Tag: Hurricane

3 Emergency Preparedness Checklists for Summer

emergency alert notices from utility companies
Both these notices arrived in the same week!

Have you noticed? I love checklists! Researching and discussing an issue can be exciting and fun. But LEARNING about threats is one thing, and TAKING ACTION to prepare for them is quite another.  I found that building these 3 emergency preparedness checklists accomplished 2 things. First, they forced me to identify exactly what needs to be done, and second, I get the satisfaction of checking it off when I have done it!

3 Emergency Preparedness Checklists for Summer, 2021

Both the notices you see in the photo above arrived at our place in the same week!  One is from our phone company and the other from our power company. (I have hidden the names to protect the innocent . . . ha ha!) If we are getting notices like this, you may be too. At any rate, you need to plan for them in the future. After all, summer brings all kinds of potential emergencies – some planned, many unplanned.

Here are three potential threats with some steps you can take to lessen the impact if they become reality.

Checklist #1. Protect against hurricane.

Atlantic Hurricane Season starts June 1. If there’s any chance you will be in the path of a hurricane, consider taking steps NOW while you have the time and supplies are available.

Keep up with weather info!

If you think you might evacuate . . .

  • Select several logical evacuation destinations.
  • Study a map to know how to reach those destinations. Can you identify more than one road to get there?
  • List what needs to go into your evacuation kit, and start packing it up now.
  • Create a separate list for last minute actions to take or items to grab as you head out the door.
  • No car? Call social services or police to find out what happens with public transportation in an emergency.

Prepare your home to survive the storm!

(Some of the following suggestions come from this useful website. https://disastersafety.org/hurricane/get-your-home-ready-for-hurricane-season/ )

  • Review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Will wind damage be covered? What about rain? What about storm surge?  You may be surprised at what is NOT covered.
  • Check your roof. Repair loose shingles. Seal around skylights, chimney and roof valleys.
  • Screw down soffits and seal.
  • Buy hurricane-rated shutters ahead of time.
  • Clean up outside by trimming trees, cleaning out gutters, strengthening fences, bringing loose furniture, toys and/or equipment inside.
  • Replace or reinforce the garage door. “weakest part of your house.”

Checklist #2. Prepare for water shortages.

Water shortages threaten much of the west. Shortages have already been declared in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and Texas!

Why the shortages? Not enough rain. No snow pack. Household waste. You can’t impact the rain or the snow, but if you use the 100 gallons per person per day of the average American, there’s a lot you can do at home to save water every day!

Upgrade and fix appliances.

  • Do you have an old toilet? Those from before 1982 use 5 to 7 gallons per flush. Replace with an efficient model that uses only 1.6 gallons per flush.
  • A toilet that is “running” can waste as much as 300 gallons an hour! Buy the right “flush valve kit” kit for less than $20 and fix it! (Joe and I fixed one of ours last summer.)
  • What about showerheads? Same problem with older models. Replace with 1-2 gallon-per-minute low-flow models.

Train family members!

  • A 10 min. shower, even with an efficient shower head, uses at least 15 gallons. Buy a stylish shower timer.
  • Turn off the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth or washing your face.
  • Waiting for warm water? Don’t let the cold just run down the drain.  Capture in a bucket or pan and water the plants.

Be smart about watering plants.

  • Water only as much as your plants need. Let the rain do its share!
  • Water at the right time of day.
  • Point your sprinklers so water doesn’t land on sidewalks or driveways.
  • Use timers for watering. (So easy to forget that the water is on!)
  • Collect rainwater if possible.

Checklist #3. Power demand is highest during hot weather – so prepare for outages this summer.

Our power company has already warned us to expect Public Safety Power Outages (deliberate outages executed to protect power equipment and to keep it from starting fires).

The utility recommends:

Emergency Plan Guide adds more recommendations:

  • Keep your cellphone charged. Invest in a power bank for extra security.
  • If you know an outage is coming, disconnect computers and other sensitive devices to prevent a surge when power comes back on.
  • Buy and position emergency lighting: flashlights, lanterns.
  • Store up supplies of food that don’t need cooking.
  • Store extra water in case of long-term electrical outage. (Water systems need electricity to pump.) Mark supplies with the date, store them in cool dark location, and replace after 6 months.
    • Buy and store sturdy unopened bottles of water. (Not the cheap plastic kind!) Don’t store plastic directly on cement.
    • Wash and dry empty clear plastic juice bottles and their lids (also glass, porcelain, and stainless steel). Rinse with diluted bleach for extra security before you fill with water from the tap, seal and label. Do not re-use milk containers!
    • Fill clean BPA-free plastic containers (plastic with recycle code 2, 4 or 5) with water, store in freezer. (Leave room in container for water to expand.) Saves energy!
  • Be prepared to manage your refrigerated food.
    • Keep refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. Tape doors shut as reminder!
    • Invest in a cooler or insulated container where, when it’s filled with ice, you can store drinks, milk and butter without having to get into the refrigerator.

I am confident you KNOW most of the things on these 3 emergency preparedness checklists. What’s important is that you actually DO what fits and get it done before the summer hits. Print the lists out, post them where you’ll see them, and . . .

Check box for emergency lists

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Evacuation Realities This Week

Sigh showing evacuation route ahead of hurricane

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not considering evacuation. You are probably not one of the hundreds of thousands of people who, right now, are displaced, wondering when they can head back home, trying to figure out if home still exists!

It’s been an astonishing couple of weeks. Evacuation orders impacted tens of thousands in the Bay Area of California and over 1.5 million people in Louisiana and Texas!

The current evacuation situation is calming, but . . .

As of today (September 1, 2020), all hurricane evacuation orders have apparently been lifted. A few new orders are still coming out in California for specific wildfire hot spots.

For many, the nightmare of cleaning up has already begun – in the worst cases, with no safe water and no electricity. (Read on for some more details.)

When will it be your turn to evacuate?

My “job” here at Emergency Plan Guide is to help make people aware of potential disasters. Maybe you’ve never had to evacuate before. But that good fortune may be running out. Not because you “deserve” to have anything bad happen, but because the number and the intensity of disasters is increasing. Take a look.

Bigger and fiercer wildfires still threaten the West.

For example, in California, where wildfires are of course expected this time of year, we have never seen so many at one time!!  Two weeks ago there were 560 wildfires burning simultaneously! The fires grew so quickly and so big that they outgrew their original names and came to simply be called “complex” fires! 

We watched real-time maps that showed the creeping growth of the CZU Lightning Complex, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the LNU Lightning Complex, in the North Bay near San Francisco, and the SCU Lightning Complex in the South and East Bay.

And did you notice the word “Lightning” in each of these names? The record-breaking heat I wrote about last week was accompanied by thousands of lightning strikes. These strikes sparked the smaller fires that joined to make up the complex fires.

Even today, while temperatures are somewhat cooler, more thunderstorms and lightning strikes are expected over the next few days. (And they don’t bring any rain with themselves.)

I have lived in CA for most of my adult life – and Lightning Complex fires are new to me! The way experts are talking, it looks as though this is just the beginning . . .

The peak for hurricane season has yet to arrive.

Thousands of miles away, along the Gulf Coast, it was a one-two punch as Louisiana’s first Category 4 storm made landfall. Tropical storm Marco was right behind. This year’s hurricane season had been forecast to be “extremely active.” and the forecast is proving accurate. This is the first hurricane season on record in which 9 tropical storms formed before August and 13 formed before September. And the historical peak of the season doesn’t come for another couple of weeks!

As I’m writing this, the National Hurricane Center warns that 3 more storms are forming in the Atlantic.

If an evacuation were called right now, would you be ready?

This year we added another book to our Q&A Mini-Series. It carries the title “Evacuate!”  (With exclamation mark.) The intro to this mini-book asks four simple questions that I think are worth reviewing right now.

  1. Are you confident you would HEAR the call to evacuate?
  2. Do you think you would BELIEVE whoever made the call?
  3. Are you sure you would UNDERSTAND what you are being asked to do?
  4. Are you PREPARED for what you would need to have and do?

Now like the other booklets in the Mini-series, this book goes on to discuss about a dozen preparedness issues associated with evacuations. Along the way, it helps you answer these four questions.

Do you need a quick review of your readiness to evacuate? Grab a copy of the booklet and take the time to read the questions, consider the answers and fill in the blanks about your own situation. Here’s the direct link to Amazon.

But wait, there’s more . . .

But because I wrote this before the continuing spread of COVID-19, here are some more evacuation issues that have come up. You’ll want to build them into your own evacuation planning.

COVID-19 has made recent evacuations more difficult and longer-lasting.

In California, the high heat, hundreds of fires and the number of fire fighters incapacitated because of COVID-19 (including the thousands of inmates that usually support fire-fighting efforts) means that resources have been stretched much thinner than usual. Even though National Guard troops have been activated, and crews, aircraft and bulldozers have been arriving from other states, the big complex fires are still less than 50% contained. Evacuees are facing more days of waiting to try to get back home.

Social distancing and quarantine requirements for ill patients have further complicated matters.

Sign for Evacuation Assembly Point marked FULL

In Louisiana, one emergency planner trying to move people out of the way said that 2/3 of their bus capacity was lost because buses could be only filled up part way. It was the same story with community shelters. People were sent to hotels to maintain distancing.

In Texas, the Circuit of the Americas race track was being used as an intake center where evacuees could get a voucher for a local Austin hotel. But thousands showed up, where only hundreds were expected. Available hotel rooms were full by Wednesday, the day before the storm hit. In some cases, even where rooms were available, they couldn’t be used because staff had been furloughed or was sick because of the pandemic.

And more people could not afford to evacuate at all because they’ve been unemployed for weeks. They had to depend on public shelters or simply ride it out.

Recovery is now underway – but it’s going to be tough.

For hundreds of thousands of people, even if they can get back home to begin clearing debris and/or rebuilding, they’ll have to work and live without electrical power or water.

These difficult conditions add to the disaster. In Louisiana, half the 16 casualties of Hurricane Laura have come from carbon monoxide poisoning as people used generators to offset loss of utility electricity.

Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles, Louisiana posted on Facebook: “There is barely a trickle of water coming out of most faucets in the homes of Lake Charles.” No estimated time of restoration for utilities was mentioned. “Make sure you understand the above reality and are prepared to live in it for many days, possibly weeks,” Hunter wrote.

Is it time to double down on your own preparations?

A doubling up of disaster – COVID-19 plus storm, or earthquake, or heat wave – will stretch everyone’s capacity. Now would be a good time to review your own preparations with regards to your emergency supplies (both home and Go-Bags) and your readiness to evacuate.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Really, our Mini-Series booklets were designed just for this review purpose. Check them out.

What’s coming next?

What weather events are coming next? How should we be preparing?
Are you thinking about what tomorrow will bring?

Look up! Clear your head of coronavirus news for just a minute. Notice the sky, and the light. Feel the breeze. It’s spring! What’s coming next?

As someone always conscious of preparing for the future, I have recently been reminded by friends and experts that some unusual events are just around the corner. And we need to be ready!

What am I referring to? Why, dramatic weather!

  • Do you live in “Tornado Alley?” Tornado season has started – with April, May and June being the peak months.
  • The wildfire season is just around the corner, too. Traditionally most dangerous in the fall, the fire season in California has lengthened by 75 days. Fire departments are urging people to take the time now to “fire harden” their homes.
  • The official hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico runs from June 1 to November 30. Experts have already named 16 tropical storms – and 8 of them are expected to reach hurricane status.
  • In the Northeast, mosquito season will be starting before April is out, and will last until the first frost in the fall, typically in October.
  • And while it’s not exactly related to the weather, everyone in the Pacific Northwest needs to keep one eye out for earthquake activity in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It stretches from Vancouver Island to Northern California and has a lot more pent-up power than the famous San Andreas fault.

Oh, my!

Virginia, why are you giving us more to worry about?!

I’m not meaning to add to your worry. I want to add value — because I have the feeling that you may be one of those people not ready to bury their heads in the sand. For people like you, these weather-related events are another aspect of ordinary life and while they are challenging, they are welcome in their very ordinariness.

And you can take advantage of their coming!

Smart preparations you can make for what’s coming next will hold you in good stead for nearly all that’s coming! So now is maybe a good time to review some of the basics of your emergency plan. For example:

  • Do you have food supplies over and above what you need right now? Yes, it’s tough to shop when you are “sheltering in place,” but I’ll bet you have a much better idea now of what’s really essential!
  • Can you take some time now check out your home? Do you need to clear out weeds or dead plants? Secure a porch or patio to withstand the wind? Finally, you’ve got time!
  • With the family at home, now would be a good time to practice some safety drills – like where to reassemble after an emergency, or what to do if there’s a fire. Turn these into family learning experiences!

It’s scary and depressing being overly focused on the bad news from the coronavirus.

Taking positive action can make you feel a whole lot healthier.

And in the case of emergency preparedness, taking action will give you a measure of peace of mind.

That’s what I’m striving for, anyway!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

April – A month of Action

Covered for a natural disaster, or not?


Covered for natural disaster

Time for an insurance review.

I’m putting together my to-do list for the holiday vacation. After all this year’s natural disasters, first on the list is an insurance review. I started the review, and more and more questions kept coming up! Naturally, this led to an Advisory!

Ask your insurance agent these 7 questions to see how well YOU are covered for a natural disaster.

“How many of your clients are under-insured? Am I one?”

This is a tricky question, of course! Maybe you could soften it starting with this quote from Nationwide:
“I understand that 60% of American homes are under-insured by an average of at least 20%. I want to be sure I’m not one of them!”

“I’m worried about all the recent (fill in the blank: wildfires, storms, tornadoes). Am I covered for a natural disaster? What if my house is totally destroyed?”

This is the main question you want answers to. Start with these sub-questions . . .

  • What is the amount of my home coverage?
  • Is that based on the value of the house, or replacement cost? (Be careful. “Value” of a home could include the value of the land, in which case your coverage might not be enough to replace the house.)
  • Exactly how is replacement cost figured in my policy? (It turns out that there is “replacement cost” and then there’s “extended replacement cost.” Make sure your agent can explain which you have, and the difference between them.)

“If I have to live somewhere else while the house is being rebuilt, will my policy cover additional living expenses?”

How much and for how long? Any restrictions on where I stay? How do I get the money in my hand?

“Will my policy cover (fill in the blank: floods or storm surge from a hurricane, earthquake, land slide following rain, volcanoes)?”

You will probably NOT BE COVERED for a natural disaster from the list above!

I love this paragraph from esurance

Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover landslides or mudslides. That’s because both are considered a form of “earth movement”, and like an earthquake or sinkhole, they’re generally excluded from a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood policies often don’t cover damage from landslides or mudslides, either. And earthquake policies only offer reimbursement if an earthquake caused the events.

Quiz your agent closely on coverage for natural disasters. Be sure you know just where “water damage” (covered) leaves off and “flood water damage” (not covered) starts, where “rain damage” (covered) ends and “mud damage” (not covered) starts – on YOUR policy!

Perhaps you need separate policies to be sure you are covered for natural disasters?  We have addressed some of these special threats, including insurance policy info, in earlier Advisories about Volcanoes, Earthquakes , and Floods.

“What else don’t I know about? What about . . .”

  • Mold
  • Sewage backups
  • Debris removal after a disaster
  • Lightning
  • Hail
  • ????

Get your agent to mention some of the frequent problems he or she has encountered here in your neighborhood. Some of these may be covered by your policy, others not. You may want to add an endorsement to your policy to cover a specific risk.

“This is adding up. What can I do to reduce premiums?”

The first thing to discuss are your deductibles, particularly if there has been a change – from dollar amounts to percentages, for example. A 5% deductible may sound better than a $15,000 deductible, but not if your house is worth $400,000!

Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. You want the highest deductible you can afford.

And you may want to check with your agent to see if you can make changes or improvements to your home that will improve your coverage for natural disasters while lowering the insurance company’s risk. These might include replacing the roof, upgrading the electric system, clearing brush around the house, retrofitting for earthquake, or installing storm shutters. Ask for a list of all the home discounts you’re eligible for, not just those associated with natural disasters!

Now, I don’t review my insurance every year – but this year I’m going to with the help of these questions. I hope you use them, too!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  If you discover that you seem to be well covered for natural disasters (Hooray!), you still might want to pose this last question:

“Is the bill for my current homeowner’s policy going up?”

If the answer is YES, and it’s more than 5% or so, ask why. You might hear these reasons:

  • Recent disasters have made prices rise for all insurance companies.
  • Risks have gone up in your neighborhood.
  • Your personal risk profile has changed. (Confirm what’s changed – is it your credit score? That could have an impact in some states.)

P.P.S. Consumers Reports says that people who shop for better deals on property insurance can save hundreds of dollars a year. You can get quotes for free through insure.com or InsWeb.com. (as recommended  by This Old House)

And finally, a disclaimer. I am not a licensed insurance agent, hence all the links in this Advisory to what I trust are reputable sources. Be sure to get advice on insurance from professionals.

More hurricanes, and Harvey isn’t even over yet


Flooding from rain

New hurricane season started June 1.

Recent headlines announce the start of a new hurricane season, with between 10 and 16 named hurricanes to look forward to. There’s apparently a new threat, too – “superstorms” that fall outside the regular categories!

So, have you moved recently? Or are you planning some travel?

Or maybe right now you are sitting in an area that could be threatened by the winds, storm surge or flooding from a hurricane? (Hurricanes don’t just hit coastal areas. They can create flooding for hundreds of miles inland.)

At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written about hurricanes before, of course. (Remember the “Hurricane Headscratcher” that we put out last year?) But even if you think you’re an “expert,” it can’t hurt to refresh your understanding of some smart things to do to prepare.

Here are two excellent references, new to this Advisory:

  1. For families: . https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes  Note particularly the comments about signing up for local alerts and getting familiar with local evacuation zones and routes.
  2. For business: http://www.agilityrecovery.com/assets/hurprep.pdf This 4-page checklist was written in 2013 so the statistics may not be up to date, but the recommendations are worth considering, particularly those that have to do with shutting your business down before the storm hits.

And to get back to Harvey, where there are still lessons to be learned . . .

Hurricane season reminds me of Harvey, so I went back to see what has happened in Texas since the storm hit there last year. (August-September, 2017)

The following list is about Texas, but it could apply to most every community affected or threatened by a natural disaster. (In fact, there are some striking similarities between what people in Houston experienced and what is going on right now in Hawaii.)

As you read, think about the threats your community could face and how it might fare . .

1- Insurance. Most homes in Harvey’s path didn’t have flood insurance. Since the storm, applications for flood insurance have increased, as you might expect. What you might not have expected is that the vast majority of new policies (quoted as 70% by one agent) are for homes outside the mapped flood hazard area. People are recognizing that planning around the concept of the “100 year flood” isn’t adequate.

2- Name. Harvey was so destructive (51 inches of rain in certain parts of Texas) that its name has been retired from the list of potential names for future storms.

3- Help from the Government. Texas has requested and received millions in aid for rebuilding. At the same time, the state requested “flexibility” in deciding how the funds should be used. This has alarmed advocates for housing and for disadvantaged communities because the list of projects submitted along with the requests was heavily weighted toward large-scale infrastructure.

4- Homeless. The problems haven’t ended for people displaced by the storm. Of course, some homeowners have started rebuilding. But other people whose homes were damaged have been notified they need to elevate the homes before they can move back in. Naturally, many can’t afford what can be considered major renovation. And the FEMA vouchers that were allowing homeowners to stay in hotels have now run out.

5- More homeless. People who were renting when the flood hit have suffered even more. If they had no insurance, they may have lost most of their personal property. Those who hadn’t found new apartments and had been staying in hotels found their vouchers ended even sooner than homeowners.

6- Still more homeless. I don’t even want to mention the FEMA trailers sitting empty months after the storm . . .

More results you may never have even considered.

7- Jails. Flooded courthouses slowed the wheels of justice, causing jails to become overcrowded. According to one jail insider, “The situation is so dire that the county lock-up may soon have to begin turning away arrestees.” (I was unable to find out if that actually happened.)

8- Animals. The water that inundated the area also caused displacement of animals. Alligators from the wild and also from parks floated free and appeared in flooded neighborhoods. Fire ants, driven from their underground homes, clustered into “floating islands” to protect their queens until waters receded and they were able to build new nests in new locations.

9- Disease. Medical professionals continue to monitor the impacts of the air pollution, contaminated water and mold caused by the flooding, mostly from the superfund sites in the region. Researchers predict long-term health and emotional health problems.

Yes, 2017’s hurricane season was “the most costly and disruptive on record” in the U.S. So maybe this year won’t be so bad?!

You can hope.

In the meanwhile, this one storm alone reminds us how Americans have become so dependent on modern conveniences – power, hospitals and medical services, transportation, communications – that when these get interrupted or destroyed, the results can be disastrous.

Time to take another look at how well YOU are prepared for an emergency.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Many of our Advisories are meant to be shared. This is one. In particular, share the links to the two sets of checklists for families and for business. Just one good idea could save both money and anguish — not to mention lives.

Urban Survival Tools


Wilderness survival is still — and always — a hot topic. But according to the most recent census, only 14 percent of Americans live outside a metropolitan area — 86 percent of us look to a metro area for jobs, activities and amenities. So when it comes to disaster preparedness, we need urban survival skills!

storm damage

A safe room anywhere?

As far as I can tell, urban or suburban survival translates directly into being prepared to shelter in place.

Let’s take another look at some of the requirements for being able to effectively shelter in place.

First choice for a great place to shelter — a safe room

Even in an urban setting, you may be able to construct a traditional safe room inside your house. If you are in full construction or upgrade mode, you would build your room to code and include safety and comfort features.  You might even go to the effort to make the room unobtrusive or even invisible, with a hidden door.

If you live in an apartment, though, choices are different. For you, the best idea would probably be to turn an existing room or an interior walk-in closet (big enough for everyone)  into a strengthened room that could better withstand a storm or even an incursion by bad people.

In either case, designing and creating a special room would take money — probably anywhere from $1,000 (VERY low end) to as much as $10,000.Whatever your budget, and whatever the home you’re starting with, here are 5 major areas to focus on.

1. Door and walls: reinforced steel door frame, exterior-style reinforced door that opens INWARD, and heavy-duty deadbolt locks. Get the best you can afford that won’t totally overwhelm the space or stick out like a sore thumb. Whatever you do, be sure to secure hinges with 3-inch screws and use 3 inch screws on the strike plate of your lock, too. Here’s an example of a deadbolt lock highly rated by Consumer Reports. The lock is expensive — over $100 — but as Consumer Reports points out, it’s probably not more than your insurance deductible.

Paint the door and trim to match the rest of the house. You may even want to consider a hidden door; take a look at this model, built by the well-known Murphy bed company:

As for walls, they can be reinforced by pouring concrete into the spaces between the studs, or adding a layer of kevlar or steel sheeting and then covering it with drywall.

2. Windows are difficult to reinforce, so plan a safe room with NO windows.

3. Water and sanitation: It would be great if you had a bathroom built in. If not, store water and get a camping potty, realizing you’ll have to empty it at some point. I’m a big believer in 5-gallon buckets for a variety of uses. Here’s one that serves as a portable toilet. (If you already have a bucket, you can probably get an attachable toilet seat for about $10.)

4. Ventilation: If your room is too tight, you won’t be able to breathe. Figure out appropriate ventilation (not requiring fans — remember, the power will be off).

5. Food and other emergency supplies: Your room is a good place to store your emergency supplies — food, emergency radio, lights, first aid, warm clothing, tools, etc. Don’t forget your prescription medicines.

Interested in more about safe rooms? FEMA has produced some very detailed plans, suitable for a professional builder. (Start your search here.)  And Wikihow’s article about building a safe room, here, is a good overview.

In the aftermath of the storm

Assume the storm is over, you and your family are safe, but your home or building has been partly damaged. What might you need in order to make sure it’s habitable for a while, since you have no place else to go?

1, Basic hand tools and construction supplies

If the power is out, power tools are out, too. You’ll need battery operated tools to start — and you’ll soon be down to hand tools. You probably have some of the following tools at home now, or can get them locally. Just be sure to have them BEFORE the disaster threatens. Your local hardware stores will sell out immediately.

And as you shop, consider quality. Poor quality tools are dangerous and ineffective.

This is a simple starter list. The more skill or experience you have, the more you’ll want to add.

With a good hammer, saw and/or hacksaw, and pry bar you can remove debris. I have used tools like these many times, and as a non-professional I’ve found that the right weight and size is really important. Too heavy, you just can’t wield the tool for very long.  Too light, it won’t do the job. Below, you’ll see some examples along with my comments.

  • Hammer 16 oz one piece flat for ripping. We’ve all used hammers, but the standard home hammer has a rounded head (so it doesn’t damage the wood) and a rounded claw (for pulling out nails). If you build a lot, your home hammer probably has a wooden or a rubberized handle to lessen the vibration. If you’re not really into tools, you may have a short handled hammer or tack hammer that you use to hang pictures. But for emergency use you need something different — something  TOUGH and HEAVY enough to rip apart debris. This one looks great, and isn’t expensive. (Click on the image to get current prices.)

  • These days we don’t use hand saws much, since everybody has a power saw. However, in an emergency your power tools will be useless. You’ll need a traditional, all purpose saw. This Stanley version is only 18 inches long, not as long as a carpenter’s serious wood-cutting saw, but I think it would be just right for in-close work.


  • Use leverage instead of your own muscle power!  Again, the right length and weight of a prybar is important. We have several prybars in our shed, from 12 in. long up to 30 in. (and one giant one for rescue). I find that a 24 inch bar is carryable, packable, and still long enough so you can apply the pressure you need.
  • You will definitely want a tarp and tape to keep out the weather. This tarp is big enough but not too big, and it’s not too thick, either. (The heaviest quality might work fine for a semi-permanent install, but in our experience is just too difficult to work with in a temporary emergency situation.) As for duct tape, I just assume you already have some!  (Again, click on the image below to see full details and price for this tarp, and to compare to others.)

Store these materials where you’ll be able to get to them when the storm is over.

2. Specialty tools for dealing with debris

Work gloves – get the right size!  These gloves, for example, come in six different sizes; they have a wrist adjustment, leather palms for a good grip, etc. Actually, Joe and I  have two pairs of gloves each in our Survival Kits, to start with.

3. Dealing with metal

Not everything can be disassembled by force. In an urban setting you may need to open metal cabinets, remove fallen ceiling ductwork, get into utility closets, etc.. To do this, you’ll need to unscrew, unlock or cut wire or metal. (A pair of safety goggles is a good idea, here.)

A very good multi-tool can be easily stored and can serve a number of these construction purposes. (Avoid a multi-tool with hammer. It won’t be heavy enough to do the debris management we’re talking about.)

Some of the very best Swiss army type tools have the usual blades and saws, including metal saws, and also include different size screw drivers plus a ratchet with multiple bits.  There are different models, and prices vary from around $120 to over $200, so it’s a good idea to shop.

Start your shopping by looking at the Victorinox Spirit Plus model, shown below. This is one of the very few products on Amazon that gets awarded five full stars by users. I’d look carefully at this one. It’s pretty pricey (around $150 as I write this), but superior in every way. Click on the image to get current pricing.

As a comparison, the Leatherman Wingman Multi-tool is one we recommend for carrying in your 3-day survival kit.

It has basic blades and screwdriver, and costs $35 – $40. (Click image to get exact pricing at Amazon.) Both the Leatherman and the Victorinox weigh about the same amount – 5-7 oz. – so that’s not a deciding factor.

As always, pick tools appropriate for the person using them.

Good tools leverage the strength of the user, but only when they are properly used. Be sure children know how to use any tools before including them in a child’s survival kit or handing them over for a child to do a job. (As I am sure you  have found, some kids are really very capable — but they need training!)

OK, that’s it for now. In an upcoming Advisory we’ll be talking about staying warm in an urban setting. Stay tuned. . . and in the meanwhile, get those multi-tools!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Evacuation Fundamentals


“What do we do?”  “Where do we go?”

Evacuation MeetingAfter the wildfires last fall, we kept hearing these two questions from a number of our California neighbors.

The questions seem simple, but people were not satisfied with what they were hearing.

So, we invited the local fire department to address the topic at a special community meeting. Nearly 100 people showed up that evening to get answers to the questions we had sent in advance.

Here are some of the questions we sent, and some of the answers we got. I recommend you consider finding out what YOUR local First Responders would say if asked.

“How will we know if we are supposed to evacuate?”

An evacuation order can come from the governor, the mayor, or the fire department. In every case, once the decision is made, the order will be announced via television, radio, various social media (Facebook and Twitter), the app iAlert, reverse 911 services – and even loudspeakers on cars or trucks.

Your job is to be aware of the POSSIBILITY of an order, and be ready to act when it comes.  That means, at the very least, having your Evacuation Kit packed and your car full of gas. Having a battery-operated emergency AM radio will keep you up to date if power goes out.

“Where are we supposed to go?”

When an order is given, it is typically accompanied by a list of shelters that will be available. The addresses of the shelters will be given, and new shelters will be added as the incident evolves. (In our community, all high schools and community centers are prepared to serve as shelters.)

You can download the FREE Red Cross Shelter App for your Smart Phone and get a list of all open shelters in your area. (Look for Emergency App at the Red Cross site.)

Shelters are set up by the Red Cross and staffed by Red Cross and other volunteers, including CERT volunteers. Note that service animals are allowed in the shelters, but pets are NOT ALLOWED. You need to make arrangements for your pet beforehand!

“When is the best time to leave?”

Our speaker from the Fire Department emphasized that you do NOT need to wait for the order. You can leave any time you want – and sooner may be better than later. He told us that when the fire department arrived in one community where the order had just been given, everyone was already gone!

Of course, you don’t need to go to a shelter. You can stay with friends or relatives, stay in a hotel, etc. (If you have a pet, you may want to put together a list of pet-friendly hotels long before you might need one.)

Note: Once an order is given, and you have left your home, you will NOT BE ABLE TO RETURN until the official all-clear is given. Police need to be able to secure the neighborhood so fire fighters and other emergency personnel can move freely and safely.

“What about traffic?”

Cities usually plan for evacuation in phases, with specific traffic patterns laid out in advance. Streets can be converted to all-one-way. Unfortunately, in widespread evacuations as we saw in Florida last year, even freeways can become parking lots as everyone heads out in the same direction. (I don’t know why those Florida freeways weren’t converted to all-one-way!)

We saw during the Northern California fires, and later during the mudslides in Santa Barbara County that evacuation orders were delayed precisely because officials feared panic and traffic jams – and those officials have come under severe criticism. This is a tricky problem.

But it’s another reason for you to evacuate early if you can.

“How long can we stay in a shelter?”

Per the Red Cross, shelters stay open “as long as there is a need.” At the same time, while the shelter provides basic food and a place to sleep, the Red Cross recommends you bring your own supplies to make your stay more comfortable. On their suggested list:

  • Prescription and emergency medication · medical equipment such as a wheelchair/walker, oxygen, etc.
  • Extra clothing · pillows · blankets and sleeping bags
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Small board games · books for entertainment
  • Specialty snacks and juices for those with dietary restrictions
  • Baby food and formula · diapers
  • Beach chair or camp chair

You may NOT bring illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages or guns.

“What about people who can’t evacuate without help?”

Our Fire Department and the head of the Office of Emergency Management assured us that they know our community well enough to know where extra help would be needed – at hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Our speakers also agreed that having a current list of neighbors who would need extra help would be invaluable.

Unfortunately, putting together such a list is a challenge. In our senior community, our emergency response team attempts to collect information about neighbors. But some people are unwilling to provide the personal medical or financial information that would direct special assistance to them in an emergency. So, our list is always incomplete. Have you had success building a list?

“How should we prepare our homes before we leave?”

Fire. Here in California, where the danger is likely to be from fire, we are told by CalFire to take the following steps to protect our homes:

  • Build using fire-resistant materials.
  • Clear out underbrush and overhanging branches from around the home. (Create a “defensible space.”)
  • Block vents and under-eave spaces where embers can catch and smolder.
  • Remove curtains and move flammable furniture away from windows.
  • Remove flammable lawn furniture and other outdoors hazards.
  • Shut windows and doors and leave them unlocked.
  • Leave the lights on (to direct fire fighters if it’s smoky).
  • Do NOT leave water or sprinklers running (will lessen water pressure for professional fire fighters).

Flooding. In areas where flooding is the risk, suggestions include:

  • Make serious changes to the way your home is built: make sure electrical panels, appliances and heating systems are elevated, not in the basement.
  • Waterproof your basement.
  • Raise the whole house (stilts?).
  • Clean out gutters, downspouts and drains.
  • Move items you want to protect to a higher floor or to a safer place altogether.
  • Before you leave, turn off gas, water, and electricity if you know how and can do it without touching water or standing in it!
  • Put sandbags around your property.

Hurricane a risk? Again, some basic precautions before you leave:

  • Close storm shutters or board up windows with 5/8” plywood, cut to fit.
  • Install addition clips or straps to fasten roof to the frame.
  • Clean out rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Determine how and where to secure your boat.
  • Unplug radios, TVs, and small appliances (not refrigerator or freezer).
  • If you live in a mobile home or a high-rise apartment, evacuate for sure. These structures are more vulnerable to both wind and flooding.

Now, consider these last three steps everyone can take.

Start To Work Now On These Longer-Term Protections

Check Your Insurance.

By now, you should know if you are in a burn corridor, a flood plain, an inundation footprint (from a dam collapse) or in a coastal area where your home could be impacted by a hurricane or tsunami. The right insurance policy could help protect you in the aftermath of one of these disasters. It’s likely that your regular homeowner’s policy will not be sufficient. Check with your insurance carrier and do preliminary research yourself, online.

You can start here with our Advisory: Flood Insurance

Get Involved In Your Community.

With so many disasters happening lately, many people are taking political action to strengthen their communities.

First, they are forcing community leaders to reconsider zoning and building codes and their enforcement. (Think about the massive landslide in Washington State where homes were build below a hill that had been identified as unstable. Think about the new homes built flat on the flood plain in Houston.) People are demanding better emergency alerts and automated communications.

Second, they are building community emergency response groups, so knowledge and assets can be shared in case of a disaster. (You saw Joe and me at the table in the picture at the top of the article. Later — the inset — I jumped in to wave the information about upcoming CERT classes in our city!)

Neighbors are the true first responders — they are already there when the disaster hits. You want the most qualified neighbors possible!

Pack Your Evacuation Kits.

This entire article assumes you have a kit ready for each member of the family in case an evacuation is called. Our Fire Department speaker mentioned just three things: Food, Water and Medicines. For a more complete list, check out our complete list of Emergency Supplies — scroll down to the Evacuation Kit section.

This turns out to be quite a list. I hope it’s useful as a review or to stimulate some remedial action on your part.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. This isn’t the entire list of questions we came up with for our guest speakers. If you are thinking of approaching YOUR fire department and police department, drop me a line and request “the full list of evacuation questions” and I’ll send it to you directly. Naturally, you’ll want to customize your list. But we have found over the years that by providing speakers with questions we get a much better presentation than if we just invite them to “come give us a talk about safety!”

Hurricane Headscratchers – A Quiz for Preppers


Hurricane forming

Over the years, we preppers gather a lot of info about the various threats we face. We prepare our car, pets, and pantry for “the first 72 hours,” for long-term shelter-in-place, and for bugging out.

We assemble and test survival gear, food and first aid items – including snake bite kits, liquid skin and anti-radiation pills.

We do a lot of preparing!

And then along comes a hurricane, and we realize we DON’T know everything, after all!

Hurricane season starts this month. Here are a dozen questions about hurricanes pulled from a variety of “reliable sources.” Test yourself and see how well YOU do!

Let’s start our quiz with the easiest questions.

1-The circular, clear space at the center of the hurricane is called the ___? (Just beginning to form in the image above, from NASA.)

2-At the center of a hurricane, does air rise or fall to create the eye?

3-The cloudy outer edge of the eye is called the ______.

4-T or F —  Winds are highest at the eyewall.

5-Precipitation from a hurricane is greatest

  • At the eyewall
  • At the outer edges of the hurricane
  • When the eyewall hits land

6-T or F Once the eyewall starts to weaken, the storm is dying.

7-Match the storm name with the likely location:

  • Hurricane
  • Typhoon
  • Cyclone
  • ——————
  • NE Pacific Ocean
  • South Pacific and Indian Ocean
  • NW Pacific Ocean

8-All these storms are considered “tropical cyclones.” Tropical because they are formed ______ and cyclones because they _________,

9-In the northern hemisphere, the winds of a cyclone blow in which direction?

10-In the southern hemisphere, in which direction do they blow?

11-For us preppers, the greatest threat from a hurricane comes from:

  • Wind
  • Tornado
  • Storm surge
  • Flash flooding

12-The word “hurricane” comes originally from the _____ language.

How well did you do?  Sure you got everything right? Read on if you aren’t sure about some of your answers!

And the answer is . . .

1-The eye of a hurricane (that we’ve all flown through in movies) can be anywhere from 2 miles in diameter to over 200 miles! It is typically clear and calm – although the water below may be violent.

2-In a mature tropical cyclone, sinking air is what creates the eye.

3-The outer edge of the eye is called, not surprisingly, the eyewall. It’s not exactly a vertical wall. Rather, it expands outward with height – called the “stadium effect.”

4 and 5- The eyewall is where everything is happening – the greatest wind speeds, heaviest rain, and air rising most rapidly. (In 2015, winds from Hurricane Patricia reached 215 mph! A category 5 hurricane has winds of 157 mph or greater.)

6-In a large storm, there are a series of rain band rings that move slowly inward. The eyewall can weaken, but then can be replaced by the next band, giving the storm a new eyewall and new strength.

7-Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic and northeastern Pacific. A Typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific. And a Cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.

8-Tropical storms are “born” in “the tropics,” over warm bodies of water. Their “cyclonic” or rotating winds are a function of the earth’s rotation.

9-Cyclonic winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

10-They blow clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

11-The greatest threat to life comes from the storm surge – water that is pushed ashore by the storm’s winds. Storm surges can reach 25 feet and be hundreds of miles wide. In November 1970 the storm surge from the “Bhola Cyclone” in Bangladesh was estimated to be 20-30 feet high. Between 300,000-500,000 people in the low-lying regions were killed.

13-The Mayan god of wind “Hurakan” became our word Hurricane. One of the first record of hurricanes is found in Mayan hieroglyphics.

Are you a teacher or leader of any sort, and do you . . .

Want more on hurricanes?

The best short, all-purpose article I found is here:  https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/articles/how-do-hurricanes-form  It has several excellent diagrams showing the parts of the hurricane (eye, eyewall, the rain bands, etc.), how the air sinks and rises, etc. It also lists the different storm categories (rated by wind speed).

If you want the full explanation of the storm categories – the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — check here: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

Enough here for cocktail party or dinner table conversation, eh?

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Hurricane season reaches its height in September. By the time September comes around, if you are in hurricane/cyclone territory, you need to know more than just these tidbits. . .! In particular, be sure you and your group distinguish between hurricane warnings and watches.



Can You Believe This?! Responses to Disaster Warnings


Sometime you just gotta shake your head in disbelief.

After all the years of educating . . .

I attended a great conference this weekend. It was held in Las Vegas. Temperatures outside were about 105 degrees while inside the AC was set to 68 degrees. Impossible to be comfortable anywhere.

After years of trying to educate folks on the value of energy efficiency, all I can say is, this just seems stupid.

Allow me to continue with that theme in the world of emergency preparedness,with some examples of

Disaster Warnings

Warning, High Surf Sign

What does this mean to you?

Hurricane season started this week.

I have never experienced one here in Southern California, but certainly we’ve all seen plenty of hurricanes on the news.

And have you also noticed the number of TV newscasters who seem to feel the need to STAND RIGHT OUT IN THE WIND AND WATER, threatened every moment by debris, while telling viewers to take shelter?

Tornados – some 339 of them already in 2014!

How about the local citizen/amateur filmmaker, “getting great footage” of the approaching funnel cloud, who is dragged down into the shelter at the last possible minute by his screaming children?

California wildfires pushed westward by “Santa Ana” winds.

Newscaster: “Why didn’t you follow the evacuation order from the Fire Department?”
Homeowner: “I can’t pack up all my pets, so I guess I’ll just have to die with them. . .”

(This is a true quote.)

High surf advisory issued through Wednesday.

Oh, goodie. Let’s grab the children and head down to the beach and stand on the rocks and watch the giant waves come in. Even better, let’s get out there on our surfboards . . .

Is my cynicism showing?!

Thank goodness for this blog. It gives me the chance to unload my frustrations on you, my loyal reader. The next post will be more uplifting, I promise!

In the meanwhile, if you see something as ahem, “unwise” as any of the above, please point it out the the people and particularly to the newscasters who model or perpetuate such behavior. What are they thinking?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Please pass this along to friends, and urge them to subscribe to all our Advisories.  Most of ’em are pretty positive!