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Emergency Preparedness Basics: “luck favors the prepared”

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Here it is, September, 2021. Over the last year and a half, we have learned that life as we know it can change significantly in a short amount of time. As we continue to face this worldwide pandemic with increasing coronavirus cases fueled by variants, supply chain shortages, rising inflation, political and social unrest, it becomes more and more obvious that it is very important for us regardless of where we find ourselves now, to prepare our families, friends, and businesses for future emergencies. You, your family, friends, and employees depend on it.

Unfortunately, many people think that a disaster or emergency won’t happen to them. This normalcy bias presents problems for almost all of us. It seems like not that long ago; I was one of those people.

I theoretically understood that natural disasters and emergencies happened, but it really wasn’t until I deployed overseas that I witnessed the absolute devastation that happens when a government collapses and chaos reigns. This continued to hit home as I travelled throughout the middle east and Africa working with our allies and local militaries and governments, analyzing their struggles and working together on partner led solutions. Here in the United States, it further hit home when we deployed people to help with Hurricane Katrina and many other hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. It became clearer to me that I need to better prepare my family and those I care about for the possibility of a natural or man-made disaster. If there was one thing in particular that stood out to me, it was that these disasters are much worse for those that were not at least somewhat prepared.

It is important for us to move past “this won’t happen to us”, or normalcy bias. If we allow ourselves think about what a disaster or emergency would like for our family it can still feel overwhelming and might be easy to procrastinate to another day.

Today is a good day to look at your current preparedness situation, do an assessment and see what you can improve on. Taking a realistic and measured approach to this is highly recommended. There is a lot of information online that take you from one extreme (I’m going to ride this out in a nuclear bunker); to (I’m just going to let the storm come through and take me) the other. I recommend a simple, common-sense approach that addresses a few basic initiatives that will take you pretty far when disaster strikes.

The three basic areas are physical fitness, sheltering in palace, and preparing to evacuate.

Physical Fitness. The first and one of the most important steps can you can take, is to work on your personal health through physical exercise and movement. Physically fit people have an easier time dealing with stress, and are much more likely to not only help themselves but others in an emergency. Physical fitness is the basic building block to everything we do as humans, whether we are carrying groceries from the store, or packing a kid down the street during Saturday Vibes in Helper. Physically fit people are generally more resistant to illness and common diseases. Starting a fitness routine as simple as walking every morning or night will get you headed in the right direction. Going to the Doctor for routine checkups and staying current on medications is also very important.

What to prepare for? With physical fitness addressed, the next important issue to review is what likely scenarios do you need to preparing for? Living in Southeast Utah, we probably don’t need to prepare for a hurricane, but significant concerns are earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and winter storms. All of these scenarios might also include power and water outages.

There are some planning precautions that we can look at right away that will address all of these concerns. In many emergencies, we decide to shelter in place. This may be our best option based on the current environment. Something we should be prepared for is sheltering in our home without access to water or power, for a duration of hours to days, even up to weeks. To shelter in place, most of us have food for a couple of days in the house. The biggest concern is usually water.

Water is cumbersome to store, heavy, and you need a lot of it. I recommend storing and rotating water about every 6 months. You can store it in old milk jugs, water bottles from the store, or even 55-gallon BPA free barrels. It is recommended that you add 1 teaspoon of bleach for every 5 gallons of water. This will prevent growth of microorganisms. After you figure out water storage, food and first-aid supplies should be next. It is a good idea to stock our pantry with things that you and your family eat, so as to not interrupt their diet significantly. It is wise to look at what your families eat each week, and make sure you have at least two weeks’ worth in your home at all times. You can also put together a 72-Hour kit that would not only be useful to shelter in place, but even more useful if you are forced to leave your home. I also keep a large water filter on hand, in case I am not able to boil water. The Big Berkey filter I use is gravity fed and works very well. If you aren’t able to run to the grocery store, do you have enough first aid supplies including pain relief medication that you might need? It would be a huge benefit to your family if/when disaster strikes, you are able to stay home and not worry about trying to go out in a dangerous situation to take care of the immediate needs of your family.

If you are not able to shelter in place, you may need to evacuate. There is an old saying in the military that “luck favors the prepared”. An evacuation is a super stressful event, especially if you have not prepared a little in advance. If you had 10-15 minutes to leave your home, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a plan in place to get you and your family out the door with what you need?

A good idea is to write a list of what you need to take with you and put it in a common area (on the fridge or inside the pantry door) in plain sight with everything you need to grab (and its location). This checklist will make sure you get the most important things that might otherwise be forgotten (medication, important papers, etc…). This list should also identify things you need to do at your house before you leave like shutting off the power and gas., depending on the emergency. If you are able to stage these essentials in an easy access area, this is even better. I have my food stuffs in the pantry, shelter, sleeping bags, and security needs are close by. 72-Hour kits really give you a lot of capability. I recommend following this list to build your kit: A best practice is to keep an emergency kit in each vehicle you own.

Lastly, having a family emergency plan that coordinates a family/friend link up is vital. If you are at work, home, the store, or anywhere else, knowing where your children are and who picks them up is important. Knowing where to meet in advance will also be beneficial as cell phone towers could be down or damaged. The final portion of our family plan should be identifying a location to go in case of an emergency. If it is with a family member out of town, you may even be able to place some supplies with them in advance (and your house might be their alternate evacuation location).

While I don’t spend my day worrying about disasters or emergencies, I find myself sleeping a little better at night knowing I have put some effort towards preparing my family for an uncertain future.

If you need assistance building an emergency preparedness plan or preparing for a disaster, the team at the Southeast Utah Health Department is available to assist in any way.


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