September 30: National Preparedness Day: You’re on your own.

Hurricane Katrina, 2005: About 25,000 people were bussed to the Houston Astrodome in Texas from the New Orleans Superdome which had become untenable. Overall, about a quarter million fled to the Houston area from New Orleans during that disaster. Many people arrived without food, water, medicine, glasses, and other essentials which community, state, and Federal services scrambled to provide.

September in America is National Preparedness Month culminating in National Preparedness Day on the 30th. We’ll get into particulars of this important holiday shortly but first a personal note. To my mind, some year it would be great  for the government to call a spade a spade and put forth the theme: You’re On Your Own. Not meaning to be frivolous or dismissive towards frivolous and dismissive members of American public, but the fact of the matter is, the overwhelming majority of people in this country expect the government–yes, that same government they distrust–to come and save their unprepared backsides during every emergency. Then they whine and complain that help took too long, there wasn’t enough, the emergency shelter wouldn’t allow my pit bull, etc …

My grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and two world wars, always kept emergency food on hand. National memories of hard times, and personal memories like theirs, fade through extended internal peace combined with an over-abundant food supply. This led to dangerous complacency here in the U.S but that is changing. Today, with every disaster in the world popping up on the internet, decreased confidence in government, and a wealth of how-to prepare information available, millions of people have once again adopted common sense plans for taking care of themselves during emergencies. That said, millions more Americans are still unprepared. After hearing the message every September for years that they should make emergency plans and act on them, most people in this country choose to stick their heads in the sand as they spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need. Being told You’re On Your Own  might help them understand that, when Seattle is smashed by the Cascadia earthquake, or Florida gets walloped by another hurricane, or one of those sinking sky scrapers topples in San Francisco, people trapped in the rubble will be the priority. People who are merely hungry and uncomfortable , or have run out of cream for their latte, won’t be.

‘Take Control 1,2,3. Brought to you by various federal, state, and local agencies, and coordinated by those dedicated, underappreciated folks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).** This years campaign gives a nod especially towards older people. Here’s the 1,2,3 (slightly compressed) on FEMA’s ‘Take Control 1,2,3  web page which offers connections to particular topics listed.  You’ll find the link below.

1) Assess Your Needs:
*What natural hazards might you face: floods, storms, earthquakes, etc?
*How will you receive warnings?
*What is your access to transportation, evacuation routes if you need to bug out?
*How will you cope with a power outage lasting several days?
*Who relies on you?
*If you have pets, can you take care of them? Will a local emergency shelter let you bring them in?
*Does your medical equipment need a power source? [C-Paps and the like]
*Do you use assistive devices like glasses, hearing aids, walkers, etc?
*Do you take medications?
*Is your property insured? [you might want to double check]

2) Make a Plan: [based on your needs assessment, this is the hands-on part]
*Build an emergency kit: food, water, prescription meds, back-up power for medical devices, battery powered radio, games for kids, important family documents.
*Emergency meeting locations. Assume you’re not going to be all together all the time. Decide on where you’ll meet up.
*Contact info: Make a list of people who may need your help and who can help you.
*Write down evacuation information: how will you travel? What roads are likely to be impassable due to flooding, broken bridges, congestion?

3) Engage Your Support Network:
*Know your network. Family, friends, neighbors, congregation. [Also, include those who may depend on you.]
*Make sure someone in your network knows your specific needs.
*Make sure someone in your network knows where your spare house key, emergency supplies are. [if the house has a key pad, those work on batteries and should still work during power outages. Caveats: battery life can be anywhere from a couple months to two years depending on type of pad, type of battery (lithium lasts longer than alkaline), whether or not the lock and door frame are properly aligned, whether the lock is hooked up to network/WiFi which shortens battery life.]
*Know your hospital’s emergency plans.
*Participate in a community preparedness event.
*Make yourself part of someone else’s preparedness plan.

**Note on FEMA. FEMA is the whipping boy accused of incompetence after every disaster. Sometimes it’s valid, often it’s not.

Disasters have always been with us and they’re becoming more frequent and expensive. Some are unstoppable. With those  we hang on, use the supplies we’ve put by, and pick up the pieces afterwards. There are good disaster response models out there, both for households and for governments. If your government isn’t on board, or you realize you’re not their highest priority, relax. Take Control 1,2,3.  Keep calm and prepare as if you’re on your own.