Traveling Prepared – Part 1

I have been doing a lot of traveling the past few months, both by plane and automobile and I’ve found that each poses different challenges to Living Prepared.  And I’ve been on different kinds of trips – from simple business trips (powerpoint and projector in hand) to disaster response exercises in semi-austere environments to a family camping vacation.  I thought it would be a good time to review some lessons learned from these experiences and to see how I am measuring up to the standards of this blog.

Airline travel

Airline travel poses significant challenges – especially if you are carrying on all of your baggage – to keeping the 10-12 items you should not leave home without with you – because of airport security.  I’ve gone on a couple of day-trips or quick overnights and haven’t needed to check any baggage – actually, I didn’t want to check any baggage because of the additional time (and expense) it takes to check domestic baggage.  And there are some items on the list of items you shouldn’t leave home without that aren’t going to (or shouldn’t) make it through the TSA security checkpoints – namely a Swiss Army knife/multi-tool and the vehicle escape tool.

Carry on only flights

I lost one of my Res-Q-Me’s that I have perpetually attached to my key chain at one checkpoint.  I forgot to take it off my key chain and leave it at home and the TSA screener asked what it was when I emptied my pockets and placed my keys in a bin was going through security.  Odd thing… I had to stop and explain to him what the device was and that he should confiscate it from me – both because of the blade (though shielded, it could easily be taken apart to become a weapon) – and the window shattering punch – which – although I don’t know whether it would break an airplane window – I would not want to find out.  He somewhat remained unconvinced, but I reassured him that he should indeed put it in the bin of confiscated items and that I wasn’t worried about it as it was only a $10 item and I had others at home.

Second odd thing – on two other occasions, I have successfully gone through security with a Res-Q-Me on my key chain, which I put in my carry on bag to go through screening (including, at this very moment! Yikes!  I promise to put it in my checked bag on the way home from this trip).  I don’t want to comment further on the state of screening at the nation’s airports, nor do I intend to continue to test these procedures informally or unintentionally.  But I hate being without my Swiss Army knife especially when away from home; I find that I still use it daily for both the mundane and creative tasks.

I have seen mailers at airports such that you can mail yourself items that you can’t carry on a flight.  This is a great solution if you plan to be somewhere for several days and don’t want to check a bag.  But personally, I have actually become a great fan of checking one bag – especially if I have a connection to make.  This allows me to take with me all those items that I can’t carry on – Swiss Army knife, Res-Q-Me (when I remember to stick it in there), a decent bottle of hand sanitizer, and depending on the purpose of the trip, some other tools that are prohibited from carry on baggage (more to follow).  This also avoids having to lumber around the airport and on and off planes with bulky luggage.

Packing for a plane trip

When flying, let’s start with these premise: you will always have a carry on bag, and in that carryon bag should be not only things you need/want with you on the flight (books, snacks, iPod), but also everything that you can’t afford to be at your destination without.

This actually should not be a long list.  I’ve had a couple of experiences with lost checked luggage and have learned a lot from them.  Let me share those with you.

Just over 10 years ago, I was working as the emergency communications officer for UNICEF, based at UNICEF’s global headquarters in New York.  I was part of a team of instructors who were going to be training 100 UNICEF staff from around the world to be a part of their rapid response team – ready to respond to humanitarian disasters wherever and whenever they took place.  The training was to take place at an abandoned facility outside Bamako, Mali, on the border of the south Saharan desert.  My checked luggage never, ever, arrived.  In that bag were 100% of my clothing (beyond what I was wearing on the plane) and all of the training materials that had been prepared for the trainees.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow a couple of changes of clothes from other UNICEF staff, as well as personal supplies (sunblock, etc.), and bought some t-shirts in the local market.  We conducted a hands-on training and all ended up okay, but most of my favorite expedition clothing and my camera and my personal travel kit were lost forever.

After that experience, I resolved to always carry on:

  • At least one full change of clothing
  • Valuable personal possessions (e.g. computers, cameras)
  • Anything you absolutely need to have at your destination for professional reasons (e.g. presentations, handouts)

So, I should have learned from that experience… and for a while, I tried to live by that rule.  Unfortunately, that often made my carry on bag a bit on the heavy side, and I do have chronic lower back problems, so I found myself relapsing into a check-the-maximum baggage mindset.

Just a few years later, I was caught out again.  I was sent on a mission to Dili, East Timor during that country’s process of independence from Indonesia via Darwin, Australia in 1999 on behalf of the U.S. Government.  I arrived in Darwin after 36+ hours of coach middle-seats on full planes with less than an hour to run between connections in Los Angeles and Sydney.  I made it.  Needless to say, my checked bag was three days behind me.  Being on such a long trip, I had carried on a couple of changes of clothing, but did not have the tropic-wear required of the 100+ degree heat of Darwin and Dili.  A quick trip to the local surf shops in Darwin got me some t-shirts and shorts that I still like to wear to this day.

Lesson learned again.  Maybe for you the solution is to try to carry on everything you take with you on a flight.  Personally, I find it annoying to watch people get on planes with enormous wheeled bags that take up an entire overhead compartment (which need to accommodate the bags for at least two or generally three persons each), plus a large “computer bag” plus a third tote or plastic bag – truly stretching the limits of what should be allowed on a flight.  And all that baggage doesn’t include a good Swiss Army knife or multi-tool!   Sometimes packing light enough to carry on only a small bag is possible but I find it challenging.

Right now, I am on a flight to the Midwest where I will be for the next four days.  I took a fairly large computer bag on wheels as my carry on bag.  It has four large pockets on it, but it will still fit under the seat in front of me if it has to (and it had to on the small jet I took on my connecting flight).  One pocket has a full change of clothing in it – including a pack towel and an empty bag (a Lands End folding backpack – it is always good to have a backpack with you on any extended trip away from home).  One has my computer in it.  One has reading material for the flight and files I need for this trip. The fourth has my iPod, power cords for computer & phone, pens, business cards, sunglasses & sunglass case, flashlight, and keys (including whistle, photon freedom flashlight, and Res-Q-Me [doh!]) and other small items.

I also carry my passport with me when I travel domestically – as one never knows when one will be called voluntarily or involuntarily out of the country.  My passport is also carried in a zippered pocket within my carry on bag.  In general, it is always good to have a second form of picture ID carried with you when traveling by air – and carried in a separate location from your primary picture ID (generally a driver’s license carried in your wallet) – such that if your primary is lost, you will have another that will enable to continue your travels until you get home.

Checked Luggage

Annoyingly, a lot of airlines are now charging extra for even a single checked bag.  Boo!  I prefer to fly always on direct flights – these are often cheaper – and usually not much more expensive than flights which require connections – and will get you to your destination a minimum of two hours – usually more – faster than a flight that requires one or more connections.  Living in the New York City metropolitan area, I fortunately have an awful lot of choices where airlines and airports are concerned – and can usually find a cheap direct flight that goes where I want to go and when I want to go on an airline that does not charge for the first checked bag.  [My favorite airline is JetBlue, in case you are wondering, which I take whenever possible. Four reasons:  comfortable seats, clean planes, friendly staff and DirectTV at every seat.  Beats the crap out of the major airlines which are more expensive, more uncomfortable, less friendly and with no free/no choice of entertainment (you know who you are)].

So, today, I am flying one of the major airlines, have a connection to make, and I had to pay $15 to check a single bag.  While I am on this rant, I understand that airlines have real costs associated with handling baggage, and by charging for second or each bag that passengers check, they are passing these costs on to those passengers using those services, which certainly seems reasonable on one level.  But just a couple of years ago, in part because of the stricter security screenings taking place at airports, airlines were actively encouraging passengers to check as much baggage as possible while only carrying on a single small bag.  This greatly sped the process not only of getting through security screenings at airports, but also in getting on and off of airplanes.  And that all made the process of flying so much more comfortable and reduced conflict between passengers, without overstuffed overhead compartments and bags consuming everyone’s foot-space, and it taking 20 minutes or more to deplane while everyone gathered all of their items.  All I can say is:  what happened?  This was great.

A checked bag carries all the things I’d like to have with me for the trip.  This includes clothing, toiletries, my Swiss Army Knife, Res-Q-Me (heh heh hee!), other tools as appropriate, and other obvious items.

In August, I traveled to California for a week to take part in a disaster response exercise.  I made a detailed inventory of everything I packed – both in my checked and carry on baggage.  I was going to share it here but don’t think it really adds a lot to this discussion.  In part 2, I’ll go over some of the specific items that you should be packing with you in your carry on and checked luggage, and that should be informative.

Here’s a preview:

Essential Things to Take With You on A Trip by Plane:

  • All of the things you should never leave home without
  • Backup photo ID (passport preferably)
  • Full change of clothes on your carry-on bag
  • Pack Towel (carry on)
  • An extra empty bag (min. 1 backpack)
  • Medications/prescription drugs for duration of trip + min. 1 day (carry on of not easily replaceable)
  • First Aid Kit

Much more to follow in Part 2

Continue reading

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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.

Ten Things I Think I Think about H1N1

I haven’t posted on H1N1 in a bit; honestly, I haven’t known what to think.  So, in homage to Peter King, here’s ten things I think I think about H1N1 today:

1.  Still, don’t panic.  Be Living Prepared for H1N1.  Read on.

2. Veratect on 5/15/09 announced the end of a valuable public service:

Due to the transition of surveillance and reporting on influenza A (H1N1) towards routine seasonal influenza tracking, Veratect will cease providing Twitter posts for this event as of 8:00p EST, May 15, 2009.

This is a shame.  I’m not certain that we have reached the end of this outbreak; nor whether routine seasonal influenza surveillance is sufficient, but I do understand that this was costing Veratect quite a bit to stand up two command centers and provide 24×7 coverage.

Also, note that a record blog posting by InSTEDD refers to this outbreak as the “Influenza A (H1N1) Media Hype”

3.  I’ve aggregated those official twitter feeds on H1N1 that I find most useful into my own H1N1 feed, @LP_H1N1.  This pulls from the @whonews, three CDC feeds, @birdflugov, and I think @healthmap.  I’ll add others if the situation warrants it, but for now, I think it’s good.  You can follow @LP_H1N1 directly or you’ll find the feed running in the column on the left or subscribe to the RSS for that feed directly.

4.  There are now 12 fatalities in the US out of 6500+ cases.  That’s a mortality rate of about .18%, really nothing to worry about.  The mortality rate of the cases in Mexico, where this virus originated, is about 1.9%, which would be something to worry about if the virus continued to spread exponentially throughout the world’s population.  However, according to the latest WHO figures, the global mortality rate (outside of Mexico) is about .17%.

Now, I am not an epidemiologist, but to me this suggests that as the H1N1 virus has spread, it has become less lethal as it has mutated.

5.  I’ve been trying to determine whether the spread of H1N1 infection is growing exponentially or linearly.  Obviously, if exponential, the infection rate is high enough to warrant concern.   And it appears that with the best public health infrastructure in the world, the growth of H1N1 in the US continues to be exponential while in the rest of the world, not so much – especially in Mexico, where this strain all started and has clearly now leveled off.  There’s a number of charts out there that show this.  Here is one.

6.  In doing this research, I came across a disturbing blog posting that, because I am unsure of the source’s credentials, I will not cite here.  However, the math is somewhat frightening. Based on confirmed data (cases and deaths) through early May, a mortality rate of close to 3% was being measured.  With an infection rate of 1.47% (again, measured average based on confirmed data), the spread of H1N1 and resulting deaths would look like this:

  • By 5/22/09 – almost 1 million infected globally; # of deaths assuming 3% mortality rate = 28,000; assuming .5% = 4,700
  • By 5/29/09 – 13 million infected, 250K+ dead at 3% mortality rate; 66K dead at .5% mortality rate
  • By 6/13/09 – over 3.8 billion infected, 116 million dead at 3% mortality rate; and almost 20 million dead at .5% mortality rate

However, according to the latest WHO figures, as of 5/25/09, there are only 12,515 cases globally with 91 deaths (and 80 of those in Mexico).

So, obviously, this scenario is not coming to pass, as clearly the calculated infection rate is not what we are observing.  And note that the .5% mortality rate I believe is the figure from the 1918 Spanish flu.  The .17% mortality rate measured globally (excluding the Mexican figures) is about the same as seasonal influenza; from that perspective, maybe Veratect was justified.

But essentially, what this means is, don’t panic.

7.  I am highly satisfied (make that thrilled) with the President’s choice of NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Friedan to head the CDC.  Dr. Friedan has done a great job at leading the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, overseeing the largest and best public health infrastructure of any City in the world.  I had the opportunity to consult with their Bureau of Emergency Management on a project to review the City’s bio-incident response plan and briefed the Commissioner personally on our findings just about a year ago.  I found him to be focused, strategic in his thinking, and a calm, motivating and highly effective leader.  He has the energy and the track record to head up the CDC and I’m confident will do a great job with the H1N1 and future challenges.

8.  I’m attending the Long-Island – New York City Emergency Management Conference this week and I am anxious to hear what the State, City, and surrounding counties have to say about how their pandemic response plans may need to change given the H1N1 experience.  I am also looking forward to sections about logistics (my specialty) and the weather, as I also worked on a project supporting the City’s Coastal Storm Plan.  Expect some blog posts live from the event!

9.  Current WHO Map of H1N1 influenza cases:

GlobalSubnationalMaster_20090525_1000

WHO has a timeline of influenza A (H1N1) that provides a really cool flash application that lets you scroll through these maps on a daily basis to monitor the spread of H1N1, starting with the latest map.  It’s my click of the day!

10.  These are my non-H1N1 thoughts of the day, and again, in homage of Peter King, they will be all-sports related:

  • I can’t believe the Red Sox lose 2/3 to the Mets, and 5/10, with Big Papi not hitting anything, and still ending up in first place.
  • I got cheated out of watching the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday by rain; then by sun on Monday afternoon (we took the kids to the park), and again by rain in Charlotte on Monday evening.  Good for you David Reutimann for being the first to figure out to stay out during the last caution when rain was threatening!  But I think NASCAR has to change the rule that if rain ends an event that was running under caution, the final standings should go back to the last green flag lap – and not the order after pit stops run under yellow.
  • Go Magic!  Any team that barely beats the Celtics (without KG) has to go all the way…. though I have a feeling this is Denver’s year.  (Did I really say that?)
  • So if BB can’t sign Jason Taylor, trade for Julius Peppers, draft an OLB, while losing ILB rookie Tyrone McKenzie for the season I think it is time to mess up everyone else’s preparation for the Pats D and switch to the 4-3 as the primary set and have Mayo and Thomas play outside with Bruschi in the middle.

That’s it for now.  Keep Living Prepared for H1N1!

UPDATE: Never Leave Home Without…

I always intended to write a summary and concluding piece to the list of 10 things you should never leave home without.  Coming a couple of months after the last post was written lends perspective to the exercise.  The intent of this blog was always to validate that the advice given is practical.  If I can’t practice what I preach, then I need to rethink again what it is I am recommending here.  In addition, the perspective of the current “concern” over Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) and a change in season to Spring adds another valuable reality check.

So, here’s my item-by-item review of the list and how I’ve done with it and how I feel the utility of these items holds up:

Bag (Empty)

There is no question in my mind that an empty bag belongs on the list and at the top of it – alphabetical or not.  I have struggled at times to remember to bring one with me.  Honestly, the larger eco-totes that I recommended – like the Staples eco-easy tote, do not fold down to a size that fits in a pocket.  You really need to have another bag to put an empty one in.

Kiva Keychain Backpack

Kiva Keychain Backpack 1/2 size of Wallet

The bag I mentioned in the original post but had not tried out yet – the Kiva Keychain Backpack – is really an excellent solution.  It packs down to an incredibly small size (about half the size of my wallet) that fits in a (front) pants pocket easily.  I try to carry one of these bags with me all the time in that way.  When expanded, it forms a smallish backpack – certainly large enough to carry several items in an emergency, and the material (like parachute nylon) seems pretty strong and durable.  The only issue I’ve had with it is that if you put some heavier items in it, the adjustable shoulder straps tend to slip, but there is no risk of it opening and the bag dropping as it is a closed loop strap.

Flashlight

Maybe it’s just me, but I still find a reason to need a flashlight on a daily basis and I carry two Photon LED flashlights with me all the time – one on my keys and another on a chain around my neck.  I’ve been using the newer Photon Freedom-style lights, and I like the push button on-off much better than the old style (either hold it down or flick a tiny toggle switch to keep it lighted).

LRI Photon X-Light

LRI Photon X-Light

Honestly, the cheapest X-Light micro (at under $10) is sufficient.  So I repeat my advice to get a bunch of these – and pass them around – attach one to your briefcase, regular backpack, go-bag, etc., give one or two to each family member.  It will help you and them to be Living Prepared.

Glasses/Sunglasses

Never leave home without them.  And if I do, I always end up regretting it.  The other day, I was getting out of my car; it was raining.  I had a hat on, as I always do, with my sunglasses perched on the top, as they usually are when I’m not wearing them.  A man walking his dog was passing by, and he paused as he looked at me to comment, “With the hat and the sunglasses, you are ready for anything.”  Amen.

LifeSecure Safety Glasses

LifeSecure Eye Shields

Mindful of the fear of Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) many people have, protecting your eyes with glasses (sun or clear) or a eye shield can help prevent you from being infected by particulates spewed into the air by people close by who cough or sneeze in your general direction.  I recently ordered some Eye Shields from LifeSecure Emergency Solutions to keep with my household emergency supplies.

Keys

Keys.  Enough said.  Just try going out without them.

I did figure out that two of the small lock keys actually fit the padlock on the cellar hatch outside the front of my house – so one of those has been returned to my keychain.

Smartphone

Still attached to my hip.  Still without a GPS.  I think the GPS functionality that is available is useful, but expensive (both for a GPS-enabled Blackberry and for the service that gives it functionality), and I can’t justify it at the current time.

Stainless Steel Drink Container

Usually still attached to my hand – with tea in the morning, and increasingly a Klean Kanteen for water in the afternoon as the weather is getting warmer.  (We had a mini-heat wave of several days in the high 80s/low 90s in April in NYC).  It’s honestly hard to bring along sometimes without having a bag (not an empty one) to carry it in.

I’m beginning to think of recommending carrying a “mostly” empty bag with you – which provides a means to carry along those items that otherwise do not fit on your face or in your pockets – such as a drink container.  That solves a lot of problems of bulging pockets – especially in the summertime…

My regular backpack I keep stocked with a number of useful items – such as a couple of pens, a folding knife with serrated blade, some Zyrtec (for allergies), and epi-pen (if the allergies get really bad), a larger LED flashlight.  I put a glass case in it to carry whatever pair of glasses (sun or clear) I am not wearing.  If I go out without this backpack, I still have my 10 items with me.

My biggest problem with my double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container is that it does too good a job at keeping my tea hot.  I like my hot drinks warm, not scalding, and it takes hours for my tea to cool enough such that I can enjoy it.  When I have the opportunity, I leave the top off to let it cool down so I can drink it more quickly.  On the plus side, this has cut down dramatically on my caffeine intake, which is probably a good thing.

Swiss Army Knife / Multi-Tool

I still use this multiple times every day and would be totally lost without it.  Just yesterday I used the scissors to cut a reply form off to return to my daughter’s school, the Phillips head screwdriver to replace a battery in my son’s toy train, the small knife to open a package received in the main from Lands End, and the magnifying glass to read the small print on a label.  Oh yeah, and I used the reamer to make an additional hole in a belt I have (I lost 15 pounds due to the chicken pox and some of my clothes are hanging off of me now!)

One reader recommended a different model – that’s a bit less expensive but still has all of the important survival tools.  For me, I use all of the tools on the Swiss Army Champ – including the tweezers – which I’ve used twice in the last week to remove a splinter from my finger and my daughter’s foot.  I even used the pin within the last week to help open up a bottle of Gorilla Glue that had crusted over.

Vehicle Escape Tool

As noted in the original post, this is something you don’t use on a daily basis, and I’ve never used mine.

I did have the opportunity to demonstrate the functions of the ResQMe that I carry on my keychain to two very nice gentlemen from the TSA at JFK Airport, just before I handed it over to them before getting on a flight to Florida a few weeks ago.  I kind of had to tell them that they should be taking it away from me – both because of the seat-belt cutter blade, which although shielded, could be removed from the casing by breaking it open – thus weaponizing it – as well as for the glass breaker, which, although I am not sure it would break an airplane window pane, I would not want to try.  So I was without a ResQMe while deathly ill from the Chicken Pox in Florida.

I got another one out of my stock and have returned it to my keychain.

Wallet

Again, it goes without saying that you need to carry your wallet with you when you go out.

What I need to report on is how I’ve done with keeping the $100 cash in it and not pilfer it when I run out.  I must report positively that I’ve had great success.  I positively have forgotten that I folded up 5 twenty dollar bills and slid it into a side slot behind the credit cards in my wallet – unless I’m thinking about this post.  The credit cards, ID and proof of insurance are easy to maintain.

Whistle

Again, something I don’t use on a daily basis but am glad to have with me.  Mostly, I wear it on a lanyard underneath a shirt – but if visible, it’s a good conversation starter.  As pictures in the original post, I also use the neck lanyard to carry a Photon LED flashlight and a USB drive – which another reader also suggested carrying.  My SanDisk Cruzer holds a ridiculous 16 GB of data.

Honestly, the neck lanyard can be bulky either on top of or underneath a single layer T-shirt when the weather is hot.  So I have honestly gone out from time to time without it.  It’s an item that can be put in your briefcase, backpack or other bag that you carry things in (or the proposed “almost” empty bag alternative), and it also fits into a pants pocket.  So while I try to wear it habitually – I must admit to forgetting it occasionally.

What’s Missing?

USB Drive:

For the digitally inclined and data dependent, a USB drive – the larger the better, is a good thing to carry with you.  I carry one and will load it up with important files from time to time.  More often, it’s used for exchanging data (photos, files) with someone.  In an emergency situation, if you work with computers at all, having a USB drive with you could be extremely valuable.

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

So if it fits your personal and professional profile, a USB drive is definitely something to consider adding to your list of things to never leave home without.  I do like the SanDisk Cruzer because it contains software to allow you to install and run applications directly off of the drive rather than having to install it on the hard drive of a computer.  So, for example, you can use your Skype account from any computer you can use and plug your drive into, if you have Skype installed on the USB drive.

Hand Sanitizer:

This probably should have been on the original list.  Very useful for cleaning your hands while you are out – especially after riding on public transportation or before eating anything on the go. Also essential to have if you are out with kids.  I usually have a bottle with a pump around the house, but decided to stock up a but because of H1N1.  The 2-oz. bottle size is really convenient for taking with you and I got one for everyone in the family.  The small bottles cost about a dollar at any drugstore and I plan to refill them from the larger (and more economical) bottles I have in the house – especially one big one by the front door so everyone can use it upon entering the house.  When buying Hand Sanitizer, remember to always check the “drug facts” on the bottle to ensure that it contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol.  Any less and it will not be effective as an antiseptic.

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Pack of Tissues:

Another item inspired by H1N1, I think this item also belongs on the original list.  Tissues are incredibly useful things, even if you or your kids do not have a cold.  They can be used to wipe up things, or wipe off things that you don’t want to touch with your bare hands as they may be dirty or infected.  (Use hand sanitizer afterward anyways).  You can use tissues to dry or clean off your glasses if they get wet (though a glass cleaning cloth is better and won’t leave link on the lenses).  Like water, or bags, tissues have hundreds of potential uses during times of emergency and normalcy.

Summary and Conclusion:

I feel pretty strongly about the original 10 items on this list… and now I’m up to 13 with the USB drive, hand sanitizer and pocket pack of tissues.  I started out this project by stating that I didn’t like top 10 lists and I wasn’t going to be bound by a number; that it was a starting point and an important attempt to place some limit on a list that if it becomes exhaustive becomes less practical and less achievable.  And making this practical and achievable is a key part of what I am trying to accomplish with this blog.

I am still tracking a few challenges with the list.

Mostly, it’s a lot of stuff to stuff into your pockets (keys, wallet, extra bag, hand sanitizer, tissues, flashlight) – especially in the warm weather – or wear around your neck (USB drive, flashlight, whistle), hang on your belt (smart phone, Swiss army knife), or hold in your hand (stainless steel drink container).

A lot of this can be carried alternatively in a backpack, briefcase or other (not empty) bag that you carry with you.  Many of us do carry such bags when we go out – but not every time.  My concern is having these items on your person is that they are always with you – and never left at home.

Changing the empty bag to a “mostly” empty bag – or empty of everything but these 12 or 13 items – may be a solution – as long as you always take this mostly empty bag with you.  I will report in a couple of months on how I am addressing this challenge, and will reconsider again the list of items never to leave home without.

In conclusion, I hope that these posts have proven useful to your own thinking about how you should be Living Prepared™.  I am not so arrogant as to think that everyone has to follow my advice to the letter.  I hope that you learn from my advice and my experience and make it your own.