September is National Preparedness Month and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that bad stuff can happen. COVID -19, riots, lockdowns, economic woes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and even an earth tremor have brought out the worrywart in all of us.
With winter coming on in the midst of a pandemic, it’s time to take stock of supplies and prepare. I’m not just talking about toilet paper and bleach.
Take canned pears, for example. Last week I visited five stores before I spotted a few cans on the bottom shelf at Food Lion. Ap-“pear”-antly there’s a problem with the supply chain. I looked it up. During the summer months, we rely heavily on imported fruit from Argentina, and this past spring, shipments were disrupted, leaving us basically pearless for the time being.
Even items that are available sort of aren’t. There are still gaps on shelves. Some local retailers are maintaining limits on the amounts a customer can buy, such as one package of paper towels and four cans of green beans.
We’ve been through this before, so why wait until the next crisis try to stock up? You only have to think back to March 13, when panic buying hit the grocery stores. Or further back, to February 1996 and the epic ice storm, or further back to Hurricane Hugo to appreciate what happens when we’re off the grid. Generators vanished from stores. Bottled water was nowhere to be found. Milk and bread? Vamoose.
During both events, my family was without heat or running water for days because we depended on an electric well pump. Live and learn. We learned to keep a stack of seasoned firewood, lamp oil and bottled water on hand.
Growing up in a farming community in Illinois, some of my earliest memories were hearing my mother talk about the “current” being off after a storm. We were served by a rural co-op in the 1950s, and power wasn’t always reliable.
Moving in town didn’t save us from outages. One memorable episode came in January 1967. Chicago received nearly two feet of snow. In our town, the weight of ice snapped tree limbs and utility lines. I was 12 at the time. I remember hunkering in the living room by large windows that kept the sunny side of our house warm.
That morning, my aunt, cousin and their next-door neighbors braved slick roads to show up in our driveway. They were without power and phone service and heard on the radio that Shelbyville still had electricity.
It was fake news. Few homes in the ‘60s had operable fireplaces, wood stoves or kerosene heaters. We were “living better electrically,” as the GE ads touted.
For the rest of the day, the 10 of us made do, eating lunchmeat sandwiches and potato chips, playing board games, stewing about what to do come nightfall. Fortunately, things turned out OK. The power returned at dusk. Lights shone. The baseboard heaters clicked on. We didn’t have to fight hypothermia after all.
But the close call left an impression on me. What if the power hadn’t come on? What if we’d been stuck inside a dark house in freezing weather with little to eat and no heat source?
Many of us assume that things will turn out OK, and they usually do, but not always. The U.S. government is well aware that they cannot possibly plan for or supply every disaster that comes along. That’s why emergency managers urge each of us to take responsibility for ourselves and our families for at least a few days.
One place to begin is to assemble an emergency kit of necessary supplies. The items should be stored in airtight plastic bags and placed in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or duffel bags so everything can be carried in case of an evacuation.
Your kit should include:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- Moist wipes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for food)
- Local maps (to find alternate routes)
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Some other considerations are extra cash, prescription medicines, extra lenses, baby supplies, pet food and leashes, blankets, sleeping bags, extra clothes and shoes, matches/lighters, driver’s licenses and copies of birth certificates, vehicle titles, insurance policies, health records, bank account numbers and other vital documents. More details are available at www.ready.gov
Photo credit: NOAA Archives