln a few states, like in California, if the value of your card drops below $10, you can trade it in to the retailer for cash.

The point of it all? We consider holiday shopping the same as everything else at Emergency Plan Guide. The more you know, the safer and more secure you — and the rest of us — will be!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. After all this research, I must admit that I, too, really like gift cards as presents! And it looks to me as though the very best place to purchase is directly online, through Amazon (where we are affiliates, as you know). Amazon offers a couple of options:

  • Go to the gift cards page on Amazon and pick out an eCard from a number of styles and from a number of vendors. Fill in the recipient’s email, set a delivery date, and voila, your gift is on its way. Here’s a link to that full selection page.
  • You can also get Amazon gift cards packaged in neat, black boxes with orange accents or bow. Very stylish. Here’s a link to the boxed cards page.

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of each sales page to read all the “terms and conditions!”



Ready for the November 18 government shutdown?

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Headstart will be one of the September 30 government shutdown victims.

Update: Several weeks ago we started this Advisory with comments about what might happen to FEMA — and to the rest of us! — if Congress couldn’t agree on appropriations for 2024. The magic date for that Advisory was September 30. Today, we seem to be right back in the same situation, with a deadline approaching on November 18 — in five days!

As I write this, details remain unclear as the Republican-led house tries to come up with their plan. Today, they seem to be promoting a “stepped plan,” with some services shutting down first and others shutting down later. It’s not clear what will be decided upon.

What we can assume, however, is that if the government does shut down, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees and federal air traffic controllers will be working without pay just as the busy Thanksgiving travel season begins. In fact, this is anticipated to be the busiest travel period since Covid!

So, if you’re among the 4.7 million people expecting to fly during the Thanksgiving holiday, BE PREPARED for just about any airline-related emergency!

Airline delays aren’t the only thing to watch out for. But we don’t know what the final Republican Plan will be, so I can’t give you specific recommendations. What I recommend is reviewing this Advisory, perhaps again, and then watching the news closely to see which various services will be impacted, in what order.

Here’s a review of what we know about government shutdowns.

Some government services will continue; some will continue for a while before they run out of money. Some will stop pretty much immediately after September 30. The following summary will give you an idea of how this shutdown might impact your family and your community.

What will happen to family income if you work for the government?

Every government agency has a contingency plan for the shutdown – and they have been instructed to dust them off starting tomorrow. But different agencies manage things differently. “Essential workers” (like air traffic controllers and border patrol) will stay at work. Others, like food inspectors or law enforcement trainers, will likely be furloughed (laid off temporarily) starting immediately.

All these employees will have to wait until the shutdown ends in order to get reimbursed. Yes, they WILL get paid eventually . . . but will have to manage without a paycheck for as long as the shutdown lasts.

Do you fit into one or another of these federal employee categories?

How about if your work depends on federal government contracts? You are NOT guaranteed back pay. Consider all the infrastructure construction jobs and the high-tech chip manufacturing sites that are just getting underway, with workers waiting to get hired . . . The September 30 government shutdown will stop many of these projects in their tracks.

What about housing programs?

Apparently, most employees — more than 80%! — of the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be sent home. Monthly programs like subsidies and voucher programs will continue only as long as current funding remains available. New applications for housing-related programs may be delayed – including processing of FHA loans.

Young kids may feel the shutdown first!

As the header image suggests, Head Start, Early Head Start and free and low-cost school meal programs will collapse very quickly after the September 30 government shutdown. If parents are suddenly out of a job, then more kids would become eligible – but have nowhere to go!

Impact Aid programs fund educational programs on military bases and Native American reservations. This money will stop, too.

Not all programs for children will stop immediately. Money for WIC (Woman, Infants and Children) as well as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) have contingency funds that will carry over after the shutdown. State or local governments that help fund these programs may be able to continue to support them.

But how long support will continue depends on how long the shutdown continues. At some point, the money will run out.

What can we count on to continue even during the shutdown?

If you are one of the 67 million Americans drawing social security every month, you can breathe a little easier. Social Security and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are funded through permanent appropriations, so they don’t have to go through this annual program funding exercise.

It looks as though Veterans’ Administration programs will continue, too, but with delays.

And if you are a member of congress, you’ll get your paycheck without interruption.

What preparations can we make before the shutdown?

I did the research for this overview article because I had questions for myself – about our income, about the school programs where I’m a crossing guard, about possible medical coverage changes. (Negotiations for lower drug prices will apparently be stopped dead.)

Here in our house, if there are slow-downs and even shutdowns when it comes to food, we have plenty in storage. If drinking water inspections stop (which they will), and our water supply is questionable, we have plenty of pure or purifiable stored water. We don’t have children in pre-school centers and we’re not planning a trip to a national park (which will likely be closed). We don’t have loan applications outstanding with the Small Business Administration. The list goes on . . .!

Are you clear about what to expect starting next week if the government does shut down? Do you have a plan in place to . . .

  • Deal with financial delays or income disruption?
  • Cope with lags in medical services or medicines?
  • Have an appropriate stockpile of food for the family, including pets, if food deliveries are interrupted?
  • Manage day-care for children whose pre-school or after-school care has closed?
  • Arrange business travel if airline flights are delayed?
  • Help other family members whose paychecks may stop immediately?

Don’t count on this article to have identified everything that could happen! Consider these three specific recommendations for immediate action.

  1. Check with your employer to see if the company has contingency plans for a “political emergency.”
  2. Search out and follow news sources for more information! (I found excellent articles at Politico.com and AmericanProgress.org among others. Just about every major news outlet is filled with good info right now.)
  3. Revisit your personal emergency preparedness plan to be sure you’re ready for the most likely results of a government shutdown.

Start today. Because it does seem that we are being led right into what could be a nightmare scenario.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you feel you need a quick refresher, click here to take a look at our basic and our expanded lists of emergency supplies. We update them pretty regularly.


“Who you gonna call?” (for disaster relief)

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helicopter rescuing survivor

Our usual emphasis is on individual preparedness.

This morning I took stock of the emergency supplies Joe and I have. With the exception of extra batteries, I was pretty well satisfied. Yesterday, a new neighbor announced that she had not only added 2 more gallons of water to her stash but also signed up for an earthquake alert. Our usual emphasis is on this type of individual preparedness. I hope Emergency Plan Guide inspires that in you, too!

At the same time, if you’re aware at all, you know that some emergencies are simply beyond the power of the individual to cope with. Consider the recent fire in Maui. The earthquake in Morocco and the flood in Libya. Horrific loss of life. Widespread damage. Continuing pain and suffering.

In cases like these, organized disaster relief is essential to nearly any recovery.

In the United States, FEMA provides that relief on the part of the government. FEMA has representatives in every state, sending crews, supplies and administrative support, including cash, loans and grants, to victims, first responders and state, tribal and local governments.

Here’s the problem in the U.S. — FEMA is about to run out of money.

It’s just September, but we’ve already been dealt 23 separate billion-dollar weather disasters so far!

Moreover, we aren’t even halfway through the traditional hurricane season. The chart below gives you an idea of how September rates historically — and so, what we might expect.

Chart showing storms and hurricanes peaking in September

I actually just checked on the current outlook. The image below, from YouTube’s Mr. Weatherman (one day ago) shows Hurricanes Nigel and Ophelia heading our way!

Image showing hurricanes forming in Atlantic

So it’s pretty clear that if congress doesn’t reach agreement on a spending bill to re-fill the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, parts of the country affected by these approaching storms will NOT get the support they may have been expecting. In particular, FEMA may have to stop funding already planned and on-going repair and restoration projects, hazard mitigation initiatives, fire management strategies, etc. as well as pre-disaster resources.

If congress doesn’t reach agreement on a spending bill, Who you gonna call for disaster relief?

The cartoon at the top of this page is an exaggeration, of course. Saving and sustaining lives will always be at the top of the priority list for FEMA.

But we can’t take FEMA support for granted.

Unless Congress can get through its current chaos, the government is going to shut down. And that will mean, like the cartoon says, “Funding has run out.”

Preparedness has many facets. Keep an eye on this one.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team


School Preparedness for 2023 — Questions for Parents

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When emergencies happen at school, parents have many, many questions.
Ready for a security emergency at school?

You may know I’m an elementary school crossing guard. Last year, as the news of the Uvalde school shooting poured out of the TV, Joe and I immediately started talking about security at my school. That same afternoon, as I headed out to my corner, I was thinking:

  • Would I notice if someone walked into the school carrying a gun?
  • Would I be a target for a shooter or a vehicle, standing out there in the middle of the street in my bright green vest?

These same thoughts pass though my brain every day that I’m on the job. . .

Emergency Plan Guide’s Annual List of School Preparedness Questions for Parents

For the past few years, I’ve put out a list of questions for parents and caregivers regarding school security. This year, it seems even more vital. Uvalde prompted me to do more and more research. I continue to attend webinars on the topic and just a month ago watched a comprehensive school safety meeting put on by my own school district.

As a result, in 2023 I have had to add about 25% more to my list of questions on school preparedness.

For example, the list of potential emergencies now has to include the usual fire and storm, but also school shootings (so far, down from over 50 last year – but still, FIFTY of them?!). We can’t overlook tornados, flooding, dangerous air quality, wildfires, and threats from train wrecks. Other school problems fit the emergency category, too: bullying, drugs, and sexual abuse.

Some of these emergencies may be rare. Many may arise without warning. But not one of them should be totally unexpected.

Of course, every school is unique – not to mention every student! – so not all schools will prepare for all possible threats. Nor does Emergency Plan Guide provide guidelines for handling all possible situations. But we can ask pertinent questions – and hope you will find the answers that fit.

Be Aware: School personnel may be hesitant to answer some of these questions.

Security professionals may not want to share details out of concern for confidentiality and security. Counselors and teachers may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general. (“Why focus on what could go wrong? Why scare the children?”) And it’s possible no one in the room knows the answers.

But remember, your taxes pay for schools, teachers and security, so don’t be intimidated if you feel good answers are not forthcoming. Patience and persistence will pay off!

Also remember this. School staff members may not consider themselves “First Responders,” but when something happens, they are the first ones there. Their actions can keep an emergency from turning into a disaster. So support your school staff in getting more support and training.

Preparedness Questions to Ask the School in 2023

General school emergency policies

  1. Which emergencies are we planning for here in our school, in 2023?
  2. Who sets policies regarding emergencies? It’s likely that your school district has district-wide policies, set by professionals. For these policies to be effective the professionals will need input from everyone concerned: school board, staff, students, parents, etc. Find out how you can give input; know what info your school board can share, and what it can’t.
  3. How do parents find out about current safety and emergency procedures and policies? As part of registration packet? Through a school newsletter or email newsletter? Special meetings?
  4. How are emergency contact forms distributed? Where kept? How detailed? How often are they updated? Who has access? Is contact information accessible if the school office is closed?
  5. What are alternative pick-up locations if school has been closed? How will parents be notified? Who can pick up your child if school is shut down? How will the alternative pick-up person be notified? How will they be identified before your child is released? What happens to children who are not picked up?
  6. How are First Responders notified of an emergency? How will parents be notified? Phone call? Text? From whom? Your school’s safety plan ought to include public communications (some prepared and “on the shelf”) for disaster prevention, during an incident, and afterwards.
  7. How to report emergency concerns? Your school should have a policy that allows parents – or crossing guards, for that matter – to safely report on what might be sensitive issues.

 Emergency drills

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location that would suggest a need for an evacuation drill? Near railroad tracks, busy traffic or airport, environmental hazards from neighboring businesses, potential for landslides, etc.?
  2. Does the school hold active shooter drills? (Many schools are now calling these Violent Intruder Drills.) While 95% of schools do hold these trainings, recent research suggests that they are causing emotional and physical harm to the school community. Find out what’s happening at YOUR school!
  3. Does the school train for natural emergencies like tornado, earthquake or storm, as well as fire?
  4. Are students with disabilities included in all drills?
  5. How are drills scheduled and what should parents know about them in advance?
  6. Who does the training for drills?
  7. How are substitute teachers, staff, maintenance, bus drivers, crossing guards, etc. included in these drills?

 Emergency supplies and equipment

  1. What emergency food and water supplies are maintained in the school?
  2. What supplies are kept on school buses in case of a breakdown or delay?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown?
  4. What first aid supplies are available? Who gets training?
  5. What emergency equipment is available? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, rope ladders from second floor, etc.) Who gets training?

Security features

In just the past two years my school, like many others, has made significant changes to its physical infrastructure to provide more security: fences, gates, and more lighting. Have any changes been made at your local school over the summer? You and your children should know what to expect when you come back to school.

  1. Does the school have security cameras? How are they monitored?
  2. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? Badges? Sign in, sign out?
  3. What procedures does the school follow when it comes to locking doors and gates?
  4. Does the school have an on-site security force or resource officer? How many officers with what training and what weapons? Their role?

 Parent response in case of an emergency

In any emergency, a parent’s first instinct is to rush to their child’s defense. This is probably the WORST response to an emergency!  We have all watched as cars and parents swarm a school, hindering law enforcement and emergency activities.

Campus Safety recommends the following safety protocols for parents.
Does your school recommend them, too?

  • Do not call or text your student.
  • Do not rush to the school.
  • Do not call the school.
  • Have updated emergency contact information.
  • Be aware of reunification processes.

Getting back to business as usual

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on immediate protective actions and overlook what it will take to recover once an event is over. A good preparedness plan will have procedures in place to help parents and students prepare for an emergency, manage the emergency, and cope with the emergency when it’s over.

Depending on the age of the students, such “getting back to business” activities might include moving to a new school location altogether, receiving professional and peer counseling, involving students in school facility clean-up or upgrade activities, performing new building safety inspections, holding memorials, acknowledging First Responders, etc. Does your school have plans and/or policies for any of these?

Preparedness Questions to Ask Yourself

Today, many children never have the opportunity to wander alone, build a tree house in the backyard, or bike 3 miles to visit a friend. From a physical resilience standpoint, they may be far less capable than were children of earlier generations. It’s up to parents to make sure kids are as ready as they can be for everyday as well as once-in-a-lifetime emergencies.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your children’s readiness this year.

Everyday emergency conversations

  1. What are realistic threats that your child could face, at school or on the way to or from school?
  2. Is your child aware of these threats, and what response might be a good one?
  3. Have you confirmed that your child understands emergency drills at school? (I have asked many of “my” children about drills. The younger children are often clueless about what is going on. “We went outside onto the baseball field.”)
  4. Have you practiced any emergency responses at home? Examples – Earthquake: drop, cover and hold on.  Fire: drop and roll. Get out of the second story: Open the window, set the ladder, climb down.
  5. Would your child be willing to come home with a neighbor if you were not available?
  6. Could your child walk home alone from school, taking more than one route if the way were blocked? Can your child get home by taking the bus?
  7. Do you have a secondary “emergency gathering place” for your family if your home is unreachable?
  8. Has your child memorized key phone numbers and addresses?

Emergency supplies for children

  1. Does your child have an emergency kit at home, always packed and ready to go with the addition of just a couple items like a phone and charger?
  2. Does your child have an emergency kit for school? (Some schools require that children bring basic supplies to leave at school.) Every child could have a few basic supplies in a backpack kit: a list of contact numbers, snacks and water, wipes, first aid supplies, a jacket for warmth, a flashlight, and a good whistle. What about an emergency phone?
  3. Does your child understand that the school kit is ONLY for emergencies?
  4. Does the school allow all the items in the kit?

Next Steps for Parents and Families

How did you do in answering all the school preparedness questions for 2023?

If you haven’t been able to answer all the questions, download and make copies of this list and share it with other parents! Together, approach teachers and your school administrators for answers about school preparedness.

You may want to insist on special presentations on these emergency topics. Guest speakers could be school board members, school staff and/or members of the police or fire department. You might want meetings to be conducted in different languages. Consider volunteering yourself to help design and put on parts of the presentation to be sure it is meeting the needs of all parents.

You can hold presentations on Back-to-School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. The school or a parent could videotape the presentation, making it available online for later showing (in particular for new students coming in).

Working together, schools, students, parents, and other community members can help keep emergencies from becoming disasters. And when disasters do occur, by being prepared we have the best possible chance of keeping our students safe.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The day after Uvalde my school showed increased security in the form of a police patrol car parked in the drop-off zone. I spoke to that officer. The next day I spoke to another officer. They were closed-mouthed and serious in the aftermath of Uvalde; parents arriving with their children were visibly shaken.

It’s been over a year now. No one in our school community has quite gotten over it. I’m waiting to see what new security features have been added at the school when we start again in two weeks.

Tracking Devices for Emergency Communications

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Lost child in urban setting
Wandering? Lost? or OK?

Two news stories of missing persons right here in our neighborhood have prompted this Advisory on tracking devices.

The first news story was a notice that a 7 year-old-boy had “disappeared” while playing in a local park. The second announced that a 79-year-old grandfather had “last been seen 15 hours ago.” (15 hours!) Could tracking devices have avoided the anxiety and fear that these families experienced?

Being prepared always includes planning for emergency communications. A missing person emergency means taking advantage of tracker technology. We all need to know more about it.

If you are considering buying a tracking device, you may want to use this Advisory to create a simple checklist of features to look for – or look out for.

Basics of Medical Alert and Tracking Devices

What do these devices do?

The most comprehensive trackers make it possible for the wearer of a tracker to be directly in touch with family or with emergency personnel without having to dial a phone.

  • The simplest devices are the medical alerts we see on television in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” ads. In this case, you push the button on your device and are connected by phone to an answering service or “dispatcher.” The dispatcher relays important information to family members or, if necessary, to EMTs.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are systems with two components. First, there’s the tracking device worn by the client. Second, there’s a cellphone app monitored by the family member or guardian. Either party may initiate a face-to-face video call — even from as far away as another state!
  • Of course, there are lots of variations in between. But all these devices and apps rely on the answering service personnel who respond to the different devices and connect with family and/or First Responders.

What if I don’t need or want to be able to talk through the tracker, simply want to follow someone or something?

When I first wrote this Advisory way back in 2021, the Apple AirTag didn’t come up on my browser. Lately, though, it’s top of the list! So, let’s start with this simple little device.

Drop one of the disks into a backpack or a purse, or fasten it to your keys or your kid’s bike. Link it to your iPhone with just a click. Now, when you want to know where the object is, your phone will direct you to its location (within a couple of feet). You can set it to give off a tone to make finding things even easier. (“I know my keys are in this room somewhere!”)

One of my first questions: What is to keep someone up to no good from dropping an Air Pad into my briefcase or my kid’s backpack, and monitoring every move? And the answer: When your phone notices an AirTag “following you” but that it doesn’t belong to you, you’ll get an alert and even a sound so you can know just where it is.

We’ve included the AirTag as the first in the list of examples below.

What is the “category” of equipment I’m looking for?

I found information under these topics:

  • “Medical alert systems”
  • “Personal safety trackers”
  • “GPS trackers”
  • “Finding missing persons”

You may want to add the word “kid” or “child” or a specific medical description like “Alzheimer’s” or “dementia” to help get you more quickly to the right piece of equipment.

What’s included in the package?

All the systems I saw start with a battery-operated tracking device that is attached to the “client,” whether that’s you or your wanderer. Some of the trackers are “worn” like a bracelet, wrist watch or a piece of jewelry. Others can be attached to a backpack, belt, etc. or even hidden in a pocket or shoe. (Many missing persons end up with no ID or other personal possessions, so a hidden and permanently affixed tracking device is what’s best for them.)

All the trackers require batteries; some have some sort of charging base.  (Battery life varies dramatically. Be sure to confirm.) 

As already mentioned, the most sophisticated systems offer a cellphone app for the parent or guardian at home. The app shows the location of the tracking device and, hopefully, the missing person. Some apps allow for images and even conversations to be exchanged between wanderer and guardian and with First Responders if necessary.

What do tracking devices cost?

There’s no standard pricing model, but most start with a monthly subscription fee, as you might expect with any telephone service. I saw one monthly rate less than $5/month, but most are between $20 to $40/month. Some extras, such as “fall alert’ or “car crash alert,” can be added to the basic service, typically for something like $10/mo.

A contract is not always required. Some services offer a month by month payment plan. Usually you can get a discount by paying a whole year’s fee in advance.

You may get the equipment itself for free but in many cases you’ll have to pay for it. As with many technologies, the smaller the device, the more expensive. And the fanciest wristwatch or jewelry versions can cost multiple hundreds of dollars.

And at least one company I saw also charges an activation fee to set up the whole system.

As you shop, watch for all these different costs.

How far does the coverage reach?

Once again, there are varying levels of service. The simplest and cheapest “push-button” medical alert programs really only cover you inside your home.  They require a landline or a cellphone to provide the telephone connection to dispatch.

Monitoring outside your home uses cellphone technology. Most current out-of-home or on-the-go tracking systems seem to be built around the 4G-LTE technology. One of the examples below actually allows you to set up “geo-fences.” When your family member or teen-aged driver goes outside the “fenced area” you get an alert!

Note: While your regular cellphone may work across the country or even around the world, your tracking company’s service may be limited to the U.S. If you’re planning to travel, be sure you check! Moreover, if your device operates only on 2G, it may not serve your needs. Read the fine print.

Who actually answers the phone if an alert is activated?

By now, you realize that different plans work different ways. If you’re wearing your medical alert at home and you fall, pushing the button will connect you with a live person at a dispatch center. In some cases, your signal may trigger a call-back to your regular phone.

If your child is wearing a simple “stay in touch” watch, his call will come directly to whomever is programmed into the phone, probably you. You can then reach out to others for additional help.

The tracking programs with cellphone apps may let both the wearer and the person doing the monitoring initiate a conversation as well as connect with others.

What else should I look for?

As I reviewed the different tracking services, I made note of a few more details you might want to add to your own checklist.

  • How easy is the set-up? Can I get a video to help?  (Read reviews!)
  • What sort of warranty exists on the equipment?
  • Can the device be hidden from view or even easily attached to the wearer without his knowing it?

Examples of Tracking Devices and Programs

The programs and devices listed here rose to the top of my list as I looked for different levels and types of service.

Simple and inexpensive.

If you own an iPhone 6s or later, running iOS 14.5 or later, the Apple AirTag will work for you. Individual AirTags cost close to $30, but when you buy more than one (and why wouldn’t you?!), they get a lot cheaper. There are, as you can imaging, different versions: plain, engravable, with hooks, etc. When I looked on Amazon, where we are Associates (and earn a little commission from people who buy through our link), there were a variety of packages and prices. Get the best deal by carefully comparing!

P.S. Own an Apple Watch? You can get AirTag notifications on your watch, too.

So small it’s almost unnoticeable!

The 2021 version of the Jiobit has lots of features, a low monthly fee, and a hefty price for the device itself. But it’s wonderfully sized– only about as big as a standard car fob! Easy to fasten to a backpack or belt. Waterproof, GPS.

Jiobit (2021) – Smallest Real-Time GPS Location Tracker for Personal Safety | Kids, Pets, Elderly, Adults | Tiny, Waterproof, Durable, Encrypted | Long-lasting Battery Life | Cellular, Bluetooth, WiFi

Modest cost, more features for closer tracking.

In contrast to the Jobit above, the Spark Nano 7 Micro is advertised as being a great “hidden” or “covert” tracking device. That is, you can attach it to your employee’s truck, or maybe your teenage driver’s car, to see just where they’re going throughout the day. You can tell how fast they’re driving, too! (A real-time update comes every 6o seconds.) Coverage extends across all of North America.

If you want, you can set geofences so you know if your driver goes outside his or her assigned territory. (This was on sale at a drastically reduced price, last I looked.)

Brickhouse Security Spark Nano 7 LTE Micro GPS Tracker for Covert Monitoring of Teen Drivers, Kids, Elderly, Employees, Assets. Subscription Required!

Basic Medical Alert button designed for travelers.

Attention: Several manufacturers use the word “Guardian” in the name of their product. This one is specifically from Medical Guardian.™ Moreover, Medical Guardian itself has a number of similarly named products with very different features. This “Mini” device, for example, has GPS, while others from the same manufacturer don’t. Be sure to compare carefully!

The Mini Guardian is designed to track you across the country using cell phone towers. It is small — about half the size of other models from Medical Guardian. You can wear it as a clip or on a necklace – and even in the shower, since it is waterproof. Need help? Press the alert button to be connected to an operator who can direct help to your location and let family members or care givers know, too.

Mini Guardian 4G Life Saving Medical Alert System by Medical Guardian™ – GPS Tracking, Emergency Fall Alert Button, 24/7 Alert Button for Seniors, Nationwide LTE Cellular (1 Month Free) (Silver)

Best tracking device for people with special needs.

Finally, even if you feel you or your family member doesn’t fit the “special needs” definition, I recommend you look closely at the AngelSense tracking service. Click on the link below to get prices and details at Amazon. Then, while still on the Amazon page, click on the link to the AngelSense store. There you will see some excellent documentation! Read the stories and watch the videos to get a complete understanding of this comprehensive service. They will paint a vibrant picture of just how valuable the right tracking device can be for your peace of mind.

The service is particularly designed for autistic children. It features a device that can’t be removed, a daily tracking history, and alerts if your child wanders or arrives late. It even allows you to share your child’s current, real-time location with authorities. If I had a child I wouldn’t hesitate to get this service.

AngelSense Personal GPS Tracker for Kids, Teen, Autism, Special Needs, Elderly, Dementia – 2-Way Auto-Answer Speakerphone & SOS Button – School Bus Tracking – Easy-to-Use App

One last recommendation from Virginia.

If you have a wanderer in your family, contact your local police NOW to see if they sponsor a special “missing persons” program. Different cities have different services, but the key to all of them is having a PROFILE OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBER on file. That profile will have a photo, contact information, information about the person’s typical behavior, even medical background. Time is of the essence when someone is lost! The faster authorities can jump into action, the better the chances of a safe return.

Best of luck in preventing the unique emergency of a lost child or other family member.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team


Prepare Your Home for Earthquake – Second Edition!

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Mini-book: Prepare your home for earthquake. Second Edition.

We like Q & A! The fifth question in this new edition is: “Will I get any warning before an earthquake?” How do YOU answer?

Virginia’s earthquake backstory . . .

Years ago the condo building I moved into in the Bay Area was balanced right over the now-famous San Andreas fault. It was at the second meeting of the board of the homeowners’ association that I became aware of that fact! My interest in earthquakes began that day!

As it turned out, on the day the Loma Prieta quake hit California in 1989, its epicenter was about 50 miles away from our building. The building came through. But we all felt that quake. We felt aftershocks. We slept outside that night for fear of more to come. And of course, then we had to clean up.

My understanding of preparing for earthquakes began that day!

Fast forward to today . . .

In 2000 Joe and I moved to Southern California. Again, we find ourselves within shaking distance of the San Andreas. But through our CERT training and our neighborhood preparedness group we have expanded our knowledge about earthquakes and earthquake preparedness. In 2020 we added another book — Prepare Your Home for Earthquaketo the Q & A mini-series we were working on.

This year, only 3 years later, we have had to add a couple of new questions, and update and revise every one of those earlier answers!

There’s just too much happening not only around the globe but right here on the west coast. Plus new neighbors just keep asking these same questions — and new ones.

“What will I get with this 2023 Second Edition?”

As always, we expect you live a really busy life.  So, this mini-book . . . 

  • Has only 62 pages, and a largish font. It’s an easy read.
  • Is built around a dozen or so common questions so you can pick the ones you are interested in.
  • Offers straight-forward answers that you can apply or not depending on your living situation and your budget.
  • Refers you to detailed resources if you want more info.
  • Encourages you to add chosen “to-do” items to your personal emergency planning. As we’ve said before, we see emergency preparedness as a lifestyle, not a project!

Finally, we try to keep all our mini-books as easy to get and as inexpensive as possible by distributing them through Amazon. We want people to buy multiples as gifts and share with family, friends and neighbors!

The links below take you directly to the mini-book. Price right now is $5.99 for paperback, $3.99 for ebook.

Prepare Your Home for Earthquake, showing cover and interior pages

Paperback version – Recommended. Use a highlighter and/or take notes right on the page.

Ebook version – Tap in for another question when you have a few minutes to spare. Convenient. Efficient.

In case you’re wondering about the questions, here they are. How would you answer if asked about preparing your home?

  • Do I really face earthquake danger?
  • Aren’t there other ways of reacting to an earthquake besides DROP, COVER and HOLD ON?
  • What should I assume will happen after the earthquake?
  • Will I get any warning beforehand?
  • How do I know if I’m actually in an earthquake zone?
  • OK, I’m in an earthquake zone. What changes should I be making inside my house?
  • What about strengthening the basic structure of the home?
  • How does earthquake insurance work and how expensive is it?
  • Why was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake so destructive, and what have we learned from it?
  • What role can a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) play in preparing for earthquake?

This mini-book won’t have every answer to every question about earthquakes. But after you’ve read it, you’ll know more about the risks. If you take some of the recommended actions, you’ll be better able to handle them!

The upcoming earthquake may catch you off guard. But don’t let it catch you unprepared!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you want to take a look at the whole collection of mini-books, you can read more here on our site, or you can go directly to the “series” page at Amazon.

Immediately After the Earthquake

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Dear Neighbor,

As you know, Joe and I continue to support our local Neighborhood Emergency Response Group and its new leader, Laura. Today, I’d like to share a very detailed post earthquake list that Laura and I put together for mobile home dwellers in earthquake country!

(Don’t live in a mobile home? Probably three-quarters of these suggested steps apply to every style of dwelling, so don’t stop reading yet!)


House showing detached porch, common damage after earthquake
Detached porch – common damage after earthquake

Immediately After the Earthquake

List of Post Earthquake Steps for Mobile Home Safety from Emergency Plan Guide

If you’ve seen any detailed images of what happens in a hefty earthquake, you realize that your world will within seconds be TOTALLY CHANGED!

Do you really know what to expect? Do you know what to do first? This step-by-step post-earthquake list may help you avoid injury and reduce further damage to your home. Please check it out now. If you are unfamiliar with your utility turn-offs, or unsure of mobile home terminology, take the time now to find out more!

You may be caught unawares when the next earthquake hits, but you don’t need to be unprepared!

Start: CAUTIOUSLY assess your new situation.

  1. Be ready to Drop, Cover and Hold On for aftershocks!
  2. Do NOT light a candle, DO NOT flip any electrical switches, DO NOT start your car or car radio.
  3. If it’s dark, grab a nearby flashlight or activate a glow stick. (You should have several stashed around the house, and one in every room.)
  4. Now, check yourself for injuries. Control bleeding with pressure.
  5. LOOK OUT BEFORE YOU MOVE. Look ahead for fire, broken glass, fallen objects, and liquid spills as you move to . . . 
    • Immediately get and use fire extinguisher on small fires.
    • Get a first aid kit if injured.
    • Help another person in your home.
    • Change into long pants, long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and work gloves.
  6. Perform inside smell, visual and hearing checks:
    • Smell gas? Hear hissing that could mean a gas leak? Grab your shut-off tool, head outside to meter. Leave door open to ventilate.
    • Does water work? Check a faucet.
    • See electrical sparking or broken walls? Shut off electricity at breaker panel or nearest main (could be inside or outside), exit home. Do not reenter until declared safe.
  7. Continue with outside check (Take a light and gas shut-off tool):
    • Can you go safely outside? Is porch stable? Are steps secure?
    • Do you see fire?
    • Do you hear/smell gas from under the home?
    • Is home skirting bent or buckled?
    • Do you hear water rushing or dripping?

Pause to evaluate. If you extend your evaluation to neighboring homes, be sure to partner up for safety.

Then: TAKE ACTION if you think you detect leaks . . . !

  1. Power Off cell phones or walkie talkies before checking meters.
  2. Do not approach utility tower /utility pedestal if damaged, leaning, or broken!
  3. GAS. If you are sure there is a gas leak, whether inside the home, under a home or in the street, grab shut-off tool or wrench (or find it attached at meter) and shut off gas at Gas Meter Main Valve. ONLY GAS COMPANY CAN RESTORE GAS SERVICE so don’t take this step unless you are sure of the leak.
    Also shut off at Gas Meter Main Valve if skirting has buckled, piers have collapsed, floor has sunk. Gas lines underneath home may have been crushed.
    Know when gas valve is open or closed!
  4. WATER. Shut off Water Main if detected water leaking within your home or hear it/see it outside your home foundation. Look at your Water Meter Main DIAL to see if numbers are spinning.  (Spinning means there is a water leak.)
  5. ELECTRICITY. Shut Off Electricity Main Switch of the Utility Tower if you have broken inside walls, ceiling has fallen, piers have collapsed with buckling of skirting or dropped floors. (Under the meter reading face is an enclosure box. Pull UPWARD on the panel door to open it by grasping it from below. Turn off service disconnect switches inside this enclosure.)

Finally: ORGANIZE for extended inspection and post-earthquake clean-up.

  1. If it’s safe, take photos to document damage for insurance.
  2. Clean up any bleach or flammable liquid within your home.
  3. Text your Out-of-State Emergency Contact.
  4. Set battery powered or crank radio to local Emergency Broadcast channel.
  5. Sweep (slowly!) broken glass and small objects out of your frequented paths inside your home.
  6. If no water leaks, check water pressure:
    • Partially fill a small sink with a stopper then release the water. If it flows freely, the line is clear within your home.
    • To prevent sewage leak, plug sinks and bathtub.
    • If sink faucet water is still flowing and pipes not leaking underneath the sink, get containers and fill with water and fill a bathtub half full for washing. (No more than half full – remember, there may be aftershocks!)
  7. Survey your home for partial damage, which will be made worse by aftershocks. Remove objects blocking your exits.
  8.  Outside, push broom broken glass aside carefully, on your own home site.
    • Do not place any debris on the street as it will impede emergency personnel. 
    • Wait for park management directions before transporting any debris off your home site, especially broken glass.
  9. Cooperate with officials and follow their instructions.

Some final comments on the Post-Earthquake List, and a freebee

This Post-Earthquake List deals with only a few minutes or hours AFTER the shock. There’s obviously much more to be done BEFORE the next earthquake hits. I have news about that coming soon. In the meanwhile, take a good look at this Advisory and share with neighbors.

Speaking of neighbors, we have worked with ours over the years to be sure they know much if not all of this . . . but every neighborhood changes! We have folks new to mobile home living and new to earthquakes – so we touch on one or two of these steps every chance we get.  (The various links in the body of this email give you an idea of how we’ve addressed many of these topics in the past!)

If you are working with a group, and in particular a mobile home park with seniors, you may want to turn this post-earthquake list into a series of programs. It lends itself to discussion and to show and tell – particularly from contractors.

Click to download a free pdf of the Immediately After the Earthquake List for easier use with your group.

And as always, let me know what your group comes up with in terms of concerns or more suggestions. I’ll share.  The more we all know, the safer we all will be!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. In case you wondered, the image of the broken porch was created using artificial intelligence. You can see that Dall-e doesn’t really know what American mobile homes look like. Even after multiple tries, it couldn’t come up with skirting! Still, using AI to generate images as well as content is something I’m enjoying testing.

P.P.S. In the first paragraph above I mentioned I’m busy “keeping up.” I’ve found myself researching fire ball fire extinguishers, the steps someone should take to fight back against a donation fraud (a $2,500 real-life crisis for one of our neighbors), the latest earthquake alert technology, and whether security film makes sense for residential window use! None of that research was AI assisted! Stay tuned for more Advisories.

And finally, a disclaimer. Every earthquake is different, every home is different. We have drawn from what we consider “reliable sources,” but our list can’t cover every possible circumstance. Use your own experience and common sense when addressing any of these steps.

Caregiving for Seniors

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Caregiving for seniors can be challenging. Know your options.
Retirement reality? Or wishful thinking?
Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash

I live in a senior community. Many of the realities of senior living are positive. But some of the realities of senior living are tough. A couple of stories about caregiving for seniors that I’ve heard in just the last few weeks. . .

My husband is driving me crazy. He’s been getting worse and worse. He follows me around the house from morning til night, repeating the same question that he asked 5 minutes ago. He’s making it hard for me to get anything done. And it’s impossible for me to leave him home alone!

Another story, overheard from another conversation:

Well, I finally have to do it. The pain is just too much. So I’ll be getting hip surgery – next week actually. The doc says I won’t be able to stand or get around very well for quite a while. I guess I’ll have to find somebody to take me to appointments. Oh, and I’ll need somebody to walk the dog. . .

When I heard this last story, I knew it was a recipe for real trouble!

Without some sort of plan, these neighbors may be heading straight into an emergency!

Amazingly, that very day I got a solid referral to a woman who runs an in-home care agency – right here in town. The timing was perfect. After I met with her, I knew I wanted to share some of what I learned about caregiving for seniors.

So a special shout-out to Kamara Viau,
owner of Acti-Kare of Irvine
She helped me jump confidently right into this new topic
!

Here are some of the questions I asked about home health care and caregiving for seniors at that first meeting. The answers come from Kamara and from my own follow-up research.

“What exactly does in-home care include?”

As you might expect, there are different levels of home care. The levels seem mostly related to the skills required of the caregiver.

  • For example, if you are recovering from surgery, you may need someone to instruct you about your therapy, and make it clear what you can or should not do. You may need help managing medicines. This level of care, typically called “recovery care,” requires skilled nursing training. . . and naturally, is often the most expensive. It may not last very long.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, as caregiver to an aging husband or wife, you yourself may need “respite care.” Just having a trusted health care worker to act as companion for your mate for a few hours could be a real godsend.

Many services lie in between these extremes. The home health caregiver may plan and prepare meals, do light housekeeping and laundry, help with bathing and dressing, etc.

“How do you decide what care YOU want, or need?”

The process starts with a consultation, or assessment. It should be handled by a specialist with medical background and experience in caregiving for seniors. (Ask about that background! Turns out Kamara is a trained dietician with years of experience in a nursing home setting.) The consultation will be based on two things: the medical and mental health of the person to be cared for, plus how much help he or she needs in performing the Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs.

There are standard industry lists of over 25 ADLs. They include things like bathing, preparing and eating meals, standing from sitting, using the telephone, managing medications, paying bills, etc. Get a head start on understanding ADLs by downloading a copy of a full list here.

For some programs, not being able to manage just 2 or 3 of the activities of daily living says you’re in jeopardy! (Wow. Most seniors I know have a problem with at least 1 ADL – like putting on socks!)

“What sort of contract can I expect?”

Following the consultation, you can expect a customized and comprehensive written plan of care. The plan of care is the contract.

It identifies exactly what the caregiver will do, how often, what days of the week, etc. (Most agencies have a minimum 4 hour shift.) Your plan of care should make it clear how visits are documented, what happens if you need a substitute caregiver, etc. It also includes how you will pay for the service.

Naturally, with earthquakes on my mind, I asked specifically about the responsibility of the caregiver in an emergency.

The plan of care should include specific instructions for the caregiver about what to do and whom to call in an emergency. Kamara said that her caregivers also receive special training preparing them for a widespread disaster like an earthquake. Included in that training: “Discuss ways to keep yourself and your clients safe in an emergency. Be prepared to accompany/guide the client away from areas that are no longer considered safe.”

If you are interviewing agencies (and you should interview several), slip in a question about emergencies that might be likely in your part of the country!

“So how much can I expect to be charged for caregiving services?”

The average hourly rate for a licensed caregiver can vary depending on your location, the skill level you require, how many hours per week you need the person, etc. A variety of sources agreed that the hourly rate for a home health aide in California ranges from $23 to $36 per hour.

“Where can I get help paying the bill?”

  • Medicare. Medicare may cover care if a doctor certifies that the patient requires skilled nursing care, physical therapy or other professional therapy, and the care is provided by properly licensed professionals. Assistance with ADLs, however, probably will NOT be covered.
  • Medicaid. At the same time, low-income programs such as Medicaid may cover skilled nursing as well as personal care or homemaker services – again, as long as they are “medically needed” and “provided by a licensed agency.” State income requirements differ, so start on homework now if you think you may be able to take advantage of Medicaid. And be aware that some states may have waiting lists for this care. The sooner you get on the list, the better.  
  • Private long-term health care insurance. Do you have a long-term health care policy? Dig in to see just what in-home caregiving services will be covered. LTC policies typically are designed to cover care in a facility, but they often will cover in-home care support based on factors such as not being able to perform a specified number of ADLs. Everything is based on how each policy is written! 
  • Your own savings. Many people will recoil when they think of a $30 hourly cost with a weekly minimum. “Just can’t afford it.” However, if you want to stay independent and in your own home, planning for the cost of home care may be exactly what you want to do.

“What if the caregiver isn’t a good fit?”

If the consultation was thorough, your caregiver should start off with the skills and understanding you’re looking for. You should have the opportunity to give regular feedback, too, on how everything is going.

The feedback process and options for changing caregivers should be included as part of that initial consultation. Remember, you’re the customer here so you should have the final say.

Final thoughts for people caring for a loved one at home.

Is your current home situation causing you anxiety or stress? Are you are feeling trapped? Perhaps guilty that you aren’t doing enough? Is caring for someone else impacting your OWN mental and physical health?

Would help from a professional caregiver lessen that tension? You may only need a little help now. But you’re likely to need more help later. The more you know about in-home care and caregivers, the more choices you’ll have.

I hope this Advisory will help. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it can get you started.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Don’t forget my checklist of the Activities of Daily Living. Discuss it with family and with a potential caregiver. Click here to download the list of ADLs for free.


Best Survival Flashlights

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Essential for Each Emergency Kit

When your house suddenly goes black because of a power outage, or you find yourself marooned in a rain storm, or you’re simply late getting out of a meeting and have a large dimly-lighted parking lot to cross in order to get to your car . . . you want the best flashlight possible! The picture below shows some of the best survival flashlights in our collection.

Some of the best flashlights in our collection

As always, the best flashlight depends on what you need at the time.

  • Do you need a very bright narrow beam to be able to repair broken machinery?
  • Do you need a wide, broad beam to show all the places where someone could ve hiding?
  • Do you want your flashlight to be so lightweight that you carry it all the time?
  • Do you consider your flashlight as a potential weapon?
  • Do you need a flashlight whose batteries are easy to change, even when you’re wearing gloves?

Let’s look at the features you’ll want to consider.

Assume you will be looking at an LED (light-emitting diode) flashlight. LED flashlights last longer, weigh less, don’t get hot, and are smaller and sturdier than the incandescent lights we grew up with. Above all, they are brighter. So look for the LED description!

Brightness

Light output is measured in lumens. It can vary from as low as 19 lumens, for a simple all-purpose light to wear around your neck on a lanyard, to as high as 1,000 or even 3,000 lumens for  so-called “tactical” flashlights. (So bright they blind the opponent.) In our experience, the minimum you want for your survival kit is 200 lumens, and you may prefer 500 or more.

As you can imagine, the more power the more the flashlight costs – BUT IT’S NOT THE CASE OF A SIMPLE PROGRESSION. Be sure to comparison shop!

Beam

The reflector around the bulb determines whether all the light is focused in one narrow beam, or whether it spreads out more like a flood light. What you need the light for determines what shape beam you like.

Many LED flashlights allow you to adjust the beam by zooming in or out. Keep reading.

Battery

Batteries help determine the weight of the flashlight, its cost, and its overall convenience. Having to replace batteries frequently can be a nuisance as well as expensive, but you can easily keep extras at hand. Most flashlights still use AA, AAA, C or even D cell disposable batteries. (A big flashlight with D batteries can be a formidable personal defense weapon.)

Rechargeable batteries last longer and are more convenient as long as you have recharge capability (from your computer, an electrical outlet or a solar panel, or a hand crank). These batteries do cost more.

For your survival kit, the best power source is likely to be a rechargeable battery. For your shelter-in-place stash, which may have to carry you for quite a while, consider traditional batteries and/or crank or solar power.

Mode

The best flashlights are no longer simply on or off. As mentioned above, they may be zoomed in or out for less or more light. They may have a low beam and a high beam, both of which may be zoomed. They may have two or more modes: a solid white beam, a blinking white beam (strobe) for signaling, a blinking red beam, or even a blink pattern that sends out an SOS in Morse code.

More modes typically mean more switches and circuitry and thus more expense.

Extras

Other features you may look for include . . .

  • A design with one flat side so the flashlight doesn’t roll when it’s set down on a flat surface
  • Extra heavy duty or water resistant case depending on how you’ll use the flashlight
  • Wrist-strap or specially designed grip

Our recommendations

We own many flashlights, and seem to keep trying new ones.

  • We like to give small, inexpensive flashlights as gifts or as rewards (“Use this to start your emergency kit!”).
  • I have a couple of compact, light-weight flashlights that fit in my briefcase and purse.
  • In our cars we carry large, heavy-weight flashlights that could be used to break a window as well as find a disconnected fuse or wire in the engine compartment.
  • Every room in our house has a simple 200 lumen or more light tucked in a handy, secure place. (Remember, we’re in earthquake country!)
  • And finally, our recommendations for the BEST flashlights for your survival kit —

We always have flashlights, and because styles change (and companies go in and out of business!) our favorite changes, too. Here are two to consider for 2023.

Click on the images to get current prices at Amazon.

(As an Amazon Affiliate, I will receive a small commission if you click on one of our links and make a purchase. There is no extra charge to you.)

GearLight LED Flashlight for everyday use

  • I like the size of this flashlight, and how it fits easily into my hand or pocket.
  • I also feel very comfortable carrying the light in the dark, knowing that the design of the rim, with cutouts and sharp surfaces, turns it into somewhat of a weapon.
  • This model also has flat surfaces to keep the light from rolling when it’s placed on a flat surface.

This light is plenty bright. And today, when I checked, it is on sale!

In any case, it claims to be “Military grade” – and water resistant. It has 5 lighting modes. Great for everyday use. Again, click on the image to get the latest price and packaging.

Take a look at some of the other small flashlights, too. As always, by shopping you may get a better deal.

Option for heavy-duty security flashlight

This classic flashlight from Everbright uses C batteries — so it is larger and heavier than the everyday model above. We like the 3 different lighting modes (high, low and strobe) and the fact that the beam can reach clear out to 1000 feet on high-beam mode! We have similar lights in our cars, for emergencies and as potential weapons. Check costs and get all details for this Everbright by clicking on the image.

Check out all these recommendations and compare carefully before you buy. But get the flashlights you need – several for the house (We have one in every room.), one for each car and one for each emergency kit.

Flashlights are essential emergency gear!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Two-way radios: Walkie-talkie or CB?

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Man standing in disaster setting, using two-way radio
Full disclosure: This image was made for me by the Artificial Intelligence program Dall-e! I asked for “disaster scene, man using hand-held radio with antenna.” Not sure how accurate the image is, but it sets the tone, doesn’t it?!

Let’s get clear about radios for emergency use.

The radios we refer to often, and describe in detail on our Emergency Radios Reviews page, are one-way radios. They can only receive messages. Today, we’re talking about CB radios and walkie-talkies, which are two-way radios. That is, with them you can both receive in-coming messages and send out your own messages. (In radio speak, that means you can receive and transmit. Combine both features into one word, and you get transceiver!)

Two-way radios are commonly used for emergency communications and, for that matter, for everyday communications in many settings. Joe and I have used two-way radios on a construction site, in a convention hall, and on road trips. Our grandchildren use them when they’re playing in the park. Nearly every day you can see news reports with first responders using two-way radios at some disaster setting.

And maybe you’ve seen the 1977 classic trucker movie, “Smokey and the Bandit,” with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field! That’s how we were all introduced to CB radios and trucker lingo. (See P.S. for some examples.)

What’s the big advantage to two-way radios?

As long as all parties are tuned to the same channel, and are within range, one person can push a button and send out a message and everyone else can hear it instantly. There’s no need to dial numbers, wait as the phone rings, repeat your message over and over again to every member of your group. Just push the transmit button, wait a second, then speak.

That’s the famous PTT or “Push to talk” feature that everyone who uses walkie-talkies is familiar with. (Some advanced models also have a voice-activated “talk” feature as well.)

So what’s the difference between CB radios and walkie-talkies?

Pretty much, it’s size and weight!

As the name suggests, a walkie talkie is compact enough to carry and use easily with one hand.  (Hence, “walk” and “talk.”) Small CB radios look and act pretty much like walkie-talkies. (Note that radio in the AI image above! It does the job of showing how convenient walkie-talkies can be.)

The classic CB radio isn’t a one-piece hand-held!

Most CB radios have two connected components – the rectangular box that is the “radio” plus the microphone, attached by a coiled cord. (Sometimes the faceplate of the radio can be removed from the actual radio itself, to make installation easier.) And there will also be an attached external antenna which would make carrying the unit even more awkward. So, a CB radio may be mobile – that is, you may be able to carry it – but it sure isn’t convenient!

Let’s look more closely at some of the differences.

Number of channels. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies have a number of channels to choose from, as assigned by the FCC. CB radios typically have 40 channels in the low frequency band. The walkie-talkie for public use has fewer channels (typically 22) in the ultra-high-frequency band.

Signal range. How far your radio will reach depends first on the amount of power of the model (.5 up to 4 watts), then on the environment through which the signal is passing. Because these radios operate on a line-of-sight, whatever interrupts that “sight” weakens the signal. Higher frequencies tend to work better when you’re transmitting in or around buildings, such as schools, hospitals, etc. Lower frequencies tend to have a wider range across countryside – sometimes carrying for miles. “It all depends.”

Power source. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies can be powered by direct current from batteries or by an AC to DC power converter. A CB radio installed in your car runs from the car battery, so it can have far more power than can be jammed into the batteries of hand-held radio. Note, however, that some walkie-talkies have a solar panel for charging batteries, making them particularly useful in off-grid or disaster scenarios.

Antenna. An antenna is important for both CB radios and walkie-talkies. Generally, the longer the antenna the better. Most walkie-talkies have stubby, built-in antennas. Only a few walkie-talkie models allow you to add an external antenna. A CB radio in your truck or car, though, can have a much longer antenna. Long whip antennas can become a hazard to garage doors and bushes!

License requirements. CB radios do not require a license. Some walkie-talkies operate on frequencies that do require a license. For more about the different levels of two-way radios and their licensing, check out this review from the Federal Communications Commission.

Cost. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies range widely in price depending on features. Simple walkie-talkies start as low as $30 for a pair; a simple CB radio set-up may cost as little as $50, but you’ll want to add an antenna, which might easily double that price.

Which two-way radio is best for emergency use?

There’s no one answer. Review your own likely needs – and your budget – to see which radio might work best for you and your group. Talk to other preppers or neighborhood emergency teams to get their input. As always, you may want to test before you make your final purchase.

For more details on walkie-talkies, check out our Walkie-Talkies Reviews page. Below, see an example of a well-regarded CB radio, available at sporting goods stores or on Amazon. As you know, we are Amazon Associates and may receive compensation if you purchase through our link.

Basic CB Radio from Uniden

This radio seems like just what you’d want for common family usage. Note that it has an instant switch for emergency channel 9. It weighs about 2 pounds, comes with mounting bracket and will need to be wired into your vehicle.  (We recommend having that done by a qualified professional, although it’s apparently not too difficult to do.) The feature that attracted me: an option for public address system. Click on the image to check for more details and pricing. (This radio was on sale when I added it to this Advisory!)

Basic antenna for CB radio

This antenna has a magnetic base, making it easy for you to mount effectively. It’s about 24 inches tall, comes with the coax cable that connects the antenna to the radio inside the vehicle.

The antenna arrives in pieces and has to be assembled. I found a helpful video on Amazon (from YouTube) to help you get it set up and installed!

Have you used a CB radio? Do you use one regularly? Have a story about how you’ve used a two-way radio in an emergency situation? Please pass along your experience!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I promised some CB trucker lingo. Recognize/remember these? Not exactly designed for emergencies, but great for listening in on!

  • Catch you on the flip flop!
  • Bear in the air!
  • Chicken truck heading your way!
  • What’s your 20?