Do More to Be Living Prepared

The American Red Cross launched its latest campaign – Do More Than Cross Your Fingers this month.  A major focus of this campaign is to get people thinking and planning about preparedness more, and stresses the importance of getting emergency supplies together, which is actually at odds with a recent shift in focus by DHS/FEMA away from kits and towards the “getting informed” aspects of their Get Ready campaign (apparently mostly because of the cost factors involved).

Personally and professionally, I think having sufficient emergency supplies available for your family should be non-negotiable, and there are plenty of ways to do this effectively on a budget and at little to no extra cost (think stock rotation). [hmmm… I feel another posting series coming on – Living Prepared on a Budget].

I was introduced to the the Do More campaign by e-mail, which read in part that “The Do More campaign encourages families to take easy steps to prepare for the unexpected and provides a game and many resources to help parents do so.”

I like this.

The Prepare 4 game will collect your name, zip code and e-mail address and then has you search through the aisles of a grocery store to find missing items in your emergency kit.  The game will pause at some point and ask you some questions about your household (number of persons, pets, etc.) and you’ll soon receive an e-mail with a customized emergency supply list that you should get for your household.  It’s a good list.  The one they sent me you can see here.

The Do More site also has a flash bulletin board called My Kit where people can post and share their own ideas for items that should be included in an emergency kit, or you can simply browse the ideas of others.  (I assume someone is vetting the submissions before they are made publicly available).

I really like this.

Making learning about preparedness to be a fun online experience is a great way to attract an audience and impart important knowledge.

About a year ago, I was introduced to a link to an online game in which you were presented with a few different earthquake scenarios (at work, at night, one other I can’t recall) and you had to pick the best option (e.g. hide under bed or desk, run outside).  It was developed for a California county as I recall, and despite spending some time searching online today, I couldn’t find it.  If this rings a bell and you know the url, please send it to me or add it as a comment to this post.

I believe that gaming is a great way to impart disaster preparedness knowledge in a fun and educational way to a large number of people.  There are several good simulations out there already – but there is much more fertile ground for development in this area.

I did find a few good disaster preparedness simulation games that I thought I would share with you:

Beat the Quake: developed by the Earthquake Country Alliance: in which you attempt to ready your room by securing furniture and other items before a quake hits  (impossible to get them all I’ve found)

Stop Disasters: developed by UNISDR (the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction): a very detailed and complex simulation about how to mitigate natural disaster risks from tsunamis to wildfires to earthquakes to hurricanes and more.  You have to build a resilient and resistant community before a natural disaster strikes in order to minimize the loss of life and property.

Red Cross The Game: developed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): a simulation of responding to international humanitarian disasters as the IFRC’s Emergency Response Unit does.  (Great fun, it reminds me of my days in the field).

Please send me links to any more.

So do more than cross your fingers, if you do, you’ll be Living Prepared.

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Traveling Prepared – When to Evacuate your Hotel Room

I was on the phone this evening with family – around 6:30 PM local time, when I was interrupted by the muted sounds of my hotel’s fire alarm going off in the hallway.  The bright flashing pulse of a white strobe, that accompanies the fire alarm, visible underneath the door, confirmed to me what the sound meant.  So I quickly got off the phone and immediately exited the hotel via the nearest stairwell without hesitation, right?

Well, almost.

After hanging up the phone, I opened my hotel room door to find the hallway filled with a strong odor of burnt toast and visible smoke.  So, okay, I told myself, I really should be going now.  So I immediately proceeded to exit the hotel via the nearest stairwell, right?

Not quite.

I left the door open so I could hear any announcements or anything people in the hallway might be saying and went back into my hotel room.  I grabbed my laptop and cellphone and threw them quickly into the empty backpack I had with me (conveniently lying empty on the bed), put my hotel room key in my pocket and reluctantly, because I knew that even taking the laptop would be against my own advice, left everything else in the hotel room and exited into the hallway.

Before closing the door, a couple walked by who said that my neighbor had burned a piece of pizza in the microwave in his room.  Sure enough, next door, I found a man trying to shout over the fire alarm into the phone, who stopped to tell me, “Can you believe this?  I burned a piece of pizza in the microwave and all this happens!” and then he turned back to screaming into the phone.  There was smoke and the strong odor of burnt toast (or pizza crust, as the case was) in the room butno fire, so I was satisfied that there was no immediate danger here on the eighth floor.

The couple turned around and proceeded down the hall.

“You know,” I said to them, “this guy on the eighth floor burns a piece of pizza, and at the same time, a real fire breaks out on the sixth floor.  It would be best to take the stairs to the lobby until we know more.  The stairs are right here.”  They smiled and waved and went back to their room.

I paused in thought before my door, pulled it close, and then finally immediately proceeded to exit the hotel via the nearest stairwell, which happened to be located directly opposite my room.  From the fire alarm going off until this point in the story took no more than 3-4 minutes.

When I got outside (because the stairwell emptied to the sidewalk), I could hear no alarms, sirens or other hotel guests nearby.  The hotel entrance was just a few yards away, so I re-entered the hotel and went to the front desk, where I found a long line of people waiting to check in.  There were no alarms, flashing lights or any apparent sign of activity or response to the fire alarm that had led me to evacuate the building only minutes before.

I approached the front desk and asked whether the fire alarm had been cleared and whether it was safe to return upstairs.  The girl behind the desk told me that they had turned off the alarm (so noisy) and sent someone upstairs to check it out.

Ugh.

When I returned upstairs, the alarms were not sounding anymore, but the strobe was still flashing (it went off within 10 more minutes); I opened my window for a while to air out the room, and sat down to write up this story.

Lessons Learned:

So, how did I do?

I just finished reading Amanda Ripley’s exquisite book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why.  She spends a lot of time discussing the different ways in which people respond to disasters.  She breaks down how people respond into three phases: denial (inaction), deliberation (deciding what to do), and “the decisive moment” (when you decide to act).

According to these standards, I think I did pretty well.  I spent no time in denial, moved quickly into deliberation, and acted fairly decisively according to my training and experience.

I did leave my flashlight behind in my suitcase (and my keys with my keychain flashlight was in my computer bag).  Boo.  They weren’t on my person at the time, and I honestly very consciously did not want to spend a lot of time thinking about what to take with me, because when you are evacuating a building or an airplane or anything else that may be burning, the rule is to leave your belongings behind (because they can only get in the way) and get your person (and other persons) to safety as soon as possible.  Things are just that, things.

I honestly think that I returned to my room to grab my computer because there was smoke in the hallway.  Otherwise, I probably would have assumed that the fire alarm was a false alarm and would have just left it.  But faced with the prospect of a proximate cause of smoke, I considered the real possibility that anything I left behind in my hotel room might be damaged by fire, smoke or water.  And I just couldn’t bear to leave the notebook behind – and that wasn’t a case of it being valuable monetarily.  It was more an issue of time.  It would take days (literally) to replace it; even though I backed up all my files before leaving on this trip on Monday, to start afresh with a new computer requires hours and hours of configuration, loading/installing of the software applications I use, and restoring my data files from those backups.  I couldn’t face losing days of productivity until I got the new machine where this one is now.  Next time, I will leave it, and I hope that this experience and conscious deliberation in advance will improve my performance the next time I am faced having to evacuate.

Finally, I wanted to admit that when I made the reservation at the hotel, I requested a room on a high floor.  I did this both because I tend to find that rooms on higher floors tend to have better views, and because they tend to be quieter – especially concerning street noise. However, this was a bad choice.  In the event of an emergency evacuation, which became a real situation, I found myself eight flights above street level.  I would have been much better prepared for a disaster on a lower floor.

This is probably generally true for staying in hotels – I would not want to be trapped on an upper floor of a high-rise hotel where I am unfamiliar with the stairwells and emergency exits if there were a fire or other incident.  I think it is generally a good idea to know and use the stairs at least once to exit any building you find yourself working in or staying in regularly, including hotels, and I’m glad I’ve now had a dry run during daylight, so I know exactly what to expect if the next alarm is real, there is smoke filling the stairs, and the lights are out.  My flashlight will be on my bedside table tonight.  And when I go to earthquake-prone California in a few weeks, I will be requesting a room on a lower floor.

The last lesson should be obvious.

When a fire alarm sounds and you find yourself in an unfamiliar building, do what you are supposed to do and exit the building.  This is especially important when you find yourself on an upper floor of a hotel with several flights of stairs between yourself and the street.  I’ve stayed in lots of hotels that have suffered false alarms – some in the middle of the night – and there is definitely an almost instinctual reaction to blow it off and remain behind, especially in the absence of smoke, panic (PANIC!), and other hotel guests returning sleepily to their rooms.  Delay, inaction and denial caused many to lose to their lives in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and in many other disasters.

So be prepared to evacuate when you are traveling; know where the emergency exits and stairwells are located, and practice walking down the stairs and out of the building if you have the opportunity.  And plan, at least in your head, what you will do if a fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night.

If you do, you’ll be Living Prepared™.

Household Emergency Supplies: Food & Water

Food and water are the most essential of your household emergency supplies.  And many disaster scenarios will threaten the availability of consumable food and potable water in your home and from local merchants, including anything that impacts the power utilities infrastructure (see hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.).

For example, here in New York City, much of the electrical power infrastructure is located below ground and close to sea-level.  In the event of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, storm surges could reach the height of 20 ft around much of the City, which would flood electrical vaults with sea water.  ConEd rightly has plans to shut down the power supply throughout the City before the storm surge reaches the City to avoid severe damage when the conductive sea water inundates the power infrastructure.   And they admit that it will take weeks, if not months, to pump out seawater from the vaults and dry them out and then to restore regular service throughout the City.  So without power, how long do you think fresh food will be available in your neighborhood?

Other disasters have similarly foreseeable impacts, which is why everyone from FEMA and the American Red Cross to Living Prepared™ recommends that everyone store two weeks of food and water in the home for “shelter-in-place” scenarios where you may remain in the home after a disaster – and 3 days ready for your evacuation kit (or go-bag).

Strategies for Food and Water Storage

So…  as I noted in my previous post, I believe in keeping your emergency supplies accessible, isolated and safe – and as far as food and water storage is concerned, do keep it separate from your regular household consumables.  Generally, I believe that there are two main strategies for emergency food and water storage:

Strategy #1: The Costco Solution: Buy in bulk and rotate.  This is the strategy I used to follow and for many, it may work out best.  For food – buy cases of canned foods that don’t require refrigeration or cooking/heating before you eat them.  Some examples:   baked beans, chili, tuna, peas, corn, fruit and most of all – soups.  You will find lots of other options at your local warehouse store.

Despite the long shelf life of many of these products, I would recommend replacing them annually and consuming the old stock rather than trying to stretch their longevity until the expiration dates near.  It also avoids having to track the expiration dates of many different products – some may be five years or longer – others only a year.

Many cans are self-opening, but you may need to stock a good manual (not electric!) can opener or two with the supplies.

For me, the problem with this solution for food was that I hate eating canned vegetables and prefer fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins.  I didn’t want to have to consume this stock regularly in order to rotate it.  I suppose I could have regularly donated it during holiday food drives.

For water: buy cases of bottled water in the largest bottles available (12 x 1 gallon bottles at my local Costco costs under $5).  You may elect to buy the smaller bottles (3/4 liter size or smaller) and use them as drinking water.  These clear plastic bottles are not designed for long-term water storage, so you should constantly use and rotate this stock of water.  Personally, I found that during the hot summer months, I was constantly poaching my emergency storage supply of bottled water.  I used a filtered water pitcher on tap water for drinking (and now have a filtered cold- and hot-water tap on my counter, so large storage bottles never got used – except to rotate them.  This wasn’t a sustainable, economic or green solution for me but it may work for you.

The advantages to the Costco Solution to emergency food and water supplies are cost, convenience and variety.

The negatives are mostly that it is a high maintenance solution – you need to rotate or check for differing expiration dates.  It is also an extremely excessive and un-green use of plastic bottles for water storage.

For me, these negatives made me turn to:

Strategy #2: The Living Prepared Solution: Buy dehydrated or other food designed for long-term storage and store water in large storage containers.  This is the strategy I follow now for my family.

Many suppliers of camping supplies have recently repackaged and remarketed a lot of their foodstuffs for emergency and disaster preparedness.  This is good because it has increased the options we have for long-term food storage.

These items have extraordinarily long shelf-lives – up to 30 years – and are designed for weight and storage efficiency.  Again, you will need to store a good manual can opener or two with the supplies, and in the case of dehydrated food, an extra allotment of water.  And mixing them with hot water is recommended, which could honestly be a challenge in a post-disaster environment.

I am counting on being able to heat some water – either through electrical means (hotpot, microwave) off of mains or generator power – through my gas range or propane grill with its own tank (and I should always have an extra filled tank on hand – but I don’t yet) – or even by building a small camp fire if I have to.  Time to consider a solar cooker as well.

Honestly, if I can’t heat some water after a disaster, I’m probably going to have bigger problems than eating cold meals!

You could also stock ready-to-eat food bars; these provide a balanced diet and lots of energy and require no cooking or preparation.  They are the true survivor’s solution.  I stock some for evacuation and emergency purposes.  But I decided that if my family had to eat emergency food rations for a couple of weeks, I wanted to have a little bit more variety and something resembling the food they are used to.

For water, I decided to purchase 5-gallon food-grade plastic water containers designed for long-term storage.  I tried out a couple of different models that are available online.  My favorites come from the Ready Store – they are rectangular, stack really well, and have a lid that really closes tightly.  Be wary when looking for water storage containers online – some merchants chart a ridiculous shipping charge (I know that water containers are large – but Amazon.com manages to ship with Free Supersaver Shipping and The Ready Store has free shipping on all orders over $100 – so shop around for the best buy.

8 of my 12 5-gallon Water Containers in Storage

8 of my 12 5-gallon Water Containers in Storage

5-gallon containers made the most sense for me.  They are light enough to be able to tip and pour, load into the car for evacuation, and carry up and down the stairs – but still hold a decent amount of water.  30-gallon drums are also available which are not going to be as portable, especially once filled, but may work for you and your home..

Don’t forget water saver – which will extend the shelf-life of your stored tap water for at least 5 years!  This is absolutely necessary for any planned long-term storage of water.

Date of Filling Written in Sharpie on Water Container

Date of Filling Written in Sharpie on Water Container

Is Mark Living Prepared?

I feel pretty good right now about my food and water preparedness, though I still have some ways to go.

For food – I purchased a 45-day supply of dehydrated food from the Ready Store – that’s for one person.  To cover my family of four, I supplemented this stock by ordering additional cans of food to ensure 3-meals a day for four persons for at least two weeks, as follows:

  • Breakfast – 72 servings (that’s 18 days x 4 persons)
  • Lunch & Dinner Entrees – 122 servings (that’s 15.25 days x 4 persons)
  • Vegetables – 120 servings (that’s 15 days x 4 persons)
  • Sides – 72 servings (rice – 18 days x 4 persons – once per day)
  • Fruits – 120 servings (that’s 15 days x 4 persons)

Assuming that my kids probably won’t eat a full portion, we’re in good shape for food.  (I have not yet planned for my poor 20 lb cat, however… although I think having an extra 20 lb bag of his diet “lite” cat food and keeping it rotated every few months will probably cover the poor little guy for a couple of weeks).  For my sheltering-in-place, I am assuming that I have access to my home – including plates, cups, pots, etc., so am not storing those with my emergency food supplies (though I am storing an extra manual can opener with it).  I will need to consider this for evacuation preparedness.

I also stock some ready-to-eat food bars – enough for more than 3 days for my entire family – that is suitable for go-bag/evacuation purposes as it requires no preparation and is rich in energy and nutrients.  These came in a transportable case with a handle so it is ready to go when needed.

For water, I have stored 40 gallons of water in 12x 5-gallon containers.  At one gallon per person per day, that should provide water for drinking and sanitation for 15 days for four people.  But that’s actually not enough.  I forgot to plan for the water I need to reconstitute my dehydrated food (or for my cat).  I am going to need almost 15 gallons of water just to reconstitute the 29 cans of food I have in storage, so I will need to order another 3x 5-gallon cans from the Ready Store.

For portable water, I am considering purchasing some packs of water designed for long-term storage – then I don’t have to worry about cups or drink containers, but for now, I plan to take 4 of the 5-gallon containers with me in the car should I need to evacuate my family.  The round ones come with dispensing spouts so those are the ones I have designated (but still need to separate and label as the evacuation supplies).  Our family is pretty attached to our stainless steel drink containers, so those will be designated as part of our evacuation kit as well.  (Part of what you never leave home without).

The water has been treated with water saver and is stored in my cellar – and labeled with the date or storage.  In five years – or probably in a little less, I will replace the water.  The food as long as it remains sealed in its cans, has a 30-year shelf life.

Hey – I know it is August already, and the Atlantic Hurricane season – quiet so far – is about to hit its peak for the year.  The summer in New York has been mild – and the wettest I can remember.  This is the first year I haven’t had to water the plants in our window boxes since I planted them in May.  The pendulum will swing the other way and we could be in for a hot and humid August and September, which brings its own risks of utility and infrastructure challenges and potential failures.   I’m going to continue to get my home and my family prepared for any disaster and I recommend you do the same.

Remember it’s never too late to start Living Prepared™.

Hurricane Preparedness: Household Emergency Supplies

The current tenets of emergency preparedness – as espoused by FEMA (Ready America) and the American Red Cross is:

  • Get a Kit
  • Make a Plan
  • Be Informed

Not a bad way to organize things, though I know there are some dissenters out there.  In getting ready for this year’s Hurricane Season, we’ll start with the Kit – what I call your “Household Emergency Supplies”.  These are the things you should be storing in your home – set aside for emergencies – not used or consumed on a regular basis.  They don’t need to be put in a bag (a go-bag is a different animal – more on that later), but should be easily transportable should you need or want to take (some of) them with you.

Is this practical?  Depends on where you live, how much storage space you have, and how disciplined you can be about not pilfering your emergency stash of granola bars and bottled water.

Household Emergency Supplies

So… where to start?  Ready America says:

“When preparing for a possible emergency situation, it’s best to think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.”

So while this sounds like good advice and simple enough, but these categories don’t cover several items on their recommended list (health and sanitation) and no items on their list actually cover “warmth”.

So in putting together the Living Prepared list of essential household emergency kit items, I’ve recategorized items into groups that are inspired by my background in international humanitarian relief and assistance, namely (alphabetically):  clothing, communications & power, documents & information, food & water, health & sanitation, pet care, shelter, and tools.  And what’s critical is that you set aside a 14-day supply of all consumables.

The Living Prepared™ List of Household Emergency Supplies:

Clothing

  • Complete changes of sturdy clothing (including footwear) for all seasons and all family members

Communications & Power

  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio
  • NOAA Weather radio with tone-alert
  • Flashlights & Light Sticks
  • Extra charger for your cellphone(s)
  • Extra batteries for radios & flashlights
  • Solar chargers or generator

Documents & Information

  • Maps of the local area (including neighboring states or areas that are part of your evacuation plan)
  • Copies of all important documents (including property deeds/proof of residency, photo ID, insurance and bank information)
  • Cash ($400 in small bills / nothing larger than a $20)
  • Paper, pencils and pens
  • Copy of Household Emergency Plan
  • Emergency guides and reference materials

Food & Water

  • 14-day supply of water based on 1-gallon per person per day
  • 14-day supply of non-perishable food
  • infant formula (14-day supply with additional water ration as required)

Health & Sanitation

  • First Aid Kit & First Aid Guide
  • N95 Dust Masks
  • Moist towelettes / hand sanitizer / disinfectant wipes or spray
  • Garbage bags
  • 14-day supply of prescription and non-prescription medications
  • 14-day supply of feminine hygiene supplies
  • 14-day supply of personal hygiene items (including a toothbrush, paste, soap, toilet paper)
  • 14-day supply of diapers (if required)
  • Chlorine bleach & medicine dropper
  • Bug repellent
  • Sun block

Pet Care

  • 14-day supply of pet food, medications, & extra water ration as required

Shelter

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Sleeping bag / emergency blankets / bedding
  • Mess kits – including paper or plastic plates, cups, utensils
  • Towels (cloth and paper)
  • Books, games, puzzles

Tools

  • Gas shut off tool / crowbar
  • Ziplock bags in various sizes
  • Manual can opener (if needed for food)
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof container
  • Multi-purpose tool

You can also find two very good and similar standard lists of recommended household emergency supplies from Ready America and the American Red Cross.

Where to Store your Household Emergency Supplies:

  • Somewhere accessible – the top shelf of a closet – the cellar (if you have one and as long as you can expect it to remain dry/flood free after foreseeable hazards depending on where you live).
  • Somewhere isolated from regular consumables (not in your kitchen pantry)
  • Somewhere safe – think earthquake safe – not in a detached garage or storage shed that may be damaged by wind/rain/flood/debris.  Someplace likely to survive an emergency or disaster impacting your home.

Exceptions may be made for particular items (for example, flashlights, light sticks and fire extinguishers which should be distributed throughout the house so they can be easily grabbed when needed).

In the next series of postings, I’ll go through the details of each category of the Household Emergency Supply lisy to give some practical advice on what to get, where to get them, and how to store these items such that they will be accessible, isolated and safe for your use after an emergency.  And I’ll document what I am doing in my own home to get these items together.

So put together your Household Emergency Supplies.  If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

A Note on Go-Bags and Evacuation Kits

If you are single and living alone, it is easy to prepare a go-bag with everything you need to evacuate and be self-sufficient for three days that fits into a backpack or small duffle bag.  You can keep it in your coat or clothes closet or under the bed.  Simple and compact.  Now try fitting everything you need for yourself, a spouse, two kids, a cat and two parakeets into a backpack – including food and water for three days.  Forget it!  Your go-bag probably doesn’t fit in the trunk of your car.  I know when I pack the family for a long-weekend at Grammy’s, we fill the back of a mid-sized SUV with all the stuff we think we need; and that doesn’t include life-sustaining consumables beyond snacks and sandwiches for the ride.

So while I like the concept of go-bags for individuals, I don’t think they work for families all that well.

So what should families do?  Multi-task.  I’m going to be storing 15 days worth of drinking water in my cellar based on the standard calculation of 1 gallon per person per day – in 12x five-gallon containers.  If I need to evacuate, I am taking three days worth of water with me – I grab three of those five-gallon containers and put them in the back of the car.  Same story with non-perishable food.  Keep one stock for what you need in the home – but store it such that it is easily transportable and will be taken with you as part of your evacuation kit.  Keep the supplies that are part of the evacuation kit together and labeled so there is no confusion at the time as to how much or what items you should be taking with you.

I’ll come back to Go-Bags and Evacuation Kits after this series on Household Emergency Supplies is finished.

Living Prepared™ for the Atlantic Hurricane Season

NHC Current Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity

The Atlantic Hurricane season began officially on June 1.  But even a few days before, Tropical Depression One formed off the coast of the Carolina’s, pretty far north for a TD this early in the season.   Although we’ve already missed National Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 24-30), it’s never too late to be Living Preparedfor the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

I attended a webinar today entitled “2009 Hurricane Preparedness for Critical Infrastructure” run by the Department of Homeland Security.  While this was geared towards a briefing on how the national authorities have planned to respond to major events like hurricanes to protect critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR in government acronym-speak), it provided some useful insights on the threats of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season.  Here’s some tidbits I wanted to pass on:

  • “All incidents are local incidents” – so reach out and know how to make contact with your local first responder agencies.  Good advice.
  • The 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Forecasts for an average season.  The National Hurricane Center predicts there will be 9-14 named stored; 4-7 hurricanes with 1-3 major hurricanes.  The University of Colorado has predicted 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes (category 3+).
  • The frequency of hurricanes peaks around September 10th, with most hurricanes and tropical storms occurring between mid- to late-August and the beginning of October.

peakofseason

There are a lot of great resources online about hurricanes, hurricane preparedness, storm warnings and alerts.  As I’ve done for H1N1, we’ll post a lot of these links in the right and left columns of this site for ease of reference and also let you know where to find them so you can follow them yourself directly.  For now, I recommend the following:

Living Prepared for the Atlantic Hurricane Season

This next series in Living Prepared with focus on the practical steps you should take to ready yourself, your home and your family for a hurricane impacting your area.  It will include advice for building stocks of emergency supplies in your home, readying your home to survive in a storm, and preparing for evacuation.  And I’ll track my own preparations in our newly renovated house in Brooklyn, NY.

But as recommended by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, Living Prepared will take an all-hazards approach to emergency preparedness.  What this means is that the your household emergency supplies, go-bags and other steps you take to prepare yourself and your families for emergencies and disasters will be effective against all possible emergencies and disasters – whether an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, fire or chemical hazard.  So the preparations we go through for this Hurricane Season will carry us throughout the year.

The topics we’ll cover are:

  • Household emergency supplies – what you should be storing/stocking in your home to take you through an emergency
  • Personal and Family Go-Bags – what you should be preparing to take with you should you need to evacuate
  • Vehicle Preparedness – what you should be doing to make sure your vehicle is prepared to evacuate you and your family
  • Developing a Household Emergency Plan

And I’ll try to document my own progress at practicing what I preach.  As we’ve recently moved back into our Brooklyn house after six months of renovations, I have to build up my own emergency stocks.  My personal goal will be to be preparedand have everything in place by the time hurricane season opens for New York City on August 1.

Thoughts from Day Two of Long Island-NYC Emergency Management Conference

I attended the Long Island – New York City Emergency Management ConferenceDay Two – today.  Here’s a few thoughts I wanted to pass on that are relevant to Living Prepared™:

Weather: A major focus was on the weather today.  Lots of lessons for the summer and hurricane season, including:

  • Excessive heat was the #1 killer in NYC for all weather hazards in 2008 – 10 deaths – from 2 heat waves in July.
  • Rip currents – 9 deaths in July – all deaths in unprotected areas (no lifeguards).  So don’t swim in unprotected areas – especially when rip currents are forecasted (and they are – I see them on the local news weather reports all the time).
  • Trees falling on cars – from high winds – causes untold deaths every year.  Remain alert at all times when high winds are forecast.

Earthquakes: Did you know that there are 9 fault lines in or near NYC?   The big quake of record here was a Magnitude 5 (M5) in August, 1884 whose epicenter was over ocean south of Sandy Hook.  According to a HAZUS run, an M5 would cause over $4.4 billion in damage.  Still…. a M5 shouldn’t cause significant building collapse or loss of life given the building codes… but who knows?  A larger quake is not really foreseeable.  I’ve been through a lot of M5 aftershocks and can’t see one doing major damage to NYC…. maybe broken glass, utility disruptions, water main and gas line breaks…. but no major loss of life.

NYCfaults_map_800

Hurricanes: predictions for 2009 similar to average – maybe above the average for named storms (9.6) – 6 hurricanes – 2 major according to the forecasts.  The NYC area hasn’t had a hurricane hit since 1985’s Hurricane Gloria.  Tropical Storms – including Hannah last year – are more common.  Certainly – a big storm (cat 3)  is foreseeable for the NYC area and will eventually occur.  Historical hurricane/tropical storm tracks show the entire East and Gulf Coast get hit.  Hurricanes are something to this and every year.  Note that Public Advisory for Tropical Depression One was issued at  11 AM by the National Weather Service today (storm tracks also released).  NYC OEM Commissioner Joseph Bruno noted that it is highly unusual that we have a numbered storm this far north (off the Carolina coast) in May.  The 2009 Hurricane Season has started a few days early this year – it starts June 1 for the Atlantic region and August 1 for NYC.

Tropical_Storm_Map

Beware of complacency.  Again, the last hurricane here was 24 years ago.  People have bravado about weather… In addition to (and because of) public complacency, evacuation from low-lying areas – especially special needs population – is the biggest concern of the region’s emergency managers.  So be prepared to evacuate.

It is time to be Living Prepared™ for Hurricane Season.   I’ll be posting on this over the next month to help you with your household emergency and evacuation planning.

H1N1: Commissioner Bruno noted that there are 1.1 million kids in New York City schools and that the Department of Education (DOE) not only educates but feeds a lot of kids who otherwise don’t get good meals outside of school.  When considering school closures, we need to look at the impacts on the children beyond just continuing their education – and other agencies and programs may need to get involved beyond DOE and Department of Health.

The final session was a fascinating case study of how the crash of Continental Airlines Flight 3407 in Clarence, New York (February 2009) was handled by first responders, State and federal authorities.  Good ICS (Incident Command System) and NIMS (National Incident Management System) principles were followed by all; there was good coordination between federal, state and local officials; even the media was mostly well-behaved.   Well done.

That’s a wrap from the conference.

Thoughts from Day One of Long Island-NYC Emergency Management Conference

I attended the Long Island – New York City Emergency Management ConferenceDay One – today.  Here’s a few thoughts I wanted to pass on that are relavent to Living Prepared™:

  • There was lots of discussion about hurricanes…. almost none on H1N1 or pandemics.  The agenda was set months ago before the H1N1 outbreak… Still… it would have been good to hear about the State’s, City’s and neighboring counties plans given the current response to H1N1…..
  • Speaking of hurricane season:  NYC is third largest port in country.  How shipping is affected may be an underestimated impact of a category 3 or 4 storm.  Long Island plans call for ordered evacuations; the NYC plan does not and calls for sheltering in public facilities; the result will be Long Island residents will fill up shelters in NYC – especially in Queens which borders Nassau county.  This needs some more thinking.
  • Debris removal – federal guidelines have changed making it more difficult to use public funds for debris removal on private property.  Must be proven cost-effective to do it or some such nonsense.  This also needs some more thinking.
  • Bryan Norcross – famous for his on air coverage of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and author of the Hurricane Almanac, was the luncheon speaker.  He noted that the US has lots of disasters – the East Coast has hurricanes (being on the west ocean basin); the middle of the country has the perfect geography for tornadoes; and the West Coast has its Pacific Rim earthquakes/volcanoes.  So the challenge for government is who is going to lead people through these disaster events?  He sees a failure in emergency communications planning nationally because there is no national broadcast system.  (I’m not sure I agree – more on that in a moment).  He cited a gap between what the National Hurricane Center knows about the impacts of hurricanes (almost everything) and what the people impacted by hurricanes say afterwards (“gee, I wasn’t expecting that”).  The Emergency Alert System (EAS) seems pretty effective (it allows government to break into all TV and radio broadcasts to issue alerts – NYC in particular does a great job of managing this and other assets to notify the public during emergencies.  Media coverage I’ve seen of large pending storms seems pretty good.  I don’t think you can blame government for people’s attention spans.  However, his advocacy of setting up internet feeds and streaming from City/State/County EOCs (Emergency Operations Centers) such that the public and the media can be given live info directly from government during emergencies is an excellent one and something to take note of.
  • NOAA Weather radios – get one.  They turn on automatically when emergency alerts are sent and while the system was set up for weather, it could be used for other disasters/emergencies by government.  (Reminder to self – more on this in a future post.)
  • CMAS – Cellular Mass Alerting System – awaiting federal action – will provide cell alerting based on proximity to cell towers.  Finally!
  • NY-Alert is one of the best uses of the internet to notify people of emergencies.  They are also soon pioneering a lot of web 2.0 applications – including the ability to send notifications all the way into people’s XBoxes and Wii’s.   Pretty cool.  The City of New York’s Office of Emergency Management is also going to be using twitter and facebook to push out alerts and public information.  They launch Notify NYC (a text based emergency alert system) on a citywide basis tomorrow.  If you are a resident, sign up to be notified of events/incidents in your neighborhood.

More to come tomorrow from Day Two.