Putting together a disaster preparedness plan can be a daunting task. To begin, let us start with some basic questions. What kind of disaster should be planned for? What kind of disaster gear should be included in the kit? How many people will the plans have to support? How long will the disaster last?
Location is very important. This is one of the first questions anyone developing a disaster plan should take into consideration.
Everyone that lives within 200 miles of the Southeastern coast of the USA or the Gulf of Mexico coast should plan for hurricanes and/or strong thunder storms.
Anyone that lives in the northern regions should plan on cold weather with lots of snow and ice.
Mountain / arid regions should plan for wild fires in the summer and snow along with ice in the winter.
Tornadoes should be considered, regardless of location.
Earthquake prone regions should plan for just that, earthquakes.
By those examples, each disaster plan and urban survival kit will be a little different. However, each kit should contain some of the same basic items.
Food & Water – most organizations tell people to have at least 3 days or 72 hours worth of food and water on hand. This is an unrealistic number. After a disaster, such as a hurricane, most relief organizations plan on having services in place within 72 hours. What if the family has 3 days worth of food and water, and the relief services are NOT in place during that time frame?
For the sake of discussion, lets say the Jones family has 14 days worth of food and water on hand. The Smith family has 3 days – just like the government advices. On the 5th day after some kind of disaster strikes, the Smith family is asking the Jones Family if they have any food they can spare.
Whatever the government says you need, double or triple that number.
Real life situation – Hurricane Rita hit the Texas, Louisiana border on September 24, 2005. The Red Cross did not set up any type of relief services until three weeks after the storm. For some reason the Red Cross refused to set up temporary shelters and / or food, water lines in certain parts of East Texas that the eye of Hurricane Rita passed over. The Salvation Army also took between three – four weeks to set up food & water lines. Neither organization, nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ever set up any temporary shelters in Southeast or East Texas. In the communities of Bridge City, Lumberton, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Groves – thousands of people were left homeless by Hurricane Rita, depending on the charity of friends and family – all the while these so called “relief organizations” did very little to almost nothing to help.
The local Emergency Management Associations (EMA) of South East Texas and the Texas National Guard responded faster then any of the larger, better funded organizations. In some areas, the local EMA’s had food lines set up 18 hours after Hurricane Rita hit the area.
So, the Red Cross says to have at least three days worth of food. However, by past examples, the Red Cross and Salvation Army might take up to three weeks to provide relief services. Three days of stored food, but three weeks until help arrives – those numbers do not add up.
Lessons Learned About Food & Water – Have at least 2 weeks worth of food for every member of the unit. Do not depend on any of the so called “relief organizations” to help. The best bet is to know the plans of the local Emergency Management Association (EMA). The local EMA will be the first and maybe the only responders to a disaster.
Each family should have some kind of portable water filter. If bottled drinking water were to run out, these filters can be used to make most water safe to drink. With the right tools, even water out of a ditch or river can be safe to drink. Some filters are good for 200 – 500 gallons of water, these are a wise investment for any survival kit.
Each survival kit should have a way to heat up meals, as hot food is a real moral booster in any situation. Some type of camp stove should be included in the basic equipment list, along with eating utensils and hand sanitizer. Sanitation without running water can be a pain, but must not be over looked. One ounce bottles of hand sanitizer should be issued to each person, for their individual needs. Disease prevention during and after a disaster should have top priority.
Every person should be issued their own drinking cup, with their name written on the side. Sharing of cups should be prohibited to help prevent the spread of disease.
Lessons Learned About Shelter – Shelter can be a two fold problem – before and after the disaster.
Before the disaster – During the evacuation of Galveston and Houston, which was in the path of Hurricane Rita, some people headed north, away from the storm. The next largest metropolitan area, that was able to handle the influx of people from Houston and Galveston is Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. For some reason, the Dallas and Forth Worth area did not respond to the influx of millions of people very well. Few shelters were opened, that was in relation to the number of evacuees. People were sleeping in their cars and trucks with no where to go. Some people from the Southeast Texas area had to go all the way to Arkansas to find hotel rooms. Do NOT depend on cities to open their arms to a influx of millions of refugees / evacuees. Even though cities like Dallas and Fort Worth could have opened schools and civic centers as shelters, the Dallas / Forth Worth city government chose not to. Life went on as normal in the cities that were not in the storms path, even though a disaster was about to strike their neighbors to the south. The few people that were lucky enough to find a hotel room found their selves out of money and living off their credit cards very quickly.
Have a plan, have a place to go in the event of a disaster. Look up long lost cousins, uncles, aunts and other relatives. Family should help each other out in the event of a disaster.
On the way to the destination, expect the trip to take at least ten times the normal amount of time. During the evacuation for Hurricane Rita, what was a normal hour drive took nine – ten hours.
Each survival kit should have some type of tent / portable shelter, sleeping bags and maybe some air mattresses. For a family of 4, the tent should be at least a 6 man tent. The space for the other two people can go to gear storage. Tents allow people to set up temporary shelter almost anywhere. Instead of sleeping in the car or truck, find a rest area, set up the tent, set up the camp stove and cook some good hot meals. People sleeping in their cars will be looking at your setup with envy.
After the disaster – has passed, and people return home – the fact is your house may be destroyed or unlivable. Tents allow for some form of instant shelter. Do not buy cheap tents, buy good quality well built products.
As with Hurricane Rita – the Red Cross, FEMA and the Salvation Army did NOT set up and temporary shelters. Just because your house has been destroyed does not mean that a relief organization is going to help you.
Lesson Learned About Evacuations – Most road maps do not show the “back roads.” Because of this lack of detailed maps it is advised to drive the evacuation route several times a year. Know where the construction zones are at, know the back roads to get around the traffic bottle necks. Detailed maps should be included in every survival kit – “where do we want to go, how do we get there” should already be answered BEFORE you get on the road.
Realize that state and local police might shut down cross traffic. Just because a road is drivable now, does not mean it will be before or after a disaster strikes. Have at least two routs to get to the destination.
After going though some lessons learned, a basic kit should include
Water Filter and enough bottled water for at least 1 gallon per person per day
At least 7 days worth of food for every person in the group
First Aid Kit
Sleeping bags and pillows
Flashlights and hand crank lanterns
Camp Stove with fuel
Eating utensils, soap and hand sanitizer
Spare clothes for each person
Good quality ice chest
Its easy for relief organizations to tell the public that a basic survival kit should have this or that in it. However, only after looking at real disasters and the needs of each family can a well rounded survival kit be put together.
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Never underestimate the power of a good hot meal during times of stress. After a disaster, and stress levels are up, food can be used as a comfort blanket.
When my family returned home after hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Ike in 2008, we found the yard covered with tree limbs. One tree in the back yard had blown down, but landed away from my house. Some of our group started cleaning up the yard, and piling the limbs up. While this cleaning up was going on I started cooking.
The pit was fired up, some sausage and steaks were cooked and we all had a feast right before dark.
It was of great comfort to have a good hot meal after a stressful event. The night before, it sounded like we had a train sitting on top of us for about 8 hours. The next morning everyone was stressed out, and edgy, but the hot meal was like a turning point for that day.
After a stressful event, plan on the group using a feast to comfort and reassure them that life will return back to normal. Then is not the time for powered eggs and freeze dried foods. Pull the steaks or ribs out of the freezer and cook them up.
The food in the freezer should be eaten before the packaged stuff anyway. So its a win win situation. The group gets a good hot meal and the perishable foods are eaten before they spoil.
Never underestimate the power of a good hot meal. It can really help with the morale of the group.
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