Category: Action Items

School Preparedness for 2023 — Questions for Parents

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.

Security at the Front Door – What your Receptionist needs to know!

Empty shop -- No security at the door of this business!
“Anybody here? Hello?”

You walk through the front door of a small business and into the reception area. Surprise! There’s no one in sight! You stand there for a while, then call out: Hello?  Hello?

You have just witnessed a BIG security breach — right at the front door!

Sure, there are many reasons these days why a small business might be short staffed — mostly, because of the pandemic. (Unemployment, no available child care, etc.) But no matter the cause, that empty business has encouraged any would-be robber. And if the intruder has violence on the mind, whoever comes next into that reception area will be the prime target.

Where’s the receptionist? And what’s the role of the receptionist in business security?

As receptionist, you may consider yourself a customer service representative. That may actually be what’s in your job description. But you are also the gatekeeper. In fact, you are the main element of security at the front door of the business! So this Advisory is for you.

Let’s look at some questions you should be asking about a job as receptionist. And if you’re the employer, what YOU should be thinking about for that position. It’s a key one!

1-Is your workplace particularly vulnerable?

Some jobs have a higher risk than others. For example, as receptionist, will you . . .

  • Deal with cash? (ex. bank)
  • Deliver or hold packages? (ex. hotel)
  • Encounter unstable people (ex. law enforcement, health care)?
  • Work alone or with just a small group of co-workers?
  • Work late at night?

Most office thefts take place in the early morning, lunch hours, and around closing time, particularly on Fridays or holidays. Does your reception area have just one person in it during those times? What happens when that person needs to go to the bathroom?

2-Is your reception area laid out in the best way possible for security?

Generally, the receptionist should have a clear view of the entrance, and be able to see everyone in the lobby area.

Good visibility includes keeping doors and windows clear of signs, keeping the cash register in a central place where it can be seen from the outside, and keeping counter tops and displays low so no one can sneak in and hide. And, of course, visibility is improved with good lighting.

Does the receptionist deal with cash? If so, is there a bolted down DROP safe for added security? It lets envelopes be deposited without the safe door being unlocked. The safe makes deposits efficient — and keeps people from trying to fish the money back out!

Here’s an example of a drop safe, from Amazon (where we are affiliates). It’s cost is around $200. Amazon also offers installation for an additional price. Click on the image for full details and current prices.

Digital Depository Safe – Electronic Drop Box with Keypad, 2 Manual Override Keys – Deposit Cash Easily – For Home or Business by Paragon

3-What controls who comes into the lobby and who goes through into the rest of the work area?

Is there a desk or other barrier between the receptionist and visitors? Does the receptionist “buzz” people in from outside or do they just walk right in? Obviously, in a restaurant or shop, as in the picture above, doors are likely to be wide open. In an office, however, you’d expect some sort of formal reception area or lobby.

And given new pandemic health requirements, is the area set up so employees can be easily screened before they enter the work area?

4-What responsibilities does the receptionist have for security at the front door or elsewhere on the premises?

An “entry level” job may be what is being advertised, but as a receptionist you need to know answers to security questions like these:

  • Does the receptionist keep track of who arrives and who leaves, and when? What about visitors? Do you use Visitor ID badges?
  • What identification and ID policies are in place for regular visitors (vendors) and family members?
  • Is there a list of people who are not allowed in? Who keeps the list, and does the receptionist know about it? 
  • Does the receptionist have a map of the property with rooms and escape routes marked, in order to assist First Responders who may arrive in an emergency?

Are temporary or substitute receptionists made aware of all these responsibilities for security?

5-Does your front entrance have visible surveillance equipment? 

We’ve all seen them from time to time: wide-angle mirrors placed in strategic locations to eliminate blind areas.

And almost everywhere these days we are seeing both outdoor and indoor surveillance cameras meant to deter shady or criminal activity. A sign saying “You are being filmed!” helps, too. Some people even mount fake cameras — but experienced criminals can tell the difference. (After an incident has occurred, of course, cameras are only useful if they are real, and monitored.)

Caution: When it comes to signage, local regulations may limit — or force — what you can post. Find out the requirements before you make any purchases.

For this discussion, the question is: if cameras are installed, how are they monitored? From the front desk? From another location?

6-What about perimeter security?

What follows are some simple technical solutions aimed at strengthening your business’ perimeter. We haven’t considered the role of security guards, or a security firm, in this discussion. That’s a whole topic of its own!

Fencing serves as the classic perimeter security. That may include planter boxes and bollards (short, sturdy posts designed to keep traffic out of an area). If physical fencing isn’t possible, you may want to consider virtual fencing. This is an area where new technology is coming into play all the time! Some varieties to become familiar with:

  • “geo fencing” uses GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual fence around a specific location. When a mobile device goes through the fence, it sends a message either to the device itself, or to a monitor.
  • laser fencing where a “broken beam” indicates someone has come through the “fence” (We’ve all seen the movies where the thief has to maneuver athletically through miscellaneous red-colored laser beams!)
  • Wireless motion sensor — also tracks heat — to let you know when anyone enters your property.

A couple of simple examples. The first is an example of a photoelectric beam (laser) motion detector with a relatively short range. It could be set up across a doorway or gate.

Seco-Larm E-931-S35RRQ Enforcer Indoor/Outdoor Wall Mounted Photoelectric Beam Sensor with 35 Foot Range

This second example, also from Amazon, can secure a larger perimeter by adding additional components. (When you get to Amazon, click on the link to get to Guardline’s sales page to see all the different combinations.)

Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm – 1 Motion Detector Alarm Sensor & 1 Receiver, 500 Foot Range, Weatherproof Outdoor Security Alert System for Home & Property

Once again, someone has to be monitoring the system in order to notice when the perimeter is breached! Is this the responsibility of the receptionist?

7-Has a window or door been opened?

A security system might also simply sound an alarm if doors and/or windows are unexpectedly broken or opened. This one might work for a small business or shop.

KERUI Upgraded Standalone Home Office Shop Security Alarm System Kit,Wireless Loud Indoor/Outdoor Weatherproof Siren Horn with Remote Control and Door Contact Sensor,Motion Sensor,Up to 115db Standalone Home Office Shop Security Alarm System Kit, Wireless Loud Indoor/Outdoor Weatherproof Siren Horn with Remote Control and Door Contact Sensor,Motion Sensor,Up to 110db

8-Does the business have policies for managing a hostile situation?

We’ve experienced too many incidents lately where employees or customers have “gone off,” with tragic results. Could any of them be prevented?

  • Has your receptionist received training on how to handle difficult people or threats?
  • Does the receptionist have a “panic button?”
  • Do you have a “code word” that would let someone know a dangerous situation has developed?
  • How would you let all workers know there is an emergency situation at the front entrance?

What’s the next step for your business?

The questions in this Advisory are meant to start a discussion. If you’re the potential (or current) receptionist, you will have a better idea of what you might want in the way of security at the front door. If you’re the business owner, you’ll have a better idea of steps to take, too.

Your business insurance carrier may be a good place to start for more information about security. Better security may reduce your insurance premium!

“But our business is different.”

Of course every business is different. That’s why every business requires a customized plan for security. Consider getting help from a security consultant if you have questions. But don’t put it off. Every business has a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace.

Disclaimer: We’re not police or security professionals so the information here, while we believe it to be authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. Also, please be aware that laws and regulations vary from state to state and industry to industry. Get professional advice!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

If security at the front door is something you’re interested in, take a look at this Advisory, too: It provides a more complete overview of different monitoring equipment and basic monitoring systems good for home or small business.

P.S. Business owner or manager? Download the pdf of this Advisory and use it to start a discussion with staff. You may not need to follow through with all these suggestions. But you should at least have an idea of what other businesses are doing to protect their workplace — and their receptionist.

Emergency Tools are Critical to Survival


Bare hands won’t work.

Emergency tools require heavy work gloves
But do they fit?

Clearing roads, walkways and corridors, prying open locked or distorted doorways, freeing victims pinned beneath fallen debris — just a few of the scenarios you might experience in an emergency. You’ll want the right emergency tools in your hands — and you’ll want to protect those hands!

So the solution? Heavy, well-fitting gloves!

This is particularly important for women, because most off-the-shelf gloves — even those provided via a CERT class — are JUST TOO BIG. If you’ve been visiting here a while, you’ll have seen some of our gloves. They make for good photos, but the extra space across the palm and at the end of my fingers means I just can’t wear them. In the presence of tools they are just plain dangerous!

The image at the left shows some of the gloves I do like for myself. Heavy-duty construction. Leather. Separation between fingers. Elastic at wrist. And you can select SMALL.

Whatever size you wear, find good ones and get several pairs. In wet or heavy work, you can damage them or even just wear them out. Here’s the link to Amazon so you can take a look for yourself.

OZERO Leather Work Gloves Flex Grip Tough Cowhide Gardening Glove for Wood Cutting/Construction/Truck Driving/Garden/Yard Working for Men and Women 1 Pair (Gold,Medium)

Essential emergency tools for turning off utilities.

Water shut-off.

In an earthquake or storm, you may face broken pipes — somewhere in the system or even inside your house. (Remember those terrible photos from the ice storm in Texas?) If you don’t know where or how to shut the water off, every minute increases the chance of damage or even danger.

Do you know where ALL THREE water supply shut-offs are located?

An Individual appliance may have its own shut-off valve. Check the water lines leading to the toilet, for example. Easy enough to shut off.

Turning off water to the whole house can keep water in your tank from becoming contaminated! Your home has a master shut-off valve. It’s usually in the basement, crawl space or maybe in the garage. It may be located outside by the foundation. These valves usually can be shut off by hand — just turn the faucet handle (clockwise) or the lever (until it’s crosswise to the pipe).

You may also want to turn off water at the street. This valve is probably buried in a concrete box some distance from the house. Use a big screw driver to pry off the cover. (Gloves, here!) Then use a special water shut-off tool that has a sort of hook at the bottom. (You may have used one for your irrigation system.)

Here’s an article with a number of illustrations that may be useful.

ACTION STEP: Plan a time for a family tour to find all your water shut-off valves! Do you need an emergency tool to turn any of them off? (See below for a suggestion.)

Natural gas shut-off.

Here where I live our scariest danger is fire after an earthquake. Fire fueled by gas leaking from broken gas lines! So on a regular basis our neighborhood group puts out information about where and how to turn off the gas if you smell that rotten egg smell!

Just like water, there are a variety of valves to shut off the gas. At the street (distribution pipe), in the neighborhood (smaller pipes) and directly to your home (low pressure pipe). Generally, you can only control the line that leads into your home.

You’ll need a sturdy wrench or specialty tool to turn off the gas! And you’ll need to know HOW to turn if off. (See below for a gas wrench suggestion.)

ACTION STEP: Find your gas shut-off valve. Store a gas shut-off wrench permanently near the valve.

DO NOT PRACTICE shutting off the gas! Once it’s off, you’ll need the gas company to come turn it on again! (All pilot lights will have gone out, remember . . .)

A convenient, all-in-one tool for shutting off water and gas.

Get at least one, have a permanent place for it so it doesn’t go missing. Know you’ll be ready when you need to use it!

4 in 1 Emergency Tool: Gas & Water Shut Off, Pry Bar, 4 in 1, Non Sparking, Emergency earthquake Gas Shut Off Valve – Fireman Tools – Tool Emergency – Emergency Tools – Gas Turn Off Wrench – Tern Tool

Will you be able to use your power tools?

The image at the top of the page shows a standard power tool. But when you’re planning for an emergency, you have to assume that power will be out. So what are your options?

Battery-driven tools (power drills, chain saws) will have a limited useful life span if they can’t be re-charged. These days, many tools come with multiple change-out battery packs, which gives the tools a lot longer useful life span. And there are small Power Banks for small devices. Still, at some point, batteries will run out. So to be useful, they’ll have to be recharged.

What are your recharge options for emergency tools?

  • Some people and businesses keep gasoline or butane-powered generators to supply emergency power. They can be really useful — but generally, they’re big, heavy and noisy. And they can be dangerous.
  • If you live in the right location, and can afford it, you may want to consider using a solar system to charge your tools. Solar works well for small-ish devices and lighting, but it takes a big system to actually drive anything with a motor.
  • Power inverters can take the output of a 12-volt battery and convert it to 110 volt AC, but in an emergency you’ll probably want more power than your inverter can give you. Still, worth another look.

Here’s an updated discussion of generators and inverters.

What about emergency lighting?

And let’s not overlook lights as emergency tools! Without them, you won’t be able to do much with the other tools you may have that still work!

Small flashlights are appropriate for getting around in the dark but may not provide adequate lighting for working in an emergency situation. Some newer flashlights offer more options, fortunately. Some have a side panel of lights, not just the main light. Some have magnets that can stabilize the light so you have both hands free. Flashlights are essential emergency tools — as long as their batteries hold out.

Lanterns can be even more useful, since you can set them down while you work. Low-level lighting is adequate for moving around in a space, and many lanterns adjust to meet that purpose. Other lanterns even have red or blinking emergency signals. From an emergency standpoint, it makes sense to have a couple of solar-powered lanterns, too, since batteries will ultimately fail.

Headlights from cars or trucks often suffice, but they may not be able to maneuver into position to be of help in all situations. There are large battery-operated candlepower spotlights available that can overcome this challenge, but most people don’t have these on hand. And again, they ultimately run out of juice.

Emergency lights keep getting better and better. Here’s our latest review of heavy duty lanterns. And for power tools that will last, take a look at this Advisory about solar-powered lights and tools.

What tools do you need to add to your emergency supplies?

ACTION STEP: Start now to put together an inventory of what emergency tools you have on hand, and what tools are available in the neighborhood.  Make sure you have the essentials. Consider whether an auxiliary power source will be required for tools to be effective.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The Big One: It’s not if, but when . . . an earthquake will strike.

San Andreas earthquake fault will likely be the reason for the Big One
This fault is quiet for now . . .

Taking the long view. . .

These last few months have been consumed with COVID and with politics and it’s tough to escape from the grip of what’s happening this week, this day, even this hour.

From an emergency preparedness standpoint, we can always profit by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. So today, readjust your focus to consider earthquakes, and the inevitable “Big One.”

In California

We happen to live in Southern California where earthquakes are more frequent than in other parts of the U.S or some parts of the world.  We know, for example, that a major quake (7.8?) along the San Andreas fault (which runs right through the City of Los Angeles) is due sometime in the not too distant future. 

That “distant future” may be a lot closer than we think. Consider this: the “average” time between big quakes in California is 150 years. The last big quake took place in 1851. When you subtract 1851 from 2021 you get 170. So, we are now 30 years overdue!

We’ve had some warnings along the way: Northridge, in 1994 and then Ridgecrest, just a couple of years ago in 2019. (That one offered plenty of warnings, if you want to know! Virginia wrote several Advisories about the 2019 experience!) So we know we have to be prepared for the Big One. 

People who live in Northern California had a major earthquake over a decade ago — the Loma Prieta quake that hit during the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series. That quake was caused by the San Andreas fault, too. (It runs up through the state and then heads out into the Pacific right at San Francisco.) So Northern Californians know they have to be prepared.

In the Northwest

More and more in the news lately — the Cascadia Subduction zone.  This very long fault slips a couple of hundred feet every three hundred years or so. (Last big “slip” was in 1700 — so again, it’s overdue.) When the next one occurs, it will likely measure 9.0 and impact Washington and the whole Pacific Northwest. This will truly be The Big One!

In the Midwest

If you live in the Midwest near the Mississippi River, you could be at risk from one of the most dangerous faults of all.  Even though we don’t hear too much about it, the New Madrid fault in the central United States is among the most active in the country, running from St. Louis to Memphis.

And those of you who live in fracking country have become increasingly aware of the — heretofore small but now increasing in number and in intensity — earthquakes in your region. States most impacted: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas.

In the Mid-Atlantic

And, imagine the surprise of people living in the Mid-Atlantic area when Washington D.C. experienced a significant – but non-lethal – 5.9 earthquake on August 23, 2011.

How to prepare for the Big One?

The fact of the matter is that we know all too little about the existence of earthquake faults around the world. New faults are discovered on a regular basis, even right here in the middle of earthquake country!

And we have even less ability to forecast earthquake activity level. Yes, new technology continues to be developed, including the ShakeAlert Early Warning System. Its collection of sensors up and down California could give us a few seconds or even a few minutes warning. (We have had this system on our smart phones for over a year, but it alerted for the first time just a couple of weeks ago!)

Other iPhone apps track quakes worldwide. Nearly every morning I get an alert on my phone from QuakeAlert, with maps, info, etc. Just look for “Earthquake” in the app store to see a number of options. Caution — some of the apps are free, and others not.

The bottom line? Everyone has to take some responsibility for knowing what the earthquake threat is in their own region of the country. And we all have to take some responsibility for our own survival and well-being when the Big One hits. There is only so much our government agencies can do — and most of that help will come well AFTER the fact!

Five Action Items to help prepare for the Big One.

  1. Find out about the history of earthquakes where you live. You may never have experienced a quake — but there are likely people who have!
  2. Analyze your day. If a quake hits at 10 a.m., what problems would you encounter? What about if it hits at 1 a.m.?
  3. Do you, and family members, know how to protect yourself when you feel the shaking? You don’t really have time to think much about what to do! You want your response to be immediate! (And you want to avoid the discredited theories like getting into a doorway!)
  4. In a severe quake, power will be out and roads may be impassible for hours or days. Do you have supplies to carry you though as you shelter in place?
  5. Should you plan now to make changes to your home that will make it safer in an earthquake?

We have written again and again about earthquakes here at Emergency Plan Guide. (Use the Search bar to find some of those articles.) We’ve discussed earthquakes again and again at our neighborhood meetings, where we focus on what to expect from the authorities, and how we need to prepare to take care of each other!

Most recently, Virginia and I published a whole booklet as part of our Mini-Series, titled “Prepare Your Home for Earthquake!” We certainly can recommend that as an easy and complete resource that will address all the 5 action items above. And more . . .!

However you decide to prepare for the Big One, you can feel justified in starting any time. Think long-range. Because the Big One is bound to come!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Sign up for our weekly Advisories below. They are free. And you’ll get a LOT more information about earthquakes as well as other potential disasters!

Buy Batteries On Sale


Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?


Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.

Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

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

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

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

When to recharge

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

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

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

Getting the most out of batteries

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

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

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!

Oh, and that story about storing batteries in the refrigerator? Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

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

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

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

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

Power Bank with Flashlight
My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

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

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

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

As you compare them, look for:

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

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

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”
  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of features, options and prices. These models range from $20 – well over $100. Click on the image to go directly to more details on Amazon.


10,000 mAh. Two different charging speeds. Slim and lightweight.

20,000 mAh. Charge multiple devices at once.

About the size of a small book. LED lights show status. Charge laptop 2 1/2 times, phone 11+ times.

What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

Disposable batteries

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

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

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em. Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes.

Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!

Solar chargers

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

There are also small, handy solar panels you can attach to your backpack and recharge while you go! They cost somewhere between $20 and $40. Here’s an example – click on the picture to get full details.

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

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

Get-Out-The-Door Bag


Packed and ready . . .

Packed and ready with room left over

We recently asked readers what worried them the most. There was one clear winner (if that’s the right term for it):
“Not being prepared to evacuate.”

One person (Elizabeth!) had a very specific request regarding evacuation, and that’s what we’re addressing today.

“Can you please send us a SHORT list of what we need to have ready?” 

Here’s what goes into the . . .

Get Out The Door Bag.

This is the bag you need to have packed and available at all times, ready for that unexpected emergency.

This is the bag you grab when suddenly there’s a police officer banging at the door and yelling at you to get out, because . . . there’s been a train wreck, a chemical spill, some sort of terrorist attack, whatever. You have ONE MINUTE to get out! 

You pull this bag out from under the bed, scoop it out of the closet near the door, or maybe it’s already stored in the car when you scramble in.

And if it happens in the middle of the night, remember, you are in pajamas.

The Get Out The Door Bag is meant to get you to wherever you end up and give you a sense of confidence until the situation is straightened out, which may take minutes or hours.

This is not the 3-day or 72-hour kit that we talk about so often. Watch for THAT list later. It’s a longer list, so it doesn’t fit in this Advisory!

What 10 things go into the Get Out The Door Bag?

(If you look carefully, you’ll see all these in the image above!)

  1. Sturdy shoes and socks
  2. Long pants, long sleeved shirt (You might be in pajamas, remember?)
  3. Jacket
  4. Flashlight + extra batteries
  5. Emergency radio
  6. Cell phone and charger
  7. List of emergency contact names and numbers
  8. Toiletry kit including several days’ worth of medicines
  9. Extra glasses, sunglasses, contacts
  10. The one small thing you just can’t leave behind . . .

Everything 1-9 on the list will fit into an ordinary-sized backpack, depending on the size of your shoes! This was my list, and it all fit into my bag, with room left over!

As for that item #10 . . .

If you have extra room, or specific concerns, one or more of these might be your “one small thing you just can’t leave behind.”

  • Cash
  • Extra set of keys
  • Memory stick/flash drive with copies of your important documents including website/account passwords
  • Pocket knife or multi-tool
  • Favorite photo, book, etc.
  • Stuffed animal
  • Mylar space blanket/sleeping bag

Because Joe and I are such fans of walkie-talkies, we’d probably each have a hand-held radio, too. You may also have noticed the hard candies in the image above. I always gotta have something sweet!

Some suggestions about how to pack your Get Out The Door Bag.

Line your backpack with a big plastic bag to help keep everything dry.

To make this really work, you will have to “build” a second toiletries kit, just for the Bag. Get a small toothbrush, small sized deodorant, wipes. Pack a supply of pills in small plastic bags. (Get in the habit of replacing pills with a new supply every other week or so.)

Use another plastic bag to build a minimal first aid kit and tuck it into the toiletries bag, too.

And as for phone and charging cables, if you always plug in at the same place, you’ll be able to scoop everything up as you head out the door. Have a plastic bag or see-through packing cube for them, too.

Keep reading for more about plastic bags!

Specific recommendations to consider for your Get Out The Door Bag.

The Packable Jacket

While I was waiting in one of the endless lines at the airport last summer, I watched a young woman dig into her suitcase and pull out a wadded up piece of clothing.

She straightened it up, slipped it on and everybody standing around nodded and smiled in approval! Turns out this is an actual fashion: the PACKABLE jacket. These jackets look like a very light-weight, close-fitting down jacket. Some, of course, are filled with material other than down. The outer material also varies; some are weather resistant. Some have hoods. But all of them are very light, very crushable and would be the perfect item to pack in your Get Out The Door bag and/or have in the car all the time!

Here are a couple of examples from Amazon: prices for packable jackets start as low as $25 (though most are more), so check out several different brands.  (Click on the images below to go directly to Amazon to start your comparison shopping.)

Amazon Essentials Men’s Lightweight Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket, Charcoal Heather, Large
Amazon Essentials Women’s Lightweight Long-Sleeve Full-Zip Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket, Black, X-Large

Plastic baggies

A second essential item for packing is something you may have at home, but maybe not – and that is a collection of different sized zip-lock or other plastic baggies! There’s nothing better for building that

  • Streamlined toiletries kit
  • A small first-aid kit
  • A sewing kit
  • Place to store your cell phone cords, charger, etc.
  • Last summer I spent about $2 I think to buy individual pill baggies. They are tiny – and perfect to hold a daily supply of a half-dozen pills!

I saw this collection at Amazon and it looked very convenient, with six different sizes. Get a couple of packs so everyone will have the sizes they need.

You know what plastic bags look like. Click the link to see this collection:

ShipGuard 600 Ziplock Bags 6 Assorted Sizes Clear 2MIL baggies1.5×2 2×2 2×3 3×3 3×4 3×5

Packing cubes

Here’s yet another packing idea. This one you should consider if you travel AT ALL!

They’re called “packing cubes.” The cubes are soft-sided rectangular-shaped  zipper containers that you pack tightly (fold or roll) and then stack in your suitcase. Put underwear in one, socks in another. PJs in another. All your little “kits” – toiletries, sewing, first aid– in another. The idea is to not have to paw through everything to get to the bottom of the case where these socks are hiding.

Obviously, our Get Out Of The House bag won’t have multiples of many items, but still, organizing in layers simply makes sense. Here’s one set that is bright red. Click on the image to get details.)

Amazon Basics Small Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set , Red – 4-Piece Set

Extra warmth

And finally, particularly for the Get Out The Door bag, pop in a couple of space blankets or even one of the space blanket mummy bags. These flexible sheets of Mylar aren’t too sturdy, but could add extra warmth in place of or even inside a sleeping bag. The shiny reflective side goes toward your body to capture heat, or turns outside to reflect the sun.

(I added  some duct tape to my kit. I could use it to tape my blanket into a bag.)

Bought singly they cost somewhere around $4-5 each; buy in bulk and you can get them for more like $1-2 each. We have space blankets in every survival kit we own.

EVERLIT Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket (4 Pack) Space Blankets for First Aid Kit Camping Kit Hiking Outdoor

Here’s another Mylar product that’s been turned into an instant “sleeping bag” with its own fabric case, perfect for emergency shelter and/or camping:

Tact Bivvy 2.0 Emergency Sleeping Bag, Compact Ultra Lightweight, Waterproof, Thermal Bivy Sack Cover, Emergency Shelter Survival Kit – w/Stuff Sack, Carabiner, Survival Whistle + ParaTinder (Orange)

You don’t NEED any of these Amazon items to pack up your Get Out The Door bag. Still, having the right stuff will make the bag easier to pack, easier to carry and easier to manage when you need it.

Let me know when you’ve got YOURs all packed!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Ready to get an emergency radio — or another one? Check out our radio reviews. One of these small radios will fit in your Get Out The Door bag, just like my black and red one does.

Update on Self-Defense Products

Scary Parking Lot

I wrote my first Advisory about self-defense products about 5 years ago. Since then, I’ve added a couple more and then, last year, I turned an update on self-defense products into a whole booklet in the Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series!

The Advisories and that booklet have generated a number of comments. The topic continues to be one of our most popular. Still, no matter how attractive as a subject for reading, buying and actually using self-defense products isn’t for everyone!

At the same time, personal safety continues to be a concern, today more than ever.

So we keep up with the news and reviews about all aspects of self-protection, including Second Amendment controversies. I’m not ready to jump into recommending firearms yet, but I certainly can suggest some non-lethal alternatives that may serve ALL our readers.

Stun Guns vs. Tasers – They are NOT the same.

The confusion about these two items continues in the public, at least. Even on Amazon, there is no distinction!

Here are three differences you need to know:

1 – Different technology

While both these devices operate using a charge of electricity, the stun gun generates a shock when the probes on the gun itself are pressed against someone. Stun guns are available starting at around $20. On the other hand, the taser shoots a projectile that creates the shock when the projectile hits someone. Tasers start at around $300 and quickly go up in price from there.

2 – Different uses

Obviously, given the technology, the stun gun is an up-close weapon useful when you are being physically attacked. The taser can be put to use from a distance – typically from 10 – 25 ft, away.

3 – Different regulations

Stun guns seem to be legal in most states. Tasers may not be legal without a weapon carry permit and the training that goes with it. It all depends on the state – or even the county – you live in.

Here is a place you can begin research about your own state: (Updated as of 2020)

No guarantees! Check with official agencies in your OWN town to be sure you know the rules. And if you’re looking for more about the advantages of stun guns vs. tasers, check out this Advisory. The Advisory shows several sample products, too.

Warning about these NON-LETHAL devices.

The taser really isn’t non-lethal. It has been reported as causing the deaths of hundreds – now over 1,000 – of people in law-enforcement related incidents. Only some of these deaths seem to have been accidental.

My recommendation – Unless you are willing to come up with the cost for a taser, get the appropriate training and licenses and run the risk of a tragic accident that could get you mired in the legal system – I’d stay away from a taser.

Stun gun vs. Pepper Spray

The disadvantage I see to a stun gun is that your attacker has to actually be within arm’s reach for you to use the device. Of course, its colorful “Zap” may have some deterrent effect, but that’s it.

When it comes to stopping an attacker before he gets too close, I’d prefer pepper spray.

A hand-held canister of pepper spray can shoot a spray or cloud at least 8-10 feet, and probably more.

The important questions to ask about pepper spray:

Size of canister – Does the spray canister fit easily and comfortably in your hand so you can grab and use it? Sizes range from lipstick-tube-size to much larger cans. The 2-oz. size offers enough liquid that you can test a couple of times without emptying the canister.

Safety features – If you hang your canister on your key chain or onto the outside of your purse, or carry it IN your purse, what keeps it from accidentally going off? Flip top? Twist top? Can the safety features be operated WITH ONE HAND?

Life of product – Pepper spray won’t last forever, although it should last at least a couple of years. Check the expiration date on the packaging, and test to see that the spray is working every 6 months or so. You don’t want to need it and discover that nothing happens when you press the button!

Product quality – There are a number of manufacturers of pepper spray, and while I am usually happy to get “the best deal” on anything I buy, in this case the cheapest is not likely to give me what I am looking for.

My research has led me to one particular manufacturer of pepper spray – Fox Labs.

Reviews from law enforcement users as well as “regular” people are compelling. This product seems to work when other products, similarly priced and highly promoted, do not.

Here’s what the 2 oz. canister looks like. It should provide 18 or so ½ second bursts, so you can practice a couple of times. Its range is advertised as 17-20 feet.

Click on the image to get the latest pricing at Amazon. (It was just over $20 when I last looked.)

Fox Labs 22FTM Mark 3 2Oz. 2%,Fliptop Fog

There is also a 4 oz. canister that may shoot even farther and has double the number of bursts, but that size is not legal to be shipped in California, so may not be legal where you live, either. Again, check local regulations!

Note that this product must be shipped via ground, so it may not arrive immediately.

Important Update! Thanks to a prompt from one of our readers (See his comment below!), I’m compelled to add another couple of items to this Advisory! They are both variations on the pepper spray theme.

There are now pepper sprays in GEL format and in FOAM format! They have the same basic capsaicin ingredient and serve the same purpose of self-defense. But neither is as likely as spray to blow back onto you in a confined space! Moreover, pepper gel goes a good 6 feet farther than either spray or foam, so you can use it from a safer distance. The gel doesn’t spread out as much though, so you may have to be better at aiming.

Click on the link below to get to a sample of gel made by SABRE. I own the SABRE spray and find it fits my hand well, and it looks as though the gel is packaged pretty much the same way.

SABRE Pepper Gel with Attachment Clip, 35 Bursts (5X The Competition), 12-Foot (4-Meter) Range, Gel is Safer, UV Marking Dye, Twist Lock Safety

Finally, if you purchase any pepper product, check your canister carefully. Note its expiration date. Then . . .

Practice with self-defense products!

Practice getting it out of your purse, unlocking the cover and shooting. You must be able to do it in the dark and when you are nervous!  Get your moves down, and then refresh your skills from time to time.

If you ever need this, you’ll need it.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Joggers and bike riders say this spray works great on threatening dogs, too.

P.P.S. I mentioned that we’ve written other articles about protecting yourself from danger. If you are serious about buying for the first time, please get a copy of our 2020 mini-book, Personal Safety. Its 50 pages of common questions and answers will give you an update on self-defense and self-defense products plus a discussion of the necessary state of mind required to use force or weapons.

Personal Safety – Should You Consider a Stun Gun?

personal safety

The news is so frightening these days!

Threatened bombings, actual shootings and beatings, rape. Awful. Disheartening. And, unfortunately, reality. Here at Emergency Plan Guide we try to be as upbeat and level-headed as possible. At the same time, it seems sensible to be aware of personal safety options.

One option, legal in most states, is a stun gun.

You hold the stun gun in your hand. Press it against the body of an attacker, and its “electrical punch” can completely disable and disorient him for seconds or minutes, giving you the chance to get away. In fact, the zapping sound and electric blue flash of a stun gun being set off may discourage the attacker from approaching in the first place.

Here are a couple of examples, available at Amazon where we are Associates. They come in pink and black, and in different “strengths.” (The more the jolt, the more expensive the gun.) Personally, I prefer the pink because it’s a lot easier to find in a purse or the glove compartment. You can click on the images or on the link below to do some “shopping.” Read the “shopping questions” below, though, first!

VIPERTEK VTS-979 – 53 Billion Stun Gun – Rechargeable with Safety Disable Pin LED Flashlight, Black VIPERTEK VTS-880 – 30 Billion Mini Stun Gun – Rechargeable with LED Flashlight, Pink

Is this really something to consider carrying for personal safety?

I asked these questions as I was researching for this post on personal safety.

1. Is a stun gun legal?

Stun guns are treated differently in different cities, different counties and different states! Sometimes you have to go through a registration process to own one.

To give you an idea, one stun gun advertised on Amazon carries this disclosure: “We do not ship to the following locations: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, Annapolis, MD, Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore County, MD, Crawford County, IA.”

If you intend to purchase one, I recommend you check carefully to find out the LATEST rules governing buying and carrying stun guns in your town. If you plan to travel with your stun gun, then check again, because different rules apply there, too. (Mostly, it appears as though a deactivated stun gun can be carried in checked luggage. But don’t take my word for it!)

A good place to start your legal research:

2. Is a stun gun the same as a taser?

Legislation sometimes lumps stun guns together with tasers, and sometimes treats them separately. For our purposes, there is a distinct difference.

  • A taser is a “long-distance” (15-20 ft.) weapon. It shoots out wires that carry the electrical current, and once it’s shot, you can’t quickly reload. Tasers start at around $400 and the “professional” models used by police cost more than $1,000. These tasers are of colored plastic in the shape of a pistol, with a hand grip and trigger, and are worn in a holster.
  • The stun gun, on the other hand, is a close-up self-defense tool. It has to be pressed against the body to create the circuit. You can use it repeatedly as long as its battery is still charged. Stun guns start at just over $10 and there are many available in the $20-40 range. They could be carried in a purse or pocket.

You can see more about tasers and stun guns for personal safety here.

3. How do you charge the stun gun?

Obviously, your stun gun needs to be charged to have any impact. The typical gun comes with rechargeable batteries and a cord that you plug into the wall. You’ll get instructions to charge it fully (10-12 hrs?) when you receive it and then to “top it off” on a monthly basis.

A solar-powered charger suitable for charging your computer or phone would likely work to charge your stun gun, too. Check.

4. Other features to consider?

Stun guns have been incorporated into other personal items. We mentioned the flashlight/stun gun style above. Stun guns have also been incorporated into iphone lookalikes, into actual iphone cases, and into batons and other professional law enforcement tools.

There are many sizes and styles.

Pick the one that suits your own needs and lifestyle.

If I felt threatened, or were heading into an unsavory or dangerous place, I’d have my stun gun in my hand and ready to use. I personally like the “safety disable pin” that comes with the example above. This gun also comes with a wrist strap attached to the pin. (Scroll over all the images to see the wrist strap.) If the stun gun is taken away from you in a struggle, the pin will be pulled out. This stops the stun gun from working so it can’t be turned against you.

In my opinion, the stun gun is closer to being a weapon than other personal safety items we’ve talked about. I’d investigate carefully before deciding to carry one or to give one to a family member.

It might, however, be something that would give you new peace of mind.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Do you already have a stun gun? Have you ever used it? What more information can you share with Emergency Plan Guide readers to help us make our decisions?

Emergency Preparedness Quiz for Experts


Ready for Rain

OK, so you have been working for a while on being prepared for disasters. You’ve made it this far, and think you’re in pretty good shape, ready for whatever rain may fall! 

Maybe you even qualify as an expert?!

Last year Joe and I took an emergency preparedness quiz at a meeting sponsored by the Great American Shake-out. Sure enough, although we’ve been “Activists” for years, we were missing several key items!

That inspired me to put this quiz together for all the Emergency Plan Guide readers. (I’ve updated it for 2020, too.) The questions were gathered from a variety of sources. See how well you do! Score yourself at the end!

Emergency Preparedness Quiz

1-Is your house ready to take a hit from a disaster? Check if YES.

  • No heavy/dangerous items over the bed, couch or desk (or wherever you spend a lot of time).
  • Bookcases, TV, speakers, computers, printers, mirrors — bolted to table or to wall. Need a stud finder to finish this job?
  • Water heater and other appliances secured.
  • Outside of home squared away to protect against sudden fire (trash cleared away) or wind.
  • Home adequately insured for standard risks also local risks (flood, earthquake, etc.).

2-Does your family know how to respond to a natural or weather-related disaster? Check if YES.

  • Everybody knows and has practiced: Drop-Cover-Hold On (earthquake), Drop-Roll (fire). Grandma, too.
  • Family members know and have practiced 2 ways to get out of house: doors, windows, second floor. Can you get down the escape ladder?
  • Everyone knows where fire extinguishers are, and how to use them. How many fire extinguishers do you need, anyway? And are they all workable?
  • Adults know where water and gas shut-offs are, and when to shut them off. Tools attached near shut-off valves.
  • You have a back-up plan for pets if you’re not home. Decal on front door or window alerts emergency workers that you have a pet.
  • Everyone in the family has memorized out-of-town contact phone number.
  • Everyone who has a phone has a battery back-up (Power bank), knows how and to whom to text.

3-Are survival kits (72-hour kits) packed and ready to go?

  • Do all evacuation and survival kits have masks so you can operate within COVID guidelines?
  • A survival kit in the house for every family member, customized to size, skill, medical needs, etc.?
  • A kit for every pet?
  • A kit in each car?
  • A kit at work for every worker?

4-What about handling the immediate aftermath of a disaster?

  • Every room has emergency lighting – lantern and/or flashlight.
  • All first aid kits are fully stocked with up-to-date items.
  • We have at least one emergency radio (solar, hand crank, battery) tuned to local emergency station, with extra batteries.
  • Everyone has sturdy shoes for safely getting around, clothing/gloves to protect against cold or broken items. Pets have protective booties/jackets, too.
  • Supply of warm clothing, blankets.
  • Everyone knows ways to report in that they’re OK.

5-Are you prepared at work for the immediate aftermath of a disaster?

  • Every room has emergency lighting – lantern and/or flashlight.
  • First aid kits are fully stocked with up-to-date items.
  • Emergency radio tuned to local emergency station, with extra batteries.
  • Everyone has sturdy shoes for safely managing stairs, getting out. (Particularly important for female employees whose footwear may be stylish but impractical. Stash an extra pair of tennis shoes in the bottom drawer of the desk.)
  • Partners check on each other’s situation. People with disabilities have designated partners who know how to help them evacuate.
  • People responsible for shut-down or evacuation procedures step into action.
  • Everyone knows how to report in assuming phones are out.

6-How about an extended recovery at home after a disaster?

  • Supply of food that doesn’t need cooking. Can-opener. Utensils.
  • If camp stove, supply of food that uses hot water or heating. Fuel for stove. Fire igniter. Pot. (Have you practiced setting up and starting the stove? A challenge under the best of conditions!)
  • Condiments: salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, chilies, soy sauce, sugar, honey, other.
  • Water supply. Clean water supplies, a way to filter and/or disinfect other water.
  • Pet’s food, water and hygiene supplies.
  • Personal hygiene supplies: temporary toilet, toilet paper, wipes, paper towels, Clorox. Trash bags.
  • Personal supplies: lotion, bug repellent, sun screen, soap, sanitary supplies, condoms, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.
  • Medicines and prescriptions for at least 2 weeks.
  • Clothing for cold, rain; ponchos, umbrellas.
  • Tools appropriate for making repairs: saw, hammer, nails, tape, plastic sheets, tarp, crow bar, ax, shovel, emergency lighting.
  • If someone can handle them and manage fuel: generator, chain saw.
  • Emergency two-way communications: walkie-talkies, ham radios.
  • Entertainment: books, games, cards, paper and pens.

(When it comes to extended recovery at work, that’s another quiz. It will be based on the type of work place, key functions of the business, number of employees, etc. Emergency Preparedness for Small Business can give you nearly all the guidance you’ll need to answer THAT quiz!)

7-And here’s a bonus emergency preparedness quiz item:

  • I’ve completed CERT training. (I know, CERT training is being postponed until we can get back to meeting face to face. But at least, you can put it on your to-do list!)

And your score on this Emergency Preparedness Quiz?

There are 41 questions in this quiz, plus the bonus. They don’t have equal importance, so there’s no real way to rate yourself based on the number of boxes you checked off.  Still, just in reading the quiz you should have a FEEL for whether you are:

  • Rookie – 10-15 check marks: A good start but still have a ways to go
  • Solid – 15-30 check marks: Comfortable with your progress; won’t feel (too) guilty if something happens
  • Expert – Anything above 30, plus the bonus! Heck, you should be teaching this stuff!

If you’re not actively “teaching this stuff,” you can use this emergency preparedness quiz to help yourself and other people you care about get started on their own preparations.

How to get started?

Start slowly — but get started!

Did some of these items jump out at you as being really important?

Start with just one or two. Work on a new one every week.

If you are part of a neighborhood group, maybe pick a couple of items to work on every month. (Our new Mini-Series was designed PERFECTLY for groups! Schedule one topic per week or per month, get people together — in person or via zoom — to discuss and share.)

Every small preparedness action you take will add to your family’s and your community’s resilience. Since your neighbors are most likely to be the people who end up rescuing you in a disaster, this step-by-step method has a double pay-off!

Let us know how it goes, and what YOU would add to the quiz to make it even more useful. We are all in this together!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team


Store Water for Emergencies — Revived

collapsible water bag
2 gallons, carryable, collapsible

You have surely read many articles about why and how to store water for emergencies. The picture above came from one of our own earlier Advisories! But with hurricane season starting, an a tornado having just hit last week, it’s time once again to address this most important preparedness topic.

If some of this looks familiar, please jump to the bottom half of the Advisory where we address Buckets, bladders and bags! All new!

Why is storing water so difficult? Consider these possibilities:

  • Your household changes. What you needed to survive for 10 days a couple of months ago won’t be enough with the new baby plus your mother now living with you.
  • You move to a new home in a new location with a totally different climate. You used to be near the Washington coast. Now you’re in the middle of Oklahoma.
  • Another hurricane is threatening off the coast. Its storm surge will overrun your municipal water system — again.
  • Carcinogens and toxic contaminants have been discovered in the drinking water in your state.

The point? You can’t just check the box one time and be done with it! Having enough water in the right place at the right time is an ongoing challenge.

So, time for another look at how best to store water for emergencies.

Plastic bottles of water? Handy but . . . maybe not!!

Here’s another photo from my own camera. The bottle is from a case of water that has been sitting in our HOA office for about a year.

Deformed plastic bottle of water
Would you want to drink this?

Plastic bottles are NOT a good idea for long-term, emergency storage. (Not to mention the issue of plastic waste . . .) Plastic doesn’t stand up to weight or to heat. And that heat issue makes them particularly impractical for storage in the car.

On the other hand, high-quality BPA free plastic containers DO work for longer-term storage.

The following examples of storage containers come from Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.

WaterBricks –In the past we’ve talked about WaterBricks – relatively expensive but of excellent quality and extraordinarily useful for apartments and condos where storage space is limited. They stack and fasten together for stability. The full-sized brick holds 3.5 gallons; the half-size holds 1.6 gallons. You can also get a spigot for a brick, so you could set it up on a counter for real dispensing convenience.  (I’d get more than one spigot.)

WaterBrick Blue Water Storage Container (6 pack) 3.5 Gallon

Last time I checked at Amazon, the WaterBricks were on back order. I soon discovered Saratoga Farms, another stackable container set, slightly different but just as useful. It’s “blocks” hold 5 gallons each.

Saratoga Farms 5-Gallon Stackable Water Containers (100 Total Gallons), 20 Pack, Blue, BPA Free, High Density Polyetholene (HDPE) with Built in Handle

Plastic containers for ice. Don’t forget to fill smaller-sized clean plastic containers with water and use them to keep your freezer tightly packed. (Be sure to leave plenty of space for the water to expand. And avoid containers marked “3” (for polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), “6” (for polystyrene, or PS), and “7” (for polycarbonate). Frozen plastic “cubes” will help save energy by maintaining the cold in the freezer, and if the power goes out they’ll give frozen foods a bit of a longer life. Finally, you can use the melted ice as a source of emergency water – for hygiene if not for drinking.  (Once-frozen water sometimes doesn’t taste so good.)

[16 Pack] Food Storage Containers with Lids, Plastic Food Containers with Lids, Airtight Storage Container Sets for Healthy Diet, Vegetables, Snack & Fruit (Small&Large Size), BPA Free & Leakproof

It’s probably best to recycle the water in your WaterBricks and your food storage containers every 6 months or so.

Aluminum cans – Good for 50 years!

Last year Joe and I participated in an Emergency Preparedness Forum north of Los Angeles and there we were introduced to canned water. Here’s a picture of one of our cans. You can buy cases of the stuff, easy to store. And here’s the most exciting thing – the water has a 50-year shelf life! 

Aluminum Can of Water
Canned water?

As you can image, these aluminum cans are relatively expensive. You can get them at Amazon – and they will be delivered. Here’s the link:

Blue Can Premium Emergency Drinking Water – 24 Pack

If you live in or near California, you may be able to get discounted prices on cases of Blue Can Water from my friend Patty Kirby. She introduced me to canned water, and she works with HOAs, businesses and other groups. (Obviously, an order big enough to fill a pallet (100 cases) would get the best possible shipping price.) Contact Patty directly:

Water Barrels – Good for at least a year and probably twice that long!

Quite a few years ago we got a great deal on blue barrels for our volunteers. These days prices are considerably higher, but the need to store water for emergencies is still there, and maybe even greater. In fact, you may need more water than you did before!

Augason Farms Water Storage Barrel 55-Gallon Drum

Some thoughts to remember when it comes to water barrels:

  • When it’s full, the barrel weighs about 480 pounds. So – how are you going to get the full barrel to where you can use it? Not easily! That’s why you need a pump to get out a gallon or two at a time.
  • Be sure your barrel is of food-grade plastic. Give it a good clean by adding a couple of gallons of water, a cup of fresh chlorine bleach , and rolling it around until every surface has been exposed. Drain and rinse.
  • Find a good place to set the barrel because that’s where it’s going to remain once it’s filled. Keep it out of direct sunlight. Don’t place it directly on a concrete floor – put some boards down as a platform. And you may consider how to camouflage it. No use broadcasting that you have a lot of water available.
  • Once your barrel is clean, fill it with tap water as is. (Make sure the hose isn’t dirty!) But you may wish to add another layer of protection by treating the water you are storing with bleach or water purifier. The water storage recipe: add 6 teaspoons of fresh, regular unscented bleach to your 55 gal. barrel of water.

NEW: Buckets, bladders and bags to fill at the last possible minute.

Recently one of my LinkedIn groups was filled with water storage ideas. Here are several more containers for you to consider, based on recommendations from that group. Consider how HEAVY the various containers will be once they are filled with water! 1 gallon (in its container) weighs about 8 1/2 pounds.

(So the 2-gallon bag Joe is holding in the picture above weighs about 17 pounds.)

We own a couple of these, and have them tucked into our survival kits. Probably not too durable, but they have held up for us. Certainly convenient!

Stansport 2-Gallon Water Storage Bag
If your container doesn't have a spigot, consider how you are going to get the water out. This one has a spigot.

WaterStorageCube BPA-Free Collapsible Water Container 5.3 Gallon with Spigot, Camping Water Storage Carrier Jug for Outdoors Hiking Hurricane Emergency, Foldable Portable FDA Water Canteen (1-Pack)
Rigid container, bigger yet. Gets excellent reviews.

Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container
This is a one-gallon collapsible container, which makes it easy to store until you want to fill it.

4-Pack Bundle | Reusable Transport and Storage Water Container Solution | 1-Gallon | Collapsible | Non-Toxic BPA-Free | Space Saver Solution | Proven no leaks
Comes in a variety of colors, and has a lid.

Freegrace Premium Collapsible Bucket Compact Portable Folding Water Container - Lightweight & Durable - Includes Handy Tool Mesh Pocket (Green(Upgraded), 23L (Lid))
Efficient. BIG when filled! (Bad illustration. Click below to get the full "picture.")

AQUATANK2 Water Storage Bladder (60 Gallon)
Another poor image for a dramatic piece of equipment. Power outage threatened? Lay the liner in any standard bathtub, attach the fill sock to the faucet, and fill the bladder to capacity, which takes approximately 20 minutes. A siphon pump is included to easily dispense the water into jugs or pitchers, making it easy to use your water every day.

WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container, Drinking Water Storage, Hurricane Survival, BPA-Free (100 Gallon) (1)

I encourage you to get some containers like those above. Knowing that you have what you need when the emergency threatens will give you greater peace of mind. And you’ll have some credibility when you remind neighbors that they should be ready or already storing water, too!

Let us know if YOU have a favorite water storage container.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Dust Mask for Your Survival Kit

dust mask for survival kit
Useful for emergencies?

Update as of 9-2020. Because of COVID-19, supplies of commercial masks may be limited. Take steps NOW to get the masks you need.

Do I need a dust mask for my survival kit?

As the pandemic continues, and fires explode in California, we are taking yet another look at the role masks play in protecting our health.

This week, a question first asked over a year ago was raised again.

What’s the best dust mask to protect me from smoke from a wildfire?

In my neighboring county here in southern California the overall Air Quality Index today registers more than 5 times the “safe” levels as set by the EPA!

Air quality considers gases and particles. Particles are the first thing a dust mask attempts to stop. Masks are labeled according to how much particle protection they offer. For example, a mask will get a measurement like “90” or “95” or even “100.”  This tells you the percentage of particles this mask can block from entering your lungs.

Particles are also measured by size. Some masks protect against particles down to 10 microns in size. Others protect against particles down to 2.5 microns. The smaller, the better.

Let’s look more closely at some of the options from the standpoint of preparedness.

1-Option One – standard disposable paper or cloth dust mask

(FYI, the child in the image at the top of this Advisory is wearing a standard surgical style disposable paper mask.)

As we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, your Go-Bag should include a supply of surgical style paper masks as protection against the spread of COVID-19 in a evacuation or shelter situation. Thin paper masks are meant to stop YOU from transmitting virus via droplets from your breath.

They can also protect you from breathing in larger particle pollutants that may be in smoke.

These masks typically have thin elastic straps that go around the ears or around the head. You can see that the one in the image has only one strap. This means it probably won’t fit too well — particularly if you have a beard or mustache.

These masks are for one-time use only.

Inexpensive cloth masks – or just a bandana — can be washed and reused but tend to get wet around the mouth. These masks may give you the impression of providing security. They may stop you from passing on the virus. But they can really only prevent some of the very largest smoke particles from getting into your lungs.

2-Option Two – “respirator” built for better protection

It appears that the best all-purpose masks are those labeled N95. They filter out 95% of pollutants that aren’t oil-based. (Some masks are labeled N99 or even N100 and are more effective.) These are the masks that health care workers, first responders and volunteers working in the burn areas of California wear – or should be wearing.

Like the Option One masks discussed above, these masks are also disposable. But they fit better (two straps, nose piece) and are more comfortable and thus can be worn longer before being replaced. One additional comfort feature is an exhalation valve. The valve makes it easier to wear the mask in hot or humid conditions.

Here’s an example from Amazon (where we are Associates) of an N95 mask with exhalation valve. This model comes 10 to a box.

3M 8511 Respirator, N95, Cool Flow Valve (10-Pack)

Caution: While a mask with an exhalation valve may make it easier for you to work in smoky conditions,, it does not protect you from harmful gases. Moreover, the CDC warns that because an exhalation valve makes it easier to breathe out, the mask will not keep you from transmitting a virus to others.

Masks can also be combined with additional layers or filters to keep out specific pollutants. The more layers, the more effective (as long as the fit is good). The mask below, for example,  is designed with extra layers of activated charcoal. (Note adjustable ear straps.) My research does suggest that while these masks with filters can protect against particles as small as 2.5 microns, they are NOT rated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the one that gives us the “N95” rating.

Mouth Mask,Aniwon 3 Pack Anti Dust Pollution Mask with 6 Pcs Activated Carbon Filter Insert Fashion Cotton Face Mask PM2.5 Dust Mask for Men Women

3-Option Three – masks for specialty use

If you find yourself in a specialty situation — for example, where you are engaged in grinding or welding, or working in heavy pollution caused by a fire – you need a reusable respirator. Typically, it will have one or dual cartridge holders permanently affixed to a half-face or full-face mask. You add filters or cartridges to the holders to match the job you’re performing. If you’re looking for the highest level of protection, go for P100. It filters out 100 percent of both oil-based and non-oil-based particles.

3M Rugged Comfort Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6502/49489, Medium

You can probably find specialty, reusable masks like the one above starting as low as $25. (Prices quickly go up to well over $100). Be sure you’re getting the filters and/or cartridges you need. In particular, be sure the mask fits WELL. Any air leakage defeats the purpose entirely. Straps that are too tight will keep you from wearing the mask when you need to.

If you prefer a half-face mask, you may want to add goggles or some sort of eye protection.

For everyday survival kits, a full face respirator is probably more than you need. But if you know you are heading into a dangerous air situation, and can grab some extras from your stash of supplies, having a reusable mask with the appropriate cartridges would certainly be useful.

Some final thoughts about a dust mask for your survival kit.

Putting on a mask seems simple, but wearing one for hours can be difficult for some people. The masks become hot and scratchy, and if they get wet they may become soggy and block air altogether. People with facial hair and small children can’t get the fit that’s necessary for the best protection.

But in an emergency, it makes no sense to be without sensible simple protection.

I recommend you buy a box of surgical masks and another of N95 masks and put some in each survival kit you own — family members, the car, and the office. Practice putting on one of the masks to check its fit.

Now, take that mask off and tuck it back in the bag with the others and know protection is there when you need it.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Have you had experience with face masks? Tell us your story!

I need more reviews. Can you help?

Write a review for my book.

Dear Reader,

The last few weeks have been so terribly distracting. This morning, though, I got some really good news.

When I checked my Kindle author’s account at Amazon I saw that several copies of our latest book were purchased, right in the middle of all that is going on.

THANK YOU to everyone who bought a book this week – or whenever you bought one! You are helping support our mission of preparedness. And you’re keeping my enthusiasm up for the hard work that goes into it!

And now I have a favor to ask.

As you know, when people shop at Amazon, many look closely at the reviews. But of course, most buyers don’t leave reviews. I need more reviews on all my books!

If you have bought one of our books, I would really appreciate it if you could please click at your book below and leave a review.

The links go right to the “Leave a review” form. (You do have to have spent $50 at Amazon in the past year to get your review published.) Your review can be just a few words. Or you can write a longer commentary about the book and how it fits with the work you do. Everything is legitimate and will help others make their own decisions . . . in many cases decisions that could change their lives.

Thank you for helping!

Our Q&A Mini-Series


Short Questions and Answers around one particular topic, designed to review your progress and stimulate your thinking.

We continue to add new titles every month or so. (Coming up next — Personal Safety and Save Your Pet)

Shelter in Place – Our newest mini-book, pretty timely, don’t you agree?

Pre-Disaster Plan – The “big picture” of why and how we prepare.

Pee ‘n Poop! Not exactly my favorite, but right up there in importance:

Emergency Communications – We use radios and walkie-talkies nearly every day at home and in our neighborhood group.

Custom Go-Bags – Always worth another look because everyone needs a slightly different bag.

Emergency Cash – Aspects and options you may not have considered.

Evacuate! There’s no time to prepare when your hear this word!

Car Emergency Kit – Anything can happen when you’re on the road!

Power Outage – No need for this common emergency to become a disaster.

Prepare Your Home for Earthquake – Not just in California.

Our Flagship Series

Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide Series

for Organizing your Home AND your Community

Each of these books has an accompanying workbook for those folks who find it hard to get started or want help to stay on track. (The workbooks also lend themselves to working with a group.)

Emergency Preparedness for Apartment and Condo Communities

Emergency Preparedness for Mobilehome Communities

Emergency Preparedness for Homeowner Communities

Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

Emergency Preparedness
Meeting Ideas

Emergency Preparedness Meeting Ideas

My favorite because it brings back memories of so many great meetings!

Review here:

Thank you again. If you enjoyed a book, it would mean the world to me if you left a review. Your comments help spread our shared preparedness message to more and more people.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Drones for Emergency Response Teams


The market for drones for emergency response teams continues to expand.

Drone for emergency response team

Updated 5-2020

We started reporting on drones about 5 years ago. At that time, drones were mostly high-tech toys. Two years ago we updated our reporting, and today it’s time for another update because . . .

Drones for emergency response teams are becoming more common. 

Before you start looking at drones for use by your neighborhood emergency response team, however, it’s a good idea to listen to the advice I got from an excellent training film put on by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region  Center for Regional Disaster Resilience. Here’s the link to the video:  One of the speakers said: “Before you decide on a project, become the local expert and understand how to collect and manage data. ” By the time you’ve done that, you’ll know what equipment you need and the rules you’ll need to follow.

The video mentioned above was by and for a governmental agency. You may not be part of a governmental agency; you may be a hobbyist. But you need to know all the rules!  Here they are as of 2020 . .

Rules for hobbyists, commercial and non-governmental use of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) . . .are changing!

You need a pilot certificate.

If you’re operating your drone as a hobbyist, that means hobbyist. You’re not operating as a service, or planning to be paid for your services, or to sell your photos, etc. In the past, you didn’t need a certificate but it looks as though you WILL need one soon if not already!

Getting a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA requires that you pass a test as well as meet other requirements. Here’s a link to find out more:

Register Your Drone.

Whether being flown by a hobbyist or for another reason, any UA must be registered. If it weighs less than .55 lbs you can register it online; otherwise, go to the FAA website to get started registering it on paper.  Here’s the link:  

A drone weighing MORE than 55 lbs. falls into another category altogether. (That 55 lbs. includes any cargo that the drone is carrying.)

Pilot Your Drone Safely.

Even though rules change, the main thrust for hobbyists and commercial operators is always on safety. You can check in on a regular basis to monitor any changes, at

Here’s a summary of the current rules:

  • Drones must remain in visual line of sight of the pilot or a sighter — no first-person-view cameras. (This means no flying by what the camera shows as opposed to what you actually see from where you are standing.) You can only fly one line-of-sight vehicle at a time. Maximum distance from pilot is 3 miles.
  • Maximum speed is 100 mph and maximum altitude is 400 feet.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years old and hold the “remote pilot airman certificate,” mentioned above.
  • Operation is only allowed during daylight hours or twilight with appropriate lighting.
  • Pilots must avoid flying over cars, populated areas or over specific people not involved in the operation.
  • You must understand airspace zones and respect them. Manned aircraft always have the right of way.
  • You must be aware of no-fly zones. (The best drones have “no-fly” zones built into their software.)
  • The big issue, of course, is privacy. While there don’t seem to be clear cut rules regarding privacy, you’ve got to remember that there is a concept called Expectation of Privacy. This usually translates into giving people a warning if you’re going to be flying, not capturing “private” footage if you don’t need to, and deleting it if you’re asked to. If you’re part of a group, you would do well to have a privacy policy to protect your members. Here’s a reference that might be helpful:

Please note — again! – rules keep changing! Some changes have been promised and awaited but are now on hold as a result of the Coronavirus. Get the rules at the FAA.

Using Your Drone as an Emergency Response Tool

While not commercial, and yet not recreational, here are some uses your team might be considering. Before you actually decide to implement any, be sure your use is legal.

  • Use a drone to provide overhead lighting when searching an area at night
  • Inspect upper levels of buildings or structures (in industrial or high-rise residential areas)
  • Film damaged areas or obstructions following a disaster (as long as you don’t interfere with First Responders)
  • Identify “hot spots” after a fire (using infrared technology)
  • Map area covered by the CERT team to segment into manageable areas
  • Find a missing person
  • Search areas for survivors
  • Identify pathways for access or escape or to to safer positions
  • Drop markers to designate specific damages or routes to follow
  • Monitor teams during training exercises with filmed records for group critique
  • Transfer supplies, first aid items, batteries, replacement radios, etc.
  • Transport high value items over a distance, reducing the need for multiples of expensive equipment (e.g., gas sniffer)

You can probably come up with many more.

Challenges for Emergency Teams

1-Rules may limit your emergency response team’s use.

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

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

From our standpoint as emergency responders, these restrictions limit the use of the technology. In a serious situation the safety of our neighbors in the community is more important that the actual altitude of the drone looking for them!

You may request a waiver of some of these restrictions if you can show you can conduct your operations safely. And we have confidence that some of these restrictions may be lifted or clarified, so we are not letting them stop our analysis.

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

Most drones have a flying time of only around 20-25 minutes. As technology improves, that will improve. To get a couple minutes more of flight can cost a couple hundred more dollars in purchase price. No matter which model you get, plan on getting at least 3 or 4 extra batteries right along with the machine so you can rapidly put the machine back in the air.

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

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

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

Moreover, if you share any photos, issues of privacy raise their head. Understand how you will manage your data to maintain privacy. Review the resource above in the long list of bullet points.

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

OK, with all this in mind,

Which drone is best for our Neighborhood Response Team?

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

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

Here’s the whole shopping list so far:

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  I found these important additions. Become an expert before you buy or fly!

  • “Report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.”
  • “Failure to register an unmanned aircraft that is required to be registered may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.”

Coronavirus Crisis Intensifies


What should we be doing now?

The TV news here today is about 90% coronavirus crisis and the rest of the programming is ads for medicines accompanied by very long and complicated warnings. (My favorite: “Do not take this if you are allergic to any of its ingredients.”)

Yes, things DO feel different than they did just a day ago.

So what should we be doing as the crisis intensifies?

Eight things we can do to get things accomplished and maybe keep our psyches in a healthier place.

1- Take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to encourage more people to take steps toward overall preparedness. As you know, Joe and I have been working for nearly 20 years to “get the word out” to ordinary people about the importance of being ready for emergencies. Right now we all have the chance to attract more people’s attention! Two weeks ago we put out a report for our local neighborhood. Then over the weekend we launched our new mini-series. Who can you talk to about preparedness?

2- Revisit your own supply of basic emergency items. I trust you have toilet paper and water, the most sought-after supplies! But what about batteries for the emergency radios? Fresh supplies for the first aid kit? Can you take another look at the can of sardines you packed into your Go-bag a couple of years ago? Even a quarantine that is more like isolation (which is what we are now hearing) can be kept from being a crisis if you’re prepared. (Our long list of emergency supplies is here, if you need it.)

3- Confirm what, if any, sick leave coverage you have if the coronavirus hits you or a family member. It’s not clear when or what the Federal government will do to protect people who can’t go to work. At the very least, if you work in one of the 13 states that have laws about paid sick leave, you may have some protection. The states: AZ, CA, CT, ME, MD, MA, NJ, OR, RI, VT, WA, DC. Do you live in one of these states? What are the rules? Who is eligible? How is coverage accrued? Find out what the rules are here:

4- Coronavirus crisis making you think about working from home? It’s one thing for you to write up an occasional report or answer emails from home, but doing “real” work may require some forethought. Questions to consider: Do you have stable, good quality power and sufficient bandwidth? Can you meet company standards as regards security – for example, a room that can be locked? Do you have all the contact information and appropriate log-ins and passwords you will need? How often will you have to check in? How will you “prove” you have been working?

5- Putting together your company’s plan for employees to work from home? Obviously, you want to consider the suggestions in the question #4 above. And here’s a checklist from one of our valued business resources: Coronavirus Preparedness Checklist. (On their site I saw a photo of a room where hundreds of laptops – pre-loaded with company software and security – were being readied for delivery to a company getting ready to mandate work from home!)

6- Warn friends and family about scammers and hackers who have mushroomed right along with the virus itself. Their fake messages appear in emails, on ads, and online. Usually they “sell” conspiracy theories, unproven cures and/or preventives or ask you to “confirm official data” by requesting personal information including bank account numbers.

7- Start planning for things to get worse. Doing without your basketball games won’t be the worst of it, if things continue. The twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach, where over half the goods come in from China, are filling up with empty containers. Dockworkers are down 50% in job assignments. Trucks stand empty. This fact of retail shortages and supply chain interruptions will show up very soon in many sectors across the country. The stock market has already anticipated this drastic slowdown.

As transportation stalls, the demand for oil goes down, too. So in just the past weeks Russia and Saudi Arabia have launched an “oil war” for control of the global oil market. Their increased production and lower prices mean the U.S. can’t compete. The recent, dramatic stock market lows reflect this, too.

8- Figure out how you will cope with coming uncertainty and stress. “Business as usual” may be going away for many of us, for at least a while. Now’s a good time to dust off whatever techniques you’ve found that work for you: meditation, deep breathing, regular walking or other exercise, journaling, managing your diet, getting enough sleep, therapy. Get started now putting these techniques to work for your mental health.

And what’s the final thing we should be doing now as the coronavirus crisis intensifies?

I think it’s helping our neighbors through the crisis as best we can. This is a time when some people will need support, and we can improve everyone’s circumstances by doing what we can to provide it. Reach out to your neighbors, the members of your church, or other members of your “tribe” to offer conversation via the phone, even if you can’t do anything else.

Feel free to share your own suggestions here.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you need to shop, make a list of categories because you may not find exactly what you were looking for. If you get to the store early in the morning you may have a better chance, since restocking takes place over night.

Q&A Mini-Series Will Jump Start Your Planning!

Get one or get the whole series!

The small booklets from our Q&A Mini-Series are meant to do one thing — get people started on planning for emergencies!

You may already know the answers to all the questions (or just about all of them). The booklets may not be meant for you.

They’re meant for ordinary citizens, friends and family who need a jump-start!

The press release below tells the story . . .

For Immediate Release
Virginia Nicols (949) 733-1778
Director, Emergency Plan Guide
Subsidiary of Dentrovisi Incorporated


Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series Kicks Off with Six In-Demand Titles

IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, MARCH 9, 2020 — A new series of simple, single topic booklets available on Amazon breaks the disaster planning process into easy to read FAQ, letting readers focus on one element at a time while building toward a complete plan.

Even people wanting to prepare for emergencies can find the process overwhelming. In fact, FEMA’s 2019 National Household Survey reports that while most families have taken at least one step toward preparedness, 43% have not taken even three basic preparedness actions.

The Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series aims to solve this problem. It approaches planning in a simple, guided way. Each book in the series addresses only one topic, allowing readers to choose according to their current needs or interests. Each book is short – under 50 pages. Simple questions and answers give readers a path forward to understanding and preparing for that specific emergency. Fill-in-the-blank checklists avoid intimidation and demonstrate tangible progress.

“For this series we’ve picked topics that come up again and again in our neighborhood meetings,” says author Nicols. The first titles: Pre-Disaster Plan, Emergency Communications, Custom Go-Bags, Power Outage and Prepare Your Home for Earthquake. Another nine booklets are scheduled for publication by mid-April, with additional titles to follow.

Emergency Plan Guide’s flagship series of Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guides, each with a separate Workbook, was published in 2018. It addresses comprehensive planning for four types of neighborhoods: three types of residential neighborhood (single family houses, apartment & condominiums and mobile home communities) with a separate volume for small businesses. Each book and companion workbook focus on concerns and organizing opportunities for people in that specific setting.

The two series are from partners Virginia S. Nicols and Joseph A. Krueger, whose backgrounds include military training, disaster response marketing and nearly 20 years of hands-on experience building, training and mentoring Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). Full details on the authors and their series titles are available at

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Download the print version of the press release here. And if you want a bit more information on each booklet or are ready to order right now, check out the page we’ve added to our menu under BOOKS. (It has direct links to Amazon.)

You know our motto: “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” Our goal with this new Mini-Series is to expand preparedness knowledge exponentially!

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Our intro pricing at Amazon is $4.99 for each paperback booklet and only $2.99 for the ebook. We’re trying to make it as appealing as possible!