Category: Resources

Lost – and Found, thanks to what3words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do you do next???

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

what3words logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any drawbacks to what3words?

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

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

(I picked American English as my language!)

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Image of hand holding orange Bivy Bag with attached emergency whistle

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

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

Injured boy with young man attempting to stop the bleeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step One – Analyze the situation.

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

Step Two — Decide how to stop the bleeding.

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

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

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

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

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

Some examples to look for:

American-made CAT tourniquet, black.

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

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

American-made SOFTT tourniquet, red.

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

In closing . . .

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

How safe are your emergency flares?

Rainy car accident scene with one emergency flare

Wha’ ?????!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Our CERT training story . . .

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

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

An officer demonstrated how to light the flare.

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

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

We got some valuable experience, and some good advice.

After all these years, I recall these safety pointers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe out there,

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

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

Holiday Gift Cards – Scams Waiting to Happen!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some popular gift card scams to watch for:  

  • Urgent threat!”

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

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

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

  • Shifty Cashier.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

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

Caregiving for Seniors

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

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

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

Another story, overheard from another conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What exactly does in-home care include?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What sort of contract can I expect?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where can I get help paying the bill?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

Best Survival Flashlights


Essential for Each Emergency Kit

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

Some of the best flashlights in our collection

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Other features you may look for include . . .

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

Our recommendations

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

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

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

Click on the images to get current prices at Amazon.

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

GearLight LED Flashlight for everyday use

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

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

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

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

Option for heavy-duty security flashlight

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

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

Flashlights are essential emergency gear!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Two-way radios: Walkie-talkie or CB?

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

Let’s get clear about radios for emergency use.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty much, it’s size and weight!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which two-way radio is best for emergency use?

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

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

Basic CB Radio from Uniden

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

Basic antenna for CB radio

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

On oxygen and the power goes out!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“What kinds of devices deliver oxygen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should I buy or rent my oxygen device?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, consider the following.

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

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

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

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

“That’s a lot of activism!”

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

E-bike batteries – what you need to know

Ready for new adventures?

Yesterday I put the finishing touches on a long Advisory about e-bike batteries. Joe took a look and pronounced it too long and too “educational.” I accepted these comments with hardly a grimace because by the time I had put the work in, I felt the same way!

So today, the new, shorter and I hope punchier version. With one simple message:

An e-bike is a significant piece of machinery with lots of promise – as long as you take care of it! At the top of the care list: the lithium-ion battery.

(Note: This post is meant to serve as a supplement to any materials provided by the e-bike manufacturer. It does not replace manufacturer recommendations!)

Short background from 2005. I was an early adopter of e-bikes. My first bike featured a heavy and off-balance acid-lead battery, but how I loved riding it! My only problem: wrestling the bike up onto the porch!

Jump to 2022. E-bikes are clearly the rage – “… the largest growing transportation sector in America. (ABC, August 26, 2022. At the same time, if you dig a bit deeper (as I did), you’ll discover some disquieting news. Lithium-ion e-bike batteries can catch on fire and even explode!

My initial question was: Are these batteries really dangerous?  

My research shows that it’s not fair to think all e-bike batteries are just waiting to explode. In fact, many of the fires (and there have been hundreds) have actually been associated with lithium-ion batteries in scooters, hover-boards, etc. and NOT bicycles.

Unlike these smaller device manufacturers, the bicycle industry has been busy setting safety standards for its batteries and charging procedures. Those are what this post is all about!

Every e-bike rider needs to know these basics. They should be in the manual. Read everything and follow the directions!

What should you be looking for? For sure, your e-bike manual should have plenty of clearly spelled-out details regarding battery use and maintenance:

  • The initial charge, when and how often to recharge, where to charge, how to store the battery, etc. Always use the original charging cord.
  • Regular checks for punctures, swelling, weird smells or sounds. If you find any damage, stop riding and get that battery checked out.
  • Recycle your dead battery through your manufacturer’s program or at a hazardous waste collection center. Do NOT throw it into the trash!

If the bikes you are looking at don’t seem to provide all these details, do more research yourself online. Remember, battery size and design vary – they are meant to fit the way you want to use your bike. But whatever style bike you’re looking for, experts recommend you only consider an e-bike whose battery has been certified to UL (Underwriter Research Labs) standards. That battery will probably be a name brand – and not the cheapest.

(The battery is probably the most expensive component of the e-bike. This comment from e-bike industry consultant Mike Fritz makes the relationship between cost and quality pretty clear: “ . . .a quality battery pack sells (edit added: to the manufacturer) for about $300, so it’s unlikely that a complete bike that includes such a battery could retail for $800.”

The one piece of info that you probably will NOT find in the manufacturer’s materials – what to do if your battery actually does catch fire.

Yes, it’s rare. But we’re into preparedness, right? A lithium-ion fire is extremely dangerous. You probably can’t put it out yourself. Evacuate the area and call 911. Above all, do not put water on a lithium-ion fire! Professionals know how to smother the fire or let it burn itself out.

OK, that’s it for today. I hope you’ll get the right e-bike and enjoy its benefits: efficient commuting, improved air quality, great exercise. And so much fun! Just treat it with the respect it deserves!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I’m not an expert on e-bikes or their batteries. This information came from a variety of sources “deemed to be reliable.” As you consider your own purchase, please don‘t treat it casually. Do your own homework and ask your own questions.

Top 10 List of Emergency Preparedness Items


Back to the Basics – Updated 11-2022

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

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

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

New items for 2022 have pictures and prices shown below.

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

You don’t have to do it all at once!

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

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

〈〉  1 – Water

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

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

〈〉  2 – Food

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

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

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

〈〉  3 – Warmth

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

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

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

〈〉 4 – Light

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

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

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

〈〉 5 – Communications

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

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

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

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

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

〈〉 6 – First Aid

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

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

〈〉 7 – Matches/fire

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

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

Magnesium fire starter with some extras:

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

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

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

〈〉 8 – Shelter

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

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

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

Paracord Planet 100′ 550lb Type III Neon Orange Paracord

〈〉 9 – Personal items

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

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

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

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

〈〉 10 – Something to carry it all in

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

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

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

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

The main thing is that . . .

Each person must carry his or her own survival kit.

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

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

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So these questions should immediately come to your mind:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

School Preparedness Questions for Parents – 2022


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

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

These school preparedness questions are updated for 2022.

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

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

Get answers to these preparedness questions from your school

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

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

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

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

General school emergency policies.

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

Emergency drills.

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

Emergency supplies and equipment.

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

Security features.

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

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

Getting back to business as usual after an incident.

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

Next steps for parents

List of emergency preparedness questions for parents

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Overwhelmed by the news? Or just stressed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of my friends have!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

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

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

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?