Category: Family Survival

“The leading cause of death . . .”

In 2020 firearms overtook car crashes as the leading cause of death for children.
One line heads down, the other up. They cross. What’s what?

We’ve said before, awareness is a big part of being prepared. I think the information on this chart is something we all need to be aware of. Haven’t figured it out yet? Some hints:

  • The lines reflect facts about children in the U.S..
  • They trace causes of death from two sources.
  • They show the new (since 2020) leading cause of death for children.

Those should be the clues you need! But to make it very clear: The purple line shows deaths of children (ages 1-19) over the past 20 years from automobile accidents. (Measured in deaths per 100,000 children).
The green line shows deaths of children 1-19 over the past 20 years from gun violence. (Again, measured in deaths per 100,000 children.)

In 2020, for the first time, firearms surpassed car accidents as the number one killer of kids in the U.S.

Of course, you may immediately question this data. Why doesn’t it include info for the past two years? What role did parents play in these deaths? How many gun deaths were accidents, homicide, suicide? Etc., etc. Where do other causes, like cancer, fit into this chart? If you’re interested in more detail, see my remarks and links at the bottom of the page.

To start with, let’s just consider the purple line killer.

The number of cars in the U.S. has continued to creep pretty steadily upward to around 276 million in 2020. More and more cars. More accidents, too. But the proportion of children dying in auto accidents has come pretty steadily down.

If I were to give you 60 seconds to come up with why, I am sure you’d say something like:

  • Roadways are safer than ever: striping, passing lanes, barriers, signage, etc.
  • Cars themselves are safer: mirrors, seat belts, warnings, anti-lock braking, etc..
  • Driver behavior has been influenced by: licensing by age and type of vehicle, speed limits, DUI controls, etc.

O.K. I think we get what’s been going on with car safety.

Now let’s look at the green line killer in the chart.

The number of firearms has gone up just like the number of cars. (The rise is more dramatic, actually.) So why haven’t children’s deaths from guns gone down like they have for cars?

The answer is pretty obvious. No consistent improvements to gun safety. No consistent constraints on gun ownership and/or shooter behavior. I couldn’t even find two items to make a bullet list with!

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re interested in preparing for and managing or responding to emergencies – all kinds. We try to help people keep emergencies from turning into disasters.

Lately, as the leading cause of death, firearms have become a disaster if not a catastrophe for our children and their families.

What preparedness actions should we be taking against this threat? Which ones ARE you taking?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disclaimer:  I am not an expert on car or gun safety. My Advisory is not meant to be a scientific report. But that doesn’t mean I wrote it off the top of my head.

I did a fair amount of research on everything mentioned here (and a lot on history and statistics I don’t mention). One thing I discovered . . easy data on both car and gun deaths is hard to come by. Below are some of the sources I found to be useful and I trust credible. But as you read them, or any articles on these topics, note the following:

  • Children” are defined differently in nearly every different report, whether produced by law enforcement, the insurance industry, government agencies, educators, etc. Be sure you are clear what’s being measured.
  • Deaths” are often sub-divided as to homicide, suicide, accidental and unknown. People dying may be killed by law enforcement, a family member, an acquaintance, or a stranger – and the statistics may or may not reflect the type of shooter.

Online sources I can suggest for automobile death statistics:

Sources on gun deaths and children:

And finally, a resource that I found truly compelling.

Research may provide you with statistics, but just as in the case of Paradise, another book I reviewed lately, what brings the issue alive are the stories of real people.  Not the people who died, but the people who lived.

children Under Fire, An American Crisis, John Woodrow Cox

I recommend to you this book by John Woodrow Cox. It came out just last year and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The New York Times says it is “a deep and painful accounting, built from intimate reporting, of the traumatic impact of gun violence on children who have witnessed it or lost a loved one to it.” 

You can get Children Under Fire in a variety of formats including audio. Here’s the link to the book at Amazon, where we are Associates.

I believe that Ava and Tyshaun and LB and the other children’s desperate stories provide us with preparedness actions to consider. And now, we have to add to their stories the stories of all the Uvalde brothers and sisters. Certainly, that incident has raised even more questions and suggested more actions.

Summer Home Security Quiz

Gun-wielding threat to your family and home

Are you familiar with Nextdoor? It describes itself as a “social networking service for neighborhoods.” Local people sign up, list items for sale, exchange lost and found stories, etc. When I compare posts from earlier years with more recent ones, I realize that home security is a big concern for people this summer.

Every day on Nextdoor I see video footage from various front door cameras. The videos show strangers roaming neighborhoods, testing doors to see if they are open, stealing packages. We get images of thieves stealing catalytic converters at 2 am, and yesterday, it was a whole motorcycle! (Those guys were actually caught.)

I’ve written before about home security including home invasion. It just feels as though a reminder is in order. So if you have any misgivings about safety for the coming months, here’s this week’s short post:

Summer Home Security Quiz

How would you rate your current degree of “situational awareness?”

  • I figure that whatever is going to happen will happen so I really don’t worry about it.
  • I’ve changed a few habits, like parking in better-lighted areas and being sure the car is locked.
  • I pay attention and can tell when people or activities don’t fit into normal neighborhood patterns.

Have you improved perimeter security for your home?

  • Haven’t made any changes. I’ve lived here safely for years.
  • I have installed a doorbell video camera to see what’s going on outside my front door.
  • I have motion-activated lighting around my place and a monitored perimeter alarm system.

How do you respond to potential threats at the front door?

  • When the doorbell rings, I answer it. I don’t want to be rude.
  • When the doorbell rings, before I open the door I check to see if it’s someone I’m expecting. I don’t open the door if I don’t know or expect that person.
  • I have reinforced the door frame and front door locks to make it a whole lot harder for someone to force their way in.

Do you make any changes to your appearance depending on where you’re headed when you go out?

  • iPhone, Apple watch, new necklace – wouldn’t be seen without ‘em!
  • I carry my oversized purse (or my computer backpack) everywhere I go. Yeah, it weighs a ton, but I’ve got everything I need in there.
  • I am committed to change. I wear message T-shirts so everyone knows where I stand. I have political stickers on my car, too.

I think that by now you have got the message. What’s happening in your neighborhood today may not be the same as what was happening 5 years or even 2 years ago. Heck, you are not be the same as you were 5 years or even 2 years ago!

So now that summer’s here, and you and others are out and about more than you were over the winter months, it’s a good time for a reassessment. The quiz questions SHOULD have prompted your thinking about safety at events and in crowds. About home security. About personal safety.

Did you come across a couple of items that made you think, “Yeah, I really ought to do something about that . . .!”

If so, now’s the time to take action!

Let us know of other summer safety ideas or new summer habits that you would recommend.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. And watch for the next in our series of Short Summer Posts. Last week we talked about Events. This week is about Home. Coming up: summer posts for Motorists, Boy Scouts, and Property Managers — and more!

Safe at a Summer Event


A couple of years ago I participated in a “Blog Post Challenge.”  The idea was to exercise your writing muscle by posting frequent short articles rather than spaced out long ones. It feels to me that a replay might be a good idea. I mean, how else can we keep up with all that’s going on? So, here’s Summer Post #1, perfect for the first week of June: What’s your plan to be safe at a summer event?

Strolling through summer fair

Be Safe at a Summer Event

Heading for a local summer concert? A track meet? Golf championship? Fight night? County fair? Whatever your taste in big events, it’s worth reviewing what professionals recommend for keeping you and your family safer in these large-scale settings. (Download this Summer Event Checklist here.)


Of course, you may have planned this event for a while. But what about today: are there storms on the way? Possibility of rain? Power outage? Bring what you need to be comfortable.


If this event has been held before, has it been associated with any particular incidents that might happen again – like a protest, or a fight between fans, excessive drug or alcohol use? 


Will attendees be monitored? Will size of crowd be limited? Are you familiar with the location – for example, where best to park, location of food, restrooms? Areas where visitors aren’t allowed? Note all the exits from the venue. Take a look at a floor plan and/or map to identify exits and surrounding streets as possible alternates to the way you came in.


Will you need an official ID? Will your carry-in bags be inspected? What about security – uniformed? Where located? Who is in charge? Is there a medical or first aid center for the venue? A few judicious questions will give you a much better idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. Don’s hesitate to ask.

Food, beverages, and alcohol

What about safe food handling procedures? What about an alcohol policy? Plans for managing people who have had too much?

Your own family

If you have young children, do they know what to do if they get separated from parents? Are there accommodations for family members with disabilities? In an emergency, what’s your family plan for getting out and getting reunified? Do you all know where your car is parked???

The Safe at a Summer Event Checklist is just that – a general checklist that could apply to any event. If event security is really on your mind, here’s a second and far more comprehensive resource that addresses safety in specific settings. You could use it for yourself and also if you are part of a planning committee!

“What’s Your Plan?”

James A. DeMeo has written What’s Your Plan. He’s had a full career focused on security and law enforcement in both public and private sectors – and the table of contents of his book, below, shows exactly why I am including it here in this discussion of safety at summer events :

Do you ever attend events in venues listed above? Then grab this book. Read the appropriate chapter/s, if not the whole thing. Just as important, share with family and friends. Click on the image below to get the book at Amazon where we are Associates. (Even fuller disclosure: I don’t know Mr. DeMeo personally but I have exchanged messages several times with him on LinkedIn!)

Know more. Be more aware. Have a great and safe time at your summer events.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, you can download the PDF of the checklist right here. Make copies to share with friends and family.

Plan NOW for Extreme Heat

Hot sun coming up; gonna be a hot one today
“Gonna be a hot one today . . .

Official definition of Extreme Heat: Summertime temperatures that are much hotter and/or humid than average. That definition seems pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?

Let’s look a little deeper into definitions of “extreme heat:”

  • 2-3 days of temperatures above 90 degrees plus high humidity (Read the P.S. when you get there!)
  • a contributing factor to death (from heart attacks and strokes) and the underlying cause of twice as many deaths (from heat illnesses)
  • often results in the highest annual number of deaths among all weather-related disasters.

So why am I writing about planning NOW for extreme heat? Take a look at this weather forecast from yesterday at @US_stormwatch:

An unusually strong signal is showing up in the long-range for a long-lasting major heatwave in California as we head towards mid-June. Much can change given this is 10 days out, but this strong of a signal this far out is definitely concerning. Stay tuned.

And then I went to and saw this headline:

The weather forecast for summer: Summer Temperature Outlook: Hotter Than Average for Much of Lower 48

So it’s clearly time to plan NOW for extreme heat expected within the next couple of weeks or couple of months.

Planning to be cool and comfortable at home when these weather patterns manifest?

Nearly 90% of homes in the U.S. have air conditioning, and A/C is what will protect you at home during a heat wave. Moving a portable fan around with you works, too. And there’s always ice cubes in the bathtub.

But what are your plans if you don’t have A/C? Or if the power is off?

In last summer’s heat wave in Oregon, 94 people died in Multnomah County.

  • Most were over age 65.
  • Most did not have A/C.
  • And most were living alone, isolated in multi-family apartment buildings.

IF you fit any of these categories yourself, or have friends who do, you need to start planning NOW fpr how you will cope. Given global supply chain problems and rising inflation, if you wait to make essential purchases they will only cost you more!

Some questions to help your planning for extreme heat days.

How will you get the NEWS that a heat wave is coming?

Are you signed up to get weather alerts from your utility or your city or county?  Generally, they won’t automatically contact you. It’s up to you to get on their list.  If you don’t have access to the internet, call customer service at your utility and ask for assistance. (If you are on one of the utility special programs — low income or medical — find out NOW what help they will give you during a weather emergency or power outage.)

What changes can you make to your HOME now to help keep it cool?

Keeping the cool air in is as important as keeping the hot air out. Open windows very early to capture cool air, then shut everything up. If air leaks around your doors and windows, get busy with weather-stripping now, before the heat hits.

Consider whether some sort of reflective window film on windows could keep direct sunlight at bay. (Not all landlords allow this film.) The link takes you to an example of film that comes in multiple colors and is non-adhesive, i.e., easily removable.

If you can afford it, consider buying a room air conditioner. Note the distinction: a PORTABLE air conditioning unit, designed to cool one room or two, can cost around $350 (or more, of course). It probably weighs upwards of 50 lbs. and may be about the size of a large kitchen trash can.  A PERSONAL air conditioning unit sits on the table near you and cools — you!

Some examples of PORTABLE A/C units. (They roll into place.)

This image (not a playable video) is from the promo video of one of the largest portable A/C units, capable of cooling up to 500 sq. ft.. Note the hoses that exhaust air out through the nearby window. This unit has three functions managed by a remote: cooling, humidifying, or fan only. Click here to go to Amazon for full details (and to see the videos).

For comparison, here’s a link to another popular model. It is slightly more than half the size, has slightly more than half the cooling capacity and its price is — you guessed it, slightly more than half the price of the large model shown in the photo. Shop to get the right size for your needs. 

A PERSONAL air conditioner is meant to put on a table near you to cool just you.

These small appliances start at around $50. Add water (and ice cubes?) to turn the fan into a humidifier. Please note that SOME of the personal air conditioners do not meet air filter standards for California, so check before you order. The model below uses battery power — so would be good choice if you could potentially be hit by a power outage. Click the image to see details and current price at Amazon, where we are associates. Remember, summer is nearly here so prices may be changing on these weather-related items.

A simple tabletop electric fan can help, too.

Just remember, a fan creates air flow but doesn’t cool. If the temperature gets up higher than 95 degrees, a fan could increase your chances of getting sick with heat illness!

Simple fans can be round or flat or built like a tower. They usually have multiple speeds. If you want oscillation, be ready to add a few more dollars to the price. I like the simple fan below from Vornado. The manufacturer has literally dozens of different styles and colors – so you can find perfect gifts for summer celebrations! Click this link for details of this flat panel model.

What is your plan for keeping YOURSELF cooler in extreme heat?

It makes common sense to avoid going out in the heat. So make plans now to stick close to home if at all possible.  That way you can also dress VERY lightly, take a cool shower and even dampen your skin and clothes for extra cooling in front of that fan.

Drink plenty of water.

Avoid creating heat inside your house by having “hot day menus” that don’t involve cooking. Let the laundry go for a day or two. See if you can cut back on computer and TV usage, too – these appliances all generate heat.

What is your plan if the house simply gets too hot?

Start making a list NOW of buildings you know have good air conditioning and where you would have a comfortable place to sit if you went there. For example: library, city offices, mall.

Do you know where your utility or your city is likely to have established Cooling Centers? Cooling Centers are required in an emergency! Your challenge will be to find out where centers are open and whether they still have room for you.

Three immediate steps to take NOW for your personal preparedness plan.

  1. Go online NOW (or call your city) to get a list of where Cooling Centers are located. Figure out how far away they are and how best to get there.
  2. Get the phone number NOW of whom to call when the emergency hits, to find out which centers are open and their status. If you have a pet, be sure to ask about bringing your pet to the Cooling Center BEFORE you just show up.
  3. Write down the locations and the phone numbers and place this info NOW with your Emergency Go-Bag.

AND JUST IN CASE: Are you prepared to help yourself or others in the case of heat-related illness?

We’ve all been “overheated.” But when does “overheated” become life-threatening? Say you are checking on a neighbor, who doesn’t seem quite right. Knowing the levels of heat illness will help assess the situation. At the top, and most dangerous, is Level Three.

  • Level Three: Heat Stroke. Internal heat, no sweat, rapid pulse, confusion. CALL 911, cool down with shade, damp cloths, etc.
  • Level Two: Heat Exhaustion. Sweating, paleness, dizziness, nausea. Get into shade. Remove clothing. Sip cool sports drinks.
  • Level One: Cramps. Pains, spasms. Get into shade. Sip cool sports drinks with salt and sugar.

Download the full-sized pdf of this flyer here.

Well, I think we’ve covered extreme heat pretty well today, with some simple to-dos. And if you aren’t quite prepared, now is the time. Don’t let it be too late!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The Heat Index calculator combines temperature and relative humidity to give you a better way to plan for potential danger. Just get the two numbers for your location and plug them into this calculator .

As a woman in an emergency, are you in more danger than a man?

Woman faced with an emergency, looking scared and uncertain

Pretty much, yes. On the global stage, the answer is definitely yes. (I expect you knew that whether or not you’ve really considered the question before.) Today, we want to add a second question: What are you doing to improve your chances as a woman in an emergency?

Let’s take a look at some of what adds to a woman’s increased vulnerability. What of any of this fits you?

Sexism is alive and well.

Sexism and misogyny are in the news a lot lately. A whole lot. So it shouldn’t surprise you to realize that either or both play a role in keeping women more vulnerable in emergencies. Here’s a simple example of sexism at work, from my own life.

How are girls and women supposed to behave?

I had two older brothers and tagged behind them a lot. At one stage, I was quicker at running than they were. So I could actually score when we played football with their friends! But my MVP days came to an abrupt end at about age 12. Suddenly, it became clear I was growing up to be a girl.

Had I grown up in a different culture, I might never have been able to play ball with the boys in the first place. Instead, I might have been wearing clothing that kept me from running and kicking. I might have had responsibilities for younger siblings or for aging grandparents. In some cultures I might even have been facing marriage as my immediate future, instead of looking forward to college.

Now, these two short paragraphs are meant to describe extremes in childhood experiences. But the point is clear: growing up can be very different for women and men.

For a woman in an emergency, these cultural differences show up dramatically.

In New Orleans before Katrina, women and girls made up about 54% of the population. They had the primary responsibility of caring for family members including children, older people and people with disabilities. When the order to evacuate was given, 80% of the people left behind in New Orleans were women and girls who were unable to leave because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Do you know girls and women who have family obligations that would make evacuating more difficult and more dangerous? What “extra” steps should they be considering as they prepare for emergencies?

How do girls and women cope financially in emergencies?

The stereotype – and admittedly a stereotype – is that women look to be protected and men are expected to do the protecting. Historically, in the U.S., men owned everything so they naturally had to accept that responsibility. But even today, where ownership and responsibilities can be shared, the stereotype persists. Polls show that the public still looks to men for being the family’s financial support.

And the reality is, despite gains, women do still fall short financially. They continue to earn less, save less, and live longer.

So when emergencies hit, women generally have fewer financial resources with which to respond and recover.

Given these disadvantages, what can women do to improve their chances?

First and foremost, take on the responsibility for yourself!

I’ve written frequently about my senior community, which, as you might expect, is made up primarily of women. And I’ve been known to complain, from time to time, about the men who say, “Quit scaring the little old ladies!” as well as the women (and men) who say, “I’m just waiting for the firemen to come save me.”  (Yes, I know. “Firemen” and not “firefighters.”)  These comments reinforce some of the stereotypes I’ve discussed above!

Let’s assume you that aren’t one of the “little old ladies.”

Or maybe you are older but aren’t scared by thinking about preparedness. Maybe you have girls and young women in your world and want to help them break through stereotypes or peer pressures that are limiting their thinking.

Step one is to realize that as a woman in an emergency, you’re responsible for yourself.

Step Two is to develop more confidence about being able to take care of yourself in an emergency.

Just about everything we write about here at Emergency Plan Guide is aimed at this process! Many of the ideas are simple. Here are a few, with links to more resources. They should be familiar to you.

  • Get strong. Run, climb and play ball when you have the chance! Bike, swim and walk. Get strong. Stay strong – so you’ll be a lot more able to respond when necessary. (This is particularly important for older people.)
  • Expand your horizons! Learn more about what threats you could face. They could be financial. Or political. Maybe weather-related or climate related. You don’t have to worry about everything; focus on the top 5 or 6 that are most likely to impact you.  (I have a list of 97 different possible emergencies.  Let me know if you want a copy to go over with your family or group.)
  • Get informed. What can you do to prepare for the most likely emergencies?  Read a book about hurricanes or earthquakes or wildfires. Watch a couple of videos online. Talk to experts in your community.
  • Finally, take action! You may want to make some sort of  “Preparedness Calendar” and mark down one goal per week or per month. These are the kinds of things you could add to your calendar:
    • Pack a go-bag and learn about evacuation routes if you could be threatened by fire or flood.
    • Make plans to improve your home to withstand storms or winds or earthquake.
    • Go camping and learn to light a fire and cook outdoors.
    • Sign up for a course in home repair from The Home Depot, or first aid from the Red Cross, or take the full Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training from your city.
    • Really enthusiastic about outdoor survival? Attend a commercial survival school! (Due diligence is called for. I looked up a half-dozen such schools for women online, to get an idea of prices, curricula, etc. Unfortunately, 2 of the 6 sites got “caught” by my antivirus software as being compromised.)

There are so many interesting and fun things you can do by yourself or with other women or girls! Practice your leadership skills and and turn activities into “events” that will have a real impact on everyone’s competence, and confidence.

And a few final words about becoming a victim of human violence.

In a widespread disaster.

So here’s the reality. In emergencies, women can become targets. First, as mentioned, women may not be able to escape a disaster if they have children or family members to care for.

When women end up in disaster shelters or other temporary living situations, they can become targets for theft, coercion or sexual abuse.

Of course, you can’t avoid every emergency, and certainly not a wide-spread disaster. But the stronger you are physically, the more competent you appear and the more self-confidence you convey, the less chance you’ll have of being taken advantage of.

On a daily basis.

Develop better habits for personal safety, particularly if you live alone.

  • Do you carry a bulky open purse that could be grabbed, or do you use a cross-body purse that’s not likely to go missing?
  • At home, are you conscientious about keeping doors and windows locked? Have you set up timer lights and motion-activated lights to discourage unwelcome visitors?
  • Where do you keep your jewelry or money? Right there on top of your dresser or in your underwear drawer where every thief expects them to be?  Get creative about hiding valuables!
  • When you’re driving, do you know where you’re going? Do you know where you’ll be parking? Is your gas tank at least ½ full all the time?
  • Have you considered carrying a whistle or pepper spray to discourage unwanted attention? What about a course in self-defense?

Examine your current level of confidence. What you can do right NOW to give it  a boost?

I’ve crammed at least two dozen “action items” into this Advisory, hoping that one or two would strike a chord with you. Perfect would be if you responded with something like . . .“Virginia, I have always wanted to learn to do this! Thanks for the push!”

And of course, if you are already familiar with everything mentioned here, perhaps you can figure out a way to share or teach a survival strength to someone else – particularly a girl or woman. Teaching is absolutely the best way to improve both competence AND confidence for both teacher4 and student!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let us know if you have a story of your own that helps make the point about the difference between being a man in an emergency and being a woman.

Paradise was a Test for Emergency Responders. Many failed.

Could you survive a wildfire like this?

Since you’re a reader here at Emergency Plan Guide, I’m sure you remember the fire season of 2018: the “deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California.” You may even remember some of the statistics: nearly 8 thousand separate fires, nearly 2 million acres burned. And 100 people confirmed dead – with a possible 50 more never found.

But so much has gone on since then that you may have forgotten about the single worst fire of that worst year. The Camp Fire roared through the Northern California town of Paradise on November 8, in one day destroying 95% of homes and businesses and leaving 85 dead in its wake. Paradise was a test for Emergency Responders. And many failed.

Yes, you may have forgotten. But if you read the book I just finished, you will NEVER forget Paradise.

“Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire”
by Lizzie Johnson

How to describe this book’s impact on me? It was so compelling I read all day the day I got it. So intense I couldn’t sleep that night. Some images remain in my mind: walls of flame 200 feet high; children only vaguely visible in a school bus filling with smoke; propane tanks exploding like bombs; floating embers as big as dinner plates . . .as big as dinner plates!

People who were heroes. And people who made bad decisions. . . a lot of bad decisions.

Paradise is a must-read for people who can’t afford to make bad emergency management decisions. Here are some questions to identify who those people are and force them to think about the decisions they might make under similar circumstances.

Are you one of the people who could be tested by disaster?

Do you live at the wildland-urban interface?

There are more of you every year, and you are a target. At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written more than once about the dangers of wildfire, and how to be smart about defending your property from it. We’ve even written about new technology for the professionals who fight these fires. But technology only gives you more options. Judgment is still the real difference between success and failure. And in a case like Paradise, between life and death.

As I write this, over half the states of the U.S. are in drought. There’s no longer such a thing as “fire season.” Rather, it’s fires year-round.

Everyone at the wildland-interface needs to know how to build, how to defend, how to evacuate when fire threatens. As you read how people struggled in Paradise, your own choices may become clearer.

Do you deal with particular sub-sets of your community, such as seniors? Children? People with disabilities?

Johnson’s research included digging deeply into the living conditions and also the mindset of the people who lived and worked in Paradise. You get to know these folks and their community. It was like many others. But it had some unique characteristics that played into the choices emergency professionals made.

One was a higher-than-average population of older people – 25% compared to the American average of around 15%. This meant more people in Paradise had health and mental limitations, and physical disabilities. When it came to evacuation . . .

  • They didn’t know the fire was coming. Few had signed up to receive emergency alerts. They were busy with life, not watching the news.
  • In Paradise and even here in my community, older people have lived through other disasters in their lives. They tend to figure they will get through this one, too. In fact, many simply refuse to consider evacuation.

Seniors stand to fail the test of responding to emergencies more often than other groups. What about the seniors in your life?

Are you connected to a health-care facility?

Some of the most powerful stories in Johnson’s book describe what happens as clinics and hospitals are threatened and overrun by the fire. Talk about heroes! But talk about impossible situations: not enough wheelchairs, much less ambulances. Patients too large or too ill to walk or even fit into a car. Ultimately, no power.

How confident are you in your facility’s evacuation and overall emergency response plans? Or in the plans of the facilities where you have family members?

City leaders, including professional emergency managers, struggle to balance politics with safety. In Paradise, they lost.

Paradise describes a history of town development, where decisions were made by various councils about paving, widening, and narrowing streets. About water supply. Code enforcement. Hiring. Economic considerations often won out over safety. And everything came into play during the fire.

One of the most difficult decisions was when and how to call for evacuation. For me, reading the details of those decisions was agonizing.

If you are a professional emergency manager, a First Responder, or simply a concerned citizen, you’ll find yourself wanting to make a checklist of things to look into for your own community. I did. My list contains over 35 items.

First Responders showed up. But things didn’t work as planned.

Johnson describes helicopter pilots unable to fly because violent downdrafts threatened to smash them into the mountainsides. Police officers directed traffic without understanding where they were sending people. Communications between different departments didn’t always work.

Some Incident Commanders were up to the job. Others weren’t sure, and waffled.

Paradise can be a mini-study in how mutual aid works – and sometimes doesn’t.

And last. But perhaps first in importance: what can you expect from your utilities?

The Camp Fire was determined to have been caused by PG&E, the largest utility not only in California but in the nation. PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that a spark from a 91-year-old transmission line started the fire. (Interestingly, the utility had previously warned that power might be shut off. Later, though, they claimed that conditions that day did not meet the company’s criteria for emergency shut-off.)

Does your utility do “Safety Shut-offs?” Under what conditions? What do you know about the history, maintenance and current condition of your utility’s grid? What plans do they have for back-up in an emergency? The same questions apply for your communications providers.  

These are only some of the urgent questions that filled my mind as I followed the increasingly desperate stories of individual Paradise residents. As each profile developed, I kept wondering – “Is THIS person going to end up being one of the 85 dead?”

I urge you to read Paradise yourself, as a citizen, community leader, or emergency response professional. You will be captured and inspired by Lizzie Johnson’s moving narrative. You will also be tested as to your own level of preparedness and readiness to respond. Please don’t wait.

Click on the image to order now from Amazon.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Scams and fraud — How well are you protected?

Padlocks to defend against scams and fraud
Got all your defenses up???

I got a speeding ticket in my first new car. Headed to traffic school to avoid a point on my license. The only thing I remember from the class was this question from our instructor. “Raise your hand if you think you are a better than average driver.” And the response! So, switch to today. . .

Raise your hand if you think you are better than average at detecting scams and fraud.

In researching for this article, I came across so many interesting statistics! Three of my favorites:   

  1. Around half of people contacted by a scammer engage with them. (Better Business Bureau) 
  2. In general, the older the victim, the more money they lose. In 2021, average loss of senior victim was $18, 246! (FBI)  
  3. But younger people are twice as likely to be scammed as older people – because they respond without thinking to online offers!

Even if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you should be aware that losses to fraud are going up FAST! (70% increase in 2021!)

So it seems to be the right time for a review of what’s been working for scammers. The more you know about latest developments, the better protected you’ll be.

Let’s start with a couple of very basic “tests” to see how aware you really are.

You’ve been searching for a new jacket online. You start seeing “retargeting” ads — the ones that follow you based on earlier searches. Suddenly up pops an add for your favorite jacket at an amazing 50% off – today only! Limited supply!

You go for it! The link takes you to a familiar-looking website. You fill in your credit card and get the purchase confirmation. Everything seems fine . . . until that jacket never arrives. Your credit card account has been maxed out. And nowhere do you find a “customer service” number for help!

Let’s examine this scam example to see what you might have missed.

Of course, if you were among the “better than average” online shoppers, you might already have checked for these.

Test #1: Does the website name start with http:// or with https:// ?

HTTP, the “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol,” carries data between your browser and the website you are connected to. When “S” is added, that means a security layer has been added via encryption. Every legitimate website that “sells” things, or that collects personal information, should have this secure protection. (It’s easy to add; the cost varies depending on what level of security is required.)

Test #2. Are you really at the right website?

Because you’re one of the experts, you’ve noted whether the site you arrive at is or –Whoops !– should it actually be

Test #3. Look again. Are you really at the right website?

Finally, you take just one more look to be sure that this is actually the site you thought you were going to. The name of the site is listed twice on the ad. But ONE of those links is fraudulent! Do you see which one?

(Ha, ha, I made this illustration myself so it’s really pretty hard to notice the discrepancy. But keep looking until you see what “wrong” with that link. Still no luck? “Answer” is at the end of this Advisory.)

Let’s move on from these detailed examples to ways that they are used for top scams and frauds “in action” today.

Message from your bank

Scammers use the same techniques that we’ve already described, getting you to click on a link from “your bank” that takes you to a fake but very familiar-looking website where they ask you to confirm your account number, your login, etc.

This scam may even include a telephone call prompting you to share the same information.

If you receive an email or a call from your bank, do not respond via the message. Instead, go directly to the bank’s website and log in the way you normally do.

Zelle transfer into fake Zelle account

Selling something online? A buyer may insist that you use a Zelle transfer. The entire transaction will end up being accompanied by a fake confirmation from “your bank” that “their deposit” has been made. You ship the item.

Of course, they have never sent you anything except fake emails.

Note: Zelle is a legitimate company that makes it easy to transfer money from account to account – certainly, to friends and family. But think twice if strangers want you to use it. There are other ways to get paid.

“Uh, oh. You have a problem” messages from known companies or organizations

There is no reason for your bank to send you an SMS text about your credit card being blocked. Amazon doesn’t call to let you know “your purchase has been approved.” Utility bills may seem high, but no representative will offer to “stay on the line with you so you can make a payment right now.”

And the IRS writes letters. It doesn’t call unless you’ve made an appointment.

Long-running scams based on human nature

Scammers know all about how to inspire fear, greed, hope and sympathy. Some of the most persistent scams are built around these emotions. Under the right circumstances you could get caught.

  • False charities: “Support the orphans of the war in Ukraine”
  • “Fill out this survey and be entered to win an iPhone!”
  • “Grandma, help! I’m in Baja California and I’ve been arrested!” (I got this one!)
  • “Can you help me out by buying some gift cards?” (Two of my neighbors got this one.)
  • “Lonely? Looking for a new friend?” (Romance fraud is the second most costly fraud of all.)

And some especially popular frauds from 2020 and 2021

  • Fake auto warranties and fake calls from car insurance companies
  • Technology “alerts” (“We’ve detected a problem with your computer . . .”)
  • Social Security and Medicare (“. . . need your social security number to check . . .”)
  • Cryptocurrency fraud and scams (So many tricky ways to lose money here it demands its own full article. A couple of the scam names give you an idea: “Pig butchering,” “Pump and dump,” “Rug pulls,” and “Airdrops.”)

Is there a reliable way to protect against scams and fraud?

With so many threats out there, it’s hard to know just what to do. The FBI and other anti-fraud organizations provide these recommendations. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. The trick is to keep them always in mind!

  1. Don’t click on links in strange emails or even open them in the first place without closely examining the return address, the signature, the language – and the offer.
  2. Don’t answer phone calls from strange numbers or even from what look like local numbers. Let whoever’s calling leave a message.
  3. If you get a call or a message telling you about “an urgent problem,” hang up. Take the time to call the organization yourself, from a number you know is good.
  4. If the deal sounds too good to be true . . . well, you know about that!

If I’ve been scammed or defrauded, can I get my money back?

As always, it depends. But you need to start by knowing the difference between a fraud and a scam.

Fraud. If someone gets access to one of your accounts and makes a payment or withdrawal without your permission, and you were not involved in any way – that is considered fraud. Report it to the appropriate authorities. You will typically be able to get your money back.

Scam. If, however, you were involved in any way in the transaction – even if you were tricked or misled – that is a scam. You may not be able to get your money back. (There may not even be any “appropriate authority” to report to.)

With this knowledge, you can head to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where next steps are listed for victims of a variety of different scams and frauds.

Still raising your hand as “among the best” at detecting and avoiding scams and fraud? Congratulations! Maybe you can share your own best practices with the rest of us?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you didn’t quite see the difference between the two links in the 50%-off ad, it is hidden in the second link. See that “a” in the word “safe?”  Compare it to the “a” in “sale.”  Two different typefaces for the same letter?! Not likely! (I couldn’t even get WordPress to let me “misspell” it here!)

P.P.S. I checked. About 2 years ago I wrote an Advisory on some of these same topics. The statistics were a whole lot less shocking, though! And that article touches on Identity theft, another aspect of fraud. You may want to check it out here:

Should we prepare for a nuclear emergency?

Image of explosion, a nuclear emergency.

After several years of quiet about accidents or attacks involving nuclear energy, suddenly we find it again in the headlines. In Ukraine, a nuclear emergency was threatened when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was hit by a Russian missile and experienced an explosion and fire. That situation may have been contained, but the danger isn’t over. And as I write this, European countries and allies – including the U.S. – are considering how to respond to Russia’s threat of using nuclear weapons in its bid to take over Ukraine.

At the same time, from the other side of the world, we hear that earlier this week North Korea conducted its largest intercontinental ballistic missile test ever. It looks as though this newest weapon might be able to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States.

So the headline on this Advisory isn’t meant to be a scare tactic. It IS meant to make sure your general preparedness knowledge includes a better understanding of nuclear emergencies!

Important: know the difference between a nuclear accident and a nuclear attack.

Each of these could be considered a nuclear emergency, but there’s a big difference in how you might have to respond.

  • Accidents to nuclear reactors have been caused by earthquakes, tsunamis and mistakes by people running the plant. When for whatever reason the cooling fails, it follows that equipment overheats, pipes burst and ultimately the reactor “melts down.” Radiation can be released into the air and the “plume” is spread by the winds.
  • A deliberate attack with a nuclear weapon could have a much greater impact. Even a small “tactical” weapon could cause a violent blast and fireball followed by an immediate release of radiation into the air. A full-fledged atomic bomb could repeat what happened in 1945 at Hiroshima. We’ve all seen those mushroom pictures.

Preparing for a nuclear emergency is pretty straightforward.

If you are caught in the middle of an explosion, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself. There’s a reason why nuclear weapons aren’t used in war.

But if you have any warning at all, here are the steps as recommended by the U.S. Government.

First, protect yourself from the blast itself!

If you are caught outside without warning, and you see the flash, get down! Face into the ground, keep your hands under your body. Protect exposed skin from heat and debris. As soon as possible, get up and take shelter to protect yourself from the radioactive fallout that is on its way.

Immediately get into to the nearest building. Head to the basement or to an interior room with no windows. Brick and cement block buildings are safest. Bring your pet in, too. These reminder images come from the CDC.

Next, get inside. Your goal is to be inside before the fallout arrives!

Fallout is like dust. It floats and ultimately comes down onto the ground. Whatever it touches it contaminates. Fallout gives off the most radiation in the first few hours after the blast. As time goes on, it weakens.

To repeat, seek out shelter below ground or in the middle of a building. Close windows, block fireplace, turn off A/C and fans to keep fallout from getting in.

If you were outside and believe you have been contaminated, as soon as you are safe inside remove your clothing and wash skin and hair with plain water. Gently wash pets, too. Seal contaminated clothing in plastic bags.

Once inside, plan to stay inside until the “all clear” is sounded. Assume at least 24 hours.

Sheltering in place after a nuclear emergency means . . .

  • Do NOT try to reunite with family – going outside may contaminate or re-contaminate you!
  • Be sure you have an emergency crank or battery-operated radio so you can get the news and hear the all-clear.
  • Use supplies of clean food and water – NOT food or water that may have been exposed to radiation!

If you live in a “target location” for a deliberate nuclear strike, don’t wait. Take action now to prepare for a nuclear emergency.

A target is most likely going to be a military installation or a nuclear reactor. We have more than 90 nuclear power plants in the U.S., and over 4,500 military installations.

  1. Find out if you live or work near a target! You can search for “military bases near me” to get Google’s local map with red pointers. And you can find a map showing nuclear power plants here: Most reactors are in the eastern part of the U.S.
  2. Find out your local government’s “emergency plan” for a nuclear disaster at the target location. The plan probably involves evacuation.
  3. Have a Go-Bag packed so you can grab it if evacuation is called. Hopefully your car is half full of gas or fully charged.
  4. If evacuation is unrealistic, be ready to seal yourself into your house.
  5. Have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It can help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland. The thyroid is the part of the body that is most sensitive to radioactive iodine. Potassium iodide is nonprescription and FDA approved. You’ll need enough for every family member for several days. Pills cost around a dollar each.
  6. You may want a way to measure radiation levels. Our bodies can manage exposure to low levels of radiation. Very high levels can cause immediate burns and sickness, as well as long term health problems including cancer.

Here are some products we have researched and recommend as potential additions to your emergency supplies. Click on links to get current prices and full details at Amazon, where we are Associates.

KI tablets, USP, 130 mg. 14 count. 

As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. (Click on link above the image to get current price and how to use. These items go quickly; there are other options if these tablets are out of stock.)

For a better understanding of what’s going on around you, consider a radiation detector. Prices at Amazon range from under $20 to well over $500 so be sure to shop carefully!  Here are two examples. The first one, a simple card, would be very handy; it doesn’t require any maintenance or batteries.

Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket

RADTriage FIT Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket, Nuclear Radiation Detector, Electromagnetic Field Radiation Detector, Anti Radiation Dosimeter, Ready-to-Go Portable Radiation Detector. Store in refrigerator and lasts for years.

Full Featured Geiger Counter with LED readout and Audio Alarm

GQ GMC-500Plus Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detector Monitor Dosimeter. Two tubes detect wide range of levels; lithium battery. Click link above the image for full details at Amazon.
Be sure to read the useful comments from purchasers!

Older folks know all about preparing for a nuclear emergency. If you’re younger, this may be new.

Please share this with the right people. And pick up supplies that make sense for you. I hope we’ll never have to test your preparedness on this one.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Preparedness for Older Adults

How well will they fare in an emergency?

I expect you are in much the same boat as I am. That is, as older adults, when it comes to preparedness much of what we learn about is theoretical or purely academic. Even with lifetimes behind us, few of us have ever personally had to give someone CPR, or run from a tsunami, or forage in the woods for food.

Over the past three weeks, though, we’ve been witnessing a situation in Ukraine that, while unfamiliar to most of us here, has entered our consciousness with exceptionally strong and vivid emotion.

As a senior citizen, I find my eyes drawn to the older people in all the pictures.

Unsteady on their feet, needing a hand to keep upright on a slippery bridge. Lying against a wall, exhausted. Struggling to carry their one bag of possessions while holding on to a hand or arm or a railing.

I can’t help but think about what would happen to my neighbors here in our community if we were forced to endure such conditions. And, naturally, my thoughts and observations lead into an Advisory.

What can older adults do to be better prepared for emergencies?

First, we can try to be in better physical shape!

Being isolated at home during Covid hasn’t helped. But many of my neighbors have pretty much stopped working or even walking – unless they have pets!

I am lucky to serve as an elementary school crossing guard. I get in at least two solid hours of standing and walking every day! At the same time, I know my balance isn’t as good as it once was. And at home I certainly have trouble getting up off the floor.

Do these limitations fit anyone YOU know?

Muscle is important. In the 2017 fires in Santa Rosa, CA, seniors died because they didn’t have the strength to open their garage doors when the electricity failed! And we’ve seen images of people on their roofs in Texas, escaping from flooding. Could you climb up to your roof?

I have discovered what I think is an excellent series of exercise videos for seniors. Prepare to meet Bob and Brad! They are somewhat goofy but their advice works! Here’s their 13 minute video from YouTube:

Second, we can think through what it would take for us to walk any real distance or wait in line for hours.

Obviously, if you have difficulty walking, part of preparing for emergencies is to have already made plans for assistance. For everyone, here are some aids to consider.

I would need a pair of really sturdy shoes. (I already know this because of my crossing guard duties.) Every one of my emergency kits – my Go-Bag and my car emergency kits – has shoes and socks among the very first items to be packed.

Older adult taking a drink of water while resting on bucket seat.

What about a way to rest, without having to sit or lie on cold or wet ground? This week our neighborhood group is looking at the value of using ordinary 5-gallon buckets as containers for emergency supplies. With the addition of a simple cushion, a bucket can become a seat, giving you a chance to take a rest, manage a drink of water — without having to struggle to your feet when the rest is over. (Foldable golf stools are great, too, though awkward if you’re boarding a vehicle.)

A back-pack allows you to carry your stuff and have both hands free, to reach for help or to offer it. A rolling cart may tie up one hand and arm, but you wouldn’t have to actually carry anything. As for a suitcase? Most seniors can’t carry one!

Third, we must rethink. What is the absolute minimum we want to carry with us in an emergency evacuation?

This is the most difficult list to come up with because each of us is so very different.

Here are some general ideas to consider.

  • Prescription medicines – as much as you can carry. In turbulent times you’ll have no way to get a refill. (We’ve talked before about pressuring your doctor for extra pills.)
  • Extra eyeglasses and/or hearing aids. Your safety and certainly your comfort depend on these aids. Again, in an evacuation setting there will be no way to get replacements.
  • Phone and power bank. Who knows where you’ll find a free electrical outlet with electricity? The power bank will recharge your phone at least 3 or 4 times.
  • Flashlight and/or headlamp for moving about in the dark. If you are in a strange place, or even a familiar place that has been damaged, moving without being able to see is a recipe for injury.
  • Small emergency radio (with batteries) to have a chance of knowing what’s going on.

All the items mentioned above so small they would probably fit into just one or two Ziploc bags. So what will you do with the rest of the room in your carrier?

Here are specifics that may be more important for older adults.

  • Important original documents THAT ARE NOT REPLACEABLE. Think again. Most documents these days can be replaced with time and effort so don’t stuff you evacuation bag with paper. The best way to handle all important documents is to scan them onto a flash drive. Easy to carry, easy to access when you are settled again. Has to be prepared in advance, of course.
  • Items to keep you warm. Have you used chemical hand warmers? They are about the size of a tea bag. They last for hours. We have several boxes around the house.
  • Extra socks and underwear. What YOU need to feel presentable and confident.
  • Items for personal hygiene: baby wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste. I always carry lip balm. Joe and I always carry toilet paper (partial rolls, flattened for more efficient packing). Plastic bags of different sizes for trash, to sit on, to separate dirty from clean.

Even adding all the above, you will still have room to spare. It’s at this point you may want to pack something you love, for comfort – a photo, a stuffed animal, a favorite book.

If you’d like a copy of our Evacuation Go-Bag list for older adults, drop me an email and I’ll send the list along. We updated it in 2020 after our close call with a wildfire.

Finally, take responsibility for yourself.

Some years ago the American Red Cross published “Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors.” If you’ve been reading our Advisories, you will already have been exposed to nearly everything in that booklet.

What I like best about this booklet, though, is the very first chapter. It is entitled, “Take Responsibility.” Its last sentence sums up how we approach preparedness for older adults:

“Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility.”

I trust you agree!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. More about buckets coming soon. . .along with another meeting idea that your neighborhood group will enjoy!

P.P.S. You will notice that I’ve included quite a few links in this Advisory — more than usual. That’s because these are items that I think you absolutely must have ready in your emergency kits.

Totally unexpected? Not!

explosion and fire in urban setting
OMG! What’s happening in Ukraine???

This past year we’ve seen image after image of people emerging from the debris after tornados, trapped in long lines of cars to avoid a hurricane, escaping from a burning building in the midst of alarms and smoke. Were all these disasters totally unexpected? No!

Today, we are seeing more disaster images – people trying to escape sudden danger in Ukraine. And yet, that situation wasn’t totally unexpected, either. Let’s take a look.

The first images I saw yesterday were of Ukrainians who had rushed into underground subway stations to avoid explosions.

They were jammed in but seemed warm enough, and calm. Still, I didn’t see any supplies that would keep them comfortable for hours. Did you have the same questions I do?

  • Do they have anything to eat?
  • What about water?
  • What about babies with no formula?
  • How were hundreds of people able to use the toilet?
  • Did they have any idea of what was going on above ground?

Today, the next day, the danger is no longer totally unexpected. People are taking action to protect themselves.

Today the news shows people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries. Some are walking across the border, abandoning household and pets “just to get somewhere safe!” Some are running out of gas in long lines of cars stretched across the countryside. Others, deeper inland in Ukraine, are crowding onto train station platforms, hoping to get a place on an outbound train.

Today, most of these people have a suitcase or backpack. But what about their future?

  • How long will it take for them to get across the border?
  • What will happen when they arrive?
  • Where will they go? Or where will they end up?
  • What about family members who have gotten separated?

I have questions about the people we don’t see in the news.

Those left behind. Those who are unable to walk or who have no money for trains or simply no place to go to. How are they faring now? What will happen to them in coming days?

Most of these questions remain unanswered as of right now. But the message for this Advisory is . . .

Emergencies aren’t always “natural disasters.” And they seldom are totally unexpected.

What’s going on today in Europe is a good reminder that there are many, many events that can result in emergencies. (In our business books we list 97 different threats!) But few of them should be totally unexpected.

It’s also a good idea to remember that many emergencies require the same or a very similar immediate response.

Of course, we can’t possibly be prepared for everything, but we can surely be prepared for an immediate response to whatever hits.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve examined that immediate response many times. A quick summary:

  1. The more we pay attention – to the weather, the news, political developments, etc. – the more likely we’ll have time to pack up some essentials in case things come apart. Having a Go-Bag already packed keeps you from being one of the victims that ends up stuffing some clothes into a pillowcase or plastic bag and having to make do with that!
  2. Having a family plan for re-connecting during or after an emergency can keep family members focused on immediate needs instead of spending valuable time worrying.
  3. Building a store of essential emergency supplies means that empty shelves in stores won’t terrify you. (We’ve heard that stores in Kyiv are already empty . . .) Supplies need to include non-perishable food, water, warm clothing, lighting, prescriptions, list of emergency contacts.
  4. If you have imagined and talked over how you might respond to expected emergencies – power outage, storm, riot, nuclear accident, hazardous chemical spill, whatever – you’ll have more confidence that you’ll be able to respond. Practicing with your basic emergency tools – radio, lantern, cookstove – will add more confidence. So will having a tank full of gas.
  5. Should you take some basic preparedness actions now?

Mindset makes all the difference to effective preparedness.

The more Joe and I are active in the world of emergency preparedness and response, the more importance we give to mindset or attitude! What a huge difference between a wild-eyed “What shall we do???” and a firm “We can handle this!” 

Emergencies are part of life, to be expected. When they are anticipated, you’ll be far more able to get through them without them turning into a disaster.

Let’s treat the current situation in Ukraine as a valuable reminder of preparedness essentials.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I know you know, but if this is a good time for a review, don’t forget our mini-series booklets.  They’re laid out with questions and answers. Easy to read, easy to get ideas from. Here are a few that might be particularly helpful for this review:

Pre-Disaster Plan. Number 1 in our series because it deals with the toughest challenge of all – getting started on a plan. Major emphasis on coping with disaster when you or other family members are not at home.

Emergency Cash. How much cash do you need to shelter in place? To evacuate by car or train? Where to get cash/money and how to store it?

Custom Go-Bags. Able to take you and your family through the first 3 days of an emergency – as long as the bags are customized AND ready to be grabbed.

There are 10 more titles in the series. You can see them all here.

Fire! Fire! Quick, the extinguisher!

Fire extinguisher in smoke - Will it work?

Suddenly, a commotion down the hall – you hear screams, then shouts: “Fire! Fire!”

First reactions might be: “Get out now!” or maybe “Take the stairs!”  But someone (you!) should respond with:

  • “Where’s the fire extinguisher?”  and then,
  • “Will it work?”

If you can answer “Yes!” to “Will it work?” you may be able to keep a fire from becoming a disaster.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide, fires and fire prevention are a frequent theme.

For example:

  • In California, wildfires threaten all year long. We’ve addressed them often, including introducing a new way to provide local water on demand for firefighting helicopters.
  • Just last month we touched on the urban apartment house fires where smoke alarms didn’t work. This led to more info about alarms, their batteries, etc.
  • Last year we shared pictures of senior citizens testing their skills using the laser training extinguisher system from Lion. (That training was excellent, and fun. We asked our seniors came to that meeting carrying their home extinguishers. Then we found, and compared dates of manufacturer. The “winner” had an extinguisher dated . . . 1994!)

But let’s go back to the people hearing “Fire! Fire!” – the situation we described in the very first sentence.

Since you’re reading this, we can assume that if you heard this you would know where to find the nearest fire extinguisher. We would LIKE to be able to assume you know how to use an extinguisher. (Check out the laser training Advisory, mentioned above.) The question we can’t answer, and we suspect you may not be able to answer either, is . . . “Are you sure this extinguisher will work?”

I can’t find any “official” statistics about failure. (Odd, actually. I wonder why not? I’ve got a clue – coming up later.) But I heard a sobering interview with a retired police officer. Here’s pretty much what he said. “I’ve arrived at around a dozen car fires, grabbing the extinguisher in the squad car. But then, because my extinguisher gave out after a couple of seconds, I stood there helplessly watching as a fire that should have been easily extinguished burned that car completely up.”

Seems to me there must be a better way to know if the extinguisher will work. And this month I believe I’ve found one.

There’s a lot to this investigation. Here are the questions I asked, and some answers I’ve been able to come up with.

Why can’t we count on fire extinguishers? Main reasons seem to be:

  1. The pressure gauge may say “OK” but extinguisher may be “dead.”
  2. The chemical powder inside the extinguisher has moisture or compacted and won’t discharge even if there is pressure.
  3. The canister is rusted, or the rubber hose has decayed; they come apart in your hands. Extinguishers with plastic components seem to be particularly vulnerable.
  4. The user may never have practiced switching hands to pull the pin, aim the hose and squeeze, etc.

But I thought extinguishers were inspected?

Sure, OSHA has clear inspection and maintenance requirements for the workplace. (But do people do them at home?) Here’s what I learned about caring for an extinguisher.

  • Every month should start with a “visual test.” Is the extinguisher where it’s supposed to be? Visible and easy to grab? Pressure gauge in the green? Any obvious damage? Is pin in place?
    • What to watch for? (1) Homeowners store their extinguishers under the kitchen sink. WAAAAY under. They fail this first test. (2) Apartment house owners discover that the cabinets, where extinguishers are supposed to be, are empty.
  • Once a year, extinguishers in commercial use are supposed to be serviced by state licensed technicians. This means examining and repairing any potential problems with handles, hose, nozzle, etc.
    • What to watch for? My research found that sometimes technicians add repairs and items that may not have been necessary. But since business owners seldom really check their bills, they just end up paying them!
  • Every 5-6 years (sometimes every 12 years, depending on type of extinguisher) professional service companies test the container itself. They discharge the extinguisher, take it apart, then reload and re-pressurize it. This takes time and requires special knowledge, tools and supplies (new extinguishing agent).
    • Coming up: More on how this may not be as effective as you’d think!

So how long does a fire extinguisher typically last?

The “answer” here seems to depend on a number of things: the quality, type and size of extinguisher, its environment (stored inside? outside?), etc. The NFPA makes this general statement: “ . . .,rechargeable fire extinguishers must be recharged every 6 years, whereas disposable extinguishers must be replaced every 12 years.“

So the first thing to know is whether you have a disposable or a rechargeable extinguisher. (Most homeowners have disposable models because they are easier to find and less expensive to buy. More about price, below.) A disposable extinguisher has plastic components; the rechargeable extinguisher has a metal cap and valve.

Check the age of your disposable extinguisher!

Find the manufactured date (on the label or on the bottom – always tiny print!). If it’s 15 years old, dispose of it and get a new one!  (Remember our senior citizen clutching the extinguisher manufactured in 1994??) 

What about a rechargeable extinguisher?

When your rechargeable extinguishers are properly maintained, they’ll last a lot longer. Still, you’ll be paying for the maintenance services. And when the rechargeables reach the age of 12 years, they’ll have to “pass” even more stringent and costly tests if you want to keep using them safely.

Warning. In my research, I discovered references to “fire extinguisher service companies” that were not only adding fraudulently to their bills, but weren’t even the licensed services that companies thought they had a contract with! Be sure to check!

Second Warning. Even when your extinguishers are being recharged, you may not be getting what you are paying for. The problem? Some service providers may not be refilling your extinguishers with the proper chemical agents. A 2020 test of 100 extinguishers (from different manufacturers, different service companies, etc.) by Dyne Fire Protection Labs found that 9 out of 10 had been re-filled with something other than what the extinguisher manufacture called for! Obviously, the wrong “mix” may mean the extinguisher may not operate as designed. After a fire you’d sure hate to have the official report claim “User error” when it was all the fault of the extinguisher! (See video report of the Dyne study here: )

So what’s the Better Option I discovered? An extinguisher called the Rusoh® Eliminator®.

Even though it’s UL listed, and has been on the market since 2017, I have never seen this extinguisher! It really is different, starting with looks. Here are the innovations and why I had to write this Advisory.

  • You “charge” this extinguisher only when you need it! Pull down the simple yellow lever to puncture a CO2 cartridge (about the size of a short flashlight). The extinguisher is instantly pressurized. (The cartridges come in packs so you can always have a fresh one on hand.)  So, the Eliminator eliminates the “pressure leak” concern.
  • There’s no danger of the chemicals inside the container getting compacted, thanks to the Eliminator’s “Fluffing tool.”  (This is what captured my imagination!) Imagine an augur running up the center of the extinguisher. Every month, just give the “Fluffer” on the bottom of the extinguisher several turns. The chemicals inside will be stirred and mixed up, eliminating “compaction.”
  • The container can’t rust or dent or degrade because it’s made of super hard polymer. Eliminates damage and/or deterioration. Recyclable, too.
  • To use, lift off the wall holder, puncture the CO2, aim and squeeze. Big handle that’s easy to grab, solid body, works with left or right hand. Eliminates confusion and fumbling.

Most compelling feature for business? The Eliminator can eliminate service contracts!

Because it’s so simple, you can do the monthly and annual maintenance yourself after getting certified via an online course. Doing your own maintenance saves money being paid to outside vendors, and avoids the security and perhaps health risks of having strangers wandering through your facility.

So what does the Eliminator cost, compared to traditional extinguishers?

As you might expect, the initial purchase price is more. I looked at the cost of the 5 lb. extinguisher, most popular for commercial use. It costs around $150 (on the website), compared to a typical rechargeable extinguisher around $40-$60.

But that’s the purchase price, not the full cost. For business, costs includes those yearly inspections, maintenance, recharge, etc. How much are you paying for those services now? If you’re always on the lookout for cost savings, check out the Savings Calculator at the Fire Technology Innovations site.

If you’re serious about better fire extinguisher protection, I encourage you to take a closer look at the Rusoh Eliminator. You may want to do like I did, just pick up the phone and talk directly to the VP, John Tabacek. Here’s his contact info: John Tabacek, Fire Technology Innovations, (949) 246-4826 (PST),,

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. These questions were all mine, as a “regular” consumer with a serious interest. I am sure that a trained professional may have more of them. Either way, as a user or a professional, your comments and questions will help us all learn more. Please share them!

Maybe you missed this? Tsunami warnings.

tsunami evacuation route sign
Are you familiar with this?

Yes, where you’re located makes a difference when it comes to emergency planning. I’m writing from sunny Southern California, just about 12 miles from the Pacific and its beaches. We plan a lot for earthquakes, but seldom if ever for tsunamis. But we need to keep remembering that everything is changing these days! On January 15, just 3 weeks ago, we were alerted by a series of unexpected but real tsunami warnings!

A volcanic eruption near the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific was the cause . . . and I’m sure you have seen images of what happened there. (Actually, not many images have surfaced since the eruption and waves destroyed all internet connections in the area.)

While effects were minor on the West Coast, some marinas and harbors were hit, some streets and parking areas were flooded, and a few boats were damaged or even sunk.

Could you find yourself in a Tsunami Danger Zone?

Maybe a LOT more easily than you think!

In the U.S. residents of coastal cities are at risk for tsunamis: in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. We need to add to the list US business travelers and tourists heading to Japan, Thailand, Singapore and anywhere in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” countries. That’s a lot of people and a lot of places!

My son was caught in the tsunami that hit the Pacific in 2004. He was vacationing in Thailand. As he reported it live on Larry King (!), he saw a “strange long unbroken wave” forming way out in the bay. He even paused to take a photo without realizing that the wave was bearing down on the beach much faster than he could run.

Pacific Rim countries showing reach of 2004 tsunami

Yes, he was caught, washed off his feet and pushed into a building, where he was able to clamber up above the water and wait until it went down. He was young and very strong and lucky. He lost only a shoe and a camera. Over 227,000 people around the Indian Ocean weren’t so lucky. They lost their lives. This little map shows just how far that tsunami reached! 

That was in 2004, and many Americans really didn’t know how to recognize a tsunami. My son didn’t. He would now, though, and you should be able to, too.

Be prepared before you ever hear tsunami warnings.

I’ve written before on how to know you’re in a tsunami zone, and what do to to be ready in case one hits. I just recently came across and excellent video on LinkedIn and I decided it was a lot better than my earlier written description!! Even if you think you’ll “never be in a tsunami zone” someone you love may be headed on vacation next summer. Be sure they see this video, too!

Thanks to Steve Eberlein for another great training video!

Some compelling highlights from the video

  1. Are you in a tsunami zone right now? If you’re in the US, you can check at Or if you’re on the road, check the World Map at
  2. How will you know a tsunami is on its way? NOAA emergency radios and various alert apps broadcast this information. You may hear local sirens if the tsunami is threatening.
  3. If you are in a zone — particularly if you are traveling and in an unfamiliar place — you MUST know the evacuation routes! (Steve’s video makes this very clear!) Family members need to know them too, because you may not be together when you hear the tsunami warnings. Nor will it necessarily be in the daytime, during moderate weather, etc.
  4. If you feel an earthquake and are on the coast, and if you hear tsunami warnings, how long do you have to get to safety? It may be as little as TEN MINUTES! That means you won’t have time to run back home or to a hotel to get personal things or your emergency kit. So — be sure every family member has at all times a day-pack that holds some essentials, including emergency contact information. A jacket, snack, etc. would be good, too. You may not be able to get back, or get back together, for hours or even days.

Pass along this information to friends and family – and stay safe! Don’t wait until World Tsunami Awareness Day comes around on November 5 to be better prepared for this hazard.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re talking about tsunamis and earthquakes, did you know that April 26 is National Richter Scale Day?

Your Home Inventory — Missing in Action?

In disaster, no household inventory means confusion and potential loss
“I don’t even know how to get started . . .”

I am an avid list maker. I’ve been known in certain circles as “The Queen of Lists.” (It’s a toss-up as to whether that title is meant to be admiring or annoyed.) Still, with all the hundreds or even thousands of lists I’ve created and operated with, one has been missing: a detailed home inventory.

Yes, we have some partial lists. (Joe loves building databases.) But covering EVERYTHING? Nope.

We’re going to need the inventory sooner or later.

Just like some other aspects of emergency preparedness, this one gets overlooked by a lot of people. Yet in any disaster, we’re going to need that home inventory! 

  • House burns down to the ground, Can we PROVE to the insurance company what we lost?
  • Storm damages our home and garage. Insurance company low-balls the cost of repairs. A claims adjustor wants 15% to help. Will we get what we need in order to recover?
  • Family member passes away. One of us is named executor. The job of executor (slightly different in every state, unfortunately) is to inventory all the assets before the will can be probated. If I have to do it, or my kids have to do it, how long will that take? Who is meant to get what? Whose feelings are going to get hurt along the way?!

Yes, building a detailed inventory can be daunting!

If you start making lists of your belongings when you’re in your teens, it might be easy just to keep adding to them. But most of us don’t. And all of us keep adding stuff! Just swivel around in your chair right now. Take a look at everything around you – it’s likely to add up to dozens or even hundreds of individual items!

But that’s just how to start – by listing everything in your home, room by room.  

The actual process may take time, but it needn’t be complicated.

Start with pen and paper.

You can find many useful and free LISTS on line that will help you get started with paper and pen. (Search for “home inventory list templates.”) In fact, your own property insurance company may have templates you can request or download. But take the time to research. Get a template that’s not too simple, not too complicated, just right for your use.

Here’s an example of home inventory lists from New York Central Insurance. It consists of 18 pages of lists, room by room. The first page also has ideas on how to store your lists so they will be available when you need them. As you will see, this template also has a place for the name of the manufacturer, serial number, date purchased and purchase price.

Other templates may give you a place to show whether you have the actual purchase receipt, plus what it would cost to replace in today’s dollars. One thing I didn’t see on any of the simple lists: “Who is to inherit this.”

Lots of detail already! But if you’re like Joe, you want even more info on each item So you’ll probably consider expanding your list into a database of some sort. That way you can add everything!

You’ll quickly see the value of photos as part of your home inventory.

As soon as you begin making your list, particularly when you start listing one-of-a-kind items, you’ll realize you need to add photos. For collectibles, you’ll want to add the name of the artist or creator, appraised or estimated sales value (as part of a collection or alone), etc.  (For these specialty items, you may also discover that you’ll need to add a rider to your homeowner’s policy. Most policies have a limit for jewelry, art, etc.)

And don’t overlook important financial and personal documents! Best and easiest way to store them is as photos, too.

Once again, start simply. Use your camera to take a video of each room, all four walls and ceiling. This is a great start to establish what you actually own. Then, you can video or take individual photos of specific items to match them to your paper or digital inventory list.

Research tools for collectibles: I inherited a brass Chinese tea caddy from my grandfather. How to find out more about it, and what it is worth? First, I headed to Google Images to look at similar items for sale, mostly on Etsy but some via galleries. Recently I discovered that my new iPhone has Google Lens – an app. You take a photo and then Google looks across the whole universe for similar items for you! Possibly an exaggeration. But it’s using artificial intelligence – and is impressive!

Surely there are programs to help make building the home inventory simpler!

Yes, there are. In fact, search for “Home Inventory Programs” and you can find dozens of them. Prices range. (I noticed in my own search that many of the programs were created a dozen or more years ago. Many don’t seem to have been updated since. Read the fine print.) There are well-known brands represented along with specialty products for particular uses.

Look for these feature as you shop:.

  • FREE software to download. Check to see how much info you can enter (usually limited). Check how your information can be accessed and/or printed out. You may be able to buy “additional features” for separate small fees.
  • FREE software to download, followed by pay per month or per year. Note that in some of these cases you are paying because the owner of the software is keeping your data on their server.
  • One-time program purchase. Again, look carefully at what information you are able to record and how you can retrieve it. For example, can you download a pdf? A comma delimited file (or comma separated file) for a spreadsheet? Where does the inventory information reside: on your own computer, on another website, or in the cloud? Will the software be updated?
  • All-in-one programs do their best to combine everything you’d want, starting with automatic insertion of new items into the database where they belong. They’ll offer regular updates, search and sort capabilities, cloud storage, robust security and training videos. If you are serious, take a look at It offers a free trial. (I got owner Carol Kaufman to guide me through — and I was impressed! Used my iPhone to take a photo of a shelf of my own books. Within just a second everything appeared right on my PC’s “Home Office” inventory page!) The folks at Pinventory may also be able to give you personalized help if you need it.

How and where to store your home inventory.

As you have realized by now, anything you store IN YOUR HOME may be lost in the disaster. You’ll want to store hard copies in a safe or a safe deposit box. Store digital copies on your phone, computer, an external drive off-site, and in the cloud. Make a plan for regular updates.

However “prepared” you consider yourself, if you haven’t done a household inventory you are leaving yourself open for financial loss and emotional trauma. Putting it off only makes it worse!

Hope you can get started today!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Any horror stories about losing time and money because no inventory could be found? Any good news stories because an inventory was available? Please share!

Smoke Alarm Update – January, 2022

Push button to test smoke alarm
Is this what your alarm looks like?

It’s a new year. January is always a good time to “reset” and think about setting new priorities. Over the past couple of weeks I took the time to “think longer term” about helping organize a neighborhood emergency group. I welcomed that “big” topic. But then over the weekend I got news that was like being hit alongside the head.

Thirty-one people killed in two apartment house fires!

What happened? Time for an immediate smoke alarm update!

Two different sets of circumstances but alarms failed people in each.

In the Philadelphia fire (3-level apartment building) no alarms were heard to go off. But the building owner swears that smoke and CO alarms were located throughout the apartments and had been tested positively last fall. What’s the answer?

In the Bronx fire (19-story high rise) people ignored the smoke alarms going off “. . . because they go off all the time.” When automatic doors did not close as expected, smoke rapidly filled the building. With no exterior fire escapes, people died from smoke inhalation, not from fire itself.

This is not a complete report. People are still in the hospital; officials are still examining damage to the buildings; displaced families are still in trauma. So, we’ll probably learn more.

For us it is another reminder of the life-saving role of WORKING smoke alarms.

Our neighbors have smoke alarm problems, too.

Just like the people in the Bronx building, when their smoke alarms chirp or even go off for apparently no reason, our neighbors get tired of trying to figure out what to do. Many of our older neighbors find it difficult to “test” their alarms because they can’t reach the alarms without climbing up on a ladder. Eventually, they abandon the alarms or even tear them down and throw them out – sometimes, still chirping! 

Here’s the statistic from NPFA that keeps our testing program strong and drives this Advisory, too::

The death rate in home fires is much higher where a smoke alarm is present but does not operate than it is in home fires with no smoke alarms at all.

Let’s assume you have smoke alarms. In the right places. Now, make sure they are operating.

Test the alarms to see if their batteries are working. All smoke alarms have batteries. But different types of alarms use batteries differently.

What kind of alarm do you have? You probably can’t tell just by standing on the floor and looking up at it! You need to get up on a ladder and twist the body of the battery out of its mount. Examine the back side.

  • Some alarms are sealed so batteries can’t be removed. At the end of its battery life, the alarm needs to be discarded and replaced.
  • Other alarms operate with batteries that need to be replaced on a regular basis.
  • Still other alarms are wired to the house and use its electricity, but have batteries as back-up if the electricity goes out. You can change the battery on a wired alarm without disconnecting any of the wires. 

Replaceable batteries last about 6 months. That’s why we recommend testing and changing them twice a year when the time changes.

Testing is simple: just press the “test” button until you hear the fire alarm tone.

If a battery in your alarm starts running low, it may alert you by cheeping or chirping. This means, time to change.

What if the beeping won’t stop?

Sometimes the alarm continues to chirp or beep after you have changed the battery and done everything right. Do not allow this to drive you crazy! It simply means that the “coding” in the alarm hasn’t been cleared out. You need to RESET your alarm so you know it is working properly.

Here’s a good video showing the whole sequence. (Only 2 minutes long.)

Electric (hard-wired) Smoke Detectors with Battery Backup

  1. Go to the breaker box for your house. Shut off the circuit to your smoke detector.
  2. Remove the detector from the bracket on the ceiling and disconnect the power cable plugged to the smoke detector.
  3. Take out its battery, then press the “Test” button on the “empty” alarm and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound for a short time, then the alarm will silence.
  4. Put the battery back into the smoke detector, reconnect the power cable and mount the smoke detector back on its bracket. Turn the breaker on. The smoke alarm will chirp one time to indicate power has been restored to the unit.

Battery-Powered Smoke Detectors

  1. Remove the battery from the smoke detector.
  2. Press the “Test” button and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound for a short time, and then will stop.
  3. Reinstall the battery. The smoke alarm will chirp once to indicate the battery is connected.

Want more assurance? Get new alarms if you need them!

Smoke alarms have a life of 7-10 years. Don’t push your luck! If you know by now that you need new smoke alarms, don’t hesitate. If you want hard-wired alarms, you may need expert electrical help to get them installed. But you can easily install battery-operated alarms yourself.

Check out the sample products below and head to Amazon to compare. Prices for alarms continue to come down: the alarms below start at less than $10, and even the newest, combo smoke and CO alarms start at prices as low as $20. (Buying a multi-pack can reduce the cost of the individual item considerably.) Kidde and First Alert are two of the most popular brands.

Battery-operated Sealed

Kidde – 21026051 Smoke Detector Alarm | Battery Operated | Model i9050

Hard Wired with Battery Back-up

First Alert BRK9120b6CP Hardwired Smoke Detector with Backup Battery

Important for travel safety — a portable alarm you can carry with you.

What if you arrive at a hotel room, or even a friend’s basement guest room, and note that there is no smoke alarm!? Consider getting a smaller, more compact and battery-operated alarm that you can set up for more peaceful sleep. And then, pack it up and take it away with you. Below is an example.

NOTICE: Not all the portable brands of smoke alarms are UL listed so some states (like California) won’t allow them. Be sure the model you’re looking at will meet your state’s requirements. (The Amazon sales page will tell you.)

SITERWELL Smoke Detector , Photoelectric Technology Smoke Alarm with 10 Year Life Time, Small Fire Alarm with Built-in Battery and Test&Silence Button for House, UL Listed, GS522C-A, 4 Packs

This Advisory is one of the important ones. Please make sure you “know your alarms” and are confident they are working properly. We have had four house fires in our neighborhood in the past 10 years. Every house burned to the ground, but no one was injured thanks to smoke alarms!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Several years ago I wrote about what happened when I tried to test my smoke alarms for the first time. That Advisory also distinguishes between photoelectric and ionization technology. You may enjoy that story . . .!

Disasters are gonna happen! Planning Calendar for 2022, Part 1

Ice cream cone dropped on the ground, melting
A disaster!

We hope we never have to hear you say something like this:

“Oh, darn!  I KNEW I should have fastened up that shelf / replaced those bottles of water / checked those batteries . . . !”

Truth is, disasters are gonna happen. Most aren’t entirely unexpected. And we’ve learned that if we simply prepare for a few of the biggest ones, we’ll be ready for most of the smaller ones. But if we let the small ones go . . . well, bigger and scarier emergencies are right around the corner! (Nothing worse than a spilled ice cream cone, of course!) A preparedness planning calendar can help keep us on track.

Your family’s well being comes first on your planning calendar.

About half of the Advisories we write deal with suggestions for individuals and  families.  They range from revisiting the contents of your go-bag, to keeping emergency radios maintained, to how solar works as an emergency power supply.

Last year, during the pandemic lock-down, we collected 14 of the most popular Advisory ideas for individuals.  Then we doubled the amount of info on each basic topic. Each topic became one volume of our “Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series.”

(Happy note: one of my real estate friends gave away copies of several of the mini-books to her clients as holiday gifts. She sent me this text: “I’ve gotten many many sincere thanks for such wonderful books!!!! Thank you so much! Hugs, Jaci, Seven Gables Real Estate”)

Worried that you may have overlooked some preparedness essentials? Looking for an easy way to review? Check out our mini-series and add some of them right now to your To-do list for 2022. Pass them along when you’ve finished with them!

But don’t stop there. Take your preparing to the next step!

We think Emergency Plan Guide is unique in its focus on building prepared neighborhoods. As you have seen, in “real life” Joe and I help organize and train our own neighborhood emergency response group. We’ve done it for nearly 20 years!

So besides the info for individual preparedness, our Advisories cover activities aimed at attracting and engaging our immediate neighbors. You may recall some of our stories from 2020 and 2021. Even when so much community activity was shuttered, our team was able to put together an  “Emergency Whistle Give-away,” hold a first-of-its-kind virtual meeting with our City’s Emergency Manager, and very early on, reach out to isolated neighbors via simple telephone conference calls.

Neighborhood resilience depends on  —  neighbors!

No matter what the make-up of your neighborhood, every family will benefit by knowing more about readiness. But we believe preparedness extends beyond each family having emergency supplies and training.

A prepared neighborhood may be able to rescue and support those people whose homes or livelihood were damaged or destroyed! 

It was neighbors who pulled out boats to search for survivors in the floods after Hurricane Harvey. After Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana, it was neighbors who got busy and nailed blue tarps over leaking roofs when there was no sign of promised government help. When the tornados hit in Kentucky last month, it was neighbors who pulled people from the debris in the darkness.

Who would help YOU if an earthquake flattened your home? Your school? Your place of business?  It would be your neighbors!  The ones right there. The ones who know where you are likely to be. The neighbors who have gloves and crowbars and lights and are ready to jump into action as soon as they know they themselves are safe.

So as we take a look at planning for 2022, sure, let’s let the FEMA calendar guide us with some good themes. But at the same time, let’s add to our planning calendar some activities that build group awareness and resilience.

And next week, in Part 2, we’ll take a look at who you really want for your neighborhood team – and who you might NOT want.

So, a list of activities by month for 2022.

January – Time to get the year organized. Get your hands on or make your own monthly calendar, with plenty of place to write. For each month, fill in at least one appropriate topic. Then set up two columns, one to help individuals and families take action, and the other for groups. For example: In January, survey your group members to find out what they are worried about. Use that information to build in training over the course of the year to meet their concerns.

February – Winter awareness month, per FEMA. Focus on your location and your audience to identify winter threats. (For example, small children have different needs than the elderly when the power goes off . . .) Idea for group planning: what specialized winter equipment do you have available in the neighborhood that could be used to help more people? (snow plow, generator, home with fireplace, etc.) How would you deploy it?

March – Flood safety. Idea: test and emphasize your neighborhood emergency alert systems. Did forest fires ravage nearby areas? If so, watch out for mudslides and debris flow where they may never have occurred before.

April – Financial capability month. For most of us, having enough cash or savings to carry us through an emergency may simply not be possible. Idea: invite insurance professionals to speak to your neighborhood group. Be sure you come away knowing what is covered by homeowners or renters’ insurance, and what isn’t. Ask plenty of questions about wind and water damage.

May – Start of wildfire season. Big idea for this month: Become a FireWise USA Community!  Sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association and local fire departments, the program helps individuals and communities get ready for summer and potential fire danger. One of our Emergency Plan Guide groups has held multiple very successful FireWise events.

June – Start of Hurricane Season and, traditionally, start of the hottest season of the year. In 2021 we experienced deadly heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. Hundreds died quietly at home, exercising outside at school, and working in orchards and fields. Find out what temperatures to expect in your location. How can you protect the most vulnerable? Idea: set up a system to check on and support seniors in your neighborhood.

July – Fireworks safety.  Last year I studied the various fireworks ordinances in and around our town. Guess what?! Some fireworks were allowed in neighboring cities that weren’t allowed here!  So, be sure you know the rules for kids and adult enthusiasts. And have your fire extinguishers handy.

August – Back to school. Parents, know your school’s emergency procedures. Teachers, know what’s expected and if you aren’t getting comprehensive training, demand it. Traditional fire drills aren’t really enough these days. Make sure your school is ready for other emergencies including intruders, earthquake, tornado, etc. Do you need emergency tools or equipment in the classroom? Emergency food supplies? Find out.

September – This is National Preparedness Month. Idea: Plan a Preparedness Expo for your neighborhood or group. Consider guest speakers, commercial vendors, games, exhibits by police and fire. Invite school or scout groups as partners. Solicit donations so visitors go away with starter items for their own emergency kits. Be sure to arrange for publicity.

October – Cybersecurity month plus the Great American Shakeout! Idea: Sponsor an educational meeting for local businesses, with a “Cyber-Security Checklist” as take-away. Idea for group: Present dramatic video of earthquake footage (available on YouTube) and discuss earthquake myths. Send people home with an Emergency Whistle to help if they are trapped after a shaker.

November – Holiday cooking safety. Idea: Invite professionals to demonstrate how different fire extinguishers work on different types of fires. Review fire extinguisher procedures and practice with real or digital equipment. Already been there and done that?  Do it again for the benefit of new members of the group.

December – seems to be Protection Month! recommends getting your flu shot. Avoiding shopping scams and hazards. Managing holiday lights and fires. (I seem to have been right on schedule when I came up with my tips for using plugs and extension cords a week ago!)

Customize your planning calendar to fit your circumstances.

The ideas listed above are just that – ideas for you and your leadership team to discuss as you develop your planning calendar. Use or discard them or better yet, come up with variations that will work for you, specifically.

As we continue to emphasize, every community is unique. That’s why we wrote four different versions of our Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide. There’s probably one for your type of neighborhood. Each of those guides, by the way, has pages full of ideas that could help fill in a year’s calendar of preparedness activities.

Whatever your source of ideas, this is a great time to get organized for the year. There’s no reason to get caught flat-footed when emergencies hit – and so many good reasons to be ready!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Planning for 2022, Part 2, will be coming out in a week or so. Watch for it! It will have suggestions for building a workable neighborhood team and keeping it on track.