Category: Family Survival

Lost – and Found, thanks to what3words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do you do next???

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

what3words logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any drawbacks to what3words?

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

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

(I picked American English as my language!)

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Image of hand holding orange Bivy Bag with attached emergency whistle

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

How safe are your emergency flares?

Rainy car accident scene with one emergency flare

Wha’ ?????!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Our CERT training story . . .

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

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

An officer demonstrated how to light the flare.

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

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

We got some valuable experience, and some good advice.

After all these years, I recall these safety pointers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe out there,

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

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

The 2024 Preparedness Pie

A pie chart with three slices representing percentages of preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

Kitchen fire! Quick, put it out!


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

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

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

First: Fire Extinguisher Spray in a Can

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

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

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

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

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

Second: Fire Blanket

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

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

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

The purpose of the blanket is to suffocate the fire.

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Ready for the November 18 government shutdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about housing programs?

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

Young kids may feel the shutdown first!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What preparations can we make before the shutdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Tracking Devices for Emergency Communications

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

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

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

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

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

Basics of Medical Alert and Tracking Devices

What do these devices do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found information under these topics:

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

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

What’s included in the package?

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

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

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

What do tracking devices cost?

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

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

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

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

As you shop, watch for all these different costs.

How far does the coverage reach?

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

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

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

Who actually answers the phone if an alert is activated?

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

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

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

What else should I look for?

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

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

Examples of Tracking Devices and Programs

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

Simple and inexpensive.

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

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

So small it’s almost unnoticeable!

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

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

Modest cost, more features for closer tracking.

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

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

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

Basic Medical Alert button designed for travelers.

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

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

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

Best tracking device for people with special needs.

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

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

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

One last recommendation from Virginia.

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Best Survival Flashlights


Essential for Each Emergency Kit

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

Some of the best flashlights in our collection

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Other features you may look for include . . .

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

Our recommendations

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

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

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

Click on the images to get current prices at Amazon.

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

GearLight LED Flashlight for everyday use

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

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

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

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

Option for heavy-duty security flashlight

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

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

Flashlights are essential emergency gear!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

On oxygen and the power goes out!



We experienced a short power outage a few nights ago. Afterwards we collected stories from neighbors about how prepared they had been. The results?

  • Most neighbors had flashlights or lanterns, and they waited calmly for the lights to come back on.
  • A few neighbors had NO lights – and they have since hustled to get batteries and/or lights – particularly, lights that attach to mobility devices!
  • But one group of neighbors had no easy solution. These were people on oxygen when the power went out. Their stories were painful. They came to our neighborhood meeting with this question:

“What do I do if I am on oxygen and the power goes out?”

We didn’t have a good answer for these folks! In fact, in a previous emergency we had faced people having to evacuate without their oxygen, and we were unable to identify them, much less help all of them.

This time, we’re making another effort to find out how to help. As you will see, it comes down to this:

Your personal emergency plan has to have a way for you to manage without your oxygen or to have a way for you to continue to get it!

Remember, I am not a medical professional, so I do not present this information as a complete, medical answer. Please do your own research with your doctor and trusted caregivers and suppliers. This could be a life-or-death situation.

We have done a lot of research on this topic, and this is what we have discovered so far. These questions will give you a head start on putting together a PERSONAL emergency plan for yourself or another person on oxygen for how to respond if the power goes out.

Your first question should be: “How long can I go without my oxygen?”  

Contact your doctor. Emphasize that you need to plan for a power outage. Find out what you can expect if your oxygen is stopped for whatever reason. It’s possible you could cut back on activity and make it through OK – but only your doctor can answer this question.

Second question: “Can I get a reserve or back-up supply for my home?”

The answer here depends mostly on whether you own or rent your oxygen equipment. Here are three possibilities:

  1. If you own your equipment, go back to the manufacturer for help buying a back-up solution. They may want to see a new prescription from your doctor to be sure they are giving you the correct solution.
  2. Don’t forget to check with your utility company to see if they have special programs for people using “qualifying medical devices.” You may be able to sign up for a battery back-up or generator for when the power goes out. Some utilities offer rebates to help you buy a back-up power source. You’ll have to get approved for any of these programs in advance.
  3. If you rent or your equipment is paid for by Medicare or insurance, ask your oxygen supplier about getting a back-up. Unfortunately, the stories from people about getting back-up equipment in this situation are patchy. If your supplier seems hesitant or unhelpful, keep reading!

“If I don’t have a back-up supply at home, where could I go to get the oxygen I need during a power outage?”

If you have to leave your home, we are now talking about evacuation. All the planning for evacuation comes into play, with the added concern about your oxygen supply. Specifically . . .

Your oxygen concentrator needs electricity. A safe place to plug in your equipment might be available at a local emergency shelter, a church, or a hotel in your town or nearby. But call in advance before you set out, to be sure they have the type of connection you need. And don’t plug into a multi-plug or extension cord!

If you use an oxygen tank, you may need to go to the emergency room at a hospital or an urgent care facility for direct access to oxygen. Some sources suggest you might get help at a local police or fire department. I checked with our first responders they said they are not set up to offer oxygen and they would have to direct you to a medical facility.

Again, find out NOW where medical facilities are located near you. Find out if they have emergency power. Find out if they might be able to help if you are on oxygen and the power goes out or you are worried about running out of oxygen. 

How will I get there? Who will take me? Will they be able to explain my needs if I can’t?

These are all important questions for anyone with a mobility or medical issue. The challenge: thinking it through and making arrangements with a neighbor, friend or family member BEFORE the power outage hits! You’ll probably want to make a list with all the key info about your oxygen use, including a copy of your oxygen prescription. Attach your list to your emergency go-bag.

If you have the answers to all these questions, you will know what to do and when to do it in a short or extended power outage.


If you are already on oxygen, you probably know much of this. But your friends and/or family may not – so share it with them! Also, consider sharing with neighbors who are talking about having to go on oxygen. These are the basics all of us should know about!

“What’s the first thing people need to know about emergency oxygen?”

This was the first question I asked of one of the oxygen concentrator sales people I talked to. (I talked to a half dozen of them. They were all extremely helpful.) Her immediate answer: “When a patient needs oxygen as part of medical therapy, it is prescribed by a doctor and delivered through a medical device. To get oxygen, you need both the prescription and the device. ” (In other words, you can’t prescribe it for yourself – and you can’t just simply order a device online.)

“What kinds of devices deliver oxygen?”

The two most common devices are an oxygen tank and an oxygen concentrator. The patient breathes in the extra oxygen from the device through a tube – a small clear tube that goes into the nose (called the nasal cannula) or a tube that feeds some sort of face mask. The amount of oxygen is carefully monitored. It is measured in liters per minute. Baseline amount seems to be 2 liters/min. and it can go up from there.

Man with nasal cannula delivering oxygen during a power outage
Nasal cannula delivers supplemental oxygen

(There are also small bottles and cans of liquid oxygen available as non-prescription supplements. They are only a very short term solution to an immediate medical issue and don’t fit into this discussion.)

“What’s the difference between a tank and a concentrator?”

Tanks deliver a steady stream of oxygen. A concentrator can deliver oxygen in a steady stream or in “pulses” that fit to the way you breathe. Your prescription will specify how much and what sort of delivery pattern you need.

Now, as I was studying this, I was mostly thinking about preparing for emergencies. So with preparedness mind, here’s more  . . .

  • An oxygen tank is the simplest device for oxygen therapy. The tank – called a cylinder – holds oxygen under pressure and releases it in a steady stream when the valve is opened. Ultimately the cylinder will run out of oxygen, so you’ll always want to have the next one ready. Big cylinders are heavy and pretty much stationary. Smaller cylinders can be wheeled around. Depending on how much oxygen you use, your tank could last for days or be empty after only hours!
  • An oxygen concentrator is a machine with a motor that, when it’s on, pulls in the air around it, filters out particles and nitrogen (which is what makes up about 80% of our air), and delivers nearly pure oxygen. The concentrator can run as long as it has electric power. That power usually comes from a plug or from batteries. (It could come from your car battery – but you can’t drive while using your concentrator!) Obviously, if you are on oxygen from a concentrator, and the power goes out, your oxygen supply will stop.

“Should I buy or rent my oxygen device?”

That depends on several things. First, on how long you might be using it. Second, on how much flexibility you want (stationary model, different sized mobile models, a light-weight model to carry around with you, etc.) Third, on how much you can afford. You’ll always need a prescription to rent or buy.

Medicare and private insurance companies typically pay some or all of the cost of long-term rentals – but apparently, not so often or not at all for the higher-priced mobile concentrators. Those you may have to buy on your own. Costs for concentrators start in the hundreds of dollars and quickly move into the thousands.

“I’m on Medicare and use an oxygen tank. How do I get a back-up tank?”

When it comes to getting an extra tank for back-up, here’s what I have learned. I haven’t experienced this myself so your story may be different. But to start with the basics regarding Medicare . . . 

  1. Your doctor issues the prescription for your oxygen: how much, how often, etc.
  2. The doctor sends the prescription to a Medicare provider.
  3. The Medicare provider delivers to you the device that fits the prescription.
  4. Medicare pays the provider on your behalf. (You may have a co-pay.)

Now, providers don’t like to “lose” their customers. They want to keep you satisfied. However, Medicare wants to pay the minimum for your care. Medicare doesn’t want to pay for anything “extra.”  

So your provider typically gives you just what the prescription requires. When you ask for a better model of equipment, or an “extra back-up tank,” your provider may say, “No, not approved by Medicare.”

To be fair, some providers seem to schedule deliveries in such a way that they deliver multiple tanks at once.  In that case, you might have the extra tank you want during a power outage.

“I’ve already asked for and been refused a back-up oxygen supply by my Medicare provider. Any suggestions?”

Go back and take a look at the recommendations in PART ONE about having a plan to get to where you can access the oxygen you need.

Then, consider the following.

Isn’t the government constantly urging us to prepare for emergencies? At the same time, Medicare (the government!) seems to resist helping us get a back-up supply of prescriptions – including a back-up supply of oxygen! Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – and I’ve worked with my own doctors, and worked around them, to try to build my own back-up prescription supplies.

But one person’s complaints are not likely to really go anywhere when it comes to making a change. To have a real impact, we have to put on our organizing hats and find others with the same concerns! Here’s how a group might go about making a change.

Start with your doctor. Find out why the doctor recommends a particular Medicare provider. Explain that your provider doesn’t seem able to give you what you might need for oxygen in a power outage (for example, extra tanks or extra batteries). See if you can be assigned another provider willing to provide back-up oxygen for emergencies.

Push harder. Find out who else in your neighborhood or community is getting oxygen from that same provider. AS A GROUP, go back to your doctors and share your concerns about the provider. As a group, file a complaint with the provider company – it should have a grievance procedure. Or call 1-800-MEDICARE to file a complaint against the provider company or even against your insurance plan! (For more suggestions, check out this resource.)

“That’s a lot of activism!”

Yes, it is. And there is no guarantee that your activism will make a change.

But if you are on oxygen and the power goes out, you need a plan. This sort of activism may be necessary. Certainly, everyone involved will become more knowledgeable. And you can be sure that everyone involved will be better prepared when the next power outage hits!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The number of power outages is going up because of new, more violent storms and fires, and because our grid is aging. Don’t postpone planning for an outage, particularly if you are on oxygen.

The Joy of Giving — to Senior Citizens


As a senior citizen, you can give others the chance to experience the joy of giving to YOU. Here’s how . . .

When we get to November, we know that “holiday season” is just around the corner. So every year here at Emergency Plan Guide we remind you that preparedness items make good stocking stuffers for kids as well as smart “thank-you gifts” for employees.

This year, though, we are turning things around. We’re not suggesting that you experience the joy of giving to others.

This year, we want to help others get the joy of giving . . . to you!

This is an idea that came up at a recent neighborhood meeting, here in our senior community. (Since everyone at the meeting was a senior citizen, they agreed it was a GREAT idea.) It was such a good idea that we turned it into a newsletter article to share with all!

So here’s what our group will be publishing the first week of December, in time for Hanukkah and Christmas. Today, though, as a reader of Emergency Plan Guide, you’re getting this good idea early.

The Holiday List for Seniors . . .

My Neighbors Helped Me Make this List!

  • Show me how to QUICKLY call 911 using my cellphone.
  • Make sure my doors aren’t blocked with furniture, boxes, etc.
  • Help me get rid of trip hazards — throw rugs, pet dishes, etc.
  • Can you bring me some half-gallon bottles of water?
  • Do all my windows open? Do all my lights work?
  • Grab a towel (to muffle the sound) and test my smoke alarms.
  • Be sure I have a working flashlight in every room.
  • Help me pack an “Under the bed” kit in case a disaster hits at night: flashlight, shoes, sweater or jacket, whistle, gloves, list of emergency contact names, and some water.

This checklist is a great preparedness exercise for an older friend or family member.

Here’s the step-by-step . . .

  1. Are you, or do you know, someone who could use a helping hand to make sure their home is as safe as it ought to be? Cut out this list and hand it to them.
  2. Tell them to check off small safety or preparedness jobs that just aren’t getting done around the house.
  3. Finally, mail or hand the list to younger friends or family members who are planning a holiday visit. If they arrive with list in hand, they will easily get these simple jobs done!

I guarantee that this list has the chance to produce a big WIN-WIN!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. In this case, the joy of giving is actually a 3-way win!

  • If you’re the one receiving these small gifts, you’ll be so much more comfortable and more confident as you head into a new year.
  • If it’s your mother or father or another older relative that gets these small safety gifts, you can feel satisfied that you have done a good turn – or two.
  • If it’s a neighbor who receives these gifts – your whole neighborhood will be safer in the future.

Take advantage of this simple giving opportunity. Such opportunities don’t come along every day.

Top 10 List of Emergency Preparedness Items


Back to the Basics – Updated 11-2022

Matchbook - one of top 10 items for emergency preparedness
But will they light?

At least once a year, we try to quickly go over the top 10 items that belong in every survival kit. If you have a basic pack in the car, one in the office, and one in the house FOR EACH FAMILY MEMBER, you can breathe a lot easier when someone asks, “Are you really prepared for an emergency?”

Here’s this year’s basic top 10 list, with some suggestions about how many of each item to get, where to get them and what they might cost. You’ll notice that the list categories stay pretty much the same, but a new item is added from time to time, and our top recommendations change as new products become available.

New items for 2022 have pictures and prices shown below.

As always, if you click on the product links, you’ll go over to Amazon, where you can shop for just what you want and likely get the best possible price, too. And as we’ve explained, Emergency Plan Guide may get a small commission on the sale — a commission that doesn’t affect your price.

You don’t have to do it all at once!

If you’re just starting to put together your survival kits, consider doing the research and getting just 2 or 3 items a week. Some of them you may already have — they just need to be assembled in one place. Or, build a list and shop at Amazon and have everything within a couple of days. (Black Friday specials may save a lot of money!)

We’ve added these symbols –  〈〉 – so you can check off each item as you get it!

〈〉  1 – Water

This has to be first on your top 10 list of emergency preparedness items. If you can grab a bottle of water, or store one with your emergency supplies, great. But bottled water gets old, and is really heavy. What you CAN pack so it will always be ready is a water filter. We’ve written a whole review of water filters, here, explaining and showing the different types. For all-purpose use, we like this one, built right into a plastic bottle that can be refilled over and over again. It’s priced around $25, which is what most filters cost.

LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle with 2-Stage Integrated Filter Straw for Hiking, Backpacking, and Travel, Blue

〈〉  2 – Food

Frankly, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) with a 25-year-life sound pretty awful. The ones I’ve tasted all seem to resemble cardboard. Still, if you’re really hungry, having a couple of them handy make sense. Easier and tastier: sealed bags you fill with dried fruit, trail mix, or energy bars. Buy your family favorites and replace regularly — and after the bag gets raided by hungry kids.

This year I’ve discovered one bar that tastes particularly great.

It’s not the most nutritious, but it is the most delicious! I’d recommend a box. (Add a second box of YOUR favorite bar. When you click the image you’ll get right to all the goodies made by KIND.)

〈〉  3 – Warmth

Camping out in the car overnight in a storm . . . uncomfortable at best. Stuff a warm coat into the trunk, or a blanket.  And for your emergency kits, grab a pack of Mylar survival blankets (preferably the sleeping bag model) and put one in every kit you are building. Shiny side out when you want to reflect the sun, shiny side in to trap body heat.

This year we’ve also added a NEW item to the warmth category — the BIVVY BAG.

It’s a small, waterproof sleeping bag packed in its own tiny bag. This product stands out as being practical and packable! You can combine a mylar sheet/bag with this Bivvy Bag, too. This model comes from Survival Frog and includes a whistle. Click the image to check price at Amazon.

〈〉 4 – Light

Light is actually number 2 on my personal list of top 10 items for preparedness. Flailing around in the dark is plain scary and not very smart. I could hurt myself!  So I recommend having an easy-to-reach flashlight — in the glove compartment of the car, in your bottom drawer at work, in every room of the house. Plus one for every survival kit. Yes, you need at least a half-dozen flashlights, and maybe more! Their prices range from a low of $4 to well over $100, depending on power, different light features (pulse, zoom, etc.) and size.

Below is what I consider the best of the basic flashlights. Not too big. Not too fancy. Easy to tuck in a pocket — or a Christmas stocking. This GearLight TAC LED Flashlight 2-Pack uses AAA batteries, so as long as you have batteries, you’ll have light! (Remember, in an emergency, the power will be off so rechargeable batteries won’t get recharged after they wear down.) Click on the image to check the price at Amazon.

We have also reviewed of a number of emergency lanterns. You’ll need lanterns in a longer power-outage situation. Check them out.

〈〉 5 – Communications

In a widespread emergency the only communications you may be able to receive will be those being put out on official emergency channels. To get them, you need a radio – preferably one that operates with batteries, solar, and a hand crank. You may not need one for every person, but certainly you need a couple of radios, stashed intelligently at home and at work.

Our review of different emergency radios will give you a run-down of all the available features and prices. (As you can imagine, you can spend anywhere upwards of $25 dollars on an emergency radio.)

Last year we added more info about using your cellphone as an emergency communications device. Portable rechargers, or “power packs” work VERY WELL and are amazingly compact and amazing reliable. They get their charge from being plugged into your electrical system.

Here’s another phone or tablet power source, with charging from the sun!

There are many, many of these solar charger at Amazon. Click the image to check out the model shown here, but don’t hesitate to shop further. Specials are coming online every day.

〈〉 6 – First Aid

You may be caught in a storm or other disaster and only be inconvenienced. But the chances of someone needing first aid are pretty good. Buy a kit, go through it, and add extras that you think you’ll need. Typically, purchased kits (ranging from $10 to over $80) are really skimpy on bandages, first aid creams, bug spray, etc. Once again, you’ll want multiple kits: one for the car, one for the office, one for the house. You could start with one like this:

Coleman Expedition First Aid Kit (205-Piece), Red

〈〉 7 – Matches/fire

The warmth and light of a fire may be very welcome. They could also be life-saving. But don’t even light a candle inside unless you are SURE there are no gas leaks! And watch out for open flame in a closed-in area. You can kill yourself with carbon monoxide.

Assuming it’s safe, though, here’s what you need to get that fire started. You may need to practice getting a fire started BEFORE the emergency hits!

Magnesium fire starter with some extras:

#1 BEST Fire Starter – SurvivalSPARK Emergency Magnesium Fire Starter – Survival Fire Starter with Compass and Whistle

All-weather matches (not like the ones in the photo above!):

UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case, 25 Stormproof Matches and 3 Strikers – Orange

〈〉 8 – Shelter

Your kit doesn’t have room for a tent. The best suggestion: another simple survival blanket that you can string up as a lean-to. (A tarp might work better, but if you’ve really managed tarps before, you realize they are too big and too heavy for your survival kit.) You’ll need a rope or some bungies to build your lean-to, of course. You could also use duct tape to turn the blanket into a sleeping bag.

Emergency Mylar Blanket 52″ x 84″ – Pack of 12 Blankets

And here’s the cord you could use for your lean-to. Paracord bracelets are cool, too. All under $15.

Paracord Planet 100′ 550lb Type III Neon Orange Paracord

〈〉 9 – Personal items

This category could include extra eyeglasses, medicines, small tools that you know how to use, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, sanitary items. (For children, it could include a favorite stuffed animal.) Include a list of important contact information, too.

Everyone needs a pouch for personal items (use baggies) and everyone’s pouch will be different!

We really like these wet wipes that are individually packaged, easy to tuck in your survival kits:

Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand Wipes Singles, , Fresh Scent, 24-Count (Pack of 5)

〈〉 10 – Something to carry it all in

A fully packed survival kit or go-bag, with everything possible in it, probably weighs more than you can carry. For sure, it weighs more than your mother can carry, or your 5 year-old. So, keeping their weight and size in mind, consider the best container for each person and each kit.

The best thing is to assemble the supplies for each person, and THEN decide how big a carrier you need.

A simple backpack is probably the best all-purpose carrier. Dig through your closet or head to your local sports shop or big box store and get a pack that fits the person who’s going to be carrying it. Here’s a new resource about backpacks: One Size Does Not Fit All.

Some packs have wheels. It makes them heavier, but may make them more flexible.  Here are some wheeled carts we’ve seen being used, too. Consider whether you will be in an urban setting, where you’ll be hiking along a road or sidewalk, or in a more rural setting, where wheels just won’t work.

The main thing is that . . .

Each person must carry his or her own survival kit.

Please use this top 10 list as a quick reminder. If you can check off each of the ten items, congratulations! You’re ahead of about 90% of the rest of the world! But let’s not stand around feeling smug. Share the list with other family members, clubs you belong to, etc.

The safer the people around us are, the safer we ALL will be!

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you are interested in more details about any of these items, we probably have written at least one Advisory on it! You can use the search box at the top of the page or skim the list in the Advisory Archives. Or, drop a comment with your question and let others chip in.

Will insurance cover it? Wait til he sees the fine print. . .

Broken down car in the desert. Will  roadside assistance help?

Have you ever just had a plain, bad week? Like this guy in the photo, car broken down miles out in the desert. Will his roadside assistance even come to help him, this far away from anything? What do you bet he has never read the fine print . . .!

This photo instantly reminded me of the older Prius we drove some years ago. Its battery died at 154,000 miles. We confidently pulled out the warranty. When we read the fine print on that one, sure enough. It had expired at 150,000 miles!

The point of these examples: It’s always a good idea to know what your insurances really cover . . . and when it’s time to make some changes.

So let’s take a quick look at some coverages you may have been taking for granted.

Let’s start with the small print of Roadside Assistance.

When I was a kid, and the ’37 Chevy stopped running, my Dad would get out, raise the hood, and was almost always able to get things working. At least, we got to the nearest garage. Today, though, drivers old and young are pretty much thwarted by the modern car’s computers. Their only option: Roadside Assistance!

I personally couldn’t get along without it. (If you don’t have it now, consider getting it. Check first with your insurance company, then with an organization like AAA or Good Sam, maybe even with a premium credit card where it could be included for free. As with everything related to insurance, coverage and prices vary.)

With the man in the photo still in mind, I took a quick look at the “towing limits” for my own program and coverage from several other roadside assistance programs. They varied widely! One covers costs of a 5-mile tow (pretty much useless, I would think) to a 1,000 mile tow to a tow to “the nearest qualified repair facility.”  (How do they define “qualified?”)

So questions you should be asking about roadside assistance for your own car or cars:

  1. What is actually covered?
  2. What (or who as driver?) is excluded?
  3. How much are you paying, and does it make sense given your car and your driving habits?

Next, let’s take a look at Health Insurance, on my radar since I got an update from my own plan last week.

(How often do you get updates from your own insurance? How often do you actually read them? I admit to filing most.)

This report caught my attention because it was about “Getting Care During a Disaster.” If they are sending me a special report on this topic, I assume coverage might not be what I would normally expect! Close examination led me to these interesting facts:

  • A “disaster” is only a disaster if the state governor, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or the President of the United States declares it. (A localized flooding or fire may not reach “disaster” proportions.)
  • My insurer will try to keep facilities open and will post schedules and access info online. (Not going to be very helpful if there is a widespread power outage . . .)
  • If I can’t get to my insurer’s regular facility or office or pharmacy, I was pleased to see that I can get care elsewhere, without a referral or prior authorization, and will only have to pay my usual amount.

Once the disaster is over, however, or after 30 days have passed and there is no end date declared, I’ll be on my own if my provider hasn’t been able to re-open!

So these questions should immediately come to your mind:

  1. How does my insurance carrier define emergency?
  2. Where can I get care if my usual doctor’s office or pharmacy is closed?
  3. What WON’T be covered in an emergency?

Makes you think about taking another first aid course, doesn’t it?!

Finally, what about a longer-term emergency at my workplace?

Small businesses, in particular, are often so busy keeping everything going day to day that they simply overlook anything beyond standard property and liability insurance.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide, we have looked more closely at what happens when you experience a business interruption. As you might expect, business interruption insurance has even more than its share of fine print.

Basic business interruption insurance is meant to help support the business and you only for “covered perils.” So, anything not listed as covered won’t be covered!

Reading the fine print may reveal that some interesting things are NOT included in “basic covered perils.” For example . . .

  • Utility service interruption may be covered (as an add-on) – but it may not cover you if power to the business comes through overhead transmission lines.
  • If your business is only partially closed, but customers can find a way to get in, your business interruption insurance may not kick in.
  • What if your business is closed due to a cyberattack? Given that small businesses seem to be the target of most data breaches (43% of all of them in 2019), this is protection you need to consider. However, note that you may not be able to get coverage if your business hasn’t set up industry best practices for protecting your data and computer systems.

The above details are random examples, selected to make the point about knowing exactly what your various insurance policies cover. As you review that fine print, check for a waiting period before the coverage takes effect . . . or an end period after which it stops. And all insurance coverages may include deductibles and/or maximums.

It’s up to you to fit the policy to your own likely needs.

Insurance is an essential piece of your emergency preparedness. But you can’t rely on last year’s policies!

These days we are experiencing such rapid changes – from weather to first-ever political and public health events. Values are rising and falling in unprecedented fashion. New insurance coverages are being developed while others are shrinking or have even disappeared!

Staying on top of your insurances takes more effort than every before. If you haven’t done a recent insurance review, September is a good time to get one scheduled and dig into the fine print of each of your policies. After all, it is “Emergency Preparedness Month!”

Good luck!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. It pays to remember the underlying fact about insurance: the agent works for the insurance company, and not for you. The more you know about your situation, its peculiarities, and way insurances work, the better you’ll be able to work with the adjuster when you have a claim. If you have a very big claim, you may want to consider hiring a private adjuster to represent your interests.

P.P.S. There’s more about insurances here on our site, by the way. You can check on these Advisories:

Feeling threatened by violence?

Threatening hand

Have you noticed a change in online commentary from preppers and survivalists? I am seeing more stories that show writers feeling threatened by violence.

Bloggers who used to write about uses for duct tape are sending out repeated posts about stockpiling emergency supplies. I am getting promotions for guns (“add a red dot laser scope”), specialty ammunition and last week, “the knife assassins love.” (What?!) One of my favorite writers has been telling readers about searching for an additional bug-out location for his family.

I’ll admit to more concern for my own personal safety since the violence of January 6. And while I’m not ready to start actively promoting lethal weapons here at Emergency Plan Guide, I have considered and bought for myself a couple new, inexpensive products for self-defense. That’s what I’m discussing today.

All of these products are meant to be used BEFORE you get close enough to be touched by an assailant!

Don’t be caught empty-handed when you are feeling threatened.

Here’s a look at the self-defense items I now have, and why and when I want to have them with me.

OMG, threatened by a pack of coyotes . . .!

No, I don’t mean the human kind! You’ll recall that last week I mentioned that coyotes might be a danger to children walking to school. Well, I personally wouldn’t worry about one skinny coyote. But I sure would get animated if I looked up and suddenly there were 3 or 4 of them waiting for me!

In past years, I took my evening walk with an empty soda can in my pocket, filled with a few coins. Makes a great rattle that scares coyotes away. Turns out that coyotes get used to just one hazing method, so it’s good to have several! (If you’re worried about coyotes in your own neighborhood, you can get some good hazing info at the Humane Society.)

orange plastic emergency whistle as call for help when feeling threatened

So nowadays I’ve added my orange emergency whistle as a hazing device. You may have read how our neighborhood emergency group delivered an emergency whistle to every one of our neighbors! People really like them. Because they are flat, they tuck into your shirt and can be easily pulled out when needed — to call for help or scare off coyotes.

Scary dudes on the street in your own neighborhood

We’re hearing all kinds of stories of single women being hassled or threatened in parking lots. Sometimes the hasslers stay in their cars, other times they hide between cars. These incidents take place at all hours.

I am NOT interested in dealing with a potential threat when I’m carrying groceries, getting ready to open the trunk of the car, etc. So here’s my latest purchase – a Rechargeable-Self-Defense-Keychain-Alarm.

Keychain alarm with flashlight warns against threat
Chose from a variety of colors.
How to recharge the key-chain alarm

I got this three-pack from WETEN at Amazon, where we are associates. The alarm is small and smooth, and comes with a short cable for recharging. You press the button or pull the chain and the alarm goes off – at 130 decibels. Plus the white end is a handy flashlight – steady or blinking LED.

The photo shows how I used a nail file to pry open the little black cover so I could connect the cable to recharge the alarm.

Here’s the link to the alarm again. You might consider buying up a whole collection of these alarms in different colors. Pass them out to your children, family members at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. Easy to attach to key chain, strap of backpack, etc.

When a crowd turns ugly

I’ve written before about using pepper spray in a crowd situation. I like the Sabre red-topped spray I have, but today I’d like to show you a sprayer that uses GEL instead of spray.

can of Sabre Pepper Gel for self-defense when feeling threatened

The advantages of gel: it stays in a stream rather than dispersing as a spray. This allows you to focus on a particular target. This particular model shoots a full 18 feet and can deliver up to 18 bursts. (According to Alcohol Rehab, crime data shows that around 40% of violent crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol – so they may not respond with just one blast.)

This canister also has a sturdy clip to go over a belt. Safety flip-top. Bonus from SABRE — some excellent videos. Here’s the link to this Sabre Crossfire Pepper Gel.

Potential threat at the front door

This spray is another step up when it comes to power and effectiveness. It’s actually a pepper gel that contains a dye to help you see where it’s landing. The canister is about the size of a slim bottle of hair spray. You pull the safety pin and squeeze the handle to shoot the spray up to 35 feet – twice the range of the one-hand Sabre spray described above.

Here’s the link for full details at Amazon. AIMHUNTER Home Self Defense Unit, Tactical Pepper Gel with Ultraviolet Dye, Maximum Strength 35-Foot Range 35 Bursts, Quick Release for Easy Access Pepper Spray Self Defense. I hope you’d consider storing this canister right at the front door so it’s within easy reach if you’re ever feeling threatened.

If you’re feeling threatened, you want some protection.

These four self-defense items are meant to discourage an attacker before he comes near enough to touch you. They aren’t life-threatening, but they aren’t toys, either. Please read the disclaimers below in the P.S. before you finalize your purchases.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Two disclaimers:

  • Your state may restrict purchases of pepper spray by size of the container and age of the purchaser. (In California you can get it at age 16 with parental permission.) Check to be sure.
  • Don’t use the sprays without having studied how to use them! There are plenty of videos available (see the Sabre sales material) about how the spray and gel travel and how to protect yourself from blow-back.

Prepare your kids for school-related emergencies

Young student prepared to respond to emergency
Will she know what to do?

Today let’s take a look at individual students’ readiness for a school-related emergency.

Last week I reviewed preparedness actions schools should be taking or at least considering. I hope you grabbed a copy of School Preparedness Questions to take with you to a Back to School meeting. This week, we’re taking a look at some ways you can prepare your kids for handling emergency decisions on their own!

How well your kids respond will depend on how well YOU have prepared them!

If you live in the country or spend time camping or even scouting, your family may “score” well on most of the following questions. But many of the kids I engage with as a school crossing guard don’t have access to physical challenges. Many are protected from dangerous/decision-building experiences. You’ll see that bias reflected in these Advisory questions!

Obviously, the “correct” answer to any of these school-related preparedness questions depends on the age of the child, where you live, your home environment, etc.

Are your kids aware of emergencies that could arise on the way to school?

  • What are realistic threats that your child could face on the way to (or from) school? Depending on your child’s age and where you live, the trip to or from school might include:
    • Dangerous traffic or street crossings
    • A car, bus or bike accident
    • Being approached by a stranger
    • Falling ill or getting a scrape or cut
    • Witnessing a fight or other violence
    • Being harassed or bullied by other children
    • Being threatened by a dog or wild animal
    • An unexpected weather event or road closure
    • You fill in the blank!
  • Do you prepare your kids for these “daily” possibilities as well as major threats like earthquake or fire? You’ll probably want to discuss likely threats one at a time. As your child gets older, the list of threats might change. Plan to have this potential “threat” conversation multiple times.
  • Does your young school-aged child know his or her full name and address? In an emergency, just a first name won’t do!
    Crossing Guard speaks: When your young child is asked, “What’s your name?” give them the space to answer! I make it a point to learn all my kids’ names. Every year, I am frustrated because so many protective parents jump right in with answers to ANY question I ask!
  • Has your child memorized at least one or two key phone numbers? In an emergency you may lose your personal phone, or it may not work. Emergency personnel will likely have the ability to connect.

Are your kids prepared to get home from school on their own?

  • In an emergency, could your child find his way home from school? Walking, or directing someone to take him? Under what conditions would you want your kid to walk home alone?
    Crossing Guard comment: Sometimes, when busy parents drop off kids at my corner before speeding off to work, I ask the kids: “So if you had to get home on your own, do you think you could find your way?” They mostly just shake their heads.
  • Do your walk-to-school children know more than one route home?
  • Is there a way your child can get home by taking a bus? Which bus? Which bus stops?

Does your child know what to expect in an emergency at school?

  • Does your child understand the what and why of school safety drills? Do you practice together at home to show you think the drills are important?
  • Do you prepare your kids for the fact that in an emergency they might have to stay at school for a long time? Or leave the school and go somewhere else?
  • How well would your child take emergency direction from someone new? (Teacher, crossing guard, police officer, school volunteer, etc.) Would your child be willing to come home with a neighbor? (You may have to adjust your teaching about “Don’t ever get into the car of a stranger.”)

What emergency supplies will your children have?  

Your questions to the school board should have resulted in answers about emergency supplies maintained by the school. Here are some questions about individual student supplies.

  • Does your school require that children bring an “emergency kit” to be kept in the classroom? What is in it? (Our research suggests that often it’s a couple of items in a zip lock baggie, almost totally useless.)
  • Does your child have personal emergency supplies in his backpack? How often do you replace and replenish the kit? Given the comments above, should your child’s personal kit contain an emergency phone?
  • Are all the items in your student’s kit allowed by the school?
Prepare your kids with a kit from this collection of student emergency kits from

What would you want in your kids’ school kit? These photos show examples of some of the Student and Classroom Kits from (Best seller, upper left.) See P.S. and the bottom of this page for more details.

Final question: Does your child know how to call 911?

It seems so simple in the movies. But it’s not, for a child!

First, the kid has to have a phone. Landlines are easiest to manage and more reliable but there are hardly any around any more. So that means the call will likely be made on a cellphone. That phone has to have battery power and the child has to know how to get to the emergency keypad.

Once the child has reached emergency services, she’ll be asked many questions. The first question will be, “What is your emergency?” That will be followed by questions requiring name, address, location at that address, details about the emergency. Above all, your child mustn’t hang up!

Have you practiced making emergency 911 calls with your kids? (Don’t actually call, though.) We’ve all heard the stories of toddlers dialing 911 and saving a parent. It wasn’t luck. Those kids were trained!

School will be starting soon. Take this time to help prepare your kids for emergencies!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I mentioned that typical school “emergency kits” are often pretty meager. My friend Susan at 2BeReady has researched and developed a selection of complete school emergency kits. Please take a look at her full page of different school kits from 2BeReady.   There’s a list of Frequently Asked Questions for school emergency supplies there, too. Order now and you’ll have what you need in time for the first day of school.

School Preparedness Questions for Parents – 2022


This will be my 7th year as an elementary school crossing guard. Here I am in the crosswalk on a rare drizzly day in 2019 – fluorescent suit (“one size fits all”), red stop sign (“Hold it up HIGH!”) and whistle. Big grin.

But today, in 2022, things look a little different. These days I carry an electronic pushbutton whistle because you can’t blow a whistle while wearing a mask. With so much school time lost because of the pandemic, our school is starting two weeks earlier — at the height of the summer heat. And this year, on our first day of school, every parent and teacher will still be reeling from the terrible school shooting in Uvalde.

These school preparedness questions are updated for 2022.

These are questions primarily for parents, but if you are in any way connected with schools or students, school security or health care, you’ll want to take a look.

In fact, after you’ve read the whole Advisory, you’ll see a link to a one-page summary of the key questions. It’s meant for you to download. Take it to school. Forward it to a friend who has children. We all need a better grasp of these issues.

Get answers to these preparedness questions from your school

I recently watched a video about our district’s School Safety Plan. It was a 2-hour presentation featuring school staff, local police and fire department representatives. It focused on what they called the threat of a “violent intruder.” Even after 7 years on the street out front, talking with parents, kids, teachers and the occasional police officer, I was amazed at how little I knew about how my school operates behind the scenes.

Of course, every school district and school is unique, so you may not have the opportunity to hear about your own local school’s safety plan.

Moreover, school or law enforcement personnel may be hesitant to answer your direct questions. They may not want to share details, they may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general, or they may simply not know the answers.

Still, these are your kids. Your taxes pay for schools and staff. If you feel good answers to your preparedness questions are not forthcoming, don’t be intimidated. Patience and persistence will pay off.

General school emergency policies.

  1. Policies. How do parents find out about emergency policies? Are materials available in different languages?
  2. Emergency contact forms for each child. How distributed? Where kept, under what security? How detailed? How often updated?
  3. Emergency communications. How will parents be notified in emergencies? (As crossing guard I made sure I am on the list to get emergency notifications, too.)
  4. Student pick-up policies. What are alternative pick-up locations if school has been closed? Who can pick up your child if school is shut down? How will they be notified? How will they be identified before your child is released? What if your child won’t go with them?

Emergency drills.

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location? (near railroad tracks or airport, environmental hazards from industry, flood plain, wild animals, etc.)
  2. What trainings does the school hold? Does the school train for any emergencies other than fire or severe weather? (Earthquake, tornado, wildfire, bomb threat, active shooter?)
  3. Does the school train for evacuation as well as shelter in place?
  4. What should parents know about how these drills are called and how conducted?
  5. Who holds the training and how often? Are results of the drills evaluated and shared?
  6. Who is included in the drills? Substitute teachers, maintenance staff and bus drivers?

Emergency supplies and equipment.

  1. What food and water supplies are maintained in the school? How often refreshed?
  2. Do school busses carry any supplies?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown?
  4. Where are first aid supplies located?  Do staff members get first aid training? Again, what about bus drivers?
  5. What emergency equipment is available? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, etc.)
  6. Who is trained in equipment use?

Security features.

In recent years, many schools have made changes to provide more physical security. These questions cover some of the changes that can be considered or implemented. School budgets may limit making any of these changes. In some cases, these ideas may simply be inappropriate. But asking questions can lead to productive discussion. (Want more in-depth information on any of these features? Take a look at Security Magazine.)

  1. Does the school’s emergency communications system include direct connections to other classrooms? To law enforcement and/or emergency services? To other schools?
  2. Does the school have a trained Resource Officer? Is that officer always on the premises? Is the officer armed?
  3. Does the school have security cameras? Are they monitored? By whom?
  4. What about audio sensors to detect aggressive voices, gunshots, calls for help?
  5. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? (Open campus or one controlled entrance? Fences? ID badges?)
  6. What policies are in place regarding locked or locking doors? Who made these policies? How well are policies followed?

Getting back to business as usual after an incident.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on immediate protective actions and overlook what it will take to recover once the event is over. A good preparedness plan will have procedures in place to help parents and students “get back to business as quickly as possible.”  We are learning, of course, that overcoming the trauma of a violent school disaster takes months if not years. We touched on that topic last week in our Advisory about gun violence.

Next steps for parents

List of emergency preparedness questions for parents

Share your list of questions with other parents and approach teachers and administrators for answers. Download and print this convenient one-page summary of School Preparedness Questions.

You may want to insist on special presentations on these emergency topics. Guest speakers could be school staff and a member of the police or fire department. You might volunteer to help design and put on parts of the presentation, yourself.

Presentations could be held on Back to School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. A presentation could be videotaped for later showing or showing online, as well.

Working together, schools, students, parents and other community members can keep emergencies from becoming disasters and do the best possible job of protecting students when disasters do occur.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents” deals primarily with the school. I am updating my list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents about Their Own Children.”  Watch for it coming soon!

Overwhelmed by the news? Or just stressed?

Image of pages from Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, showing highlighting of key themes.

So much bad news over the past month! I have been overwhelmed.

As you have noted by now, I monitor emergency preparedness news all the time. TV, other writers’ blogs, and LinkedIn posts from professional emergency managers are some of my sources. I’m always on the lookout for ideas for Advisories. This past month, thought has been so full of emotional incidents that’s I’ve actually been overwhelmed by the news.

At the same time, add in stresses at the personal level.

I just had cataract surgery. Nothing life-threatening, but . . . fasting for an early morning appointment, being hooked up to an IV, knowing I’m “under the knife.” There’s no way to pretend that’s not stressful. And, of course, with only one eye to work with, my usual reading and writing habits are affected. (In my case, so I could plug into Audible books and iTunes podcasts, I had to conquer air pod technology. That in itself was a huge frustration!)

Have you been overwhelmed yourself by these same stories and developments?

Some of my friends have!

Late last month a long-time friend from college phoned me, and we spent a good 15 minutes trying to pinpoint exactly how we were feeling. It was a back-and-forth conversation, as we tried out and then discarded different descriptions.

Then, just 4 days later, my neighbor Carol and I were having pretty much the same conversation, standing on the sidewalk as she watered her roses. Again, a back and forth about how overwhelmed we were by the news. But it didn’t take long before Carol turned off her hose and ran into her house. Out she came with a new book all about emotions and the fine distinctions between them.

Oh, I love words. I love their history and nuances. I was smitten and promptly ordered my own copy!

So, my neighbor Carol’s recommendation became the source for this week’s Advisory!

Brené Brown is the author of Atlas of the Heart. You may already know her work, or have heard her well-known TEDx talk from 2010.

In this recent book, she lists and looks carefully at 87 different human emotions. Her theory, if I may sum it up, is that you can’t really experience life if you can’t describe it. Moreover, if you can’t describe life, you are pretty much lost when it comes to charting a new path forward.

The sobering reality, according to Brown, is that most people can only come up with about 3 emotions: “happy,” “sad,” and “angry” are the most common. How can ANY three words help me manage how I am reacting these days to surgery, gun violence, political upheaval, and natural disasters?! 

Are you, too, experiencing stress or overwhelm, or uncertainty or dread, or some other hard-to-pin emotion? Are you looking for some help in coping? Please consider getting your hands on this resource.

Yet another important book for this summer. I am so happy to have found it and to be able to share.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  As a taste of how Brown helps distinguish between different emotions, here’s the very first of the 13 lists she introduces. Are you feeling any of these? And are you sure of the differences between them?

  • Stress
  • Overwhelm
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Avoidance
  • Excitement
  • Dread
  • Fear
  • Vulnerability

Brown adds another list of 7 more emotions that fit into this discussion of troubled times. Which of these might be an exact fit for what YOU are experiencing?