Emergency preparedness on a shoestring

Images of devastation emerged after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. We watched water sweep away vehicles and houses; we saw stunned men and weeping women in the ruins. But we also heard about survivors whose homes weren't flattened or inundated, people who subsisted on stockpiled food and water while waiting for help. Living on the “Ring of Fire” means temblors and tidal waves are a fact of life — and so is disaster preparedness.

We need to be prepared, too. The Department of Homeland Security's Ready America program says we should be able to sustain ourselves for at least three days after an emergency, whether that's a hundred-year storm or a civil insurrection.
How ready are you?

Right now, before anything bad happens, is the time to build your emergency kit — and you can do it on a budget. In fact, you probably already have some (or a lot) of what you need.

The (Sometimes Icky) Basics

During those three days you need to be fed, hydrated and sheltered. You also need a place to poop.

Yeah, that's gross. You know what else is gross? The idea of everyone in your apartment building or subdivision yelling “Gardyloo!” and flinging slops out the window. Cholera epidemic, anyone?

When I was a kid, predictions of bad weather had us filling bathtub and buckets. That's because if we lost power we lost our well pump, i.e., no way to flush the toilets. That's still the first line of short-term defense; if you have any warning, stash yourself some water.

When that's gone you'll need at least one large container into which everyone can evacuate. Maybe a repurposed five-gallon detergent, paint or pet-litter bucket? If you don't have one:

It's possible to buy a toilet seat that snaps onto a bucket, which makes things easier. Or buy a prefab one (search online for “bucket toilet”) for $20 or less.
Decide now where you'll put your temporary toilet. The garage? The back porch? Maybe even in the actual bathroom? Anywhere but the place where you plan to eat and sleep. Trust me on this.

Ready for an overshare? Here's how I'd handle disposal if the you-know-what hits the fan here in Seattle:

  • Use the bucket (in a former life, it held detergent)
  • Put soiled paper into a garbage bag (and tie it really tightly between uses)
  • Flush the contents of each, little by little, once the emergency has abated

Please do not do your business in the condo-complex yard, no matter how much fun it is to pee outdoors.

Important: You'll want a bottle of hand sanitizer close to the bucket. Really close. E. coli is nothing to fool with.

Food and Drink

Ready America recommends one gallon of water per person per day. It's easy to buy bottled water but much cheaper to fill up two-liter soda bottles, or inexpensive pitchers or jugs. (Don't drink soda? Surely someone you know does.)

Refill the containers every few months; mark it on the calendar so you don't forget. Don't just dump the old water, though. Use it in some way, such as:

  • Watering houseplants or your garden
  • Bathing (add hot water unless you like your tub-time tepid)
  • Cooking
  • Filling pet dishes
  • Doing hand laundry
  • Washing vegetables or fruit

When it comes to emergency rations, you can go as stripped-down or as fancy as you like. But it must be something you'd eat anyway, because you'll need to rotate and replace your stock. If an earthquake happens six years from now, do you want to be eating 2011 ramen?

Some obvious choices:

  • Canned beans, stews, soups, fruits, vegetables, meats and/or fish
  • Protein bars, granola bars, dried fruit
  • Powdered milk and cereal
  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Crackers or pilot bread; I recommend the latter, because it lasts for-freakin'-ever
Note: For more on pilot bread, see this funny video from The Anchorage Daily News. Then watch a second, even funnier video from the same source.

If you'll have a way to heat water, consider a few instant soups or other dehydrated foods such as hummus or bean dip. Flavored noodle cups/bowls do go on sale; check Asian markets for the best selection. Hot drinks are both warming and soothing, so stock up on bouillon cubes, teabags, instant coffee and hot chocolate mix.

Survival Shopping at Bargain Prices

The camping section of your local sporting-goods stores has quite a selection of dehydrated meals. So do online stores that sell survival/disaster preparedness supplies. But I'm focusing on inexpensive ways to prepare.

So watch for sales and use coupons and/or rebates when possible. A few of my better supermarket deals: envelopes of pre-drained tuna for free, granola bars for a penny each, cocoa mix for 5 cents per serving, a large bag of M&Ms for 50 cents, 12 ounces of peanuts for 69 cents.

Olives, marinated veggies, sun-dried tomatoes and other fancy foodstuffs from the dollar store will liven up your basic grub. After two days of PBJs and canned beans, a few pickled vegetable will taste like manna.

The dollar store has cheap bandages and rubbing alcohol, too. So do places like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid; I've obtained baby wipes (aka “shower in a pouch”), hand sanitizer, analgesics, energy bars, crackers and batteries free or nearly free thanks to rebate programs at those stores.

About those batteries: Aim for at least one flashlight per room. Hand-cranked flashlights (and radios) don't need batteries. If you can't afford one right now, put it on your wish list; maybe Great-Aunt Irene will give you that instead of a cheese log next Christmas.

If you must use candles, select votive-type ones and set them inside wide-mouthed jars, placed in areas where no one can accidentally knock them down. Buy the votives for pennies at post-holiday clearance sales. Those sales are also good for cheap paper plates and bowls — not eco-friendly but really useful if you can't do dishes for days.

Layering is essential in cool or cold temperatures. Watch for thermal underwear, wool pants and other useful items on Craigslist/Freecycle or at yard sales. I bought polypropylene longhandles and a down vest at a thrift store. Make sure everyone has a stocking cap, too.

Look around your house to see how much of this stuff you already own. Most of us at least have sweaters or sweatshirts. If you're not in a super-cold area, a comforter might double as a sleeping bag. A hibachi could substitute for a bottled-gas camp stove — but remember you can use these things outdoors only, because carbon monoxide is deadly.

Miscellaneous Tips

You can't truly be ready for a disaster. It's always stressful and often terrifying. However, you can at least be prepared. Here are a few more items to keep in mind:

  • Learn the location of your local/regional emergency shelter, just in case.
  • Keep a cache of cash — smalls bills and coins — on hand. No power means no debit or credit if you do find a store that's open.
  • Put supplies where you can get at them easily, not down in the crawlspace or up in the rafters.
  • Wheeled garbage cans make great storage: Your items will be protected and movable. Label each one so you can find what you need, fast.
  • Water left over after making tea? Don't let it get cold again — pour it into a thermos.
  • You'll want basic first-aid supplies, including an anti-diarrheal medication. Many of these items can also be bought cheaply or free with those drugstore rebates.
  • On maintenance meds? Get in the habit of refilling as soon as you're allowed, i.e., don't wait until you take your last pill to call it in.
  • Choose no-salt canned vegetables. Not only are they healthier, you can use the drained-off liquid to dilute canned soup. Save the syrup from canned fruits, too, to sip for quick energy, settle an upset stomach or sweeten a cup of tea.
  • Don't forget pet food and litter. Factor in extra water for Fido and Fluffy, too.
  • Have some playing cards or small games that everyone can play. I suggest Mad Libs.
  • Make sure you have a manual can opener. You'll feel darned stupid asking to borrow a neighbor's.

How about it, readers: Any ideas for getting ready without breaking the bank?

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Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

I had honestly never thought of temporary toileting. Thank goodness we have plenty of cat litter buckets.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

@Nicole: Make sure the buckets aren’t too tall for your little one! Ze may need some help even so.

LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

These warnings are scary to think about, but in the event we ever find ourselves in these situations, we’ll be glad that we thought about them today.

Thanks for the words of wisdom on these important areas Donna! Always appreciated.

j
j
9 years ago

Nice post! I remember when we had snow blizzard of 96. We were snowed in with no power. We still ate just about everything because we had a stove/fireplace to cook on. We also had a corded phone that could be used without power. Stockpile of wood got us through. Also, I remember the bucket days. My grandmother never had running water. She had about 5 buckets. 2 to collect rain water, 1 for #1, 1 for #2, and a spare.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Funny how emergency preparedness websites never mention human waste… (Pets yes, people not so much!)

Thanks for the wake-up call!

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

Now that they’re here, I’m not sure I like nested comments… 🙁

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Ack! I don’t like them either!

Laura in Cancun
Laura in Cancun
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I like them. Much easier than searching back to see the original comment.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

let’s see how many levels of nesting this thing does. 😛

what i miss is the post number, btw

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Agreed. I miss the numbers, too. The technical elves are already working on it. (I think.)

I really like the notion of nested comments, but I know it can be a pain to know which you’ve read and which you haven’t. I think there’s a way that comment numbers can help. For example, if Nerdo’s comment is labeled as #70 (which it is), then Nicole or Tyler can come back this afternoon and say, “Aha! This one’s new…”

We’ll try to find a workable solution.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

posted this in the wrong place. damn you, nest!! 😀

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Well, what else am I supposed to do while I’m waiting for a regression to run?

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I just realized one of the downsides to the nested comments (unless I’m missing something?) — I often come back to an article a few times throughout the day to read new comments. (What can I say? I love the comments at GRS!) So when I pop over to GRS, I can tell at a glance by looking at the comment box (you know, the one that says how many comments there are on each post) if there are any new comments since the last time I read. (“Nope, it’s still at 85, so no new comments yet” or “Yay!… Read more »

Cassy
Cassy
9 years ago

I usually keep a box of matches in my emergency kit, just in case to light a fire!!!

It’s important to think about human waste disposal in such times otherwise they will be the source for disease and spread.

I havent heard about pilot bread. How long does it last edible? Month?Year?10years??

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Cassy

@Cassy: Pilot bread apparently lasts for years and years. One article I read had people finding it in an abandoned cabin; more than 20 years old and still edible.
In the video the guy hits a piece of pilot bread with a knife — and the knife RINGS.
The crackers are an absolute staple in Bush Alaska. I’ve found them here in Seattle grocery stores, too.

Jaime
Jaime
9 years ago
Reply to  Cassy

So you’ve got your bucket, what do you do with your waste then? Are we saying you need to bury it? Because having a bucket ready for it doesn’t preclude the “Gardyloo!” flinging of slops out the window. You’ll need a lot of buckets with some tight lids if you’re saying that you’ll just stockpile the waste until the utilities are back on. If that’s more than a couple of days, you’ll need to dispose of the waste in your buckets somewhere.

Michelle
Michelle
9 years ago
Reply to  Jaime

Why not keep a supply of bucket size trash bags. Line it before you go & this would allow you to tie off & remove the waste? Put in a new bag & it is ready for next time.

Matt (with The Online Budget)
Matt (with The Online Budget)
9 years ago

Keep a “Leatherman” (multi-pupose folding knive/tools) or a Swiss Army knife in your glovebox or near the flashlights. And backpack-type compact water purification/filtration kits or purification tablets are easier to store than full jugs of water. Camping and army surplus stores are gold mines for survival supplies.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@Matt: A lot of us don’t live near water sources, so water purification kits won’t help us. Frankly I’m not sure I’d trust a water-purification kit to deal with the runoff and other potential toxins in the surface water of major cities (especially those downstream from factories). Additionally, imagine hiking out to find a day’s worth of water for your family in seriously bad weather or in a dangerous situation such as civil insurrection or a terrain hit by repeated aftershocks. (Alternately, imagine being very elderly or disabled, or the single parent of two tiny children. Setting out in search… Read more »

Jan
Jan
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Our property has a creek. Still, we have our water. Who wants to wade into the center of a frozen creek. Our disasters happen yearly with the ice storms.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

On a semi-related note, I’m currently reading Earth Abides, which was recommended by a GRS reader. This book was written in 1949, and it’s about what happens after an unspecified plague wipes out 99.99% of the human population. (Stephen King’s The Stand and similar books owe a huge debt to Earth Abides.) It’s not sensational or anything; it tries to take a realistic look at the problems involved. It’s fascinating. It’s not really the sort of disaster Donna’s talking about (when you’re one of only twenty people left in San Francisco, there’s plenty of places to stash your poop), but… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Yes, Earth Abides is fascinating–and it comes without the nasty racial and political undertones that frequently infect end-of-the-world novels.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’ve read “Earth Abides,” too. I think the author was pretty optimistic to think that gasoline would still be usable as a fuel after 20-plus years…
For an even more gripping day-after account, check out “Lucifer’s Hammer.” The senator’s discussion of the food supply was particularly chilling.

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Thanks for the recommendations, just put both books on my library hold list. 🙂

Luke
Luke
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

My fiancée and I are huge fans of ‘end of the world’ fiction.

I found Earth Abides to be a somewhat tedious read – far too ponderous and caught up in its own symbolism.

Far more involving reads in the same vein include ‘The Death of Grass’ and ‘The Day of the Triffids’. Both are fairly Brit-centric, but their appeal is universal.

That said, not much luck in avoiding outdated racial stereotypes in most of these books!

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Best article I have read on this subject because it addresses everything (everything!)and talks about the one thing I have been wondering about – where do you store your emergency kit. Thanks, Donna.

CincyCat
CincyCat
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Catherine,

I was wondering the exact same thing. Doing quick visual/spacial calculations, you’d need either a large wheeled plastic garbage can (as she suggests), or one of those extra-large plastic storage tubs. The question (at least in my tiny house) is where to put it???

🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

@CincyCat: I live in a one-bedroom apartment so my emergency “kit” is all over the place. One small cupboard holds jugs of water. Other cupboards have no-cook food supplies that I use and then replace. I have a visual map in my head of where the flashlights, matches, candles, long johns, boots, wool socks, etc. are stored. I also know that there’s an abandoned barbecue grill next to the building, so I could fill it with sticks and newspaper to heat up water for tea or cocoa, or to heat up soup if I got tired of eating it cold.… Read more »

baltarm
baltarm
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I’d recommend making a checklist, if you’re going to take this approach. For something infrequently used, like an emergency kit, it’s too easy to leave things out. Add in the fact that you’ll be doing this at a time of stress/crisis, and you’ll want to make it as easy for yourself as possible. Also, consider the type of disaster you’ll face in your locale. With something like a tsunami, you’re not going to have time to assemble your kit (you may not even have time to take your kit if you have it assembled). When the earth stops shaking, you… Read more »

Claire
Claire
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Yes, this article is SORELY missing a section on first aid kits & similar emergency items such as flashlights. We were able to find items for a makeshift kit (emergency ponchos that are bright orange and could double as a signalling device, emergency blankets, instant cold and hot compresses, etc) for pretty inexpensively from different sources (it’s been so long since we purchased them I can’t remember where they were bought).

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Claire

@Claire: I did mention these: “# You’ll want basic first-aid supplies, including an anti-diarrheal medication. Many of these items can also be bought cheaply or free with those drugstore rebates. “# On maintenance meds? Get in the habit of refilling as soon as you’re allowed, i.e., don’t wait until you take your last pill to call it in. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to fill in with other items like hot/cold compresses. As for signaling for help, that certainly might be necessary if you were in a flood situation. But I couldn’t address every single type of emergency in an… Read more »

Lee
Lee
9 years ago

There was an interesting special on History Channel about what would happen if a plague or such hit us and how things might break down. It followed a fictional family through the disaster. One thing I remember, a guy said he noticed after Katrina, was most people have enough food for three days. After that, things go south quickly and people start turning into animals trying to survive.

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago
Reply to  Lee

People turn into animals when they are treated like animals. Being hoarded into a football field is not a sustainable plan. We have given emergency foreign aid more efficiently than helping American citizens in a horrendous situation, living in the contiguous 48; you cannot get more accessible than that. The law of public necessity – where private property interests are temporarily trumped for the public good, every store should have been opened and goods orderly distributed and the owners reimbursed at a later date. There was an instance of one New Orleans cop brutally beating someone to death trying to… Read more »

Hoopatang
Hoopatang
9 years ago
Reply to  DreamChaser57

So happy to find that you’re encouraging widescale robbery – doled out by the hands with the big guns, no less. How about this. *You* purchase a piece of land, build a retail store, and then when the excrement hits the rotating oscillator, you can open YOUR doors and simply hand stuff out, counting on the fact that you’ll get paid later. Don’t ever, ever say that the gov’t should use its power and guns to do something that you aren’t physically able to do yourself. You know what happens when enough people willing to lick hands yell for this… Read more »

Jason
Jason
9 years ago

Not really that important, but you don’t need to tie the bags with the used paper together. 🙂 In South America you can’t flush it down (at least in Paraguay and Brazil), so you toss it into a trash can next to the toilet. It amazed me how little it smelled!

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Jason

I agree Jason growing up I had friends who had weak septic systems – we just put the paper in the can and saved the pipes from clogging. No biggie.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

It may not smell much. I just don’t want to smell it at all. Life would be stressful enough at that point.
But you’re right: If I couldn’t find a bag-tie I’d just get over myself and focus on more essential elements of sanitation and survival.

Lulu
Lulu
9 years ago

This is an excellent post and it highlighted some things that I never thought about.

ShackleMeNot
ShackleMeNot
9 years ago

JD, You should also read Lucifer’s Hammer. http://www.amazon.com/Lucifers-Hammer-Larry-Niven/dp/0449208133 It was written decades ago (1977 I think?) and is one of the few “survival fiction” books I’ve read that is actually well written. Preparedness is an area that overlaps personal responsibility and financial preparation very well. Being self sufficient and having basic supplies on-hand seems like a “no brainer”, but very few people could live on the items they have in their house for more than a week or two. I’ll add one more concept to this discussion. Take a look at Maslow’s Hiarchy of Needs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs If your base needs… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  ShackleMeNot

Lucifer’s Hammer IS well-written, if you can overlook the fact that all the black people in it are shown as insane cannibals.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

@Andrew: Not all the cannibals were African-American. And way to ruin an important plot point, dude!

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

No, not all the cannibals were African-American. But all the African-Americans (with one unimportant exception) were cannibals.

ShackleMeNot
ShackleMeNot
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Is that what YOU took away from the book? Is that ALL you took away from the book?

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  ShackleMeNot

No, I also remember that, by the end, the heroes had managed to reinstitute slavery, which they thought was a fine idea.

Face it, however well written it is, and however much it may have to say about the fragility of civilization, in the end Lucifer’s Hammer is a deeply racist, paranoid piece of fear-mongering drivel.

nmh
nmh
9 years ago

If you have babies you should also make sure you have extra formula and diapers. And it may also be a good idea to have extra feminine hygeine products on hand. Seven years ago when there was that huge blackout that affected most of the east coast we were caught without enough formula, we walked over to the local store we always went to (with cash) but they said they couldn’t sell us any because all the registers were down. We managed to covince the manager (who knew us) to let us buy it by agreeing to not take the… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
9 years ago

That can opener tip is a keeper! After Hurricane Ike, while we were out of power for 8 days, our can opener was used up and down our street simply since our neighbors only had the electric type, lol.

We were lucky our neighbors had propane grills since we had no way to cook food ourselves (we now have a propane grill too). I was really sick of peanut butter after a few days.

Having a small extra can of gasoline also saved one of our neighbor’s bacon since she was on empty and so were our gas stations…

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

I recently put a backpack in the trunk of my car – it has stuff for ‘grab and go’, i.e. for a few days if told to evacuate the area. And at home I have a good supply of food and lights in case an emergency comes and I can stay at home. But I never thought about the toilet issue either. Have to do some planning!

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

What cleaning out a crack house taught me about “waste” management: Borax, available in any grocery store, eliminates the smell of feces.

It’s gross but if you’re serious about surviving a long term emergency, you might want to add borax to your survival kit.

Jennifer B
Jennifer B
9 years ago

Other things to look for on the cheap and add to your emergency kit. Obviously what tools will be helpful will depend a lot on the type of disaster but living in Seattle I prepare for earthquakes or power outages: 1. a crow bar 2. dust masks 3. gas key and water turnoff tool 4. tarps – to cover damaged roofs, create a dry space or a privacy screen for your bucket toilet if your home is uninhabitable. Keep your gas tank in your car filled, and make sure you have a car charger for your cell phone. Water bottles… Read more »

Debt Donkey
Debt Donkey
9 years ago

Great post with a lot of great tips. I hate to mention this, but I think a few weapons are also essential to emergency preparedness. It’s a dangerous world, unfortunately, and desperate times make a lot of folks do desperate things. I think it is important to be able to defend your loved ones, especially since in an emergency situation you have no idea how preoccupied the police will be (or if they will even be available).

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

I think a huge one is the simple tip of keeping it where you can easily reach it!

I used to live in GA and every summer we’d get a few storms that knock out the power. What use is it to have flashlights if you can’t find em! Now I try to keep them in the same places all the time- and have multiple, too.

You never know which side of the house you’ll be on when the power goes out :-p

Laura in Cancun
Laura in Cancun
9 years ago

I can attest to the one about having money on-hand! When Hurricane Wilma hit in Cancun, I ended up with no cash.

ATMs ran out of cash fast, but luckily the grocery stores were open and accepting cards 2 days later, so I went down, found a family with a shopping cart full of food, and offered to pay for their groceries with my card if they gave me the cash.

Humiliating, but I got $100 cash 🙂

Also alcohol… very key in dealing with the boredom of not having power.

tm
tm
9 years ago

In the aftermath of the Japan earthquake/tsunami, my local REI was picked clean of anything most people thought of as “emergency” supplies. However, I did notice they left a more expensive and more capable pocket emergency kit on the shelves, opting for cheaper kits. There are many good lists and guides out there, but they’re not going to tell you what cheap item is junk or not. I’m not saying stock up on expensive freeze dried food, but be aware that an emergency is not the time you find out the bargains you got are just useless Stuff. When you… Read more »

Steffie Erikson
Steffie Erikson
9 years ago

paper/writing utensil/duct or scotch tape, you may need to leave a note on your door in case someone is looking for you, tape down your tarp or repair something etc and the kids can use some of the duct tape to amuse themselves

J Macey
J Macey
9 years ago

Don’t bother with more than 2x 2L bottles of water in your kit. You’ve probably got another 20 gallons available in your hot water tank, which you can drain from the bottom.

Roberta
Roberta
9 years ago
Reply to  J Macey

Unless the emergency required evacuation, or destroyed your home and hot water heater in the process. I like the idea of probably having the water in the heater on hand in most cases, but I don’t think I’ll rely on it in my planning, since water is so vital to survival.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Roberta

I thought about mentioning the water heater but ultimately left it out.
If you do decide to use it, disconnect the power source or turn it off at the breaker first.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Also in re water heaters, this is another point (I know you’re plugging these in) where homeowners and apartment dwellers are not in synch.

Apartment units typically don’t have their own water heater tanks, at least not in L.A. – which would CERTAINLY not have city water if there were a major catastrophe! Our ancient mains barely survive heavy truck traffic.

And don’t get me started on kerosene heaters. Should be illegal IMO. Too many people die in home fires started by those things, never mind the carbon monoxide.

tm
tm
9 years ago

As a follow up to my previous comment, 2 places that I look at to see what is junk and what works for other people are:

The reviews at trailspace.com
The forums at equipped.org

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

After “surviving” the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I’m skeptical about most disaster preparedness recommendations. Sure, we were out of power for three days, but that mostly just meant we went to bed earlier. We didn’t run out of food, and wouldn’t in three days. There’s enough random canned food and things in the cupboards that there’s always at least a week’s worth of food in there if we were *really* hungry. We could build a fire outside and cook rice over it for quite a while if we had to, much longer than three days, anyway. How prepared were the… Read more »

E. Murphy
E. Murphy
9 years ago

I had the same thoughts as you. At first.

But I did recall some reports in Haiti of the weak, especially women, being pushed out of the way in food lines. Or robbed immediately afterward. Women alone were definitely having a difficcult time.

Nothing like that in Japan, though. Are they really much politer than the rest of the world?

Dom
Dom
9 years ago
Reply to  E. Murphy

Yes, a lot of people (if not all) in Japan are polite. Do you know why? If the people are not polite with each other in such a disaster, it will create unfavorable situations where people will die quickly.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@Tyler: As odd as it sounds to someone like little ol’ stockpilin’ me, some people simply don’t keep much food on hand. They go out to eat, or mostly eat frozen dinners, or they bring home supper from the deli or the supermarket’s cooked-food section. Ever been in a single friend’s place and seen nothing in the fridge but a lime and a couple of Coronas? Their cupboards probably look the same way. A box of protein bars and a single can of tuna won’t last you very long. Not everyone can build a fire outside to cook rice. I’m… Read more »

Ms. K
Ms. K
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Out here in Maryland (the Washington, D.C. suburbs, no less) we lost power repeatedly for up to five days in the winter of 2009-2010. Huge blizzard, colder than usual (temperatures in the 20 Fahreinheit range.) We had a wheelchair bound 78 year old in the house, a one year old child, and a boa constrictor who needed to be kept warm. And oh – several trees came down across the roads in our neighborhood, totally blocking us in. We had to live only on what we had. The one year old was no problem, interestingly enough. Her metabolism adjusted immediately,… Read more »

Carrie
Carrie
9 years ago
Reply to  Ms. K

Don’t forget the ice storm that hit the Midwest in Jan 2009. KY was one of the harder hit areas. I knew people in rural areas who were without power for almost 30 days because the area affected was so large it took them a long time to get all the power lines fixed. Within the first day all the hotels were full, and a lot of people couldn’t depend on their family or friends in the area because everyone was going through the same thing. It also took a while to get roads cleared of fallen trees so people… Read more »

KarenB
KarenB
9 years ago
Reply to  Ms. K

A few years back a bad ice storm took out the power for a large section of New England. We didn’t have any power for a week. The biggest problem we faced was the cold. What saved us was the fact that we owned an indoor safe propane heater (it’s called the Big Buddy Propane Heater). It enabled us to heat one bedroom of the house to 50 degrees. The rest of the house was 35 degrees. Because the power outage only affected some areas, we still had to get up, get ready and go to work each day. We… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
9 years ago

I’m from New Zealand, although not from Christchurch where the earthquake occurred. Water definitely was a major issue for many people. Water mains were damaged in many areas and so were sewage pipes. Water tankers were trying to get to affected areas and queues were very long. Friends from Christchurch mentioned water as a major issue in those first few days.

GayleRN
GayleRN
9 years ago

Make sure you know how to open your garage door without power. Seems obvious until you are trying to do it in the dark, with the car in the way, and you are in a hurry.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  GayleRN

Good point. Some people don’t know that there’s a way to disconnect it from the power-up/power-down system.

SL
SL
9 years ago
Reply to  GayleRN

This is actually an important point. I know a family barely escaped a fast moving fire due to not being able to get the car out of the garage.

Lesley
Lesley
9 years ago

When your power is out, use the car radio for updates.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

We are woefully under prepared. We don’t have room to store all those emergency supplies. We are a few blocks away from the river so I guess we could build a fire and boil some water if it comes down to that….

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  retirebyforty

@RetireByForty: I live in a one-bedroom apartment and find room to store the basics. Take a hard look at the way you use space, and then get creative.

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

Luckily where I live in Toronto is mostly safe from natural disasters; hurricanes, tsunamis and major earthquakes aren’t going to happen here anytime soon (although an ice storm could happen). The major power black out like the one in 2003 that blanketed the North East or some massive civil strife or terrorism is much more likely, and to be honest, I’m not going to keep a bucket in my condo for this event. I have a flashlight, candles, lighters, food and water on hand to last 3 days. I live in the very heart of the downtown of the largest… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

@AdamP: But what would you do about bathroom functions if a blackout occurred? Do you plan to hold it for two or three days?
Seriously, guy. Isn’t there room for a bucket SOMEWHERE in your place? If you use the toilet without flushing it for several days you may need to hire a plumber when the emergency is over.

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Okay, I’ve never been in a blackout, but do live in Oklahoma where we have tornadoes and storms that will knock out power for several hours to days at a time. But, the toilet still flushes without power. That has to do wig plumbing and not electricity. Am I missing something here?

Jan
Jan
9 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

We were out of power for nine days- and the toilet still flushed. I never really thought about it.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

In our rural area we needed power to make the well pump run and refill the toilet tank.
Here in Seattle I’m on city water so I’m probably OK. But if there were a serious emergency such as earthquake (we’re overdue), civil insurrection or a major collapse of water mains (which has happened — some of the old mains are made of wood, for heaven’s sake), then I’ll be ready. Not thrilled, but ready.

Josh
Josh
9 years ago

I may have missed it, but think about heat too.

I’m trying to plan for 30 days, which means some sort of alternate heating is necessary. Kerosene heater is nice to have, but ideally a wood stove is in place, with enough wood for a month of heating in the dead of winter.

I also tend to forget about the toilet. I’ll have to get one of those buckets.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Josh

@Josh: Again, that’s not advice that applies to a lot of us. I live in a one-bedroom apartment without even a fireplace, let alone a fireplace insert/wood stove.
Myself, I won’t use a kerosene heater because I am concerned about safety and because I have no safe place to store the fuel. I don’t feel good about recommending that others do this because, in my opinion, too many things can go wrong (e.g., carbon monoxide poisoning, fires).

Gwen
Gwen
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

@Donna: I also live in a 1-bedroom place with no fireplace, and would be very nervous about a kerosene heater. However, I’ve found that using a candle heater (like the one at http://www.heatstick.com/) is a very satisfactory alternative. I keep one on the end of my desk (furthest from the computer), and it generates enough heat to make the difference between achey hands and happy ones. Since I can bundle my feet, arms, and everything else except my typing hands, this is important! Since my “fuel storage” is a half-dozen votive candles and a 10-pound ziploc bag of wax chips… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

Please don’t use that month-old water to fill your pet’s dish. Surely it deserves better.

Genavieve
Genavieve
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Agreed. Water that’s been sitting in two liter bottles for a month or more is fine for flushing toilets, but rapidly becomes unpotable. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t ask your animals too.

I’m also a “survivor” of the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake. We had a number of these two liter bottles stored, and frankly, I’d have to be pretty damn desperate to drink out of them. Soda bottles aren’t really made for refilling and you can taste it.

Michael
Michael
9 years ago
Reply to  Genavieve

As long as the water is still clean, it’s still fine for drinking. It may not TASTE awesome, but it’ll still be good for you.

To improve the taste of water that’s been sitting, shake it up or boil it. Doing either of those will aerate it, which is a big part of its taste.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

@Andrew: I hope you’re kidding.
If not, allow me to point out that I have personally seen dogs and cats drink from toilets and from puddles on the street.
Animals don’t care about the source of their water! They only care that it’s wet.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Actually, one of our cats refuses to drink clean water. He’ll drink any water, as long as it’s not in his water dish. He’s crazy! (But then, so is every cat. Each is crazy in her own way.)

andrew
andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Just because a dog or cat will drink anything doesn’t mean they should. Dogs love antifreeze, which will kill them.

Use the old water for anything else!

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

For apartment dwellers like me, issues of storage are important – we don’t all have big apartments. All the more reason to clear out clutter and reserve some space for “in case of emergency.”

I am woefully unprepared for any major disaster. No excuses. Thanks for the excellent overview, Donna – and for talking about the “gross” stuff.

When I managed a law office, part of the OSHA setup I did was an emergency kit. The lawyers thought I was nuts to include a giant bucket of kitty litter … until they thought about why.

Jed
Jed
9 years ago

Keep frozen jugs or other sturdy containers of ice in the freezer in hurricane or tornado seasons especially. In the event of a power outage of more than a few hours, such as in a hurricane, when you know power will be out for days, you may be able to save the contents of your refrigerator if you quickly empty the leftovers (eat them right away) and nearly empty containers and replace them with the frozen jugs. Then keep the door SHUT to protect the rest of the contents. Store enough jugs in the freezer to have some left over… Read more »

cwl
cwl
9 years ago

Ready America recommends one gallon of water per person per day. It’s easy to buy bottled water but much cheaper to fill up two-liter soda bottles, or inexpensive pitchers or jugs. (Don’t drink soda? Surely someone you know does.)

Note that plastic milk jugs are designed to break down and are not a good idea. Use the hard/clear jugs to store water.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

This is silly, but when my power went out this winter during a snow storm, I ate cold food because I have a new gas stove with an electric starter. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I could have turned on the gas and lit this with a match!! I think this post serves as a good reminder of stuff to set up, but sometimes we already have everything we need – it is just a matter of thinking about how to use it differently!

Procrastamom
Procrastamom
9 years ago

We live on the West Coast, so we keep our emergency supplies locked in a shed instead of in the house. If an earthquake rendered the house unusable, we’d still be able to get to the supplies. Lifting a wooden shed off of something would be easier than lifting a house.

I also keep an old pair of running shoes under my desk at work. If there’s an earthquake and I have to walk home to my family (because the roads are blocked/unusable) then at least I won’t have to do it in heels.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

Well, Donna likes the nested comments, even if nobody else does! 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

@J.D.: I *love* the nested comments. In fact, you don’t have to buy me anything for Christmas now because I have nested comments — who could want anything more??? 😉

Julia
Julia
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I kinda like the nested comments. It’s easier to see the replies from the author instead of multiple large posts with @1 @25 and having to scroll back up to see what it was in reference to. But what happened to the numbered comments? Is it either/or? It makes it easier to track where you are, can the nested comments be 25a instead of a different number?

Kathy F
Kathy F
9 years ago

I live in a high rise and I already have a couple of buckets that I keep in the closet filled with tools or hardware stuff. I could keep the bucket out on my balcony after emergency use. What I worry about is everyone using their toilets anyway and then the sewage backing up. Where my mom lived in Louisiana after Katrina, some sewer “lift stations” were out of order because of power outages so they were asking people to minimize what went down the sewer to prevent backups.

Shelley
Shelley
9 years ago

I think the main thing is to know what kind of emergency you will have, and plan accordingly. A last Christmas my in-laws gave everybody emergency kits for Christmas. We keep ours in our laundry room as it is our safe room for tornadoes. I would add that having some natural kitty litter (the ground up corn kind) on hand would help with the bucket waste smell. Then when things are up and going again, you can flush it. (If it is ok to flush with your system in the first place.) You can usually find coupons / catch them… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

We have a cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity, so we’re accustomed to living “disaster mode” on a regular basis. I guess in the face of a long-term catastrophe we’d take the cat with us to the cabin where everything is ready for low-tech living– firewood, propane, trucked water tanks, etc. Oh, and also guns– lots of guns 😛 (I sound like a crazy survivalist, don’t I?) In our city apartment I keep a stock of food in the pantry as a matter of routine. That’s including a backup can of whey protein– it’s not just… Read more »

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

Hand sanitizer does not kill e. coli. I think there are other fecal-borne diseases (bacteria, parasites, etc) that are also not killed by sanitizer. There’s really no substitute for washing your hands after #2.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Steve

@Steve: A link from the Centers for Disease Control notes that, “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used if soap and water cannot be made available and are effective against multiple common disease agents (e.g., shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter).”
A sanitizer with at least a 60% alcohol content is required.
Myself, I’d greatly prefer soap and warm-to-hot water. But I’ll keep some sanitizer around, just in case.
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5605a4.htm

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

A better bang for the buck is a bottle of Everclear. Can be used to sanitize, fuel fire, or get drunk, and it’s ever-cheap!

the other Tammy
the other Tammy
9 years ago

We had a bad ice storm one winter and my parents had no power at their place for 5 days. They kept coming over to my house to get buckets of clean water and to shower since their well pump was out. They opted to stay in their house, but by the end of that 5th day it was COLD in there! After the storm was over they got in line to have a whole house generator installed.

And it sounds obvious, but don’t get dead by running a portable generator or a propane grill INSIDE your house…

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

Thank you for a really great post. I keep saying I need to update and consolidate our supplies (except flashlights! already have those everywhere) and this is another reminder and included some good ideas. I’ve struggled with where to keep everything since I worry that if an earthquake causes major damage to our old house we may not have access to our basement (otherwise a logical storage area). We don’t have a garage. Attic maybe? Suggestions on that? One thing I’d add for pet owners is to stash a photo of you with your pet in your emergency kit. If… Read more »

Wilson
Wilson
9 years ago

A bucket? really? Just flush the toilet with water from a jug. Back in the day when I prepared for hurricanes I filled up the tub just in case. Use that water to flush, drink, etc. Or just don’t flush until there’s no choice and flush using what was already in the tank. Now we keep a backpack prepared for the car with plenty of food and extra water and gas because the evac routes are going to be clogged and littered with cars that ran out of gas and moving wil be slow. So my advice is to keep… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Wilson

@Wilson: I did mention filling the tub and buckets to flush.
But after a while those will run dry. Using potable water to flush a toilet might not be the smartest thing — if the outage lingers, you won’t have enough water to drink.

Tara C
Tara C
9 years ago

A friend that just went through the Christchurch earthquake in NZ discovered that couscous was better to have on hand than rice, as it required less water to cook. Good thought. I worry about being in my second floor condo in Montreal in the dead of winter with no way to heat my place – at least we have tons of warm clothes, but the condo is all electric unfortunately.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Tara C

@Tara: Good idea. Lentils are good, too, since they have a lot of protein and take, what, 20 minutes to cook?

Ms. K
Ms. K
9 years ago
Reply to  Tara C

Tara – did you live in Montreal during the big ice storm the winter of 97-98?

My relatives told me that the hotels and public emergency shelters were very accomodating, but that it was scary not being able to get out of town (the bridges were all iced over.)

Might be well worth it to find a decent way of heating a room in your apartment…Montreal gets soooooo cold.

On the bright side, my relatives kept their tropical fish alive with twice-daily infusions of hot water from a thermos.

Carrie
Carrie
9 years ago

I’m surprised nobody has talked about adding a whistle to your emergency kit. Depending on the type of disaster, if the search and rescue teams are looking for people, a whistle will help to get their attention…much easier than trying to scream for help. What happens when you lose your voice? Obviously the most likely situation would be an earthquake where people are trapped in buildings, and when it happens so quickly, you won’t have time to get into your emergency kit. I know a few people who live in earthquake prone areas keep small whistles on their key ring,… Read more »

angelika
angelika
9 years ago

We bought Berkie water filter. It’s great for emergencies- it’s not connected to the water supply and it can filter water from river, lake, rain etc. They are used by Red Cross, Doctors without borders in the countries where it’s hard to get good drinking water.
Those filters have been around for a long time but we found them just now.
I like to have things that can be used for emergencies that I am using everyday. Otherwise it can be just another expensive thing to buy.

S01
S01
9 years ago

One thing that’s (actually I have 2)in my camping kit which would be great in a 3-5 day emergency is my methylated spirits stove (Trangia is one brand) a single liter of fuel lasts a long time (streched it to 14days one time). These are small ultra portable and you can easily boil 2-3 cups of water in a few mins or heat up canned food, cook rice etc. It’s all I use when I go camping now.

Sorry if someone else already mentioned this 🙂

fetu
fetu
9 years ago

Some very good ideas coming from everybody. We are lucky to have a big yard so I would just dig a hole in the back. Besides, I am happy if people pee under my lemon trees anytime…..good sourse of free nitrogen! If we expect hurricanes or similar problems I will fill the bath and washing machine with water. I can use that or collected rain water to flush the inside toilet. I always have a 5 gallon bucket by the roof downspout that I use in my garden. I think for most emergencies of a few days, just keeping a… Read more »

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