Disaster preparedness

Q&A preempted by the Japanese earthquake/tsunami.

I saw the news and was watching it with my kids this morning, and realized that I have a plan in my head of what I'd do, but that's it–no coordination with my kids' dad, or anything concrete. So I emailed my friend Catherine at BlackUmbrella.com (they help families create disaster preparedness plans) and asked her what the top few things she'd say to families about making a plan are. Here's what she said:

"1.  This demonstrates the importance of family meeting places!  We have "home base" plus three places: near home, FAR from home, and something along the way.

2.  Everyone having the names and numbers of the family crisis management team on them at all times is crucial.  

3.  I carry an IronKey thumb drive with me at all times with copies of all of our insurance policies, wills, and identification.  It's with me right now at breakfast. It may seem silly but you never know when that emergency will strike.

4. Black umbrella clients have a "family marshal.". The other family members have to listen to that person.  Doing so in a situation like this one is what helps people get out of the building and get to safety."

I the past, when Catherine and I have talked about preparing, she's emphasized that it's not just about putting together a "go bag," because what if your bag is at home and you're at work? It's really about being able to find each other. Flow of information, not stuff.

What do you want/need to say about the earthquake and/or disaster preparedness?

38 thoughts on “Disaster preparedness”

  1. My sister lives in Japan, and she and her husband happened to be in Tokyo when it hit… She immediately sent email and FB status updates. Which begs the question, what if the network goes down, which it most certainly will.One other detail about a family plan that I don’t think is mentioned above is identifying a contact person that is *in a different region* than you and your family, as phone lines get jammed so quickly in an area where a disater strikes. So, for us, that means an aunt in Maryland serves as the number we will all call to get info about family that lives in the same city as us. We will all be able to call out to her, but might be unable to reach each other. So she’s the central information point.

  2. Thank you for the reminder. My husband and I really need to make a plan. Not that this would necessitate preparedness for a widespread disaster, but I got a little practice the other day when I thought our building was on fire (it turned out to be a car on fire on the street behind us, but our apartment filled with thick black smoke through our open windows). I kept calm, kept my voice upbeat, put two kids in the double stroller, threw shoes, a couple of diapers, the Ergo, and jackets in the basket underneath, as well as my computer, phone, and wallet. Kid #3 hopped on his bike, and we were out the door in under two minutes.I realized afterward that it would have been smart to grab the car keys and the infant bucket seat, in case it had been a true emergency and we would have needed to drive somewhere. After, I was grateful for the reminder to have a better plan in case we need to leave quickly, and to be able to reflect on what things would have been good to have that I forgot.

  3. There certainly seems to have been a spate of disasters recently: what with the floods in Oz, Christchurch and now Japan. I have to admit, I’m terribly terribly unprepared for anything. The worst case scenario I’ve envisaged is that my train arrives late and I miss pick up time at kinder. Luckily my MIL is right here in the event of some unforeseen event, and fortunately the kinder would not turf out the kids if they are still there after pick up. I would also have a couple of other people that could collect the kids if the need arose.I know if I still lived in the places I have lived in that are subject to catastrophies ( fires/earthquakes etc)I would definitely have a back up plan, but not here. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Thanks so much for the tips @Moxie. SO good. I especially love #3. Just now getting used to having a thumb drive on my keycahin (so handy), so I think I’ll upgrade it to an IronKey and add the info suggested.

  5. Thanks for the tips! We have a “go bag” at home and an emergency kit (food, water, thermal blankets, etc.) in the car, but we don’t have a meeting place. The IronKey is an awesome idea!

  6. The Black Umbrella thing looks amazing. I wonder if there is a less expensive way to do those things!Thanks for posting these, Moxie. I am going to investigate the IronKey thing.

  7. OK … so to be a bit devil’s advocate here: How much effort is this worth? I’m not (actually) trying to be difficult, it’s a serious question. I can certainly see that with shared custody situations (or even unshared custody situations but separated parents, whether in a marital or a geographic sense), and/or in high-density urban areas and for a variety of other reasons (earthquake-prone region, person who is insulin-dependent diabetic), there are aspects of this that could be worth thinking about and planning for. And as for me, I already (a) check that fire exits are unlocked/accessible if I’m staying in a hotel; and (b) try to be reasonably sure we’ve got enough firewood to heat our home for a week in wintertime if we lose power — by far the most likely “crisis” related to public services we’re likely to experience; (c) try to carry decent walking shoes, fresh water, and, in winter, warm blankets in my car — especially if bad weather is forecast or I’m driving long distances. And like any good southerner, the minute the forecast mentions snow I dash out and buy milk, eggs, bread, and toilet paper (I’m kidding) (about myself, not every other southerner). But beyond that, not much.What just happened in Japan, happened suddenly and without warning (and I’m grieved for those affected). But in many disasters (winter storms, hurricanes), one knows at least several days ahead that trouble is coming and can make reasonable, if not perfect, preparations.
    I guess I’d like some statistics: how many people have been caught in emergencies where they both experienced problems more serious than inconvenience/discomfort *and* where the preventive steps they might reasonably have been expected to undertake well in advance, would in fact have prevented those problems?

  8. @Alexicographer- I think you tailor your planning for the most likely events where you live. I live in southern california, so I try to make sure we’re reasonably prepared for an earthquake (no big bookshelves over beds, museum putty for breakables on display, non slip shelf liners) and its aftermath (water, food, battery-powered radio, and basic first aid stuff on hand) and fires (a go bag packed, emergency cash on hand, not letting the cars get down to less than a quarter tank). I also keep some diapers, kids clothes, water, and snacks in each car.But I don’t plan for floods (I live on top of a hill) or snowstorms.
    It happens that I can’t expect much warning for either of the disasters most likely in my area. You certainly don’t get warning for an earthquake. Given where we live, we’d likely know that there were fires in our area, but there is also a non-zero chance that a fire could start in the canyon that is literally across the street from us.
    And my approach is to make the plans, implement them, and then forget about it. Except that I try to remember to update the clothes and food in go bag and car kits every 6 months or so.

  9. Disaster preparedness planning is usually done based on geographic regions. Someone in New York would not necessarily plan for an earthquake and someone in Los Angeles certainly would not prepare for a blizzard. It takes some common sense when it comes to preparedness.We have been training people on preparedness but we have taken it to another level in that we encourage citizens to get trained in first aid, CPR, triage and even CERT. It is one thing to get all your supplies together, etc but what if someone in your family or perhaps a neighbor is in need of medical care? Do you have the training that will be able to assist others?
    Most people say they don’t need that type of training but we beg to differ. We face a huge enemy and its name is public apathy. For God’s sake people, WAKE UP!
    Disaster preparedness is like pulling teeth and now that the japan quake has occurred, people are starting to take a hint especially here in Southern California.
    West Coast Emergency Preparedness Center

  10. @Alexicographer – I agree (generally) with your point about not going nutz preparing for a major event which statistically is unlikely to happen to any of us.On the other hand most of us (read: me) are relatively unprepared for EVERYTHING. Had a multi-day power outage this fall and guess who doesn’t own a battery-powered lantern? Guess who failed to learn her lesson from this experience and STILL doesn’t own a lantern even after swearing up and down that we wouldn’t get caught surprised like that again?
    I live in VT where 3 feet of snowfall is not unusual and still carry no snacks in my car (although there is probably a weeks worth of goldfish to be found under the floor-mats).
    So maybe taking a few minutes to briefly chat about the disaster plan isn’t such a bad idea. Frankly this is a good reminder to me to go get a GD battery powered lantern. And store up some potable water should it cease to come from the faucet. And put something to eat in my car that doesn’t have mud on it.

  11. @Alexis (et. al.) — thanks for your reply. I agree, and just to be clear I was being a bit “devil’s advocate.” I do think, though, that there’s a risk to talking about disaster preparedness as involving tremendously important detailed planning versus saying, e.g. “Throw a warm blanket and a gallon of drinkable water in the trunk of your car,” or “Keep a working flashlight handy.” The latter are the sort of steps I am likely to take, the former, I’m much less likely to get done even if I do consider that tremendously important (which to be honest in my own situation I don’t).(For the record, I do keep the following in my vehicle, as a matter of course: large flashlight, gallon of water, quart of oil, jumper cables, decent though not excellent tool kit, full set of tire-changing equipment and full-sized spare, air compressor that plugs into cigarette lighter, decent walking shoes. In the winter I try to add a blanket, but I, too, would be reduced to eating grubby goldfish crackers in a true emergency. Yet at any given moment it is highly unlikely that I wouldn’t have enough camping and/or grilling propane — and related equipment — handy at my home to be able to boil water to sterilize it (and plenty of usable, if unappealing, food in the pantry). And yes, I have thought about both those sets of things — being stranded in my car or not having access to water. So I’m really not opposed to this stuff, but I do think it’s worth thinking through what the most likely problems are, and focusing on those).

  12. I work in a factory, and so disaster planning (scenarios and how we would mitigate) happens routinely. My husband is in a preventive maintenance group. Between the two of us, we are covered in a general sense.In fact, I just ran a man-down drill at work last week. We faked a heart attack, I admistered fake CPR (I am cerfitied) while I sent someone for the AED and another person called for the ambulance (and went out side to flag the ambulance down).
    We’ve done similar drills at home. We have crank powered flash lights and radios. Your water heater can be used as your source of emergency back up water so you don’t need to buy and rotate bottled water. If you have a 40-gallon water heater, you have 40 gallons of potable water. You merely need to know how to drain it from the bottom (since if you lose water, you’ll lose municpial pressure).
    My big question right now is what happens if we need to “shelter-in-place”? My husband and I would be at work. I assume the kids would just stay at home or at school where they are, and we’d get to them as we could. No one is going to turn kids out into the street in a time of national/regional crisis and whoever is with them would have to stay if we’re sheltering-in-place.
    In September 2008, we were caught in a flash flood after a regular thunderstorm collided with the remnants of a hurricane. We had 11″ of rain in 24 hours. I was 7-months pregnant and my husband and I were on the wrong side of a swiftly moving river (which had taken over the street). Our son was safe with his grandparents (on the other side) though we had a heck of a time getting to him after they shut the interstates down (I65 and I80).
    A few reminders: Do you have flood, mine subsidence, and earthquake insurance (don’t forget the New Madrid fault in the midwest)? Surviving the disaster is one thing but facing a huge financial toll afterward is another.
    We just changed our clocks. It’s time to check your smoke and carbon moxide detectors. Replace batteries as-needed (or if you only have one of each, replace all batteries). If you don’t have smoke or CO monitors, get them (CO is only needed if you have combustibles, wood, propane, natural gas, etc).
    Don’t drive through moving water (8″ deep of moving water can sweep a car away…at the very least check to see whether the car that went before you is bigger/smaller than your car).
    Now if multiple disasters strike at once or in quick succession (like an earthquake, tsunami, followed by a volcano), I think I’ll just have to roll with it and use my training to make it through a little at a time.
    You can only prepare for so much and just having the knowledge and training in advance is often enough that you can change plans on the fly.
    I don’t worry too much about being stuck in my car since I live in an urban area. I could walk less than a block and get to civilization. And I don’t go out in blizzards.

  13. I live in earthquake country so the prospect of a massive disaster hitting us with no warning is not unlikely. I lived through the ’89 earthquake at home. I was a teenager, home alone. My parents both worked out of town. I was caring for a younger sibling, who got lost. Phones were out, power was out, water was undrinkable. We found my brother, safe and oblivious, at a friend’s house blocks away but by then, my mom’s car was out of gas and gas stations in our area had no gas for upwards of a week. The aftermath was scary even though we were physically safe. Power was out for quite some time, our little town was hit quite hard, my school was damaged, etc. It was a good while before life was back to normal.I was a mess on Friday. I woke up to the news and realized quickly that friends in neighboring towns were being evacuated due to the tsunami. That it managed to plow it’s way across 5 thousand miles of ocean and force our friends to evacuate their beachfront house (the hubby is a state park ranger on the beach) was terrifying.
    Our little family has some plans but they are not nearly robust enough. Our meeting place is a little murky, though we all know to call my ILs who live in southern CA. I need a flash drive with our records – it’s a brilliant idea and so necessary. We keep go bags in all the usual places (car, work, home), but they need updating. My biggest fear is that something catostrophic happens when I’m at work and my son is at home with Gramma and I can’t get to them. It’s not out of the question since I work 25 miles from home and our roadways would take an absolute beating in a big earthquake. Ugh. THankfully hubby works two miles from home and could walk there in less than an hour if necessary.

  14. @SarcasticCarrie great point on the hot water heater … though I’ve lived places with well water and know to fill the bathtubs (in such situations) if a power outage looks as much as possible, I’d literally not thought about the hot water heater. I’d add two things, though, to anyone who needs to contemplate doing this: 1) don’t forget that part of draining the hot water heater safely is turning off the gas or electricity that heats it and 2) in the situations we’ve faced, the problem hasn’t been lack of municipal water but lack of safe municipal water. In those situations, the hot water heater water’s only as safe as it’s uncontaminated, so you need to find out about the contamination and turn off your water intake before potentially contaminated water gets in, if this (by itself) is to be useful.Another fairly quick way to get (some) safe drinking water is to melt the icecubes in your freezer.

  15. Even if the water in your hot water heater is no longer drinkable, it will still flush your toilets. Mom always fills up her washing machine for this purpose when a hurricane is coming. We have a swimming pool, so I figure that’s enough water for toilets.So, yeah our likely threats are hurricanes in FL. Luckily we have several days of warning. We stock up, fill up the grill’s propane tank and hunker down.
    And for pete’s sake, when the officials tell us to stay off the roads (and off the beaches) heed the warnings.
    LOVE the IronKey idea!

  16. We lived less than a mile away from the Pentagon on 9/11. While we were still in Arlington, we did have go bags packed and ready next to the front door, just in case we needed to evacuate. My husband & I had meeting places set up.Now that we’ve moved farther out we let a LOT of that slide. At a bare minimum I should have water, snacks, and a change of clothes for everyone in the car. I do always keep a blanket in the car, and when my son was still in diapers I tried to keep a bag with extra diapers & wipes in the car.
    Even though we don’t live in a particularly disaster-prone place, I do try to keep enough supplies in the car for emergencies. We went to the park one day for an hour, so I brought two diapers and no toys. We wound up in the ER for over 4 hours that day, so now I try to keep some toys in the car for that eventuality.

  17. @Alexis – “… and still carry no snacks in my car (although there is probably a weeks worth of goldfish to be found under the floor-mats).” LOL!! Good to know my slovenly ways might have a lifesaving payoff someday! ;)About insurance – I live on the inland West Coast of the US, and I would love to purchase earthquake insurance, but guess what? It is so prohibitively expensive, even though we are only a moderate risk area, and the minimal coverage amounts we could get wouldn’t actually replace very much – in fact it wouldn’t even pay to rebuild the house – so we are in the default position of having to self-insure for earthquake losses, as well as other excluded losses such as any damage resulting from acts of terrorism.
    I’m impressed with all of the measures some of you are taking. The only thing we manage to reliably accomplish is to always keep at least a half tank of gas in each car; and there’s a first aid kit in each trunk. We live in the middle of nowhere, so some of the risks (i.e. attacks by wild animals) to us are fairly unique.
    Can I also just say that the name “Black Umbrella” makes me think of some high-tech spy movie (said lovingly.) 😉
    Just curious about the logistics of something like IronKey – isn’t there also a risk of ID theft involved with carrying around electronic copies of one’s important documents?

  18. @hush – The first thing I thought about carrying around my important info was identity theft.I really don’t worry too much about my papers. If a fire happened at our house, we’d call our insurance agent and get going on fixing the house while we all went down to the courthouse to get new copies of birth certificates, etc. We live in the county where 3 of the 4 people in the family were born and where we were married, and we live in the state adjacent to where I was born (and they have online birth certificate ordering), so I’m not too worried about the paperwork or replacing social security cards, etc. Maybe it’s a bigger hassle than I think it would be.

  19. It’s interesting how some companies make decisions. A big bank prospect of ours wanted to hire us to put on a multi-location program on cash flow for their small business customers. A senior manager in the approval chain decided they should hear an economist instead. One more manager who doesn’t really understand the small business person. The small business owner need tools and ideas that they can use today, not the global issues the global bank deals with. The decision will look good in the brochure but will bring less value to the customer. Too bad…

  20. What is very important when a disaster occur is, don’t ever panic; because you can’t concentrate well, and you won’t be able to think positively if you are in panic. What you are going to do is just calm down and relax and think the best solution.

  21. Very well done with shared these useful information. This is much important. We should know about this basic things which disasters are take place.

  22. Pozyczka konsolidacyjny to wzglednie dziewiczy towar walutowy, aczkolwiek od czasu tez poczatku napawalby sie spora fama.TUDZIEz jak jeden maz z nia zemknie sposobnosc na dysponowanie jakies debetu.
    Niemniej, jezeli przyjrzec sie ofercie jedynych bankow, nietrudno zauwazyc, ze np. dlugi gotowkowe sa oprocentowane na formacie 30 – 50% rocznie (stopa RRSO).
    Wygodnie wlasciwie nie jest.
    Kredytobiorca, kto splaca wieksza punkt programu dlugu, przypuszczalnie oblac sposrod regresem az do drugiego kredytobiorcy

  23. Doprawdy wierzytelnosci w Internecie wczesniejszy przereklamowane?Na szczescie sposrod asysta przychodzi nam rata RRSO.
    Multum kontrowersji ozywia takze legendarna „serwis pokojowa”, inaczej poreczna posluga, w srodku jaka nalezy natomiast slono odwzajemnic sie.
    Lichwiarskie oprocentowanie calkiem wszelako nie zraza kredytobiorcow. Wyraznie wprost przeciwnie – istnieje ich coraz to wiecej. W celu instytucyj pozyczkowych zapaslyby zlociste okresy.
    Te operacji zdolaja miec donioslosc na sytuacja kredytowe, toz pod spodem warunkiem porozumienia sposrod bankiem
    pożyczka bez bik

  24. and the the ルイヴィトンバック services direct filing エルメス バッグ number due document ルイヴィトン 新作 organization, Christmas board ルイヴィトン non-existent heightened the メンズ 腕時計 Phoenix disaster the

  25. Nie tychze procentami (dwoje)bank bytuje…Afiszuje sie albowiem, ze jest dozwolone pozyczac finanse homologicznie z regulacja antylichwiarska (alias w dole 24% na rok), natomiast za jednym zamachem zyskiwac wielce wiecej niz paple przepis.
    Na reklame mozna sie natknac, przechodzac opodal jednostce bankowej – plakaty reklamujace “rowna pozyczke” wisza w witrynach.
    W momencie zawleczenia dlugu konsolidacyjnego, pozostajacego kredyty obcuja nas interesowac.
    W celu zestawienia, w poblizu kredycie zlotowkowym miesieczne zobowiazania wobec banku moga stanowic nawet 65 procent miesiecznych dochodow, ergo w celu persony zarabiajacych cokolwiek zlotowka istnieje wyjatkowa perspektywa na pozyczka.

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